from Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, 1999.
Although expanding steadily from the early 1970s, Jewish religious fundamentalism in Israel attracted relatively little interest in the dominant secularly oriented Israeli society until 1988. Members of the various Haredi sects, generally self-contained in residentially segregated areas of Israeli cities, led lives absorbed by concerns and preoccupations that appeared exotic at best to outsiders. Although some members of these sects clashed sharply over specific issues with the secular part of Israeli society and at those times acquired a bit of public attention, they were mostly ignored. The sensational Haredi political success in the Israeli parliamentary elections of 1988, predicted by none of the professional pollsters, surprised many people. Because of their continued political successes in succeeding elections through the 1990s, the Haredim put themselves into a position at various times to be able to dictate to the Israeli secular majority.
The Haredi political successes not only caused many Israeli Jews to look more closely at and to be more concerned with the Haredim but also sparked increased attention abroad, especially in the United States. The interest generated in the United States prompted the writing and publication of many new books and articles in English that focused upon the folkloristic aspects of the Haredim but unfortunately largely ignored their basic ideology and world outlook. The following discussion will attempt to analyze, particularly for those readers who are not literate in Hebrew, the political importance of the Haredi upsurge. A crucial part of this analysis is the acceptance of the well-documented proposition that an understanding of the entire Israeli political right is to some extent dependent upon an understanding of the basic elements of Haredi politics, apart from the disagreements, splits and reunification efforts of many Haredi individuals and sects. The two major questions to be analyzed are:
How have the Haredi parties secured their political influence?
What organizational structure have the Haredi employed for maximum political success?
Concern with education has provided the major answer to both questions. The Haredi have on balance successfully educated their own children and other Jewish children, over whom they have obtained custody, in a manner guaranteeing maximum continuity. The Haredi have influenced many Israeli Jews in addition to their own by acquiring direct authority over several school networks and by indirectly influencing numbers of other schools.
Throughout the twentieth century, the Haredim have attempted to continue Jewish education as it had mostly existed in the diaspora before the Enlightenment influenced Jewish society. The governments in the countries in which the Haredim lived, however, have at times insisted upon some modernized curricular content that was inconsistent with and in opposition to what had previously been taught in Jewish schools. This was the case in Israel until 1980. Since 1980, helped by generous Israeli governmental subsidies, the Haredim have attempted with some success to reimpose the earlier type of Jewish education and the earlier school networking system in many poorer provincial Israeli towns and in slum areas of larger Israeli cities. The Haredi goal has obviously been to perpetuate their educational influence upon an increasing segment of younger-generation Israelis.
Historically, Jewish schooling began with the heder for Jewish male children aged three or four. (The heder, a word meaning "room" in Hebrew, was the name of the traditional Jewish elementary school as it existed from talmudic times in the earliest centuries of the Common Era until the formation of the first modern nation-states at which time many Jews strove to modify or abolish the heder.) The heder was previously for males only. According to the Talmud and the Halacha, females do not need education and are explicitly forbidden from some forms of study. Until modern times, most Jewish women received no formal education and were mostly illiterate. This stood in striking contrast to Jewish males. Faced with governments of modern nation states and with many Jews themselves reacting against and abolishing the exclusion of females from formal education, the Haredim established special institutions to train, more precisely to indoctrinate, young Haredi girls to accept and to agree to inferior education. Heder education consists only of sacred, Jewish studies. Secular subjects, including arithmetic, foreign languages, science, literature and Hebrew grammar are excluded. Most of the Bible is included among subjects not taught. After studying the Pentateuch with the help of a commentary by Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki who died in 1099), the students proceed directly to study of the easier parts of the Talmud. After studying about eight years, the less capable students are sent to various places to learn a craft, trade or some other occupation; the more capable are admitted to an institution of higher learning called a yeshiva. (Yeshiva in Hebrew means sitting or meeting.) Usually, several levels of "yeshivot" (plural) exist. The weeding-out process of students continues at each level. Those students who are found to be less capable are directed to moneymaking pursuits and somewhat later to involvement in religious services as minor rabbis or as supervisors of religious kashrut rules in restaurants, hospitals, the army and other institutions. The more capable students proceed in their learning by going from one yeshiva level to another. After graduating from the highest yeshiva and marrying, the best of the students spend their lives in an institution called a kollel (a term derived from the word meaning "entire") and spend their time studying only talmudic literature. A few of the most capable are later appointed to high rabbinic positions or become heads of yeshivot or kollels.
As mentioned previously, traditional Jewish education, described above, does not include any secular or humanistic studies. It is worth re-emphasizing that this exclusion of secular subjects includes not only mathematics, all sciences and foreign languages but also Hebrew literature, which includes poetry dealing with religious subjects, grammar and Jewish history. It is thus no surprise that Hebrew religious poetry, even the medieval masterpieces, are unknown to the Haredim. Only the sacred studies (a pre-modern term in Judaism) are taught with the greatest possible intensity. The sacred studies consist mostly of the Talmud and some subsequent talmudic literature. At the highest yeshiva level, one out of twelve to fourteen hours per day of sacred studies may be devoted to the study of morality, which primarily consists of lurid descriptions of the punishment, inflicted by God either in the life of this world or in hell, for even the smallest deviations from religious commandments. The teachings of the biblical prophets, the books of Job and Ecclesiastes and numerous other parts of the Bible are studied neither in the heders nor the yeshivot and are therefore unknown to the Haredim. Except for the Pentateuch, Haredim know only those parts of the Bible quoted in the Talmud and then only within the context of talmudic interpretation. Haredim generally lack knowledge of major parts of the Bible; this lack of knowledge constitutes one source of the differences between the Haredim and some other religious as well as most secular Israeli Jews. Yeshiva students are often deprived of sleep. After reaching the age of sixteen, Yeshiva students devote at least twelve to fourteen hours per day to study. The classes are noisy, because the students shout about what they are studying. Studying in silence is considered to be a sin. Chaos is often the result in the classroom; different students often shout about different passages of texts. Students may ask questions about the internal matters of what is being studied but never about the assumptions upon which interpretations are made or about the external world. Students are most often isolated from the outside world, especially from the secular world. Students are prohibited from contact with unbelievers. The teacher's authority is extensive and almost absolute. The main teacher or the head of the yeshiva usually will select the wives for students.
