Haredim are not objects and not "for sale"

Does the Prime Minister prefer Arab influence in the government over haredim who are loyal to the Torah and Jewish state? Op-ed.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin ,

Haredi soldier (illustrative)
Haredi soldier (illustrative)
Flash 90
It is with a mixture of great amusement and equally great concern that the haredi world responded to a recent utterance by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett about "limiting haredi influence" in Israeli politics. The remark, made at a conference held in Israel ,has caused a ruckus.

It sounds like nothing so much like the concerns of the ancient Egyptians who feared the growth of the Israelites lest they overpower their host nation. And that comparison, while amusing, is also reminiscent of anti-Semitism.

The haredi parties are in the opposition in the Knesset now, so what is Bennett trying to say? After all, there is a well-established political system in Israel with regular elections that allows the electorate to decide how much influence a group is going to have in the government, and with or without haredim as coalition memnbers, Israeli governments can be formed.

Imagine if a haredi or national religious prime minister called for limiting the influence of the secular parties in Israel, how would that be received? The remark is ridiculous, but also out of bounds.

Maybe the problem is that whoever invented the word "haredi" to describe a sector instead of a way of life vis a vis the Torah created a moniker that "shrunk" the people described by the term into something they are not. Who are haredim? What does the word mean? Jews who practice the Mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah and the Code of Jewish Law. They are very religious Jews. A generation or two ago they were simply our grandparents and ancestors.

The word haredi, while convenient as a label, at the same time fails to convey the connection of all Jews to religious Jews since up until the modern Enlightenment virtually all Jews were essentially what we call today haredim, just look at paintings and old photos of those olden days.

Since the emergence of Zionism, haredi-religious Jews are divided on the parameters of their relation to the Jewish state. But what is more crucial is that, with a huge split between religious and secular Jews in Israel, many on the secular side of the spectrum are so far removed and detached from the Jewish religion that instead of identifying with it, they see it as a mortal threat to their very existence. In some ways they are right!

How so?

A growing number of people in Israel and America, while seemingly Jewish and calling themselves Jewish, are actually not halakhically Jewish (that is, are not Jews according to Jewish Law) It is well known and it's an ongoing political debate in Israel as to how to convert hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union now living in Israel. And Israelis must become aware that the American members of the Reform and Conservative movements and their offspring present the same problem. In Israel, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman represents these people, a new type of constituency in modern Israel.

Yet Prime Minister Naftali Bennett does not call to limit their political influence and representatives.

There are a huge number of secular non-religious Israelis represented by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, they want little to do with the Jewish religion as it has been practiced for thousands of years. Instead, they want a cosmopolitan liberal type of Tel Avivian ambiance to permeate every aspect of the modern state of Israel and heaven forfend that there be any sign of a religious state.

They are Bennett's partners and maybe even puppet masters and so naturally there is no call to clip their wings.

But really now, what is this obsession with haredim? Maybe it should be given a name "HDS" "Haredi Derangement Syndrome" and the ones deranged aren't the haredim because they are just being their good old Jewish selves the way their mamas and papas and bobbas and zeidas and sabbas and savtas used to be, nothing new here.

Haredi Israelis like to live in their own neighborhoods so that they can be in a totally observant atmoshphere. These neghborhoods are almost totally crime and drug free, their residents contribute to the economy - just in ways that are often different from those of the secular population - and yes, they are loyal citizens even though their level of participation in the army is a source of controversy, along with the many other controversies in Israel (although army serivce is a complex emotional issue as well as a religious dispute).

Of course in Israel there is always the way the national budget is going to be sliced and distributed that is a cause of underlying friction and competition. Liberman, the finance minister, known for his HDS delirium, openly says his policies are to cut monies to aid haredi families (read that discriminating against haredi working mothers while claiming to want to force their husbands to work) and yeshiva students, all while turning a blind eye if not egging on monies to flow to the Arabs in the current Israeli governing coalition. These Arab coalition partners,naturally, demand many arms and legs to keep on supporting the Bennett-Lapid government.

Hmm, how come there is no call from Bennett to cut the growing political influence of the Arabs in his own coalition as they threaten to topple it despite the vast sum of monies allocated to them that benefit their communities and students? Only haredim are on Bennett's mind on this subject of limiting the lawful and democratically elected haredi political parties and their vast public.

In America there is something else going on in the media and the desire to sway public opinion, in addition to the antisemitism masquerading as anti-Israelism. In America it is now trendy to create TV and Internet shows depicting American haredim in the worst possible light. The Netflix series "My Unorthodox Life" aims its arrows, spears and bombs at "fundamentalism," another way of attacking haredim who are an easy target as they have no access nor any interest in mass media of any kind and just go on leading Torah-true lives like their ancestors have for centuries and millennia.

If you dig deeper and think about it, what do those suffering from Haredi Derangement Syndrome really fear most? Religious coercion? Not really! The haredim are not the Taliban, they are not a military force to be reckoned with like the Taliban or Isis or Hamas or Hezbollah, they don't torture or behead anyone.

What the HDS sufferers really fear is having to submit to the higher moral codes of the Torah, namely to Hashem's covenant with the Jewish people. At all costs, the haters of haredim are obsessed with not facing up to what God, as laid out in the Torah and Tanach, has always desired and required of the Jewish People: Being an Am Hashem and an Am Kadosh (a Nation of God and a holy nation). This, sad to say, is what strikes fear into their hearts. The anti-haredi hatemongers do all in their power to impose the rules of Tel Aviv night life and the ways of Hollywood stardom on themselves and on others, but the haredim are their biggest stumbling block.

So haredim (hassidic, litvish and religious Zionist haredim - the latter called chardal) sit back and are amused and bemused at all this fuss about them. They are not shocked, they know Who and What they represent! Haredim will not be swayed with any sort of blandishments or threats. They are not "fair game," nor are they a faceless set of pawns to be manipulated on a political and cultural chess board. They are not mere objects or toys for the amusement of either politicians or mass media moguls. Sorry, but haredim are not for sale!

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin is president and founder of the Jewish Professionals Institute. An alumnus of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and Teachers College, Columbia University, he has dedicated his life to Jewish outreach and education, served for 7 years as full-time director of Sinai Heritage Centers in Manhattan and 3 as an AJOP trustee, .among many oher endeavors.