Is The (Secular) Worm Beginning To Turn In Israel?

Finally turning?

The first signs are there – but the Haredim will not give up without a bloody battle.

“The smallest worm will turn being trodden on”    William ShakespeareHenryVI, Part 3

After decades of being in thrall to the extreme religious minority, can it be that the rest of Israeli society has finally come to the point of declaring: “enough is enough”?

The answer is a definite “maybe.”

English: , alternative as used on the website ...

No separation between Religion and State

The essential problem with the structure of Israel has always been the lack of separation of  “Church and State”  (well, I suppose “Synagogue and State” would be more appropriate!) The concessions made by David Ben-Gurion to the tiny religious minority in 1947/48, may have seemed necessary then, but as we are now in the second decade of the 21st Century, it is fitting that we pause to reflect on whether those considerations should continue to apply.

In retrospect it’s ironic that a substantial number of the visionaries and founders of the new state for the Jewish People were, themselves secular – even Atheist. Most orthodox Jews opposed its formation, demanding that it was necessary to wait for the Messiah to come first (or again, depending on your belief).

However, once Israel actually existed they decided “if you can’t beat them- join them.” Better still, “control them”. And so it came to pass, that by clever political manoeuvering, manipulation of the electoral system, and by invoking the name of God when things got tough, they succeeded in obtaining power and influence out of all proportion to their numbers. (Actually, they don’t ever say God’s name as such, referring always to “Hashem” {“the name”}. When writing, they use only an acronym). The greatest irony is that tens of thousands of them still do not believe that Israel should exist, even whilst living here. Go figure!

Their success in controlling so many aspects of life is also due to the essential tolerant nature of secular liberalism. But it may be that they got too greedy. Not satisfied with what they had, they wanted even more.

I cite one example of many:

Machine matzo produced from shmura wheat in Israel

Only Matzot for a week............

During the period of Pessach (Passover), the custom is not to eat bread and similar “leavened” products made from flour. The consumption of many other kinds of foods and drink is also forbidden.

At one point, the law was changed so that it became illegal for such goods to be openly displayed. In deference to religious sensibilities, the food stores and supermarkets would cover these items with opaque material so that they would not be visible.  However, there was  a tacit understanding that those who wished to purchase the “forbidden” items could do so by simply reaching under the cover and taking what they wanted. This arrangement continued for years; a reasonable compromise you might think. You would be wrong. This word does not exist in the ultra-Orthodox lexicon.

Around two years ago the  ultra-Orthodox tried to put pressure on the leading supermarket chains to not allow the cashiers to accept such proscribed items. They threatened a boycott of these stores if they did not comply. But the practicalities of enforcement defeated them.

Not easily deterred,  they then arranged for a special software programme to be written which could be loaded into the check-out tills. This programme would prevent the bar code readers from identifying products they deemed “not allowed”. So far, they have not managed to bully the retailers into compliance. But every year they try harder. Talk about “food police”!

What was once a voluntary arrangement to accommodate the religious, has moved from “not being allowed to display” to “not being allowed to buy.” In some circumstances it is also forbidden to eat banned items in public. It is only one more small step to making it illegal to consume such items at all, even in the privacy of one’s own home. Fantasy?  Perhaps, but what happens at Pessach is the small tip of a very large iceberg. And for those who don’t believe in the physical manifestations of religious traditions, it feels like being on the Titanic!

Following a number of recent incidents, which took place over a period of a few short months, it is possible to detect the beginnings of a secular backlash. A short summary of some of the more prominent actions, which contributed to this feeling for change, includes:

  • Violent demonstrations by Haredim against young girls in Beit Shemesh, which included spitting on the girls and physically attacking them with everything from sticks and stones to excrement loaded diapers.
  • The complete exclusion of images of women on any advertising signs or billboards in Jerusalem.
  • Also in Jerusalem,  the virtual siege of a bookshop, until a Haredi inspector was allowed to check the inventory to decide which books it would be permitted to sell.
  • Repeated attempts to circumvent the law forbidding segregation  of men and women on public  transport, and abusing and physically attacking women accused of sitting in the male section of the bus.
  • Incidents of religious soldiers obeying their Rabbi and disobeying their officers – again in the sphere of separation of the sexes.
En: An Egged bus in Afula, Israel He: אוטובוס ...

