Members of the hareidi-religious sector
Members of the hareidi-religious sector Israel news photo

In light of the social and cultural differences between the hareidi-religious sector and the secular public, especially in the wake of the recent “starving mother” clash in Jerusalem, the question has been raised: Should the hareidi public be given autonomy on matters having to do with social welfare, or should there continue to be one system serving the entire population?

This question was posed by the Hebrew-language B’Sheva weekly to three experts. Their answers:

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, a former anti-Zionist zealot who now heads the ZAKA organization and has come to the conclusion that the hareidi establishment must work with the State and not fight against it:

“There must be full autonomy for the hareidi population. The two worlds will never meet and the secular public will never understand the hareidi world.

“For instance, one common problem is when children get lost, the parents call the police, the police find the child – and then involve the welfare authorities, assuming that the family is problematic, and the story escalates for no reason. The police don’t understand that it’s common in the hareidi world to have a 9-year-old girl supervise her little siblings playing in the park outside. Because of what the police and welfare people did, we were forced to establish a volunteer network for lost children, in which whoever can’t find their children turns to a certain address, and whoever finds a child brings him to that address, where there are toys and the like – all in order not to have the police get involved.

“They don’t understand that in Chassidic circles, the Rebbe is everything: He makes marriage-matches, he decides what business deals to make, what name to give the child, and he’s everyone’s psychologist. Now, little by little, there has been some move towards more cooperation, and the rabbis are learning how to avail themselves of the professionals, but it is being built delicately, and it’s still fragile. In this last incident [of the ‘starving mother’], the police and welfare people destroyed everything, and even tried to become our educators and tell us what to do.

“They speak a different language, and therefore there is no point in trying to bridge between the two sides. We must rather have our own professionals, just like we have built alternatives in many other areas.”

Dudi Zilbershlag, a hareidi publicist and journalist – he served as a yeshiva spiritual advisor and in the IDF Rabbinate – who is often asked to present the hareidi point of view on contemporary issues: 

“Welfare services must definitely be uniform, as in any properly-run country, but they must recognize the ‘soul’ of the members of different communities – that of the Ethiopian immigrant, of the hareidi Jews, the Arab citizen, and all others…

“The welfare service network must understand and internalize the fact that the different behaviors and daily lives of various communities stem from education, tradition, and various other human factors that reflect onto those sectors. It is therefore important that professionals from each community be employed to work with them. A welfare clerk who grew up in [secular moshav] Nahalah, or even in north Tel Aviv, will never know how to reach a client/patient who grew up in Mea She’arim or Bnei Brak. A juvenile investigator, no matter how sensitive, will never be able to get a young hareidi victim to speak up, because he is missing the right language, sensitivity, daily conduct, and the like.

“Thus, the welfare service activities must be infused with frameworks that jive with the beliefs and [needs] of the various populations – with full coordination with the leadership of those populations. The participation of the rabbis in consultations and the like can create real trust between them.”

Dr. Yitzchak Kadman, chairman of the privately-funded Council for Children’s Welfare:

“There must be a golden, middle path, built on two clear concepts: First, it must be unequivocally obvious that no population sector has the right to abuse, hit, neglect, starve or otherwise harm children, no matter what. Children require protection, period. That is the essence. The second issue is that of ‘how’ to deal with problems. Here, we must be sensitive to cultures. Just like English is a language, so is ‘hareidish,’ and that language must be learned before trying to deal with hareidim, and so must their unique sensitivities, as with every cultural group. There must be coordination with the social and spiritual leadership of each group, and there must be extra sensitivity to the ramifications of treatment, and especially to everything having to do with exposure and the publicity involved.

“In short, there can be no compromise on the essence, on the law, and on children’s need for defense, but there must also be patience and sensitivity to the needs and customs of each group.”