It’s tempting to look at the latest crisis in Israel — over whether the Charedim should serve in the military — as pitting religion against the state. Just look at some of the comments from both sides. On the fervent religious side, Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef has declared a state of emergency. In his weekly sermon on July 7, as reported in Ynet, the rabbi is quoted as saying.
Thousands of haredi Orthodox held a prayer rally to protest the forced enlistment of yeshiva students.
The disturbing recent episode involving the harassment of an 8-year-old Orthodox girl in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, and the ongoing controversy over separate seating for women on public buses in Jerusalem and elsewhere, has focused new attention on that group of Jews known as Charedim (or ultra-Orthodox). But who are they, and where do they come from?
Much has already been written about the horrifying scenes of violence, extremism and chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) taking place in Israel these past weeks — indeed these past years; but something more needs to be said.
The most serious internal problem facing Israel is the political clout exerted by the Charedim (ultra-Orthodox), which threatens the future unity, economic development and military readiness of the state. This is the firm conviction of Rabbi Uri Regev, who recently spent a week in Los Angeles to garner support for Hiddush, a year-old organization whose motto calls for “religious freedom and equality in Israel.” Regev, a native-born Israeli, Reform leader and president/CEO of Hiddush (Hebrew for innovation or renewal), co-founded the movement with Los Angeles business executive Stanley Gold, who serves as chairman. In an interview with The Jewish Journal, Regev, 59, argued with characteristic intensity and passion that “the Israeli public will no longer tolerate selling Israel’s future to the Charedi parties ... and a Charedi-dominated Chief Rabbinate which controls its life from birth to death and almost everything in between.”
When Baruch Meir Yaacov Shochet called Asher Klitnick into his office on that day in 2004 to discuss the growing crisis of poor Charedi families, the rebbe had more on his mind than just fundraising. This time, he was also thinking about jobs. He asked Klitnick and his team to prepare Charedis to join the working world.
In Israel, where service in the armed forces is every man's -- and most women's -- duty, the majority of Israelis, from secular to Modern Orthodox, have long scorned the ultra-Orthodox "black hats" for avoiding military service by studying in yeshivas. Now, a battalion of ultra-religious young men, known as Nahal Haredi, is seeking to change this image by combining Torah study with the bearing of arms.
Though Israel boasts a burgeoning high-tech industry and a predominantly Net-savvy populace, many of the country's charedim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) view technology, especially the World Wide Web, as something of a mixed blessing. Sure, many charedim support their families by writing code, and several sites such as asktherabbi.com help Diaspora Jews answer questions about Jewish law, but earlier this year the Council of Torah Sages banned the Internet from its followers' homes. In a harshly worded edict, the panel of Talmudic scholars that represents the majority of charedi sects branded the Internet a "terrible danger" that's "1,000 times" more hazardous than television (which was cast out of ultra-Orthodox homes about 30 years ago). Some sects even declared personal computers in the home off-limits.