Men in the front - Women in the back (but not in Tel Aviv)

Essentially, it all boils down to freedom of lifestyle, and religious coercion. I’m not sure that there was an actual “trigger”. It’s more an accumulation of things that caused non-religious people to move from thinking that the situation had reached untenable proportions, to actually doing something about it.

The decision last week by the Tel Aviv City Council to introduce public transport on Shabbat will, almost certainly, prove to be more declarative than actual, but it is a move that would have been unthinkable even 6 months ago. The obsession with the oft repeated mantra of “maintaining the status quo” must come to an end.

The Ten Commandments, In SVG

Also man made...............

The Ten Commandments may have been set in stone, but the other rules and laws of the Jewish State are all man made. (Well, so were the Commandments, actually, – but that’s  another story)

Also last week former TV presenter, Yair Lapid gave a speech to effectively launch his entry into the political arena. A main plank of his platform was to seek to reduce the power and benefits enjoyed by the Haredim. It seems that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His father, the much admired Josef (Tommy) Lapid fought the same battle for years before he died. The Shinui party, under his leadership, even secured 15 seats in the Knesset, primarily due to his anti-religious stance. This was the most serious threat to Haredi power in recent years.

Lapid the Elder

Unfortunately, the members of his party started squabbling amongst themselves, and, in due course, the party fell apart. Lapid the Elder also found that politics is, truly, “the art of the possible”, and not everything he promised could be achieved. Of course, the Haredim detected that “the Hand of God” was responsible for what happened to Lapid and were outwardly triumphant.

Pundits predict that a party led by, or containing, Lapid the Younger could gain a sufficient number of seats in the Knesset to be a serious coalition partner. Then, the argument goes, a government could be constructed without including the religious parties. This could set Israel on a different path, but, based on past experiences, this scenario is unlikely to happen.

The choice is always between integration – or separation.

Personally, I’m all for separation. Sounds drastic, but the problem with integration is that the compromises required are too one sided. The secular are always expected to accommodate the religious. Until now, this is how it’s worked – and that’s the reason we got to this position.

Even the much publicised recent survey, claiming that a large majority of Israelis still believed in God, also stated that almost 60% -70% of respondents wanted public transport, shops, restaurants and places of public entertainment to be open 7 days a week.  A majority were also in favour of civil marriage. Should any of this ever come about on a national basis, the world will not come to an end. It won’t be Armageddon.

The city in which I live, Eilat, is a popular tourist destination for Israelis and foreign visitors alike. Its hotels, restaurants,coffee shops, attractions, shopping malls and public transport, function almost uninterrupted 24/7. Naturally, the “religious beach”, a newly constructed fenced off enclave within which there are separate sections for men and women, is closed on Shabbat.

So far, the small, but growing, religious groups in this City have not succeeded in changing its character significantly. Which is not to say that they are not trying! This is the problem with integration. Give them a finger and they soon want the whole arm – or body!

I would not feel uncomfortable if the state were to build physical Ghettos for the Haredi sects, in the style of 17th Century Poland, to replace the virtual Ghettos in which they now live. Then they could really feel at home.

For the rest of us, it’s time to acknowledge that this IS the 21st Century, and to start living in it!

Time, in fact, for the worm to start turning!

Andyboy – telling it as it is

Photo Credits

Worm –

Ten Commandments

Lapid –

Others in public domain or GNU free

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3 comments on “Is The (Secular) Worm Beginning To Turn In Israel?

  1. Pingback: “God – I Have A Problem With My Onion!” | andyboy

  2. Pingback: “God – It Seems That My Toilet Is Not Kosher!” | andyboy

  3. Pingback: “Forgive Me Father – For I Have Sinned!” | andyboy

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