The type of education described above has shaped human character. It also inevitably has produced dissenters. The first Jewish dissenters from Judaism in modern times rebelled against this type of education and became principled opponents of the religion that from their perspectives tried to subject them to such totalitarian controls. Other individuals, schooled in the Haredi tradition, have ultimately yielded to temptations of modernity, such as watching television and attending movies. This usually has resulted in a weakening of commitment to Haredi Judaism but seldom to its renunciation. In Israel such persons have been and still are called "traditional" or "Mesorati." These people have usually remained--and still are--outwardly uncritical of what they learned; they have continued to worship the charismatic rabbis without paying any price for renunciating the prohibition of forbidden secular pleasures. Others who have strayed but have not undergone self-emancipation have after a temporary break returned to sacred studies to be again indoctrinated by their education.
The Haredim emphasize the sanctity and predominant importance of the sacred studies; they believe that the virtue emanating from those engaged in sacred studies is responsible for all good happenings for Jews. For that reason those who engage in sacred studies are not required to make their own livings, are granted numerous privileges and are exempted from communal duties. All of this originated and became universal among Jews in talmudic times. Living in autonomous communities, in which they retained local rule, Jews could and did determine that individuals engaged in sacred studies be exempted from paying taxes and from most other obligations and burdens for which members of the community were responsible. Additionally, the disciples of the sages, those who reached a specified high degree of proficiency in the sacred studies, were granted special privileges in many areas of life over which the Jewish community had control. During talmudic times (c. AD 200-500) in Iraq, for example, the disciples of the sages, who also were merchants, were granted the privilege of selling their merchandise before ordinary Jews were allowed to do so in the markets of Jewish towns. That meant that these disciples of the sages had no competition.
A burning issue in Jewish history, and in Israeli politics, is how rabbis and rabbinical students earn their livelihoods. In Israel the constantly increasing burden of support weighs heavily upon taxpayers, most of whom are not religious. This has provoked and continues to provoke resentment, especially when combined with the fact that a majority of rabbinical students do not have to serve in the army. Most Israeli religious Jews, especially the Haredim, attempt to justify state support and freedom from army service by arguing that the Jews and the Jewish state of Israel exist by virtue of their support of talmudic study. Their support is supposedly responsible in turn for God's support, which includes God's allowing Israel to win its wars. This argument, similar to arguments made by clergy of other religions and frequently emphasized in the Israeli media, alleges that God's help not soldiers win wars. This argument specifies that God provides other benefits as well. He, for example, grants good weather because of rabbis and students who spend most of their time studying Talmud. Engaging in such study is the best way, better than reciting prayers, giving charity or performing other good deeds, to gain entrance into paradise. Those who engage in talmudic study make it possible for themselves, their families, their financial supporters and, to some extent, other Jews to enter paradise.
Direct financial support of rabbis and students of Talmud is, nevertheless, a relatively new innovation in Judaism. During the lengthy period of Talmud composition, approximately 50 BC to AD 500, and for centuries thereafter, rabbis and students received no salaries or any other forms of financial support for talmudic study. (Elementary teachers who taught Bible to small children were paid.) Indeed, the Talmud itself prohibited payments for talmudic study. Some talmudic sages were working-class people who had well-known professions and earned their livelihoods from their labors. The only form of financial reward that was allowed for a talmudic sage was a recompense for not working. This can be illustrated by a talmudic anecdote about one of the most important sages, Abaye, who lived in Babylonia in the fourth century AD. Abaye was a farmer and cultivated his farm by himself. If asked a question by someone while working, he told the questioner: "Work on this irrigation canal for me while I ponder your question." The last important rabbi who fully supported such behavior was Maimonides, who died in 1204. Maimonides' ruling in his Learning Torah Laws (chapter 3, verse 10) is often quoted by secular, Jewish Israelis:
Anyone supposing that he will engage in Torah [talmudic study] and not engage in labor, thus taking his livelihood from charity, should be considered a person who has extinguished the light of religion, put Torah to shame, caused evil to himself and lost his chance to enter paradise, since it is forbidden to make profit form the sayings of Torah in this world. The sages said: "Everyone who makes profit from the sayings of Torah loses his life." They [the sages] have also ordered and said: "Do not make it [Torah] either a crown in which to boast or an axe with which to work." And they [the sages] have further ordered and said: "Love labor and hate the rabbinate." All Torah not accompanied by labor will be nullified, and the end of such a person [so engaged] will be that he will rob the people.
Many Israeli secular Jews use this statement of Maimonides to document their contention that all rabbis, especially rabbis in Israel, are robbers.
