Sunday, April 19, 2015

An Unexpected Development

UTJ Keneset member Moshe Gafni
It appears that the last Kenesset in Israel may have actually changed the Charedi world for the better more permanently than was once imagined.

It was widely held among Charedi leaders that all the changes affecting them passed by the last Kenesset was at most temporary. That God would surely not allow the ‘evil edicts’ to stand. Of course to me the edicts were not evil. They were not only - not evil - they were beneficial. It would improve their lives without forcing them to change their values (despite their protestations to the contrary).  At the same time it would raise their stature with their fellow secular Jews. The new laws would also enable them to better support their families; contribute to the economy;  and serve their country along with the rest of their Jewish countrymen.

But it seems that the original  Charedi expectations that the elections would change things back to the way they were before were grossly exaggerated.  Politicians are realists. The Charedi politicians of Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) actually understood that they were not going to get everything they wanted. They went into negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu knowing that they were not going to change most of the new laws affecting them. But the one thing they thought they would change is the way Charedi draft resisters would be treated. They believed that those resisting the draft who study Torah should be exempt them from the same consequences (jail) that those that do not study Torah get. 

They called that ‘jailing people for studying Torah’. Skipping the step of dodging the draft. With that, they cast the Israeli government right up there  with the worst villains in Jewish history… like the Romans of Talmudic times who banned Torah study under penalty of torture and death. 

Of course that is the furthest thing from the truth. This law is not about punishing those who study Torah. It was about applying the law evenly… and not giving one segment special treatment.

Nonetheless, armed with what they thought was a legitimate grievance they went ahead  with negotiations. It is a grievance that actually had support even among some of the secular leadership and much of the population according to some reports. They therefore believed their goal of changing the penalty for resisting the draft from jail to a fine was realistic - and one they could live with.

It appears that this too will not happen. Arutz Sheva reports that the Prime Minister did not give in. Apparently the belief that he would help them in this respect has not materialized. For the Charedi parties this was a non negotiable item.  Without which they would not join the governing coalition. The Prime Minister’s refusal to remove that sanction caused the Charedi parties to walk!  The Prime Minister has therefore asked President Rivlin for an extension of 2 weeks to form a coalition. With or without them.

This is an unexpected development. The results of the last election seemed to make it a foregone conclusion that the Charedi parties would return to power via joining the ruling coalition. But it seems that as of now, the new government will not include them.

It is too early to know how all this will end up. Will the Charedi parties blink, and join the government after they contemplate the effects of staying out of power? Or will Neatnyahu blink and give in to the Charedi demand if he cannot form a coalition without them?

I don’t know. But one thing that I do know is that most if not all of the changes implemented by the last Kenesset will hold. The laws will remain in place.

Will they be fully implemented? Or will they  be honored mostly in the breach? Will the government ‘look the other way’ and not implement sanctions if the laws are flouted? I don’t know.

But on a practical level on the most contentious issue –  Charedim in the military, it seems that the government is winning. Which to me means that Charedim are winning too. It has been reported that Charedi recruitment into the army is increasing dramatically to the point of meeting government quotas.

So it could very well be that all this posturing is just that – posturing. More than ever the  Charedi mainstream is finally begining to take advantage of opportunities to materially improve their lives.They want more for their families than living at the poverty levels of the Kollel lifestyle. They are taking advantage of Israel’s efforts to accommodate Charedi needs in the armed service and are joining in unprecedented numbers.

After all is said and done, it might serve the Charedi leadership better to just go with the flow instead of crying bloody murder. There will still be Yeshivos. And their numbers will probably continue to grow. But what there won’t be is the universal requirement that all Charedim learn full time indefinitely no matter what. And thereby unable to get a job for lack of army service. Which has kept so many of them in poverty while living the Kollel lifestyle.

My hope is that  eventually only those that are fully committed and capable of learning Torah at the highest levels will remain in a Kollel for more than a few years. The rest will hopefully serve their country in some capacity  after a few years in Kollel. And then join the workforce. And as a corollary, my hope is that they are enabled to better prepare for the workforce than they are now. Which is the goal of some of the other legislation passed by the previous Keneset.

It was Yesh Atid that was most responsible for changing the law in this way. For this, their leaders were cast as Amalek by the Charedi world.  But it now appears that their policies are not just the will of Yesh Atid.  Bayit HaYehudi (whom many consider to be the heir to the Religious Zionist party) supports maintaining the draft law as is. It is apparently the will of the majority of the Israeli people. And now - the will of the Prime Minister too.   They can’t all be Amalek.

It is apparently the will of God that these laws remain in place. May it continue to be.