Ariel Beery
Dedicated to solving problems facing humanity with sustainable and scalable solutions

Wanted: A Haredi Alternative

Police officers disperse ultra-Orthodox Jews blocking a highway during a protest against army recruitment in Bnei Brak, Israel, Thursday, June 27, 2024. (AP/Oded Balilty)

I believe we need to approach the restart of the ultra-Orthodox relationship to Israel with empathy. It’s been a radically disruptive few weeks for them. The government decision to drop the law that would expand the Rabbinic Authority, the Supreme Court case asserting the law does not allow the Haredim to evade conscription while getting paid for it. To experience so clearly the limits of their power. To be rejected by the most right wing and religious government in Israel’s history is deeply disorienting. Especially for a community who declared themselves to be the Eternal’s chosen. The keepers of the true path.

To recognize the pain of another, however, is not to validate the demands they make that cause harm to others. After 76 years, Israeli society from right to left is rejecting what it considers the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) position of “what is yours is mine, what is mine is mine.” It is clear the Haredim have not succeeded in convincing Israelis that their devotion to study is valuable enough to justify support with non-Haredi money and their lives. A relationship breaks when one party feels used, when both sides do not feel the benefit of staying together.

The two major political events of these past two weeks – alongside the internal rebellion in the Likud over a draft law that would enable the Haredim to continue to evade service – can be seen as an expression of what is emerging as the core value of post-October 7 Israel: mutual responsibility.

Mutual responsibility was always central to the Zionist effort, but for decades the Zionist movement felt strong enough to carry the burden of those communities who did not share in its commitment to building and maintaining the State. This was paternalism in the best possible sense of the word, a belief in the Zionist movement’s responsibility to care for all citizens of Israel without asking much in return. To enable the non-Zionists to live their lives according to their own values and traditions. Sure, it didn’t always go smoothly, but at Israel’s core was the belief in voluntary association. Collective liberalism.

Collective liberalism differs from individual liberalism in that the fundamental actor is the community, and the fundamental value is responsibility to that community. For example in America, a country founded on the idea of individual liberty, citizens see themselves as consumers of government service, whereas in Israel, a country founded on the idea of community, citizens have adopted an ethics of superheroism, understanding themselves to be responsible for each other even and especially if the current government fails.

In many ways, the judicial overhaul was an assault on collective liberalism, and a rejection of that ethics of mutual responsibility. The reason masses of Israelis from across the political spectrum took to the streets was because they couldn’t countenance the idea that a slim parliamentary majority could overturn every law, could recreate the State in their image with no restraints. The Zionist, non-Haredi majority felt its values under attack, its community rights breached. The earthquake of October 7 collapsed Zionist paternalism once and for all: the movement realized it can no longer care for all of Israel’s citizens unless they too contribute to the safety and well-being of the State. And so here we are, 76 years after Ben Gurion’s well meaning attempt to help revive a dying culture by providing service exemptions for the Haredim, needing to strike a new relationship.

And this time, it’s on the Haredim to take initiative. Because the Haredi way of life was so successfully resuscitated after the wholesale destruction of the Holocaust it is now time for the Haredim to  present Zionist society with an alternative, one that speaks to the heart of the State and its needs, one that accepts mutual responsibility for the movement which enabled their rebirth.

We of the Zionist majority should not seek to solve this for the Haredim; we just need to express clearly that we are only willing to support those who support us in return. We need to be comfortable with our boundaries, and enforce them with compassion. We do not need to apologize for being unwilling to finance an entire sector who does not contribute its proportional share to our welfare, to our security, to our wellbeing. We do not need to apologize for believing all citizens are mutually responsible for the upkeep of our institutions. We need to be clear as to what we are willing to give and what we expect in return. And then let the Haredim figure out a way to maintain their way of life given the constraints of responsibility.

Israel is not so much being reborn as it is transitioning to a new phase of family dynamics. The critical role the Zionist movement played to birth a State and raise within it a renewed Jewish People has faded into memory. Each of the diverse communities now stand on their own. Each now need to assume responsibility for our common home. The Haredim are mature enough, and knowledgeable enough about our needs, to tell us how they should share in the responsibility of sovereignty. Because at this moment, Zionist Israel feels they are at best a burden, and worse the liability. I hope they’ll be able to convince us otherwise.

About the Author
Ariel Beery is a strategist and institution builder dedicated to building a better future for Israel, the Jewish People, and humanity. His geopolitical writings - with deeper dives into the topics addressed in singular columns - can be found on his substack, A Lighthouse.
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