Dear Daat Emet,
First let me clarify something about my question: I belong to the left side of the political spectrum. I am an atheist since childhood and a feminist.
I read with great interest your words and your goals on your site, but one question bothered me in the course of my reading.
It is true that the religious text, the Holy Writ, the Mishnah and the Talmud, are based on the ancient norms of inequality, a lack of empathy for the stranger and the different, but these are only de jure laws and the Charedi (and certainly the religious) do not put them into actual practice. I live in Jerusalem and I do not see them acting like xenophobes. Quite the opposite: always (to be precise, almost always) they are open, smiling, and pleasant. I have read, for example, the halacha which permits pedophilia, but this is only theory. I have not heard of Charedi who marry little girls in our day and age.
That is why your choice to battle the Charedi specifically bothers me, when there are so many more serious injustices being perpetrated: the murder of men, women, and children in the name of pure hooliganism. (I refer to the “Zionist” capture and occupation of territories which don’t belong to them.)
Why don’t you focus your battle on Israeli de facto crimes instead of on theoretical religious crimes?
Your question, which is really political, challenges us to clarify our stand on this issue and answer a bit at length. If we express your question in our own words, it would come out as “What is the best method for creating an Israeli nation based on values of equality, freedom, and harmony with no distinction as to sex, race, or religion?”
In this formulation of the question we have hinted that the occupation and the treatment of Israeli Arabs are the fruit of sick vines.
Identifying the source of the problem (in the Jewish state) will solve the problem which bothers you (the injustice and crimes against the Palestinian Arabs).
What is this source of gall and wormwood which increases and augments evil and injustice amongst us? Religion!!!
Let us begin with a history of the rise of the “Jewish democratic” state and we will continue our answer down to the villainous practical actions (de facto)of the Charedi.
There is no debate amongst historians of Zionism that the glue which unified (be it true or imagined) the Jews until the establishment of the Zionist movement had been religion, without entering the issue of whether Judaism is a religion only or a nation. From this position — a religion which unified a group of people — arose a movement which wished to retain the unity without the glue (religion).
How does one implement this painful paradox? One replaces the unifying element. In place of religion one puts territory. This territory, the innocents thought, would lead both to unity and to the implementation of the values of the enlightened world (the rejection of religion). But in practice the Zionist movement did not want to cut the umbilical cord of religion nor of the religious culture and remained with a diaspora/religious outlook here in Israel. Israeli Jews are still subjugated to the diaspora/religious outlook which posits that “in every generation they rise up against us to destroy us” (anti-Semitism) and we need the help of the powerful gentile nations (the US). We have remained the same people in different clothes. We switched the scattered Jewish ghettos for a single ghetto (the land of Israel) and the Czar and the Kaiser who safeguarded the welfare of the Jews has been replaced by America.
I mean to say that the Jews still believe that they are the center of the world, and because of their past suffering all have to be considerate of them and help them. Therefore any who stand in their way are traitors and any who block them are back-stabbers. This basic outlook, which is seen as an obvious background by most Jews, is based on religion. Therefore the Jews’ reaction to external critique, be it justified or not, will always begin with dismayed cries that the critic is an anti-Semite. The problem of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs is not viewed from a place of equality and freedom but from the point of preserving the Jewish tribe.
To illustrate the Jewish egocentricity, even amongst those who call themselves secular, we will bring an example from a letter we have received.
A few years ago I met a pretty young lady, who was about a month younger than I, during a trip abroad. She and I quickly came to speak the same language and sparks started to fly. But wonder of wonders, the girl wasn’t Jewish at all. But I come from a secular household, value freedom, and accept each person as he is. I don’t believe in the ignorances of religion, so I did not feel my love was something wrong or a crime. Over the course of time this woman and I spoke of a wedding and a marriage ceremony (civil, of course). After we married my family began to fear that the woman would not be accepted in Israeli society because she is not Jewish. My father (an atheist) and my mother (a secular person who believes in G-d) pressured me to have a religious marriage ceremony. After my son was born my parents, worried that my son would grow up a gentile in the Jewish state and feel out of place, increased the pressure. My parents feared society would scheme against my wife and son. I let the matter lie and did not let it disturb me. But the issue kept coming up, even from my best friends who worried about my son. My best friend knew my thought processes, but claimed that they are not realistic in today’s society. That which I did not allow to bother those around me (secular people) started to bother me about… My wife, who had to walk around completely covered during the height of summer heat, accepted all the strange laws (and there are a lot of those in the Shulchan Aruch and Halacha) without complaining too much. I always asked myself if I would have done the same for her? I have to admit, in all honesty, that I highly doubt I would have been willing to be put through this hell by people who saw me as no better than an animal.
See how far matters go. So easily, as though it were obvious, they ask others to convert, but if a gentile met a Jewish girl and asked her to convert, they would shake and tremble and cry out against his daring to ask her to change her identity.
If we summarize our opening remarks we could say that the source of the problem is a self-evident view. People tend to judge, to discuss, and at the end of the day to stick by their original views, because nothing touched their moral axioms. Most of the Jewish public which discusses the issues of Arabs and Palestinians does so from a self-evident view that preserving the Jewish tribe is more important than human rights and liberalism. They do not discuss the Arab/Israeli conflict as a conflict between human beings, but as one between Jews and Arabs. This axiom stems from a historical past rooted in the Jewish religion. So you can see that the political dispute between what we call right and left is a debate between the deaf and will not be productive until we completely uproot Jewish egocentrism from within ourselves. We can begin this by uprooting religion and thus turning ourselves into people and not merely Jews, lambs amongst the wolves.
