Friday, June 11, 2021

Looks Like It Will Happen

United Torah Judaism party chief Moshe Gafni (TOI)
Stunning!  That is the word that came immediately to mind about the level of condemnation the Charedi parties in Israel had for their incoming prime minister, Naftali Bennett – who will be the first Shomer Shabbos Jew to lead the country. From the Times of Israel: 

In a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon, the heads of the Haredi political parties Shas and United Torah Judaism launched a stunning assault on the leader of the Yamina party and prime minister-designate, Naftali Bennett. 

With the so-called change government set to be sworn in on Sunday and the ultra-Orthodox headed for the opposition, Haredi leaders branded Bennett as “wicked” and claimed his new government’s policies would endanger the Jewish state. 

Bennett, who is set to become Israel’s first Orthodox prime minister, dismissed the attack as embarrassing and unhinged, a “hysterical outburst,” and vowed he would safeguard religious life in the country.

How is it possible that something many of us prayed would happen someday be the subject of such an ‘unhinged hysterical outburst’?   Can they seriously believe that a Shomer Shabbos Jew would undermine the very religious principles he believes in? 

Of course they don’t believe that. Religious life itself is not threatened. It is the Charedi way of life that is. In many ways that I believe it should be. It is a way of life that avoids a basic secular education for their children – replaced with full time Torah study for as long as possible. Well through marriage and children. It is a way of life where the women are educated instead so that they can get the kinds of jobs that will pay enough to provide minimum support for their families. (As long as their husbands help take care of the children while they are at work. Which in any case reduces the amount of time they should be learning. But I digress.)

They may be about to lose the ‘privilege’ of denying their young a basic secular education. They may be forced to implement some sort of minimal secular curriculum akin to what the majority of Charedi world in America has. (At least for now. That too is changing and not for the better. But again I digress). 

This ‘sticks in their craw’. They cannot handle the fact that someone outside of their own religious leadership will have something to say over how their young are educated. To the Charedi world, this step is considered anti Torah… a destruction of religious life so severe that it endangers the state. (If you can believe that! I don’t. If anything it may save the state from bankruptcy. As the Charedi community grows exponentially larger with each generation,  so too will government stipends that will support them. This situation cannot possibly be sustained generationally. 

But that is not their only concern. They refuse to allow their young to enter the army – or even do national service. That is considered a waste of time away from their Torah studies (Bitul Torah). Furthermore they see it as undermining their religious structure and values. Once outside the halls of the Yeshiva, they will never return. The robust Kollel system will be reduced to a shadow of its former self. Not to mention the fact that outside of those Yeshiva walls they will encounter negative anti Torah influences that may even undermine their religious observance and beliefs. 

There are numerous other concerns as well, like giving recognition to heterodox movements trying to make inroads to religious life in Israel. Or removing the exclusive authority over religious life in Israel from the Chief Rabbinate and sharing it with alternative non Charedi rabbinic organizations like Tzohar. These are some of the issues. There are even more concerns. Too many to mention.

To be honest some of these issues concern me too. But none of them rise to the level of condemnation expressed by those Charedi politicians. And some of them I actually support. Which are probably the very ones they object to the most. 

I believe that Bennett will try to keep his promise to safeguard religious life in Israel. The only question is whether he will be able to do that – even as prime minister - if the majority of his coalition actually wants to undermine that promise. I hope he can. 

Charedim are not the only ones worried about the incoming government. Bennett’s natural politically right wing allies are appalled that he is partnering with the ‘devil’. They are livid that he has veered so far off course from his ideology. Livid that he joined with parties whose ideologies are anathema to theirs. The majority of his coalition partners are the left wing and Arab parties that oppose the very things Bennett and the right have stood for. Such as expanded settlements and the eventual annexation of the West Bank. This will not happen under his watch as the coalition is now constructed.  

Some may have been surprised at how such a coalition could ever happen.  I among them. But if one can see the true motives behind this coalition, they can understand it. The purpose was simply to remove the hated Benjamin Netanyahu from power. They hate him more than they love their own ideology. And are willing to put that aside in service to that goal. Which they are about to achieve, it seems. As things stand now, Keneset approval will happen Sunday

I am not all that happy about this. Although Bibi is quite unpopular with the liberal left and the extreme right, I found him to be an effective leader who did a lot for his country despite his many faults. His detractors would argue he has done more to\hurt Israel than help it. But I am with the Israeli citizens who voted for him. That he got almost double of the number of seats than his nearest rival tells you how poplar he still is with the electorate despite all the slings and arrows thrown at him by his poliitcal opponents and leftist media like Ha’aretz

But as this change seems to be inevitable, I am quite pleased – even proud - of the fact that Israel is  about to see its first Orthodox prime minister. All of this angst by both the religious and political right,  and left is premature. We will have to wait and see what actually happens before he can be fairly judged.

You never know. With both the right and left pulling at him, Bennett may end up in the center. Which in my view is a good place to be. On the other hand, the cohesiveness of a coalition as disparate as this is tenuous at best. It may very well become the shortest lived coalition government  in Israel’s history. But they will have accomplished their mission of removing the hated Bibi. Who knows, that may have been their plan all along.