Why for centuries have almost all religious Jews not paid attention to the opinion of Maimonides, which is solidly based on many talmudic passages? The answer is that religious Jews read any sacred text, including the Talmud and the writings of Maimonides, only with the help of the most sacred commentaries that become the accepted religious opinions. Regarding the above-quoted passage of Maimonides, the most important, subsequent commentary is "Kesef Mishne" ("an addition of silver"), written by Rabbi Joseph Karo, who died in 1575. Karo, the author of Shulhan Aruch which to date is the most authoritative compendium of the Halacha, opposed the opinion of Maimonides on this issue. Almost all subsequent rabbis accepted the opposing position of Karo. In the beginning of his "Kesef Mishne," Karo mentioned that Maimonides in his commentary on Mishne wrote at length against salaries of rabbis and presented a sizeable list of talmudic rabbis who were laborers receiving no salaries for talmudic studies. Karo wrote:
He, let his memory be blessed [Maimonides], brought the example of Hillel, who was a wood-cutter while a talmudic student. This is not proof. We must assume that he [Hillel] engaged in labor only at the beginning of his studies. In his [Hillel's] time there were thousands of talmudic students; perhaps, they gave financial support only to the most famous among them.. .But how can we assume that when Hillel became famous and was teaching the people they did not give him financial support?
Religious Jews in Israel use this form of reasoning, which without adequate proof attributes customs of current rabbis to the hallowed past. Secular Israeli Jews often have satirized such reasoning by telling a joke that is known to almost every Israeli Jew. This joke is based upon the fact that, although no halachic reference exists concerning an obligation of a male Jew to wear a head covering, there is no other visible custom to which religious Jews are universally so faithful. Indeed, the popular Hebrew saying for a formerly religious male that became secular is "He took off his skullcap." The joke centers upon a rabbi's being asked to provide the proof for the obligation that male Jews must wear head coverings. The rabbi in the joke answers: "The Bible says: 'And Abraham went' [to a certain place]. Can you imagine that he went without a head covering?" The joke's ridiculing of the usual mode of rabbinic reasoning is obvious.
Karo argued that all famous sages, described in the Talmud itself as laborers or craftsmen, must have been given financial support. Karo concluded by arguing that priests in the temple were paid for their work and that, therefore, rabbis, who are equivalent to priests, should be paid. Talmudic students should be paid, Karo maintained, because without students there would be no rabbis. "Those in control of the usual expenditures [in Jewish congregations] should be compelled to pay the rabbis," he stated. "The current custom is that all Jewish rabbis receive their salaries from the Jewish] public." This was the general custom in the sixteenth century, except in some distant communities such as Yemen. The salaries of rabbis continually increased as did the occasions on which they took fees from their captive public. Evidence of rabbinic corruption in Jewish communities since the latter part of the seventeenth century is abundant. The rabbinate's alliance with rich people in oppressing poor people, especially in Ashkenazi communities, and the use of bribery and other undue influence in the appointments of rabbis are but two of the many aspects of this corruption. Corrupt practices of many Israeli rabbis, both Haredi and NRP, have been well-documented by the Israeli Hebrew press and are widely known in Israel. This corruption is a continuation of a long-term trend.
The granting of special privileges for pursuing sacred studies exists in modem Israeli society. One of the most controversial issues in the State of Israel has been, and continues to be, the deferments from military service for most students and graduates of yeshivot. These students and graduates first receive a draft deferment on the basis of declarations from heads of yeshivot. When their deferments expire, the students or graduates are either entirely exempted from army service or are inducted directly into the army reserve forces after undergoing only brief and cursory recruit training. They are disqualified from serving in any dangerous or even unpleasant capacities. Their chances of being killed or wounded in wartime are thus greatly reduced. Their deferments mean that these students or graduates do not have to serve in the army for the period of three years, which is compulsory for all other Israeli Jewish males who are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. In his analysis of this situation, Ehud Asheri reported in his August 22, 1996 article, published in Haaretz, that at that time 5 per cent of all Jewish males were so deferred.
The vehement passions aroused by and the debates over this issue have antagonistically deepened the split between Israeli Jewish secularists and the Haredim. Currently, many secular Jews complain, as they and others have in the past, that the Haredim do not share equally with other Israeli Jews the tasks and burdens imposed upon society. The Haredim argue, as they continually have in the past, that such reasoning is fallacious. Influenced by their education, the Haredim are convinced that all victories as well as defeats of the Israeli army are due to God's intervention and that without doubt God takes into consideration the numbers, progress in study and commitment of those Jews who engage in talmudic study. The Haredim cite numerous passages in the Talmud and in subsequent talmudic literature that are emphatic on this point. Not only the privileged students and graduates of yeshivot but also traditional Israeli Jews support the Haredim and the cited sacred Jewish writings on this point.
The attitude of many secular Israeli Jews towards sacred studies and the Talmud is the exact opposite of that held by the Haredim. Secularly oriented parodies of the Talmud have remained popular and still abound in Israeli society. Many of these parodies revolve around the Haredi rationale underlying the deferment and exclusion from military service. In December 1988, for example, during one of the recurrent disputations about the deferment from service of yeshiva students, the Haredim pointed to the talmudic version of the biblical account of the victories of Yo'av, the general of King David. The Haredim quoted the talmudic interpretation that these victories were attributable to David's sacred studies, since in their view Talmud in an oral form dated back to Moses and perhaps to Abraham and was written later. Some secular writers responded publicly that David rather remained at home and sent Yo'av to fight, because he was occupied in committing adultery with Bathsheba and causing the death of her husband, Uriah. One columnist in the Israeli press, certainly not Haredi-oriented, opined that David was probably more keen about studying Bathsheba's bodily curvature than he was about studying the Talmud. Such debate has had, and continues to have, a bearing upon Israel similar in some ways to the effect upon politics that similar debate had in Christian Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. What many foreign observers of Israeli Jewish society have not grasped is that, even with the scientific and technological accomplishments in Israel, the Haredim and most other Israeli Jewish fundamentalists live figuratively in a time period that corresponds closely to European Christian societies many generations ago. These fundamentalists have not made the quantum leap, as have secular Israelis, into modern times. The tension between fundamentalist and secular Israelis, therefore, stems mostly from the fact that these two groups live in different time periods.
