Reining in the ultra-Orthodox in Israel

Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau (R), Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (L), and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon sell the hametz (food containing leavening) of the state of Israel to Arab Israeli Mr Jaber (unseen) before Passover holiday, April 9, 2017. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last month I wrote about the power of the ultra-Orthodox Jews. Their two main political parties combine to wield enormous, inordinate influence in Israeli government. They both support the following policies:

1. The control of Judaism in the Land through the institution of the Chief Rabbis. Although the ultra-Orthodox represent only around a tenth of the population, they effectively control who is to be defined as a Jew in Israel.

2. The ultra-Orthodox demand great support for their full time religious schools, yet their children and young people are not taught core subjects that can prepare them for earning a living for themselves without depending on welfare. The previous government coalition sought to change this, but Netanyahu dissolved that government when he last called for elections. The ultra-Orthodox education funding “with no strings attached” was restored under the present government.

3. The ultra-Orthodox demand welfare payments so that all the men who want to study Torah (really Talmud) can do so and not have to work. This is an enormous burden on the State budget that is not sustainable. They demand that their men not be required to work; they see their study as their work which the State should support. The rest of the Israelis who have to fund the welfare system on behalf of the ultra-Orthodox through high taxation, highly resent this.

4. The ultra-Orthodox demand that their men be exempted from compulsory service in the army. Some sects are even against the existence of the state of Israel! Most refuse to serve in the army. This attitude is defended with the assertion that it is the observance and prayers of the ultra-Orthodox (the only ones by their definition who are heard by God) that keeps Israel safe from its enemies.

5. The ultra-Orthodox controlling the Interior Ministry that grants Israeli citizenship. They reject Messianic Jews and others who have a right of citizenship by descent from Jews, interpreting the Law of Return to exclude those they don’t consider match their definition of Jewishness. They have even rejected conversions from well-known Orthodox Rabbis in the United States. The Supreme Court has accepted Conservative and Reform Conversions as valid. However, the ultra-Orthodox increasingly resist the implementation of these rulings.

As a result of this, plus the recent decision not to proceed with an egalitarian section for prayer at the Western Wall, many diaspora Jews feel alienated from Israel.

Orthodox Judaism is the state religion of Israel. It does provide some moral foundations for the society and has been key in Israel not allowing gay marriage or embracing the whole LGBT agenda. For example, in adoption of children only heterosexual married couples may apply. So some of what comes from the Orthodox is good.

What is to be done? Though the ultra-Orthodox are a small minority (13 today in the Knesset-Parliament out of 120) they wield a great deal of power. This is because every other major party is willing to submit to their demands so they will join their coalition in order to have sufficient votes to form a government. But this could change if the non-religious conservative parties and the more liberal parties would make an agreement that they are committed to reverse the ultra-Orthodox policies listed in points 1-5 above.

Your prayers for this nation, for conviction, healing and unity are appreciated.

This article originally appeared in Israel’s Restoration newsletter, October 2017, and reposted with permission.

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Dr. Daniel Juster, founder and director of Tikkun International, has been involved in the Messianic Jewish movement since 1972 and currently resides in Jerusalem, Israel, from where he serves and supports the Messianic movement worldwide. Dan was the founding president and general secretary of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations for 9 years, the senior pastor of Beth Messiah congregation for 22 years, and a co-founder of the Messiah Bible Institute in several nations. Dr. Juster serves on the board of Towards Jerusalem Council II, provides oversight to 15 congregations in the USA as well as overseeing emissaries in Israel and the Former Soviet Union. Daniel has authored about 20 books on topics ranging from theology, Israel and the Jewish people, eschatology, discipleship, and leadership.