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Ultra-Orthodox histrionics over religion, state may backfire – analysis

CM 03/08/2021 1

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“This is a black day for the state and the government… The State of Israel has lost the right to call itself a Jewish and democratic state,” said United Torah Judaism leader MK Moshe Gafni.

“The ultra-Orthodox public will not forget or forgive the prime minister and his partners,” he added.
These words were uttered not in August 2021 but in March 2014. And they were said not in reference to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett but rather regarding then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The 36th government of Israel was sworn into office this June amid a bitter, rancorous political atmosphere that has gotten ever sharper and acrimonious.

The parties and MKs of the opposition are apparently in competition as to who can summon up the most splenetic accusations against the current coalition – and it is hard to say who is winning.
But the ultra-Orthodox MKs are certainly giving it all they have.
Gafni, in his enmity towards the current government, denounced Bennett as no less than a murderer over his handling of the latest COVID-19 outbreak, although he later retracted the remark.
The UTJ chairman has also labeled Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana “Antiochus,” the Seleucid Greek ancient enemy of the Jews in the time of the Hasmoneans who sought to eradicate Jewish practice.
On Monday afternoon, Gafni denounced Bennett as “destroying Judaism” while being ejected from the Knesset plenum for unruly behavior during the prime minister’s speech, while Shas chairman MK Arye Deri exploded with anger during the same speech and repeatedly called Bennett a liar.
Both ultra-Orthodox parties have denounced the government as “treif” – meaning non-kosher but with a sharper meaning of “impure” – have accused Bennett of being “a con artist” and repeatedly denounced the government for “destroying Judaism.”
SO WHAT explains this extraordinary outpouring of venom toward the prime minister and the government?
The reality is that much of the righteous anger expressed by the ultra-Orthodox MKs is mere theater, curated for their constituents and designed to inculcate how vital the haredi parties are to the well being of the haredi community.
Denouncing proposed kashrut reforms as “destroying Judaism” – as if Judaism only flourished in the 73 years in which the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel had a monopoly over kashrut licensing – is merely a way of ginning up the ultra-Orthodox street and creating the impression that the Jewish religion is under attack.
The budget cuts to the ultra-Orthodox sector, especially the cuts to child daycare subsidies for families in which the father studies full time in yeshiva, are actually a boon to UTJ and Shas and allows them to denounce the government as undermining Torah study and Judaism and seeking to destroy the haredi community.
The ferocious outbursts of Shas and UTJ in the opposition today serve the same purposes as the similar outbursts seven years ago in the face of government legislation to increase haredi enlistment: to make the ultra-Orthodox community feel under attack so as to impress upon it the importance of voting for the haredi parties as the protectors of their rights and budgets when the next elections come around.
When the government first took office, it was thought that there was a possibility to eventually bring the ultra-Orthodox parties in to stabilize the coalition, but the likelihood of such an outcome appears to be especially distant at present, with every vitriolic outburst from Gafni and Co. making it seemingly ever more unlikely.
Bennett himself has begun pushing back harder against the Gafni and Deri’s attacks, accusing Shas and UTJ on Monday afternoon of protecting a corrupt and mismanaged kashrut system and rejecting their scolding over the state of Judaism in the country.
“No one holds a monopoly over Jewish traditions: not on Judaism, not on nationalism,” Bennett said, reprimanding the haredi MKs. “No one will preach to me or anyone else what loving other Jews means. We all love the Jewish people, we all love our country.”
IF THE RHETORICAL battle between the prime minister, his government and the ultra-Orthodox parties continues its current level of intensity, it would appear hard for either to row back the situation, especially for Shas and UTJ.
How would it be possible for Gafni and Deri to now sit in a government they have attacked as undermining and destroying the Jewish religion in the Jewish state?
This state of affairs could in fact lead to an even greater schism between the two sides.
If it seems impossible to ever bring the haredi parties into the coalition to stabilize it, why bother trying to accommodate them when it comes to dealing with the sensitive issues they care about?
If bringing in term limits for municipal chief rabbis – who would otherwise serve for decades on end with no accountability – is denounced as destroying Judaism, why worry about moderating reforms for the conversion system?
If Bennett’s government is going to be compared to the destructive enemies of the Jewish people, why worry about finding solutions for Israeli citizens who cannot get married in the State of Israel?
The dramatic and theatrical denunciations of the ultra-Orthodox parties will no doubt play well with their voter base and make the community well motivated for the next elections, whenever that might be.
But at the same time, it could provide Bennett, a known liberal and religious moderate, with the excuse and opportunity to enact more far-reaching changes to Israel’s religion and state model than he might have otherwise decided to make.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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