Haredim often propound theories even more extreme than those mentioned previously. Many Haredi rabbis, for example, assert that the Holocaust, including most particularly the deaths of one-and-a-half million Jewish children, was a well-deserved divine punishment, not only for all the sins of modernity and faith renunciation by many Jews, but also for the decline of Talmudic study in Europe. The Haredim and their traditional Jewish followers attribute the death of every Jew, including each innocent child, not to natural causes but to direct action of God. The Haredim believe that God punishes each Jew for his or her sins and sometimes punishes the entire Jewish community, including many who are innocent, because of the sins committed by other Jews. In 1985, when twenty-two children, twelve and thirteen years of age, were killed in the town of Petah Tikva in a traffic accident involving their bus, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, one of the heads of the Shas Party and the then Minister of the Interior, stated in a television appearance that the children were victims, because a movie house was allowed to remain open on the Sabbath eve. Many members of the Hebrew press, predominantly representing secular Jews, attacked Rabbi Peretz mercilessly for making this statement. The Shas Party, nevertheless, in the next election did not lose but rather gained votes in various places, including Petah Tikva. The Haredim held and advocate similar beliefs about God's punishing and rewarding Jews in many areas of life on the basis of Jews' either committing sins or following God's word.
In the late 1990s, the primary concern of the Haredim is to expand their educational system, especially in poorer localities wherein they successfully offer material inducements such as hot meals, The Haredim strongly lobby the non-Haredi public schools with their propaganda. In some places these lobbying efforts are successful. In other areas the fierce opposition by parents who are educated and politically effective thwarts the Haredi propaganda and lobbying efforts. Haredi influence is sometimes extreme in specific places. In Netivot, one of the most religious towns in Israel, for example, the Haredim have successfully opposed any public high school, because it would be obligated to provide instruction in secular subjects. Netivot is the only Jewish town in Israel without a high school.
In order to proselytize and to spread their superstitions, Haredim often exploit the distress of people. Relatives of terminally ill hospital patients, especially if they are traditional, are often approached by messengers of a charismatic rabbi, who first reiterate that the doctors cannot help and then suggest that the relatives buy some sacred water, consecrated by a certain rabbi, and smear the patient with it. The messengers relate stories about miracles that occur after the use of this sacred water, which is never distributed without a non-returnable payment. The messengers, of course, never mention the failure of sacred water miracles. The secular Hebrew press at times will report on the failure of these miracles, especially when a large amount of money is known to have been spent for the sacred water. Such reporting, however, most often only deepens the chasm between those who read and those who do not read but loathe the secular Hebrew press. In their own press the Haredim not only attack the secular press but also display their general hostility towards secular Israeli Jews. Until the later part of the 1980s, most of the Israeli Jewish public paid little attention to the Haredi press. Since then, general public attention has increased considerably. Dov Albaum, one of Israel's foremost experts on Haredi affairs, focused upon this point in two Hebrew-language articles, one published in the August 30, 1996 issue of the newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, the other published in the July-August issue of the bi-monthly periodical, Ha'ain Hashvi'it (The Seventh Eye), which is published by the Israeli Democracy Institute and is devoted to analyzing the Israeli press. Albaum discussed the structure of the Haredi press in Yediot Ahronot and then proceeded to a discussion in Ha'ain Hashvi'it of the Haredi attitude as a whole towards secular Israeli Jews. According to Albaum, the violent attacks in the Haredi press upon Aharon Barak, the president of the Israeli Supreme Court, attracted increased public attention. The Haredi press called Barak "the most dangerous enemy ever to face the Haredi public." Albaum pointed out that the earlier Haredi press attacks upon the left-wing kibbutzim, the Israeli army, the secular media and many other secular institutions and figures aroused little general interest. The attack upon the Supreme Court, long regarded as the holiest symbol of Israeli secular democracy, piqued the interest of many secular Jews. The violent Haredi press attacks upon Yitzhak Rabin, while he was prime minister, did not have the same effect. Shortly before Rabin's assassination an article in one of the most popular Haredi weekly publications, Ha'Shavua (The Week) predicted:
The day will come when the Jews will bring Rabin and Peres to the defendant's bench in court with the only two alternatives being the noose or the insane asylum. This insane and evil pair have either gone mad or are obvious traitors. Rabin and Peres have guaranteed their place in the Jewish memory as evil Jews of the worst kind. They resemble the apostates or the Jews who served the Nazis.
Reiterating that secular Jewish interest in Israel heightened after the attack upon Barak and the Supreme Court, Albaum observed that increasing numbers of secular Israelis are insulted when they read in the Haredi press that their lives are garbage and their children are hallucinating, lifeless drug addicts. Albaum explained:
Haredi journalists deliberately exaggerate all marginal phenomena in secular society. They describe all murders, cases of alcoholism and hard drug situations as characteristics of secular Jewish society. In addition, they allege as facts incorrect statements, engage in the wildest forms of slander and often use the most derogatory terminology. Their aim is to condemn absolutely the secular, Jewish lifestyle.
It is difficult to avoid considering such depiction as analogous to the Nazi methodology.
The structure of the Haredi press is significant. Albaum pinpointed as the main Haredi ideological trendsetter Yated Ne'eman (Faithful Tent-Peg), the official newspaper of the Degel Ha'Torah faction, headed and controlled by Rabbi Shach. Albaum explained that Yated Ne'eman is strictly monitored by a committee of five rabbis, all appointed by Rabbi Shach and headed by Rabbi Natan Zohavsky. At least one of the committee's rabbis is in the newspaper's office each evening except the Shabbat. Every word of every article, advertisement and announcement must be approved for publication by the rabbi(s) on duty. Certain words and expressions, such as aids or television, are not allowed to be printed. The term "Red Cross," supposedly associated with Christianity, is especially prohibited from usage.
