Regev Responds

There seems to be no end to the Haredi politicians' obsession

The Haredi vitriol: An ongoing saga

In Hiddush's last newsletter, we wrote about “the obsession that characterizes the attitude of the ultra-Orthodox parties towards the non-Orthodox denominations in particular, and to freedom of religion and Jewish pluralism in general.”

Rabbi Kariv giving Torah scroll to Women of the Wall at the Western Wall plazaRabbi Kariv giving Torah scroll to Women of the Wall at the Western Wall plaza

We feel ambivalent about keeping at our reporting on this saga, but it dominates the Haredi political mindset, actions, and media. We highlight this, not for the sake of ‘Haredi bashing’, nor as a means of spreading gossip, but rather because it goes to the core of understanding the unique and strained relationship between Haredim and non-Haredim in Israel, as well religion & state in general. Not understanding the extent of this clash on diaspora Jewry’s part, including that of its leadership, results in a skewed perspective. An accurate perspective is necessary for developing strategic policies to enhance the Israel-diaspora partnership and support Israel as a Jewish & democratic state.

As we have repeatedly reported, Haredi political wrath is channeled primarily in two directions:

  1. Against the current government coalition, which is referred to using strong pejoratives such as “wicked government” and “apostasy government”, not the least of which is “Reform Government” and
  2. Against “the Reformers”, which is used as a loose label for all non-Orthodox, and has come to be used with increasing frequency against the Modern Orthodox as well.

A common Pavlovian response to any strong criticism voiced concerning Haredi practices and political excesses is to label such criticism as antisemitic. So, when, this week at the 10th Annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, PM Bennett held that he is committed to preserving Israel's Jewish character and also spoke of the need to “limit the Haredi parties’ political sway,” the immediate reaction of UTJ MK Rabbi Porush (Former Deputy Minister of Education) was to describe his comments as antisemitic. So too was the reaction of the Shas party, whose official media outlet [Ha’Derech] today titles their response to Bennett: “Shock caused by Bennett’s antisemitic pronouncement: ‘limit Haredi influence’”

Prime Minister Bennett’s comment was far from incendiary. He said: “In Israel, without, for example, the religious aspect, would not be an Israel I want. Because we are the Jewish State. I’m happy there [are] Haredim. But we need to limit their political sway. [Also,] I wouldn’t want an Israel without a left wing. While, clearly, I feel differently on many issues, I’m happy there’s that counter so we can debate it.”

In response, MK Porush argued in a radio interview that Bennet’s words are analogous to having had Chancelor Angela Merkel appeal to the German public to limit Jewish clout in Germany.

Needless to say, both MK Porush’s and Shas’s public wrath demonstrate a great deal of audacity to make this comparison, given the historic events that led to the Holocaust and the expressions of antisemitic poison that still exist in many countries. Criticism of the Haredi “political sway” is a common and valid reaction among the majority of Israelis to the ultra-Orthodox parties’ political blackmail, which results in infringements on civil rights in Israel [such as the right to marriage], freedom of religion [such as preventing public transportation on Saturdays and blocking the Women of the Wall worship], the State economy [the refusal of most ultra-Orthodox men to enter the labor market and their demand that the public coffers fund them], and Israel’s security [the evasion by tens of thousands of sharing the burden of military service].

It's not just Prime Minister Bennett, but also some two-thirds of the adult Jewish public that has consistently responded to all surveys conducted in recent years that they oppose the inclusion of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition. At the very least – the public opposes perpetuating the government’s surrender to the ultra-Orthodox parties’ funding demands and religion and state policies.

MK Rabbi Porush also disrupted the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting last Thursday by loudly reciting verses from the book of Psalms and refusing to leave the room, in protest of the committee chairman MK Rabbi Kariv (a Reform rabbi), who used his parliamentary immunity to pass a Torah to the Women of the Wall earlier that day because the Kotel Rabbi prevents them from using a Torah scroll during their monthly service. MK Kariv was forced to recess the committee meeting while parliamentary guards worked to remove United Torah Judaism’s Meir Porush from the room. Kariv commented: “We respect the right of MK Porush to protest, so we will take a break so that he can complete his reading [of Psalms].”

