Travel Report, April 2011: Israel
I am flying from Tel Aviv to Eilat, a resort city on the shores of the Red Sea.
The line to board the plane is long; we must go through yet another security check. I am close to the end of the line. Next to me is a very Orthodox Jew. They are easy to identify, with their black three-piece suits, long black coats (in Israel’s broiling temperatures, mind you), long beards and side curls.
The Orthodox man leaves his place and goes to the head of the line to speak to a security officer.
In the United States, someone would politely ask him to get back in line. In Russia everyone would try to go to the head of the line, so there is no line. But here, something happened that I did not expect: People started screaming at the man––not just shouting, but screaming––“Hey, you with the kippa! [the small head covering that religious Jews wear] You with the beard! Who do you think you are? You think you’re special? Get back in line!!!”
What surprised me was the venom, the palpable hatred, in how the shouted words were expressed.
The man walked back to his place, trying to explain that he had just been asking a question. It did not help. The shouting continued. Finally he got angry himself, and shouted back at them: “You anti-Semites! You retarded people!” (Keep in mind, it was a Jew calling other Jews anti-Semites.)
His insults were like pouring oil on a fire. The confrontation intensified, and I believe it would certainly have turned physical had not the airport security people intervened. The most aggressive were young, military age people.
What is going on?
Let me explain.
Orthodox Jews, who study Torah full-time––usually for their entire lives––are exempt from military service. But they do vote, and for religious reasons they vote with the political right, which does not want to concede any land to the Palestinians. For them, the land is sacred; God has given it to the chosen people and they have no right to concede it to the Arabs. This infuriates the secular Israeli because it is they who serve and die in Israel’s numerous wars and skirmishes, not those studying the Torah and voting they way they do.
Furthermore, the Orthodox tend to marry young and have many children––it’s not unusual for a family to have nine children––because the tenets of their religion instruct them to “multiply.” But, since they study Torah instead of earning a living, and since they have large families, they get government social services financial support. This infuriates the secular Israeli even more. It is they who pay the taxes that support those Orthodox Jews. Some even call them “parasites”.
This resentment has been growing for a long time, and I believe it is about to reach dangerous proportions.
I would not be surprised if, in my lifetime, some serious physical confrontation will occur between the two groups, ending, perhaps, with fatalities.
How tragic will it be if religious Jews are attacked in the Jewish state. As much as I pray that this conflict does not end tragically, I nevertheless support the policy that exempts the Orthodox from army duty and supports them with tax money.
Here is why:
Israel exists today, but who knows if it will exist in the very long run. I pray with all my heart that is should, but no state in history has survived as a state for two thousand years. But the Jews, as a religious group, have survived for two thousand years, despite constant persecution.
The Orthodox Jews may be our security that the Jewish people will continue to exist. Israel as a secular state does not warrant that survivability. True, it does not have to be the most Orthodox Jews to make it happen. There are many religious Jews who serve the army, work, earn and pay taxes But the most Orthodox are the most Orthodox which means they are to me the most committed to keep the religion alive. I cannot say that for the secular Israelis. If anything were to happen to the state of Israel, God forbid, I believe that many secular Jews would assimilate to other religions, or reject religion altogether and Judaism will lose millions of souls. In other words, I do not necessarily see the state of Israel as an effective insurance policy to ensure the survival of the Jewish nation in the long, long run and my concern is with the survivability of the Jewish nation and not only of the Jewish state. For me, the Orthodox Jews provide that continuity. Allowing the Orthodox to study Torah while supporting them financially are reasonable “premiums” that we should be willing to pay to assure Jewish continuity in the very long run.
I admit that it is easy for me to make these statements, living as I do in Santa Barbara, far away from the conflict, far away from the sacrifices secular Israeli make. Those who live in Israel feel resentful for understandable reasons.
But where will it lead?
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes