Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Time to Out the ultra-Orthodox הגיע הזמן לחשוף את החרדים

Previous to Haaretz running my op-ed piece in today’s edition, which was a version of my previous post about the secular struggle for Kiryat haYovel, the back-and-forth between myself and Editor David B. Green had value apart from the editing process per se, as it forced me to clarify and sharpen my argument, which is exactly what non-Orthodox Israelis need to do in the face of the perceived ultra-Orthodox invasion.

I believe that the knee-jerk anti-ultra-Orthodox reaction of most non-Orthodox stems not from blind hatred, but rather from the fact that most Israelis, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, have never had the pleasure of living in a civil society, i.e., one wherein the rules don’t change arbitrarily depending on who’s in power at the moment. Such arbitrariness is exemplified by the Chelm-like sleight-of-hand with which a judge decides that a supermarket is not considered public space [for the purposes of selling leavened products during Passover]; and a private residence is not zoned for praying.

Instead of the tactics they have employed until now, the non-Orthodox need to take a leaf from the book of life coaching, the underlying philosophy of which is: Instead of acting based on fear of what will be, imagine the outcome you want, and take positive steps to get there.

In the case at hand, the goal is to out the ultra-Orthodox on the fact that their practices (uglifying neighborhoods with their pasted-up notices; harassing inappropriately dressed women; driving cars fitted with bullhorns around residential areas at slow speed, blaring incessantly that the Messiah is coming; closing off streets to traffic at their own prerogative) have nothing to do with Torah observance, and everything to do with the fact that they want to escape back into a medieval ghetto and take the rest of us with them*. Perhaps I'm naive, but it's hard for me to imagine them launching a public, establishment-backed struggle for the “right” to engage in the above-mentioned practices.

Another thing I've observed about the ultra-Orthodox is that as much as they say that haShem and the Torah are their only authorities, they do respect strong leadership and law enforcement from outside the community. The key word here is "strong" -- the authority exerted must be confident and unyielding, not conciliatory like that of Beit Shemesh police chief Oz Eliasi, who allegedly made a deal with the ultra-Orthodox community there that police wouldn’t enter the neighborhood without first talking to the rabbi.

Taking potshots at “the black tide” won’t get us anywhere. Resistance to the ultra-Orthodox running our lives has to begin at the neighborhood level, and that means getting organized and leaving God out of it.

*So do the Amish resist modernity, but they don't move into my neighborhood and insist that I follow suit.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you about the importance (and probably the urgency) of exposing the Israeli attitude about there being one form of "real" Judaism (the ultra-orthodox) and that any practice of Judaism is measured by the extent to which the practicer measures up on their scale. It is not clear to me how and why that group, of all groups, got the official state monopoly on defining Judaism (and chooses the darkest form of it for its gold standard).

    However, I disagree about your assessment of the legal definitions of public and private spaces. A supermarket is as much of a private space as, for example, a private mall - and it is decided law that a mall (in the U.S., at least) is not public but private. That's why malls can make rules about attire and gun carrying inside them - where the government cannot, for example, prohibit texts on certain shirts or abridge the right to bear arms.

    Conversely, a gathering of many dozens of people in a privately owned residence (especially in a cooperative apartment building) can form a huge nuisance for everyone around them. It can also form a major hazard if the apartment is not equipped with appropriate exits, fire-prevention accessories, etc. I think of the nightclubs that went up in flames due to the absence of such precautions, and quite understand why local authorities would want to guarantee that no such events occur on their watch. Use of candles, poor supervision of children, and extensive amounts of flammable clothing make an ultra-orthodox gathering especially vulnerable to secular dangers, such as flames and stampedes; simultaneously, the blasphemous insistence upon their superiority to every other human on the planet makes it susceptible to any divine wrath that takes notice of them.