Dear Friends of Israel,
When Israel was established, David Ben-Gurion granted an exemption from military service to those Jews who lived in strict accordance with the orthodox traditions. Back then they were a relatively small group and were considered the guardians of Judaism, whose contributions in the past had kept the Jews from completely disappearing through assimilation during the Diaspora. Now however, they comprise more than ten percent of the Jewish population. Their high birth rate contributes to the fact that they proliferate much faster than the general population, which also means that their political influence is increasing. That is particularly the case in the current administration.
It is also likely one of the reasons why public tensions are now arising between strictly religious and more liberal Jews. Within Orthodox Jewish circles there is a strict segregation of the sexes, which is particularly visible in the synagogue and in the school system. In the last ten years however, they have tried to spread their philosophy of life even further into the public arena. Thus they have demanded a system of gender segregation on public buses, where the men sit in the front and the women in the back of the bus. In places like Beth-Shemesh for example, where a relatively large proportion of the population is Orthodox, they erected signs that demanded men to walk on one side of the road and women on the other. Women who ignored the demands were spit upon, which in turn led to a nationwide outcry and public protests.
In regard to these events, a government spokeswoman stated that Netanyahu’s government has a policy of zero-tolerance for gender segregation and all attempts to exclude women from the public sphere.
According to the rules of the religious Jews, it is shameful for a woman to allow her voice to be heard in public. Therefore, religious soldiers have demanded that they be exempt from participating in military ceremonies where women appear and sing. For reasons of military discipline however, that is not allowed. The fact that women are part of the Israeli army is one of the reasons why strict religious Jews refuse to serve in the army.
Ephraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, sparked a storm of indignation by his comment that religious radicalization is a greater threat to Israel than Iran and Ahmadinejad. Later he said that perhaps the comparison with Iran was a bit extreme, but the religious radicalization is leading to an ever deeper division of the people and is more dangerous than any external threat.
Halevy was aggressively attacked for his statements from the religious side. Interestingly though, his warning received some support from Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a leading religious-Zionist figure, who found it impressive that someone who was so senior within the security apparatus should point out that it will be the internal issues facing Israel which will determine its fate.
As the former intelligence chief, Halevy probably knows all too well the dangers of internal dissension. There’s good reason for the saying, “There is strength in unity.” It’s also interesting that the Bible speaks repeatedly of how God will unite the divided people. (for example Ezekiel 37:15-22). In the verses that immediately precede those, we see an image of the national restoration of Israel, the vision of the dry bones that come to life (Ezekiel 37.1-14). God also wants to restore the Jews spiritually, and put away everything that divides them and keeps them from being a united people, as it says in verse 22, "I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel."
Understanding the importance of internal unity, I greet you warmly with “Shalom” in the name of Him who made us one.