Title: Real Jews; Secular Versus Ultra-Orthodox And The Struggle For Jewish Identity In Israel
Author: Prof. Noah Efron
Publisher: Basic Books, New York, NY
There may be some who would wish this book, and this subject matter, to not be discussed at all; to shove it back into some secret corner whence it came. “Don’t air dirty linen in public!”
But it has been done – published by one of America’s largest publishers, and it will be found in many Judaica bookshops, as well as in Barnes & Noble, Borders, and the leading independent bookshops.
Prof. Efron, whose own feelings remain quite professionally hidden even at the conclusion, aptly describes the struggle for the hearts and minds of young Israelis. Even before the secular Israeli public learned to demonize Palestinians, they learned to demonize charedim. In America, anyone characterizing a Jew with a long nose and payos in a derogatory cartoon would be called an anti-Semite, but in Israel, it has come to Jew against Jew.
When Israel’s government was first established, then-Prime Minister David Ben Gurion made what secular Israelis term, “A pact with the devil.” To obtain a working majority in the Knesset, Ben Gurion gained the votes of charedi parties in return for certain objectives, including exemptions from universal military service for young studying in Yeshiva.
The so-called “Ultra-Orthodox” reside in communities segregated from secular Jews and rarely interact with them. Although consisting of over 10% of the total Israel population, Yeshiva students are exempt from military service – while secular youth serve for many years. The charedi community also enjoys political (and economic) power way out of proportion to their actual numbers. A quite high percentage benefits from various forms of governmental largesse.
To the contrary, modern Israeli history venerates those secular individuals such as Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, and Moshe Dayan whose efforts built the nation in the first place and defended it during its formative years. It was Ben Gurion himself who declared that we would finally know Israel as an independent nation, when we would have our own burglars and criminals in Tel Aviv.
There is a reason why some cities built beyond the Green Line, such as Kiryat Sefer and Betar, are chareidi. The population in chareidi communities such as Meah Shearim and Bnei Brak have expanded almost to the point of explosion. Housing costs are disproportionate to the family incomes of the residents of these neighborhoods. Thus, real estate developers acquire relatively inexpensive lands from the government – especially when there is a policy to populate some given area – and build entire cities catering to charedim.
Secular Israelis also take issue with the kosher food ‘tax,’ in the form of extra cost to everyone due to the expense of kashruth supervision, which could raise food prices by as much as 4%. In places like America, where kosher-observant Jews may be a quite small percentage of the buyers of the products, the cost is evened-out by the many thousands of others, such as Moslems and Seventh Day Adventists who also rely on our kashruth supervision for their own dietary requirements. In Israel, where the costs are government-mandated, they are resented by the secular.
Here in America we Jews are concerned whenever a criminal’s Jewishness is reported in the media. In Israel a special case is made whenever it is a charedi who is charged with a crime, even if his religiosity is irrelevant to the case. Efron’s thesis is that because of social pressures, including those of kiruv work of charedim among the secular, secular Israelis are demonizing charedim. To quote: “Each new “conversion” (a secular Israeli becoming observant) is an assertion that we have failed. If we are who we think we are, why are our children leaving?”
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