Towards a Solution to the Chareidi Problem

Given the drift of local news, it would seem that Israeli society, as represented ideologically by the present government, is seeking a solution to the chareidi problem, which it perceives as a millstone hanging on its proverbial neck.

Over 30 year ago, when I began my career as a professional translator, I was asked to prepare a series of speeches to be delivered in English to the full plenum of the World Zionist Congress by Prof. Eliezer Schweid of the Jewish Philosopy Dept. of Hebrew University.

Prof. Schweid was to speak three times — morning, afternoon and closing evening session — and the speeches were suitably linked.

The opening speech, as I vaguely remember, was some kind of modern interpretation of the tragic interaction of Cain and Abel, but the afternoon and evening plenums were addressed on non-Biblical subjects.

Most significant, for our purposes, was the second address in which Prof. Schweid outlined the natural process whereby a major culture comes to terms with a minor culture living within its territorial boundaries.

Prof. Schweid did not build his discussion on these terms, but I might liken it to the way an amoeba reacts to a foreign object. The first order of business is to try and accommodate the unwanted partner, the second to attempt to expel it and, failing either of the above, the amoeba will set about destroying the intruder.

Obviously, the above is a ready metaphor for the Holocaust. But what is interesting to note some 60 years on and with the Cold War behind us, is what might have been had Nazi Germany might have been like had it succeeded in an earlier stage to work things out with the Jews.

As I was told by a German-born professor of dentistry who had been educated in his home town of Heidelberg and left before things got too bad, his father used to quip that Hitler made a dreadful mistake in persecuting the Jews. He said, “They would have made marvelous Nazis.”

Why Persecute?

Given the above, one might well ask why Hitler took it upon himself to rid the world of our hated race. On the contrary, had he chosen to put all his resources to work at winning the the war, Europe and the Middle East might look quite different today.

But an easy assumption, besides the time honored theory that the National Socialist German Workers’ Party was after Jewish wealth, just as it also did in the German nobility, is that Hitler was looking for an internal enemy to unite the masses while the government dealt with a world war.

Robespierre instituted the Reign of Terror during to French Revolution in order to stabilize a nation facing virtual defeat by Prussia and Austria. Inversely, Menachem Begin declared the War for Peace in the Galilee just as his government was about to fail.

Laying Another Card on the Table

What is being inferred here is that the recent media onslaught against the chareidi and Ultra-orthodox sectors in Israel may be little more than a diversion just to keep the heat off somewhere else.

There is simply no other reason why chareidi deferments, gender separation and low participation in the work force should suddenly have become such hot topics.

Moreover, above and beyond the media blitz regarding turf wars in Beit Shemesh and irresponsible behavior on public transportation in Jerusalem, a new tactic has now been developed. The secular, Israeli majority public is being enjoined to pity chareidi misfits and give succor to those who don’t at all want to be saved.

Here on TOI Mitch Ginsburg has penned a horrific, contorted view of the innermost sanctum of the chareidi world that is meant to have us take sides with the deadbeat son of a Jerusalem family because he has done his patriotic duty and born arms just as every good Israeli should.

Yet Mr. Ginsburg has no compassion for a family that has invested much more heavily in its children than any secularist mind can fathom.

Taking it for granted that because this boy was probably one of many children who was forced fit the mold, Ginsberg has blissfully overlooked the warmth and mutual support that is part and parcel of this sector’s family and public life.

Ultra-orthodox offspring are not simply shuffled to learning institutions or dropped off for lessons. On the contrary, in chareidi circles spending quality time with children and merging them with extended family members is tantamount to being a religious requirement.

Blinded by his own prejudice or lack of intimate understanding of what makes the Ultra-orthodox tick, Mr. Ginsburg has portrayed a frantic, unbending father who is trying desperately to keep his black sheep in the fold.

It might very well be that the hero of the tale was looking for nothing more than an exceptional amount of attention. How else explain Motti’s fidelity to a sister who is obviously very content in the chareidi world?

Pretending a Problem Doesn’t Exist

Similarly, David Horowitz has ably delineated the character of a much disliked mayor of Jerusalem. Nir Barkat would like to juggle demographics to the extent that a chareidi problem does not exist in his unholy city of Jerusalem.

Barkat, as I noted in a comment on David’s article, seems to be blissfully unaware that he got in to office through a fluke in usual voting practices.

For those of you who don’t know, the secularist majority in Jerusalem doesn’t take much of an interest in city politics and so doesn’t put in much of an appearance at the polls. By contrast, that part of the chareidi sector that does vote comes out en masse as directed by their religious leaders.

Generally speaking, a major part of chareidi education is devoted to teaching the young to act as a group and follow directives. This may be the reason why, as Mitch Ginsberg writes, “when dangerous situations arise, he says, the commanders always say “give it to Motti.”

Because religious training teaches chareidi youth to do what they’re told, Motti’s commanders can be sure that he’ll follow commands. Were they to give the task to a soldier with another kind of background, the chances might well be 50/50.

But to get to the point, were it not that Barkat’s main opponent from United Torah Judaism got in a row with the Gerrer Rebbe, election results might have been quite different.

Meir Porush, of the Porush public service dynasty and the same political party as exiting Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupiansky, lost to Barkat because the Ger chassidim were told cast their votes for Barkat. The resulting publicity caused an uptick in secular sector voter participation.

That means that the non-religious public, suddenly became concerned that they were facing a chareidi takeover due to their own slack voting behavior, ushered in a candidate so far left that he is totally oblivious to their needs.

In David’s article, Barkat plumes himself with regards to the Jerusalem Light Rail, though unlike Mayor Mike Bloomberg, he probably takes private transportation to get to city hall. This means that the mayor of Jerusalem prefers not to know that his constituents proclaim loudly each and every day that the trains may be all very well and good for Paris but fail entirely given the median of Israeli cultural mentality.

Suggesting a Different Tact

In Prof. Schweid’s closing address, he warned the evening plenum of the Zionist World Congress that they were facing a youth crisis. Today’s youth, he was telling them over 30 years ago, like all youth, thrive on ideology, yet the Zionist ideal is dead.

Unless, Schweid told them, you can provide the young with something else to believe and cling to, then you are going to lose them.

That, my dear reader, is what the present surge and media blitz is really all about. I’ve been around long enough to know that what caused Tommy Lapid to get out his drum was the Lev L’achim drive to enroll children from the secular sector in religious schools.

Activists who are personal friends have told me that the impression they got when they went from door to do in secularist strongholds was that the parents were waiting for them. Everyone realized that the “state secular schools and state religious schools” that Mr. Barkat raves about had totally failed to produce the kind of children that could take part in normal family life.

Yet the fallout was so bad that more then once I was subject to attempts to push me off the road just because I dared to drive a Renault 4 while bearded and wearing a black hat.

In a silly Jerusalem Post article published long after David left the helm, Caroline B. Glick readily admits that Israeli secular culture is losing the war. Far more young, secular born and bred Israelis are crossing the line in search of tangible roots and a meaningful existence than are going the way of Motti and Avi, who may never find complete acceptance in their new surroundings.

Israel and even Jerusalem — with or without the Iran threat — is a difficult place to live by all accounts. There has to be a raison d’être.


About the Author
Y.B. Fishel holds cum laude degrees from Princeton and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as written ordinations from members of Israel's highest, ultra-Orthodox authorities. His reason for being around ToI is to provide a chareidi insider's view of what's happening in Israel.