Haredim in Israel is a 3D issue
You might recall the fable about the village that has never seen an elephant. They ask for a description from people who have only touched an elephant in the dark. One says an elephant is a tree-like stump, while another talks of a moving hose out of which warm air emerges, while another talks of a large flap of skin. The village is only able to gain a picture of an elephant if it somehow synthesizes all the different descriptions.
In some ways this is how we learn about Haredim. Different Israelis grab on to the issue from different angles, seeing some aspects clearly and others not at all. For us to gain a full picture, we need to cover all the different angles.
To switch metaphors, just as when watching a 3D movie we need special filter glasses, that both categorize colors and at the same time synthesize them, so we suggest that addressing Haredim in Israel requires certain lenses. We have identified five lenses, though there may well be more! Some Israelis see the Haredi issue through only one set of lenses, some through more than one, but it is rare to find someone who looks through all five…
1. Have the group read out the five lenses.
The Army Lens (“Share of the Burden”):
Most Haredi men do not join the Israeli Defence Force, due to an exemption agreed in 1948. According to this exemption, as long as a Haredi man is studying at a Yeshiva, he is exempt from army service according to the “Torah Learning Master” clause. This is the source of great resentment among the rest of Jewish Israelis.
Key question – how to get the Haredim into the army?
The lens of Multiculturalism:
Haredim are a minority in the majority secular state of Israel. Just as any other minority, Haredi traditions should be tolerated, and their customs respected. To do otherwise would be to discriminate, and to coerce a weak minority into giving up its unique culture.
Key Question – how to make sure Haredim can maintain their unique – separatist – culture?
The Women’s Lens:
Haredim live in a segregated society, where girls and boys are educated separately from the age of 3, modest dress is of huge importance, and separate gender seating on public transport has become the norm. As the Haredi community grows, these values are sometimes seen to encroach on Israeli society in general.
Key question – how to get Haredim to give equal public place to women?
The Torah Lens:
In the Holocaust 80% of all the world’s Yeshivot were destroyed, and 90% of all rabbis were murdered. Since then the State of Israel and the Haredi world have invested in the holy task of rebuilding and maintaining the world of Torah – its study and its way of life.
Key question – how to make sure as many Jews as possible study Torah and maintain a life-style untainted by the evils of secular society?
The Economic Lens:
Most Haredi men do not join the workforce, and most of those that do work part-time. Most Haredi households do not pay taxes and cannot survive without government benefits. As numbers grow – roughly doubling every decade – the State of Israel will not longer be able to support such a burden. (Some see the integration of Haredim into the army as the first step to introducing them into the workforce).
Key question – how to get the Haredim working?
2. Hold a straw poll: “Through which of these five lenses do you think you have been looking at the situation of Haredim in Israel?”
3. Hand out copies of “lenses“, for people to refer to while watching the movie.
4. Screen this film (35 minutes) >> https://vimeo.com/37846108
5. After watching the film, allow space for general feedback and discussion before guiding a conversation with the following questions:
- Which of the characters did you most connect to?
- Which of the characters did you find most challenging?
- (In what way) Did you find the lenses useful? Are there any lenses missing? What would you add?
- It seems clear that any solution to these issues will require compromise and/or sacrifice. If you were in Israel what would you be willing to sacrifice?