Yated Ne'eman articles often ferociously attack rival Haredi factions. One example is that all advertisements about social events of the Shas Party, which is despised by Rabbi Shach, are not allowed to be printed. The importance of this prohibition was highlighted when, after an apparent lull in the spiritual war between Rabbi Shach and Shas, one of the newspaper's editors dared to publish an advertisement announcing the bar-mitzvah of Aryeh Der'i's son. (Aryeh Der'i is a Member of the Knesset and an important Shas leader.) Upon learning of this, Rabbi Shach strongly reprimanded Rabbi Zochovsky, the head of the overseeing committee of rabbis.
Spiritual censorship committees exist and monitor everything printed in other Haredi newspapers. Albaum asserted: "Freedom of the press is an unknown concept in the Haredi press." Haredi editors, according to Albaum, proclaim a different kind of freedom: "the right of our public not to know certain things." The censoring rabbis decide what the public should not know.
In reflecting the general Haredi attitude towards secular Jews, Haredi press articles often present arguments reminiscent of anti-Semitic statements about all Jews. Albaum pointed to a February 1996 article, for example, in which Israel Friedman reiterated the position that the land of Israel belongs only to the Haredim and that secular Jews and Palestinians should leave it. In addressing secular Jews, Friedman in his article stated: "Go away from here ... We tell you this in a friendly manner. Go away. American crime will easily absorb the criminal secular youth who are all enchanted by alcohol, drugs and earrings. They are bloodsuckers who drink our blood. They dare to live on land that belongs to us." In another article Albaum quoted Nathan Ze'ev Grossman, the editor of Yated Ne'eman, as attributing the rise of neo-Nazism in European countries "to the influence of the Rabin government." Grossman described all kibbutzim as Nazi institutions and proposed "to put them on trial according to the precedent of the Nuremberg trials."
The Haredim demand that other Jews should, at least in public and especially in regard to matters of symbolism, behave according to their dictates. Haredi demands, often supported by traditionalist Jews, so frequently cause political scandals that they can be described as a staple of Israeli politics. More Israeli government crises have occurred because of religious scandals than for any other reasons. To further their political interests, the Haredim insist upon employing certain symbols. This insistence has played an important role in Israeli politics. Many Israeli Jews, together with a much greater number of diaspora Jews, in deference to what they believe is Jewish tradition and the commandments of Judaism, support Haredi demands to keep and display symbols of religious observance. Such support has produced scandal. One particularly illustrative scandal occurred in Autumn 1992 and occupied Israeli politics for many months. During the time of this scandal, the Haredi Shas Party threatened to leave the Rabin government, not because of Rabin's plans to deal with the Palestinians nor because of possible concessions to the Syrians but rather because the then Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni, on a visit to Nazareth was photographed eating in a non-kosher, Arab restaurant and thus violating the religious symbol of the ritual purity of food. Only six months prior to the Aloni affair another scandal involving a Member of the Knesset had occurred; MK Yael Rayan was photographed on a Tel Aviv beach, dressed in a swimsuit and reading a book on Yom Kippur. All the religious political parties then protested furiously against what they termed this "profanation ofJudaism." After hearing traditionally religious Labor Party Knesset members echo the same sentiments, Prime Minister Rabin, who was not traditionally religious, reinforced the accusation.
During her tenure as minister of education, Shulamit Aloni made numerous statements that were viewed as being in opposition to symbols in Judaism and thus blasphemous; these statements resulted in scandals. One month before arousing scandal by eating in an Arab restaurant, for example, Aloni publicly acknowledged that the denial of the world's being created in six days was a tenable hypothesis. She also publicly struck the controversial, although hardly earth-shattering, position that the teaching ofJudaism in the state's secular schools should be slightly changed. (She was content to leave as it is the teaching of Judaism in the state's religious schools.) Aloni caused even more furore when she publicly slighted some biblical figures. Ranny Talmor, a respected Israeli journalist, rightly observed in her October 14, 1992 article in the newspaper, Hadashot;
[Aloni] scarcely escaped Galileo's fate after he persisted in maintaining that the earth moved around the sun. Some supposedly enlightened, secular Jews whispered to one another: "Of course she is right, but why does she need to say this in public?" The Jewish Grand Inquisitors were delighted in their realization that they had scored another victory against the weak-minded infidels.
The Jewish Inquisitors harassed Aloni even more after Rabin forced her to apologize publicly in an open letter to Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph, the spiritual head of the Shas Party. Yoel Markus, a well-known Israeli journalist, reflected widely held opinion when he observed in his October 13, 1992 Haaretz article:
As is well known, each concession in such matters only encourages the demand for more. This is why the abject surrender to Jewish religious demands by members of the Labor and Meretz Parties makes us wonder. Rabin has solemnly undertaken to check closely an intelligence report, submitted to him by the National Religious Party [NRP], describing how Aloni violated the Sabbath and ate non-kosher food in Israel and abroad. The Chairman of the Labor Party faction in the Knesset [Elie Dayan] publicly rebuked Aloni and Member of the Knesset Yael Dayan.
The NRP hired detectives to spy on ministers in order to discover what transgressions of Jewish religious commandments they committed. Such spying continued while the Rabin and Peres governments were in power. Rabin and Peres, while prime ministers, obtained all the findings of the detectives and continually attempted to keep their ministers from transgressing any religious laws in public.
