Do the ultra-Orthodox want to be integrated into Jewish Israeli life?

Ha’aretz 30/4/12

As Israel enters its 64th year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is staring into an apparently impossible situation. The cancellation of the Tal Law means that the ultra-Othodox community will be required by law to start enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces. Neither the army nor the community is prepared for this and what the government is left with is a growing proportion of their population who will not follow the law.

The Mazillah center has shown that, by 2028, one in three Jewish Israeli schoolchildren will be Haradi, thrusting us into a situation where a third of the population will be bucking the sovereignty of the State of Israel. Conscription, sadly, is an enforced fact of life, but the inability to enforce it on such a huge swath of the Israeli population will create a tremendous challenge for the state, both on a practical and theoretical level; practically, the burden of service is not equally shared, while theoretically, a third of the state’s population does not follow its laws.

Religious Israel Defense Force soldiers praying, 2007. Religious Israel Defense Force soldiers praying, 2007.
Photo by: Alex Levac

Within Israel there are many people working on public policy solutions to the problems of integration, and the Haradi community is slowly reforming in some ways; it is not a monolithic entity. Stanley Fisher, commenting on the poverty in the Haradi community generated from the lack of entry into the workforce, said that any economic trend that is unsustainable will eventually stop. Hope, however, is not a strategy. While internal changes are vital, public solutions such as school curriculum reform, child benefits and national service alternatives need to be established in order to help end the dependence on the state, and to ease some of the process of integration.

The problem of rising fundamentalism within religion is not distinct to Judaism, as Eric Kaufmann notes in his book, “Will the Religious Inherit the Earth”. Yet, as Kaufman notes, due to the demographic trends within Israel and the Jewish people as a whole, Judaism stands at the crest of the wave.

Another challenge that is not unique is the Haradi community’s integration into Israeli society. Many Jewish communities around the world are looking at the changing demographics within their communities and attempting to figure out how they should proceed. Jewish communal institutions serve both a welfare and representation role amongst many others. Yet it is in these two areas where the challenges are most stark.

With a growing population of Haradi Jews, should the general funds be used to cover their welfare needs if their donations to the general funds are tiny or non-existent? Should the separate Haradi welfare entities that have sprung up continue to exist outside the established community structures? What would be the costs, both finical and institutional of any attempt to integrate the various welfare groups into the whole?

The bigger question, perhaps, is do the Haradi communities want to join the rest of the Jewish Israeli community? The Jewish communal structures need to find some way to represent the fasting growing element of the community if they are to keep their representative function in a meaningful way. With the younger generation absconding along with the Haradi community keeping to themselves, the structures that have existed up till now will find themselves in an increasingly existential challenge.

There are no quick fixes, nor universal approaches that could work to solve this problem. While there are many differences between Israel and the rest of the Jewish people, this is a common challenge, where the interchange of innovative ideas could be helpful.

The internal strategic challenges of the Jewish people will be one of the great strategic dilemmas in the next twenty years. Both the creativity of the Jewish Diaspora and the national experience of Israel will be needed in order to find solutions to the problems facing the Jewish people as a whole.


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