Winter Threatening Israeli Society

Israel is being taken over by the most radical religious elements of its society. In the past, most religious Jews in Israel lived in self-imposed ghettos. Most Israelis held them at a respectful distance, satisfied with a “Judaism by proxy” maintained on behalf of the rest of society by the Orthodox community. This is now changing, and with it, Israel society is undergoing tectonic cultural and political changes. Orthodox Judaism in Israel is taking on an increasingly more radical flavor. At the same time, its influence and its ambitious assertions within society are growing.

Segregation

Parents of some 400 children in the state religious school system have recently protested: Kindergarten girls are prohibited from singing due to religious restrictions that forbid female voices in the public area. One father in Tel Aviv’s: On Memorial Day, school girls were forbidden to sing at the Memorial ceremony because it was considered ‚immodest‘ for them to do so. At the end of the school year, fathers will be forbidden to see the girls perform; separate events will be held for boys and girls. The Ministry of Education has taken no stand to change this. A mother from a religious kindergarten in Kiryat Gat reported that the teacher had notified parents that fathers would not be invited to the oncoming Hanukkah party, because „it is immodest for girls to dance and sing in the presence of fathers.“

Children are separated: girls sit at the back of school buses and recess is conducted in separate yards. Mothers have been instructed „to come to the kindergarten in modest dress (skirt or dress, no pants and certainly not without sleeves).“ Buses have been segregated, with women required to enter and sit at the back, apart from men. As one woman put it, “am I asked to sit at the back of the bus, so orthodox men will not be forced to sit near me and be rendered impure by unseemly thoughts. In certain grocery stores in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh I am asked to wrap a paper skirt over my pants so as to dull my sex appeal. According to our sages, a woman who lives alone must not have a dog for fear that she, incapable of restraining her lust, might force herself on the animal. In other words, women are a threat to the modesty of men, whereas only dogs tempt women.”

Cities Changed

A young Haredi generation that had grown up in modern Israel and was unwilling to continue to live in ghettos. Meanwhile, on the streets of Jerusalem, a fundamental change had taken place. Large affordable neighborhoods were being built for the ultra-Orthodox and religious communities, who were accorded significant subsidies, while secular middle-class families were priced out of the market. Within less than a decade, entire residential areas in the city’s north and central sectors became Orthodox.

No official poster of City Hall has shown a woman or even a girl for a decade. Recently, a ruling forbade the use of females in any advertising within city limits. The cry that came up as a result has forced the committee to withdraw, at least for the moment. In the Orthodox quarter, sidewalks were divided by a partition, with women relegated to using one side of the partition and men the other.

In Jerusalem, Petach Tivah and other Israeli cities, religious Jews have been busy at creating a list of shops and restaurants that employ Arabs, and have called upon residents to withhold custom from any such commercial enterprises. In Sderot, businesses have been encouraged by Orthodox elements to impose strict dress codes on their female workers. Cities such as Bet Shemesh and Safed have also undergone transformations. A new, desperately needed, hospital wing is not being built in Ashkelon because ancient skeletons were found on the site. The Orthodox insist that the souls of the dead not be disturbed by construction work. Affordable housing for young couples is being constructed almost exclusively in various religious quarters all around the country because the Minister of Housing is Orthodox and a member of Shas, an Orthodox political party.

The Israel Defense Forces

Elyakim Levanon, a prominent rabbi, many of whose students serve in the military, has recently stated that soldiers should choose death to participating in events that include women singing.

Marriage

The Following is an abbreviation of an article by Anna Mahjar-Barducci, published in Ha’Arets on Nov. 20, 2011: Hundreds of thousands of Israelis „lacking religious affiliation“ cannot wed in Israel, where they were born and raised. My daughter is one of them. My daughter was born in Jerusalem. Her father is an Israeli Jew. But, because I am not Jewish and I don’t identify with a particular religion, her birth certificate states she is „without religious affiliation.“ When she was born, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior did not even want to recognize our baby as an Israeli citizen. In order for my husband to give our daughter his name, the ministry demanded the ultimate proof: a DNA test (at our expense) to prove his paternity. While my daughter has now been granted citizen status and carries her father’s family name, her birth certificate still takes pains to stress that she is not Jewish, and not part of the Jewish nation. This means that, though Israel is her homeland and though she will most likely serve in its army, she is denied one of the most basic human rights – namely, the right to marry in her own country. Every day, as I take my daughter for a stroll in Jerusalem’s Independence Park, I meet other foreign-born mothers married to Israeli Jews, whose children are in the same situation. Their country refuses to accept them as its own and to treat them as equal citizens. The Spousal Covenant for Persons Lacking Religious Affiliation, passed by the Knesset in 2010, was touted as a solution to the problem. The law allows couples to enter into a civil union, only if both lack religious affiliation. Such persons may marry others of their ilk, but must not „mix“ with the Jews, a clear breach of Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that „men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.“ The only way around this is to marry abroad. The law, therefore, reinforces the sectarian character of Israeli society. Each year, thousands of Israelis travel to Cyprus to exercise their right to wed the person they love. The absence of civil marriage, a clear violation of civil liberties, is a characteristic of countries known for their disrespect for human rights, such as Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran. Israel should not be on this roster of shame.

Proposed Legislation

With the start of the Knesset session, a series of proposed laws are leading the country into dangerous realms. One bill proposes to eliminate Arabic as an official language. Another seeks to restrict funding for NGO’s that criticize the Government. A third seeks to significantly modify the make-up of Israel’s Supreme Court. The Speaker of the House and Israel’s Attorney general have warned against such legislation, so far to no avail.

An abbreviation of an article by Baruch Maoz (MaozNews No. 48, December 2011)

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