In other words, were people’s moral outlook like that of infants who still cannot be categorized as belonging to any specific culture, then the emotional and experiential base and background would be people as people only, with culture only external dressing. This is in contrast with religion which sets its stamp, literally in the flesh, only eight days after birth, before the infant has learned language, seen colors, smelled scents…
This answer would have been enough to explain why we present religion (note that we focus more on religion than on the Charedi) in all its nakedness — its racism, discrimination, and its emphasis on itself as a “chosen nation.” This outlook is still well rooted within even the sector which does not observe the commandments — they place their identity as Jews before their identity as human beings. Even the liberals amongst us are not ashamed to admit that the border of their liberalism extends until harm is caused to the Jewish tribe, and no farther.
But to strengthen our battle, a fight which seems to us necessary if we wish to continue to exist, we will explain why the Charedi and even the religious sector actively cause a retreat and distance from the values of the enlightened world and advance us, with giant steps, to an existential disaster.
But before we bring practical examples we should draw a distinction which many do not recognize, the distinction between the individual and the collective, between the lone person separated from the masses and the lone person in the midst of the masses. It is an interesting behavioral phenomenon: when a person is part of and feels himself to be part of a mob he renounces personal responsibility and becomes part of the collective. It is very possible, and is very common, that a Charedi who meets a homosexual will be nice and pleasant and will wish him al the best, but as soon as he participates in a demonstration against the Pride Parade (and he feels part of a collective) he will immediately change his pleasant behavior (renounce personal responsibility) and will act as he is expected to and is required to as part of that society and that collective (hit, scream, and get excited). Therefore, when we discuss Charedi society, we are discussing it as a society and as a collective. We are looking at the ideology of the group, its goals and wishes, not the behavior of this or that private individual when he is alone and not part of the collective. I suppose that every person knows and has experienced this distinction through personal experience, yet I will give an example from my own experience. I knew a pleasant Charedi man who had even shared with me his lack of satisfaction about the violent Charedi reaction to Daat Emet, but once, when Daat Emet activists were handing out material in Haifa and he was present with a large group of Charedi, he was vocally and physically violent to the activists. I went over to him, in my innocence, to ask why he was acting that way. He answered, in a loud and angry voice, “You’re a heretic and I am forbidden to look at you or to speak to you. Go to Germany.”
After this introduction. Let us discuss the collective views of the Charedi:
Let us take Jerusalem as a details showing the overall picture. Today in Jerusalem (5767-2006) 71% of children learn in Charedi kindergartens and only 15% in state-run kindergartens (secular) and 14% in state-run religious schools (from the Jerusalem municipality website). These 71% will go on to learn in, for boys, cheider, and for girls, Beis Yaakov. The common feature is that they will learn to hate the stranger, to discriminate against women, and to mock enlightenment, all in the name of G-d as an absolute truth which may not be questioned.
On Independence Day they teach the tender young that the secular state is a misstep and an act of the devil on the way to the complete redemption. In yeshivot they discuss the ox of a Jew who gores the ox of a gentile and whose owner is exempt from paying reparations, while the gentile owner of an ox which gores the ox of a Jew is liable. It is a “good deed” to rob the national coffers, and in their gall they call it “return of stolen goods.”
They do not recognize (de jure) the State of Israel, only de facto — only to “save” the world of yeshivot, to take the money of the laborers and give it to those who study Torah. As Rabbi Shaul Karelitz said, “Our representatives in the Knesset are our lobbyists [and despite being Members of Knesset] this does not imply any recognition of the existence of an institution such as a legislature” (Yated Neeman, May 31, 2000). The electorate is taught to obey their leaders absolutely; they vote for parties with no female representatives, parties which oppose pluralism, oppose other streams of Judaism (Reform and Conservative), take lightly the lives of those who are not Jewish, and many more well-known examples. Anyone looking at this depressing reality — the demographic growth of a sector which opposes the state and enlightenment — becomes dejected and disheartened. As a Daat Emet reader put it, “In short, it’s a lost case. We are like a train rushing to the end of the line.” Political parties are not theories; they are practical applications of religious ideology.
The very existence of an institution like a Chief Rabbinate in the State of Israel with legal authority to pass rulings on personal law based on religious law serves as testimony to the acceptance, by “the Jews,” of Jewish law in a legal, actual, and practical sense.
Let us recall some of the rulings which have revolting practical implications:
1. The ceremonies of halitza and yibum.
2. A deaf widow must marry her brother-in-law.
3. Delays in organ transplants and autopsies.
4. Agunot and mamzerim…etc., etc.
Another practical implication which should concern you, given your concern over the injustices and crimes committed against our neighbors, is the influence of Charedi and religious education on the political stands of those communities. According to statistical findings, 100% of the Charedi community and over 90% of the National Religious community champions the policies of occupation, the crimes against those occupied. This influence leads directly to action.
It is clear that to end the influence of this education we must, in practice, stop the budgets which are given to religious education. To stop them, the secular public must understand and internalize what this religion, to which they give such huge budgets, is.
We have shown you how the issue of the Arabs is one of the diseased branches of a view so deep-seated, emotional, and self-evident that people tend to ignore it and refrain from analyzing it: their religious Judaism, to which they give the same status as their humanism.
It is this view which we, Daat Emet, seek to uproot and destroy completely, so that we may emotionally and experientially internalize that we were created first as humans, as infants and children who only later took on culture as dressing for our humanity.