In his Haaretz article, Yoel Markus articulated many fears, shared by a sizeable segment of the Israeli Jewish public:
We can also expect demands that each minister and member of the Knesset be accompanied by a kashrut inspector, who holds a full-time job for this purpose and that similar inspectors be appointed to insure that kashrut is observed in every neighborhood and on every street in Israel. A demand may also be made to establish vice squads, authorized to raid private homes in order to ascertain whether kashrut is being observed and whether, God forbid, a wife does not by chance have sex with her husband in the period of impurity during and after the time of menstruation [lasting eight to fourteen days.]
Other Israeli journalists expressed similar fears and went further than did Markus in their published articles. Some attacked not only the religious but also the secular Jews who remained silent about the attacks upon them and their behavior and who would allow continual efforts by religious surveyors to brainwash systematically. Many Israeli Jews, whose opinions were represented by certain journalists, saw the activities and actual victories by religious factions as advancements towards a full-scale Jewish "Khomeinism" in Israel.
The discussion of the Aloni scandal continued for weeks in the Israeli press and became increasingly political. Nahum Barnea wrote in his October 23, 1992 Yediot Ahronot article:
Rabin encouraged the torrents of anti-Aloni propaganda by advancing the slogan "either Aloni or peace." What connection can there be between Aloni's dietary preferences and peace ... On four separate occasions Rabin summoned the leaders of Meretz (Aloni's party] to his office in order to convey to them the complaints about Aloni made by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of the Shas Party.
In his October 23, 1992 Davar article, Amir Oren censured Rabin for being subservient to Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph and for equating the rabbi's power to be equal to that of Stalin's in his time. Oren opined that the Shas Party had begun to fulfil in Israel a role analogous to that of the Shi'ites in Lebanon. In Oren's view Israel, "far from being the only democracy in the Middle East was imitating Lebanon and Iran, becoming in effect half a state of anarchy and half a theocracy."
Amnon Abromovitz in his October 23, 1992 Maariv article put a somewhat different spin on the Aloni scandal. He wrote: "The vicious use of Aloni as a scapegoat by the religious Jews generated public support for her. A repelling stench of religious zeal, fundamentalism and sexism is emanating from the harassment of Aloni." Abromovitz blamed Rabin for encouraging this harassment, but he added that despite all her talk and non-kosher eating, Aloni had granted religious institutions, especially those of the Shas, more money than had any previous Minister of Education. Abramovitz concluded: "Aloni may talk blasphemously about God, but she has been foremost in generosity to those who believe in Him."
The leaders of the Labor Party and their non-traditionalist sympathizers answered the above expressions of fear, especially after Oslo, by arguing that concessions to the demands of the Haredim were necessary to ensure backing for the peace process. This stock answer did not satisfy many secular Israelis. What Markus concluded represented broad secular opinion:
The reason for Rabin's servility to Shas is supposed to be politics. Labor experts in skullduggery assure us that the Shas Party may leave the coalition if it finds it no longer able to withstand pressure from the other Haredi circles ... The conclusion is that Labor must do its best to placate them ...Politics is important, but freedom of conscience and everyone's right to follow one's creed are even more important. Jewish secularism is a creed. The crude hypocrisy, with which the ministers fake religious devotions, leads nowhere but only damages their government's integrity. If Shas wants to leave Rabin's coalition, it will do so by order of its rabbis. It will then not help if Rabin puts on an Haredi garb and/or if Aloni shaves her head to cover it with a coif. [The reference here is to a commandment of traditional Judaism that a woman, before marrying, has to shave her head and cover it with a coif. The Haredim attempt to enforce this rule strictly. Many Jewish, religious women cut only some of their hair and cover the remainder with wigs. Many secular, Jewish women are enraged by this rule.]
By design, Haredi rabbis and politicians select secular women in politics as the primary targets of their attacks, even though they could pinpoint secular men as much, if not more, for transgressions of religious law. The Haredim repeatedly refer to Jewish women, engaged in politics, as witches, bitches or demons. Although a bit crude at times in the use of descriptive language, the Haredim approach mirrors to a great extent traditional Judaism's broadly based position regarding women. This position not only restricts the rights of women but in many ways holds women in contempt. Rule 8 in Chapter 3 of the Kitzur Shulhan Aruch (Abridgment of Shulhan Aruch), an elementary textbook for Jews with little talmudic education, for example, dictates: " A male should not walk between two females or two dogs or two pigs. In the same manner the males should not allow a woman, dog or pig to walk between them." All Haredi boys between the ages of ten and twelve study and are required to observe this rule. (Few dogs and no pigs can be found in Haredi neighborhoods.) Traditional Judaism also prohibits women from playing even insignificant roles in politics and/or in any public activities in which they may appear to be leading males. Women are forbidden to drive buses or taxis; they can drive private cars only if no males apart from those in their own families or other women are passengers. These and many rules are followed in Haredi neighborhoods. In these neighborhoods women who are "dressed immodestly" are often insulted and/or assaulted. Many traditionally religious Jewish males in other than Haredi neighborhoods, who do not observe inconvenient religious commandments, take the lead of the Haredim in resenting and opposing participation of women in politics. These traditionally religious males regard such participation by women as a threat to their domination of their own families.
The numerous misogynistic statements in the Talmud and in talmudic literature constitute a part of every Haredi male's sacred study. The statement in Tractate Shabat, page 152b, defining a woman is exemplary: "A woman is a sack full of excrement." The learned Talmudic Encyclopedia (volume 2, pages 255-7), written in modern Hebrew and thus understandable to all educated Israeli Jews, devotes a section to the "nature and behavior of women." In this section the proposition appears that the urge for the sexual act is greater among men than among women. The evidence presented for this is that men tend to hire women prostitutes because their urge for sex is greater than the urge of women. For that reason the Halacha punishes a wife who refuses to have sexual relations with her husband much more severely than it punishes a husband who refuses to have sexual relations with his wife. For the same reason a prospective husband is obliged to see his wife-to-be before marrying her but a prospective wife is not obligated to see her husband-to-be before marriage. After seeing his prospective bride, moreover, the prospective husband can send a messenger and conduct the marriage through the messenger. Jewish folklore contains stories describing the utilization of this procedure.
