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March 07, 2003 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-03-07

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Religious Warfare

Haredim promise all-out battle against their former hero, Ariel Sharon.

Likud's covenant with the haredi parties — first with
the Ashekenazi Agudat Yisrael, later adding Shas. The
alliance was based on mutual conservatism, "Jewish
pride" and antipathy for Labor and its liberal, socialist
he "secular revolution" in Israel is still a
• Not only has Likud now broken that covenant, but
long way off. Orthodox yeshivah students
the deed was done by Ariel Sharon, who was Likud's
will continue to get draft deferments.
chief emissary to the haredi world, the politician the
Orthodox rabbis will remain the only rab-
men in black admired and trusted above all others, a
bis who can perform legally recognized Jewish mar-
ex-general who liked to say he was a Jew first
riages. Shabbat will still be Shabbat.
and an Israeli second.
But the anti-clerical Shinui (Change) party's entry
"There isn't an admor [rabbinical leader of a haredi
into the government, and the civic reforms it man-
sect] whose home wasn't familiar to Sharon," said
aged to wrest from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and
Nitzan Chen, who covers the haredim for Israel
coalition partner the National Religious Party and,
above all, the absence of ultra-
Why did Sharon push the haredim
Orthodox, or haredi, parties in the
out and take in their worst enemy,
government, means that theocracy in
the firebrand Tommy Lapid and his
Israel has just been dealt a powerful
Shinui party? Likud Education
Minister Limor Livnat says Sharon
"Shinui proved that Israel can move
wanted the haredim in the govern-
forward, and it's fantastic," says Anat
ment, but he wanted a national unity
Hoffman, head of Reform Judaism's
government with a large party from
Israel Religious Action Center, and for-
the center-left even more. When
mer long-time leader of the dovish,
Labor refused to join, that left only
secular Meretz party faction in the
Shinui, which refused to sit with the
Jerusalem City Council.
haredi parties, and vice versa. So
The most important changes Sharon
Sharon bit the bullet.-
and the National Religious Party
Now the haredim, who make up
agreed to are:
Rabbi Menachem Porush
an estimated 7-10 percent of the
• Putting the Interior Ministry, a
Israeli population, are focused on one
Shas (Sephardi ultra-Orthodox) strong-
thing: responding.
hold and the bane of the lives of hundreds of thou-
Rabbi Menachem Porush, the 86-year-old elder
sands of Jews without Jewish mothers, into the hands
statesman of the community, admits he was "very sur-
of Shinui's Avraham Poraz;
prised by Sharon's move. "Wherever he got in poli-
• Bringing local religious councils, a massive, largely
tics, he got there thanks to us," he says. Rabbi Porush
unsupervised source of haredi patronage and potential
promises that it will all "boomerang" against Sharon
corruption, under the control of local municipalities;
and his party.
"This government will not stand," he vows, quoting
• Canceling the Large Families Law, which greatly
passages from the Passover Haggadah about God's
. inflated child allowances for every child after the
deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. Asked what the
fourth, a financial godsend to the haredim.
But beyond the specifics of the new deal, the advent haredim would do, Rabbi Porush says only, "Time
will tell."
of a government without haredim is a shock to the
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, who in years past organized
Israeli political system. It used to be thought an
the largest, wildest, most disruptive haredi demonstra-
impossibility because neither Likud nor Labor could
tions in Jerusalem, • is more specific. "This is a religious
put together a majority without the haredi parties,
war and nobody knows how to fight one like the
and neither paity was willing to risk the haredim
haredim do," he says, promising protests of 500,000
wrath by keeping them out.
haredim in Jerusalem, with support from haredi com-
munities in the U.S. and Europe.
Sea Change
Another shocking insult for the haredim is that a
religious party joined forces with Shinui against them.
The new Sharon government is the first since the
Consequently, a vilification campaign against National
Likud's ascent to power in 1977 to be formed deliber-
Religious Party leader Effi Eitam, laced with anti-
ately without haredi parties. There have been govern-
Christian bigotry, is well underway.
ments since then that haredi parties quit. But never in
Shas leader Eli Yishai calls the coalition partnership
the last 26 years has a ruling party rejected the hared-
between Eitam and Shinui the brit hahadasha, which
means "new covenant," but also means "New
This is a startling departure. It was Menachem
Testament." Haredim have long denounced Lapid as a
Begin who, after toppling Labor in 1977, forged the

Special to the Jewish News


3/ 7


"goy"; now Eitam is getting the same treatment.
Meshi-Zahav, who used to be known as the hared-
im 'commander of operations," speaks now in terms
of war. "People thought we were only going to have to
put up with one war, the war on Iraq, but now we're
going to have another war to contend with, a civil
war," he says. "But the good thing that's coming out
of this is that it's uniting the haredim.


Russians Helped

While haredim are the big losers in the new deal, the
big winners are probably the Russian immigrants and
other Israelis who aren't Jewish according to Jewish
law, and who were put through the ringer by the
Interior Ministry under Shas' control.
Hoffman says that during her last decade on the
Jerusalem City Council and in the Religious Action
Center, she received 50,000 complaints from Israelis
claiming that they were victimized by religious dis-
crimination. "About 90 percent of the complaints were
made against the Interior Ministry, and most of the
people complaining were new immigrants," she says.
For example, she notes the recent case of two
Russian immigrant children who were orphaned when
their parents died in a car accident. Their grandmoth-
er from Ukraine came over to care for them. But the
grandmother isn't Jewish, so the Interior Ministry
ordered her to leave the country after six months,"
says Hoffthan.
She calls Poraz' appointment as Interior minister a
"blessing," but adds that the ministry has a "huge
machine" of Shas-appointed clerks and managers, and
Poraz will find it extremely hard to break their power.
Lapid and Shinui have a hugely ambitious agenda:
They want to take away the draft deferments and
yeshivah stipends from haredi men so they will work
and serve in the army like other Israelis. They want to
end the Orthodox monopoly on conversion, marriage,
adoption, burial and other matters of personal status.
They want buses to run on Shabbat.
Lapid got none of this from Sharon. But during the
campaign, he was frequently asked if he was willing to
compromise, and he always said he would — on the
timetable for achieving his demands. He would settle
for a little at a time, for making a promising start.
This he has certainly done.
In haredi eyes, though, this is not a start, it's the end
— "the end of the Jewish state," as Yishai put it. "The
mother of all betrayals," says United Torah Judaism
MK Moshe Gafni.
A "religious war" has been launched against them,
says Meshi-Zahav, and now it's their turn to fight —
not only against Shinui, but against Sharon, Likud
and NRP, and now National Union as well.
Says Ya'acov Guterman, mayor of Kiryat Sefer, the
largest of the haredi West Bank settlements: [Former
Labor Party Prime Minister Ehud] "Barak talked
about the secular revolution, but these guys did it."

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