Last month I wrote about the
power of the ultra-Orthodox Jews. Their two main political parties
combine to wield enormous, inordinate influence in Israeli government.
They both support the following policies:
1. The control of Judaism in the Land through the institution of the
Chief Rabbis. Although the ultra-Orthodox represent only around a
tenth of the population, they effectively control who is to be defined
as a Jew in Israel.
2. The ultra-Orthodox demand great support for their full time
religious schools, yet their children and young people are not taught
core subjects that can prepare them for earning a living for themselves
without depending on welfare. The previous government coalition sought
to change this, but Netanyahu dissolved that government when he last
called for elections. The ultra-Orthodox education funding "with no
strings attached" was restored under the present government.
3. The ultra-Orthodox demand welfare payments so that all the men who
want to study Torah (really Talmud) can do so and not have to
work. This is an enormous burden on the State budget that is not
sustainable. They demand that their men not be required to work; they
see their study as their work which the State should support. The rest
of the Israelis who have to fund the welfare system on behalf of the
ultra-Orthodox through high taxation, highly resent this.
4. The ultra-Orthodox demand that their men be exempted from
compulsory service in the army. Some sects are even against the
existence of the state of Israel! Most refuse to serve in the army. This
attitude is defended with the assertion that it is the observance and
prayers of the ultra-Orthodox (the only ones by their definition who are
heard by God) that keeps Israel safe from its enemies.
5. The ultra-Orthodox controlling the Interior Ministry that grants
Israeli citizenship. They reject Messianic Jews and others who have a
right of citizenship by descent from Jews, interpreting the Law of Return
to exclude those they don't consider match their definition of
Jewishness. They have even rejected conversions from well-known Orthodox
Rabbis in the United States. The Supreme Court has accepted Conservative
and Reform Conversions as valid. However, the ultra-Orthodox
increasingly resist the implementation of these rulings.
As a result of this, plus the recent decision not to proceed with an
egalitarian section for prayer at the Western Wall, many diaspora Jews
feel alienated from Israel.
Orthodox Judaism is the state religion of Israel. It does provide some
moral foundations for the society and has been key in Israel not
allowing gay marriage or embracing the whole LGBT agenda. For example,
in adoption of children only heterosexual married couples may apply. So
some of what comes from the Orthodox is good.
What is to be done? Though the ultra-Orthodox are a small minority (13
today in the Knesset-Parliament out of 120) they wield a great deal of
power. This is because every other major party is willing to submit
to their demands so they will join their coalition in order to have
sufficient votes to form a government. But this could change if
the non-religious conservative parties and the more liberal parties
would make an agreement that they are committed to reverse the
ultra-Orthodox policies listed in points 1-5 above.
Your prayers for this nation, for conviction, healing and unity are