The halachic prohibition of teaching talmudic literature and/or the Bible to women has been in the past and is currently still of great importance. Studying "Torah Sheba'al Peh" (the oral law) is for the Halacha a supremely important commandment. It is equivalent in importance to all the other commandments put together. (The law, according to belief, was given by God orally to Moses and was handed down orally for many centuries before being written.) This obligation, termed "Talmud Torah" or "learning the Torah" is viewed as independent of time. Every pious male Jew is obligated to devote a portion of all days and nights, including holidays and working days, to this study. A basic talmudic rule frees women from positive obligations that are dependent on special times and obliges women only with positive obligations that are independent of time. Women, for example, are obliged to keep the Sabbath and the holidays that last more than twenty-four hours and are thus considered to be independent of time. Women, on the other hand, are not obliged to hear the shofar (ram's horn) blown on the New Year, which only takes a short time and is thus considered to be dependent on time. (There are a few exceptions to this rule.) A woman is permitted to fulfill what she is not obliged to do; hence she can choose to hear the ram's horn blown on the New Year. This rule underlines the women's religious inferiority to men, since another talmudic dictate is that a person who fulfills a commandment because he is obliged to do so is greater and receives a greater reward from God than a person who fulfills a commandment he is not obliged to fulfill. A Jewish woman that comes to the synagogue on the New Year and hears the ram's horn being blown, according to traditional Judaism, will receive a smaller reward from God than a male who does the same, because she is not obliged to hear whereas he is so obliged. Tractate Kiddushin (page 34a) of the Talmud, however, ruled that women are not obliged to fulfill "Talmud Torah," even though it is an obligation independent of time. This ruling is part of Halacha. The rule was later amended to mean that women should learn only the special obligations that they must keep to the extent that they know what to do and what to avoid. The issue, therefore, arose: What parts of sacred studies are women permitted to learn or to be taught? The talmudic answer to this question, based upon many quotations, was given by Maimonides. In his work, Talmud Torah Laws (chapter 1, rule 13), Maimonides wrote:
A woman who has studied Torah receives a reward [from God], but it is an inferior one when compared to man's reward. This is because she is not obligated [to do so], and everyone who does what he is not obliged to do gets an inferior reward compared to [the reward given to] one who does what he is commanded to do. The woman nevertheless receives some reward. The sages commanded a father not to teach his daughter Torah, because most woman never intend to learn anything and will, because of the weak understanding, convert the pronouncements of Torah into nonsense. The sages said: "Everyone who teaches his daughter Torah can be compared to one who teaches her insipid matters." This rule, however, applies only to talmudic studies. Although a woman should not be taught the Bible, she, if taught, would not have been taught insipid matters.
A somewhat shortened version of this is given in the authoritative compendium of the Halacha, Shulhan Aruch (Yorah Deah, rule 246, paragraph 6). In modern times the Haredim have attempted to modify those rules to some extent. They have taught and still do teach girls the easier parts of the Talmud, in which arguments between the rabbis, that are considered to be dangerous for the "weak female mind," do not occur. Similarly, the Haredim have taught and do teach girls the Pentateuch but reserve the highest level and most serious commentaries for the boys. The Haredim maintain in their schools a strict separation of girls from boys and do not allow the girls to observe boys playing in the schoolyard.
Many Israeli Jews, who in their youth received thorough talmudic educations, have later in their lives reacted antagonistically against Orthodox Judaism's depiction and treatment of women. Some of these Jews in reaction have written articles that are often published in the Israeli Hebrew press but are almost never translated into English. Kadid Leper, for example, a well-known Israeli journalist who as a youth studied in a yeshiva for years before becoming a secularist, wrote in his April 18, 1997 Hai'r article under the title "Woman is a sack full of excrement," the following:
Beatings, sexual brutality, cruelty, deprival of rights, use of a woman as merely a sexual object; you can find all of this there [in the Talmud] ... For two thousand years women had a well-defined place in the Jewish religion [Orthodox Judaism]; this place is different from what the rabbinical establishment describes; according to the Halacha, the place of women is in the garbage heap together with cattle and slaves. According to the Jewish religion [Orthodox Judaism] a man buys for himself a slave woman for her entire life simply by providing food and dress and granting to his wife the sexual act.
This kind of published article, together with the many published reports of rabbinical harassment of women, have not only firmed polarization in Israeli Jewish society but have contributed significantly to the growing secular enmity towards Haredim.
In many areas of Israeli Jewish society, the Haredim continue to maintain their separateness and at the same time assert that other Jews accept Haredi dicta. This is well illustrated by an example from the area of medicine. In his December 25, 1995 Yediot Ahronot article, Dov Albaum discussed the request submitted two weeks previously by the Haredim to the Israeli Ministry of Health:
Rabbi Yehoshua Sheinberger, the head of the Medicine by Law Organization, requested what seemed to be an innocent request that, as a concession to the religious Jews, personal blood donations be permitted. Previously, a person who donated a unit of blood for a patient undergoing surgery received a document entitling the recipient of the donation to one unit of blood from the general reserves of the Blood Bank. This new request, if accepted, would create a situation in which blood donors would be able to demand that hospitals or first aid stations give their blood donations only to specific recipients.
