Mordechai de Haas
Ger; Haredi; retired Lieutenant Colonel; Russian security academic

Talk to Haredim instead of judging them!

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On this website and the other Israeli news sites I encounter an overload of opinions judging the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) for causing the coronavirus pandemic, for using social security, for not working, for not paying taxes, etc., etc. These opinion makers seek the solution of the Haredim in dividing the country in (non-) Haredi areas or putting a fence around them. Instead of being intolerant and ignorant it would be better that the assailants of Haredim start talking with them. Segregation is not a solution, accepting different ways of life in the Jewish nation is.

OK, the initial response to me – reading my tagline – will be, you’re biased since you are Haredi yourself, hence you only protect your own club. To counter this, let me explain a bit about my background. In September 2017, I came from Holland to Israel to convert to Judaism and, subsequently, to make Aliyah. I had a Christian background but my whole life I already loved the Jews and Israel. My notebook of the Yom Kippur war – I was 12 years but already supported Israel – gives evidence to this. And from a young age I felt that not Christianity but Judaism was the truth. But unfortunately, I was not a Jew, and did not know I could convert. Only in 2015, when I was a professor in a Muslim state (!) and a Christian boy (!) took me to the local (Chabad) synagogue, I got to know about conversion to Judaism, and subsequently took that path.

What has all this to do with me ‘protecting’ my own ultra-Orthodox club? Arriving in Israel just before Rosh Hashana in 2017, my impression about Haredim – based upon what the Dutch media show – was one of a group that throws stones to cars driving on Shabbat. With Sukkot 2017 I made my first entry into a Haredi shul, out of necessity, because I didn’t feel well and wanted to davven close to home. Before doing so, I checked with my conversion rabbi. With my biased view on Haredim, based upon the Dutch media, I wondered if they would not kick me out of that shul, being not Haredi and not even yet a Jew. The rav ensured they would not do so. And he was right, even more, instead of sending me away, I – as a non-Jew – got to do a mitzvah! And afterwards I was invited to the Sukkah of one of the families. So, my view on Haredim was totally wrong!

As I mentioned earlier, I came to Israel to convert to Judaism. I converted twice, with the Chief Rabbinate in Haifa and with the Beit Din of Rav Karelitz ZT”L in Bnei Brak. Both ways, since I had/have dati leumi and Haredi friends. In December 2018 I became a Jew. A year later I married a Haredi lady, and hence I chose to be Haredi (Sephardic). When I moved from Haifa to Bnei Brak various friends warned me that I did not know the Haredi ‘codes’ and, therefore, I would never fit in. They turned out to be wrong. Although I am less than 2 years a Jew and less than one year a Haredi, I very much enjoy (Haredi) life in Bnei Brak. I feel accepted in all minyanim, whether they are Sephardic, Ashkenazi or Hasidic. Even though I might not know the ‘codes’, and that my Hebrew is also limited, I feel very much at home in the Haredi world. And since I talk with these people on a near daily base, I think I have a reasonable impression of what is going on in the Haredi world.

I bring a military and academic background with me from the Netherlands. I was a Lieutenant-Colonel and I have a Ph.D. Hence, I have learned to think logically and to analyze problems. Furthermore, as I mentioned before, I come from a non-Jewish upbringing. This background enables me to perceive the Haredi world without prejudice. On the negative side, yes, there are certain groups – such as the so-called ‘Etzniki’ at Ponovitz yeshiva and the Satmar Hasidic dynasty – that reject anything that has to do with the State, including the lockdown rules. However, it is unfair to consider the whole Haredi world as such. Even more, there is no ‘Haredi world’, it consists of many different groupings. Therefore, on the positive side, the majority of the ultra-Orthodox do adhere to the lockdown and health regulations, as set by the government. But just as I believed, before coming to Israel, that all Haredim were stone throwers against cars on Shabbat, most of the opinion makers on these TOI blogs also express a one-sided and unrealistic picture of the ultra-Orthodox, based upon a lack of inside knowledge. Furthermore, many Haredim work. Especially in Hasidic circles, it is fully accepted that the men work – part-time or fulltime – and study in the evening. Moreover, there are Haredim involved in the State, for instance the Sephardic and Ashkenazi political parties in the Knesset. I myself, with my military and academic background (e.g. Russian security policy in the Middle East) have offered my services to IDF, but they rejected me because of my age. But just like me, a growing number of young Haredim are willing to join IDF, to contribute to the security of the State, as long as their way of religious life is guaranteed. This demonstrates that the Haredim are not against the State of Israel, that is only the case with a minority. The majority of the Haredim accept the State as an institution with good and bad characteristics.

All this brings me back to my initial point, at the start of this blog: the different groupings of Israeli society need to talk with each other. I watched footage of an anti-Netanyahu demonstrator who verbally heavily attacked a Chabad representative, who offered a Sukkah and lulav to anybody passing by. The demonstrator accused him of the usual stuff, including putting the blame of the pandemic on the Haredim. In my earlier blog I warned for a civil war in Israel, watching many videos in which the Israeli police used excessive violence against innocent children and spectators. Anti-governmental demonstrators demonizing Haredim is another example of the Jewish nation falling apart into opposing groupings. I find this increasing intolerance of the various groupings in Israel alarming.

My main point is that in spite of the differences, we need to be able to life together as one Jewish nation. Haredim have (also halachically) no right to judge secular Jews, and likewise secular Jews should not blame the Haredim for all the problems that Israel encounters. A major obstacle is the lack of knowledge of each other, which feeds misunderstanding and blaming. This ignorance can be easily solved. Let a secular Jew live a couple of days with a Haredi family, and he will realize that most Haredim are normal people and not religious fanatics. Likewise, Haredim should socialize with secular Jews, and might discover that they are more Jewish than they ever thought. By doing so, we can diminish misinterpretation and judging, and promote a united Jewish nation with different components. Not with a fence dividing one from the other, but with an open door between them!

About the Author
Lieutenant Colonel Royal Netherlands Army (retired) Dr. Mordechai de Haas is Affiliated Professor and Research Fellow on Russian security policy towards the Middle East, National Security Studies Centre, University of Haifa. He served with UNIFIL in Lebanon in 1980 as a conscript of the Dutch army. He holds an PhD on Russian security policy. At the Netherlands Defence Staff he was responsible for drafting the first Netherlands Defence Doctrine in 2005.
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