Dear friends of Israel:
Recently the Haredim (ultra-orthodox Jews) have further damaged their reputation among the Israeli population, mostly because of their mass rallies against the evacuation of ancient graves that often emerge on construction sites or against a court decision which prohibits the ethnic segregation of school classes (e.g. separate classes for Ashkenazi and Sephardi children). This loss of prestige affects both ultra-orthodox Jews and religious Judaism in general. In an article for an Israeli daily a commentator makes the following observation: “I see a movement that has lost its way, its mission and … is leading us astray. Is it really surprising if secular Jews do not want to have anything to do with religion? … While many may look at the state of Judaism here (in Israel) … in very positive terms … I am afraid they are viewing matters through rose-colored glasses. Simply reading the daily newspapers or listening in the news on the broadcast media leaves one to wonder – whatever happened to Jewish religious/ethical principles?”
The author of the article also mentions the warnings that Israel’s ancient teachers uttered when it comes to striving for a position of authority, as those in power necessarily trade off their privileges against religious principles. And as secular Jews observe their orthodox counterparts acquiring financial gain and privileges as coalition partners in the government, how many are drawn towards religion and how many are driven away?A further example is the issue of military service. When Israel is fighting an offensive war, the Levites (those responsible for religious observance and study) are exempt from serving in the army. However, when the nation is engaged in a defensive battle, no one is exempt. Unfortunately Israel is still engaged in a defensive battle over her very existence. In a situation like this every Israeli citizen should be obliged to serve in the army. "Again, when secular Jews see their sons' blood being spilled in defense of their country, while their religious counterparts sit ensconced in halls of learning, how many are drawn closer to Judaism and how many are driven away?" The author mentions further examples such as ordering special kosher meals on flights of the national airline El Al, although all meals served on board are already kosher. These instances clearly prove that the ultra-orthodox community has lost its way and has taken a hard-line, "just say no" position.
At the end of his article the author explains that in the time of the Talmud there were two opinions when it came to the interpretation of the Torah. One was the school of Hillel (Beit Hillel), which generally followed a liberal, accommodative course, and the other was the school of Shammai (Beit Shammai), which proposed a very strict posture on all matters. Yet throughout the 26 Talmud tractates the interpretation of the law follows the more liberal Beit Hillel, in all but eight instances. Furthermore, the author mentions that the Talmud contains an important teaching for modern-day Israelis: "If we are to be a light unto the nations, if we are truly the chosen people, if we are to draw fellow Jews closer to the religion instead of driving them further away, we must just say no to 'just say no'."
This maybe a little provocative article shows that in Israel the relationship between liberal citizens and the ultra-orthodox community develops in a way that the so-called "silent majority" no longer accepts the principles of orthodoxy as God-given, but dares to say "no". In his text the author also points out that the gap between different groups in the Israeli population is growing wider.
In the context of Israel's return to the Land the prophet Ezekiel mentions that God will make the Jews one people, so that there no longer will be two peoples (Ezekiel 37:22). In point of fact there are two ethnic groups in modern Israel: the Ashkenazi and the Sephardic Jews. There is often a lot of rivalry between these two groups. According to Ezekiel these differences will not disappear through human effort, but rather through the coming Prince of Peace.
Sharing with you the hope in Him who has also said: "Behold, I make all things new", I am sending you a warm Shalom,