Rabbi Sheinberger, supported by two other important rabbis, argued that Haredim usually refuse to donate blood but might change their attitude if this demand were accepted. Albaum in his article discussed the additional motivation behind this request:
Beneath the surface there is a completely different problem that led to the rabbis' approaching the [Israeli] Ministry of Health. Haredi religious law authorities have in recent years dealt with the following issue: "Is it permissible for a pious Jew to receive a blood transfusion from non-Jews or from Jews who do not observe Jewish religious laws?" Haredi rabbis fear that, receiving "tainted," secular blood, or non-Jewish blood might cause a pious Jew to behave badly and even, heaven forbid, harm his observance of the Jewish religious laws.
Several months before the above-mentioned request, Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph addressed this problem at length in his new book, Questions and Answers--Statements: "Blood that comes from forbidden [that is, non-kosher] foods may cause a negative effect upon its Jewish recipients. It may produce bad qualities, such as cruelty and/or boldness ... Therefore, a pious Jew, who does urgently need a transfusion and who faces no danger in waiting to receive blood from a strictly religious Jew, should wait." Rabbi Yoseph offered similar advice for those pious Jews needing organ transplants; he advised them only to accept such donations from other pious Jews. This dictate erupted into a serious dispute among rabbis in Israel and astonished many secular Jews. In another published article, Albaum reported that Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, a former chief rabbi of Israel, disagreed with Rabbi Yoseph and stated: "When a secular Jew is born, he is born with kosher blood and all the forbidden foods that he later eats are dissolved and made marginal in his blood." In regard to non-Jews, however, Rabbi Eliyahu mostly agreed with Rabbi Yoseph and held that religious Jews should attempt to avoid blood donations from them. Rabbi Eliyahu did not totally forbid blood donations for Jews from non-Jews. He stated:
It is permitted at certain times that Jews receive blood, or in the case of sucklings mother's milk, from non-Jews, in spite of the fact that such blood is detrimental to their Jewish characteristics and spirit. This is because blood is transferred slowly and is made marginal in the cycling of Jewish blood in the body. Nevertheless, when possible, a Jew should avoid receiving such blood.
Rabbi Sheinberger finally admitted that such rulings constituted the primary reason for his request: "The Haredi community has a problem in this area. For the Haredim blood from a Jew who eats only kosher food is preferable to blood from a Jew who does not observe dietary laws." Other Haredi rabbis agreed. Rabbi Levy Yitzhak Halperin, the head of the Scientific Religious Institute for Jewish Law Problems explained: "Blood donations from non-Jews or from Jews who eat forbidden foods are a problem. Jewish religious law holds that a Jewish child should preferably not be breast fed by a non-Jewish woman because her milk consists of forbidden food and contaminates the Jewish child." Such positions and statements antagonized secular Jews and met great opposition from the great majority of members of the Israeli medical profession.
In 1994 Rabbi Sheinberger ignited another controversy and created scandal with a similar request, He met with senior physicians from the Israel Transplants Association and discussed with them the Jewish religious prohibition on organ donations. In Israel Haredi Jews refuse organ transplants from their and/or their relatives' corpses. On this issue the Haredi position influences many people for superstitious as well as religious reasons. Organ transplants in Israel are thus difficult to arrange. Surgeons frequently request Haredi rabbis to appeal to their followers to agree to organ transplants from corpses of their relatives in order to save lives. The surgeons' argument is based upon the Jewish religious law giving priority to saving Jewish lives. In his discussion Rabbi Sheinberger put the condition that only a Haredi rabbi could authorize such transplants. He explained: "Jewish religious law states that it is forbidden to transplant Jewish organs into either non-Jews or Jews who are not pious. It is obvious that it is prohibited under any circumstances to transplant Jewish organs into Arabs, all of whom hate Jews." Rabbi Sheinberger, when asked for his definition of a Jew who is not pious, replied that a rabbi must determine the status of every Jew. Sheinberger's request caused a huge commotion and was rejected.
Many non-Haredi rabbis allow an organ of a non-Jew to be transplanted into a body of a Jew in order to save the life of the Jew. They, however, oppose the transplant of an organ from a Jew into the body of a non-Jew. Some important rabbis go much further in discussing and ruling about differences between Jews and non-Jews on medical matters. Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh, an influential member of the Habad movement and the head of a yeshiva near Nablus, for instance, opined in an April 26, 1996 Jewish Week article, reproduced in Haaretz that same day: "If every single cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, and is thus part of God, then every strand of DNA is a part of God. Therefore, something is special about Jewish DNA." Rabbi Ginsburgh drew two conclusions from this statement: "If a Jew needs a liver, can he take the liver of an innocent non-Jew to save him? The Torah would probably permit that. Jewish life has an infinite value. There is something more holy and unique about Jewish life than about non-Jewish life." It is noteworthy that Rabbi Ginsburgh is one of the authors of a book lauding Baruch Goldstein, the Patriarchs' Cave murderer. In that book Ginsburgh contributed a chapter in which he wrote that a Jew's killing non-Jews does not constitute murder according to the Jewish religion and that killing of innocent Arabs for reasons of revenge is a Jewish virtue. No influential Israeli rabbi has publicly opposed Ginsburgh's statements; most Israeli politicians have remained silent; some Israeli politicians have openly supported him.
The Haredi demand to establish the Halacha as the law of the state of Israel has in recent years received increased support from the more pious members of the NRP. Briefly summarized, the specifics of this demand are:
God's political authority must be formally and juridically recognized. Ordained rabbis, God's certified agents, must be the decision makers.
Rabbis must oversee all social institutions, adjudicate all issues that arise, make final judgements about all social services and censor all printed, pictorial and sound matter.
Sabbath, other religious laws, physical separation of women from men in public places and "modesty" in female conduct and dress must be enforced by law.
Individuals must be obligated legally to report all noticed offenses of others to rabbinical authorities.
The theocratic, totalitarian nature of the Haredi demand for the Halacha to be the binding law of the State of Israel is obvious.
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