Michael Boyden
Michael Boyden

Yaakov Litzman’s casus belli

So Yaakov Litzman has finally found a casus belli and has threatened to resign as Deputy-Minister of Health. His resignation would no doubt lead to the United Torah Judaism party leaving the coalition and potentially result in the collapse of the government.

Although he is responsible for health, note that the issue involved is not the appallingly low number of hospital beds available in Israel in comparison with other OECD countries. (Israel is nearly at the bottom of the list with 1.87 beds per 1,000 persons compared with an average of 3.4.)

Neither has Litzman threatened resignation over the desperately low level of benefits given to the disabled, which currently stand at NIS 2,342 per month.

He could also have expressed his horror at the manner in which animals in Israel are frequently treated on their way to slaughter. TV investigatory reports have raised serious concerns relating to some of Israel’s major food manufacturers, and we are all familiar with cramped animal trucks transporting livestock and chickens at night, so that much of the public doesn’t see what is going on.

The humane treatment of animals is one of the seven Noachide laws considered by the Talmud as being prerequisites for any civilized society.

Litzman could also have felt uncomfortable about being part of a government when the number of children living below the poverty line in Israel has quadrupled over the past three decades and now stands at over 30 per cent. And this in a country whose prime minister smokes cigars and drinks champagne!

But what has brought Lizman to boiling point is the fact that Israel Railways plans to undertake maintenance work on Shabbat on a section of the track between Beersheba and Dimona.

Presumably he would prefer the work to be carried out on Sunday when soldiers are trying to get back to their bases after a Shabbat with their families, something that most charedim have never experienced.

The current crisis highlights the fact that charedi Jews believe that one can run a modern state on the same principles that governed Jewish life in the shtetl in Poland in the 18th century, where the shabbes goy performed the tasks that Jews would not undertake on Shabbat.

But we’re not there. We live in a modern country, where, as Jews, we cannot expect the goyim to take care of things for us. Ben Gurion airport isn’t closed on Shabbat and we cannot maintain our infrastructure on days when people are trying to get to work on our already overstretched roads and public transportation system.

Litzman grew up in New York. He is quoted as having said: “”In some respects, I envy the low profile that the charedi community in the United States has been able to retain by staying out of politics.” Maybe the charedim should do the same here!

About the Author
Rabbi Boyden was educated and received his rabbinical ordination in London, England. Having served as the rabbi of Cheshire Reform Congregation for thirteen years, he made aliyah with his family in 1985. He has established Reform congregations in Ra'anana and Hod Hasharon and previously served as director of the Israel Reform Movement's Beit Din.