The next religious war in the Middle East, according to Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush, will not be between any of the religious factions bubbling about in Syria, Iraq, Jordan or Egypt, but between the Haredim and the rest of the secular establishment in Israel. That was the essence of the lawmaker’s message to American Ambassador Dan Shapiro, his guest on Monday in Jerusalem, as reported by Kikar Hashabbat.
The get-together, initially planned as part of the ongoing, excellent relationship between Agudat Israel in Jerusalem and the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, turned very quickly to the politics of the day, most notably the new draft legislation which is threatening to clear many benches in Haredi yeshivas across Israel.
Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro was born in Champaign, Illinois. While attending Washington University, he spent his sophomore year in Israel, and then transferred to Brandeis University, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. Two years later he got a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Politics from Harvard University. He speaks both Hebrew and Arabic. Shapiro, his wife and their three children are members of the Conservative Jewish Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC.
The ambassador and the MK started out discussing Syria, with the ambassador presenting the official White House line about the value of teaching President al-Assad a lesson that should be watched and absorbed by others, such as Iran and Hezbollah. Shapiro admitted that there wasn’t much support for that educational effort in the American public, but he added that President Obama nevertheless sees a great danger in letting the gassing incident pass without a proper, decisive, military reaction.
Of course, that was Monday, and since then it appears the president would be willing to accept lesser educational avenues, such as the dismantling of Assad’s chemical stocks, proving to the world once more that America’s red lines are as flexible as lines of any other color.
Soon enough, they let go of those trivialities, and Ambassador Shapiro wanted to know how the Haredim felt about the new draft legislation. He emphasized that America does not get involved in the internal affairs of other countries (unless they involve Sarin gas, that is), but, nevertheless, the U.S. wants to see a strong Israel, both militarily and socially.
“There should be internal cohesion,” Shapiro counseled, “mutual understanding – even though there are, naturally, different opinions, as it has been for 65 years.”
MK Porush replied that for the Haredi public, this is nothing short of an existential issue. He added, poignantly: “When our rabbis sense that there’s an attempt to alter our lifestyle, they’ll declare a religious war.”
“I recently told Jewish Home MKs,” Porush added, “don’t be tempted to test us, it could end up being a very tough fight. That’s how I see my role these days, to deliver this message to everyone: Should there be a law here, which we would view as compulsive conscription, the rabbis would declare a religious war, a religious confrontation.”
“I’m telling you and asking of you,” MK Porush told the ambassador, “it’s crucial that you report the government in the United States, so it won’t come as a surprise to you. If there will be a law that will compel yeshiva students, the rabbis will view this as an attempt to force an alternative lifestyle. This could cause serious shock waves in Israel.”
MK Porush noted that “Israel is the only country where Jews are being killed for being Jews, and it will, apparently, become the only country in the world that doesn’t permit Torah study to anyone wishing to sit and learn. This doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. Just as there isn’t another place in the world where Jews are being killed for being Jews.”
Ambassador Shapiro asked why Haredim view the draft as an existential threat, and Porush responded: “This is our path in life, which is why we’ve retained our clothing and our customs, the image of the Haredi Jew as it has been since we received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. We are the oldest nation, which has survived only because it tied itself to the Torah and behaves according to the Torah 24 hours a day. Among the things in the Torah is the commandment: Vehagita bo yomam valaila – study it day and night.”