MK Rabbi Litzman (head of the Aguda faction) explained that: “following the provocation carried out by Reform MK Gilad Kariv, when he took advantage of the immunity granted to him as a Knesset member and, in violation of Western Wall plaza rules*, brought a Torah scroll [there], the ultra-Orthodox MKs are preparing an appropriate response for him…

MK Rabbi Litzman (head of the Aguda faction) explained that: “following the provocation carried out by Reform MK Gilad Kariv, when he took advantage of the immunity granted to him as a Knesset member and, in violation of Western Wall plaza rules*, brought a Torah scroll [there], the ultra-Orthodox MKs are preparing an appropriate response for him…

Among the options for response, it was proposed that the ultra-Orthodox Knesset members come to the Western Wall and physically block the entry of MK Kariv to the Western Wall plaza if he is holding a Torah scroll, which is forbidden to be brought to the Western Wall*.

A second option came up in the discussion, which is to disrupt the deliberations of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chaired by MK Kariv, similar to what MK Meir Porush did last week, who read aloud from the Book of Psalms and refused to leave the committee room.

The bottom line is that the Knesset members decided to hold a meeting with the Jerusalem District Police Commander and explore options for battling against MK Kariv and countering the loophole that allows MK Kariv to bring a Torah scroll into the Western Wall plaza, contrary to guidelines*.”

However, despite supposedly deciding to pursue a peaceful approach to the ultra-Orthodox parties’ differences with MK Rabbi Kariv, taking it up with the Police, MK Rabbi Litzman subsequently gave a radio interview (Kol BaRamah Haredi radio station), in which he said that “If Gilad Kariv thinks he will use violence, we will respond with violence – We will block him with our bodies; we won't let him enter the Western Wall [Plaza] with a Torah scroll.”

Sadly, within the diverse Government coalition, there were also voices from Prime Minister Bennett’s Yamina party that spoke out against MK Kariv’s actions. In a television interview on channel 13, Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana said that MK Kariv had acted in a “bullying manner” and “harmed the status quo” at the Western Wall. He said that the Western Wall agreement would be implemented and that such provocations as MK Kariv’s were inappropriate.

Minister Kahana even went so far as to refer to Gilad Kariv's carrying the Torah as “BIRIUNUT” which means “hooliganism”! We can clearly see that this unfortunate misrepresentation of Kariv's and others' commitment to support civil liberties, religious freedom, and equality is demonized not only by the Haredi leadership, but also by some of the Zionist Orthodox leadership such as Minister Kahana himself.

It is quite telling that the Haredi political reaction to the notion of curtailing their political clout is as harsh as being a 10 on the Richter Scale; and it frequently borrows from the vocabulary of antisemitism. At the same time, and often in the same breath, the Haredi politicians demonize Reform Judaism, claiming that the proper mode of action would have been to imprison MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv for assisting the Women of the Wall in realizing their freedom of worship.

Support for government without ultra-Orthodox parties (2021 Israel Religion and State Index)Support for government without ultra-Orthodox parties (2021 Israel Religion and State Index)

They have extorted the nullification of the 'Kotel compromise', which was entered into by the government and the non-Orthodox movements, as well as Women of the Wall, explaining their actions by stating that the Haredi parties would not allow any legitimization of these “heretical and destructive” movements. Clearly, invoking democratic principles and respect for important Jewish denominations, such as ultra-Orthodoxy, is merely a cover for an intrinsically anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic position. As far as they are concerned, ultra-Orthodox interests and religious outlook are the only ones deserving protection, while alternative religious positions require extinction and those who hold them merit banishment.

Given the Haredi politician’s conduct and their blocking core civil liberties and national interests - it’s no surprise that the majority of Israeli Jews prefers that the Government Coalition not include them, or, at the very least, not cede to their budgetary and policy demands! Or, in other words, “limit their political sway”!



* Alluding to rules enacted in order to block the Women of the Wall and non-Orthodox worshippers. Jerusalem District Court Judge Sobel acquitted the WOW leaders, though, when they were charged with breach of those rules by reading aloud from the Torah at the Wall plaza, interpreting the law as not barring their practice. It is the Kotel Rabbi and his underlings who are refusing to uphold freedom of worship and legal precedent.

Take Action!