“Decider of the Generation” is Dying
Hatred Rules Jerusalem
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Who is Who
For unknown reasons, both Haredim and Hasidim favor clothes that were fashionable in the 17th Century Eastern Europe. Even their Mizrahi and Sephardic members dress in such a way. Not only does that make little sense in the hot summers of the Holy Land, but it also makes differentiating between these two groups a Herculean task (please forgive my Greek digression). Yet, they differ in their interpretation of Judaism more than Catholic and Evangelic groups do in Christianity.
“Haredim” owe their name to Prophet Isaiah: “Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word” (Isaiah 66:5). The Hebrew word “harada” means “fearful,” “anxious.” Thus Haredim are those who fear the word of God and thus are the more legalistic followers of the Jewish religion. Yet, they do not base themselves on the Bible for their observance of the law, but mainly on interpretations appearing in the Talmud and related literature. They are also known as “ultra-Orthodox Jews.” Within this large group, there is an important subdivision. There are “Haredim” and “Lithuanian Haredim,” the last belong to groups linked to the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
“Hasidim” owe their name to the Hebrew word “hesed,” which means “kindness,” or “charity.” They separated from the Haredim in the 18th Century, when Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov began preaching for a less legalistic interpretation of the Pentateuch, for a Judaism based on spirituality and joy. Instead, he created a branch that is characterized by the veneration of leadership as intercessors of God. In the past, some Haredim defined them as a sect. The ultra-mystical Kabbalist Jews may be found in Hasidic and Haredi-bound yeshivot (colleges). All this would have been of little relevance beyond religious colleges, if they hadn’t joined Israel’s political system. They got a free ride on the Messiah’s Donkey.
The actual political map in Israel wouldn’t have been possible during the 19th century in any Jewish settlement. Israeli governments are composed of coalitions between Zionist groups (led by the Labor or the Likud–Kadima is a newcomer in the same category) and religious parties. The last are bound mainly to the Talmud and are waiting for religious redemption via a Messiah, practicing Pharisaic interpretations of the Bible.
Jewish redemption is far from the spiritual redemption professed by Christians. Jews do expect a physical redemption based on a Godly Kingdom in the Land of Israel. All the religious interpretations until the 19th Century didn’t leave any place to a Zionist party rushing to conquer Arab lands. That was the role of a future Messiah. Thus, any cooperation between Zionists and Orthodox Jews was impossible.
Then a Maoist-styled Giant Leap Forward took place and things changed. Traditionally, the Jewish Orthodoxy believed the abovementioned redemption would arrive in two stages. The early stage is called “Messiah Son of Joseph,” and would include the physical stages of bringing the Jewish people together; this stage is symbolized by a bull. The second stage is the “Messiah Son of David,” when a spiritual Messiah would restore the Kingdom of God. This stage is symbolized by a donkey; Christian readers would immediately recognize Jesus triumphal entry to Jerusalem riding one (see Gospel of John 12:12-16). In the 19th Century, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, was one of the Orthodox Jews who created the base for cooperation between Zionists and Pharisees.
What Rabbi Kook did was simple, and is known as “Hamoro shel Mashiah” (“Messiah’s Donkey” in Hebrew, a book by this name was published in 1998, see links below). He claimed that secular Jews, represented by the Zionists, can take the place of “Messiah Son of Joseph” as a collective entity, creating the base that would allow the Pharisees—the Orthodox Jews—to produce the “Messiah Son of David” in the new and secular state. It worked. The political alliance produced a state accepted by most Jews. Neturei Karta is one of the few Jewish groups that do not accept this unholy contraption. The state lavishly supports its Yeshivot, the religious colleges.
Divide and Rule
Most political advisers—including Machiavelli—would recommend their clients to “divide and rule.” Divide your opponents until they form a plethora of tiny parties, and then destroy them one by one. Zionists hoped that would be the result of exposing the Haredim to a multi-party political system. To their joy, the Haredim split at first, but paradoxically that resulted in their increasing their parliamentary strength in the Israeli Knesset.
The original Haredi party is Agudat Yisrael (roughly “Israel’s Union”), founded in Poland in 1912. It participated in most Israeli coalitions. For most of the existence of the State of Israel, they have headed the Finance Committee of the Knesset. In this position, they have been able to secure funds for their institutions. In 1988, Degel HaTorah (“Flag of the Pentateuch” in Hebrew) separated from Agudat Yisrael. The new party included the Lithuanian Haredim. The spiritual leader of this party is Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, the abovementioned “Decider of the Generation.” These two parties are closely related and in fact more often than not run together for the Knesset, under the name Yahadut HaTorah (known as United Torah Judaism in English). Currently, the union has three members in the Knesset (out of 120 in total). Even after major cuts in recent years, Haredi institutions receive $600 million dollars per year from the government. This doesn’t include the salaries of rabbis, which are paid by the state. This is far beyond their nominal power. In comparison, Conservative institutions get $50 thousand per year.
A split occurred also in 1984, when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef took the Mizrahi Jews from Agudat Yisrael and formed the Shas party. The party became a hit; currently it has 10 members in the Knesset. It has become a constant feature of Israeli governments and is known to favor leading the Ministry of Interior, where it accumulated immense power in the management of civil affairs in Israel.
The divided have become the rulers. Secular parties depend on coalitions with Haredi parties for ruling Israel. Thus, the divided rule.
Rule of Hatred
This rule is far from being kind. Haredi rabbis are trying to impose their interpretation of how to live on all. In fact they rule civil affairs: birth, marriage, divorce, and death. The Interior Ministry lists define the religion of each citizen, and thus how he should behave. Since this decides who can enroll in the IDF and who can serve in which units, the Haredi rule on the ministry imposes Haredi interpretations on the lives of everybody in the State of Israel. This also means that Conservative and Reform Judaism—popular in the US—are not fully recognized in Israel. Conservative and Reform marriages cannot be performed within the State of Israel, though if performed outside the country, they are recognized by the state. Israel cannot claim to be a democracy when a religious minority forces its interpretations on all others.
In the near future, the most prominent leader of the “Litaim” (as the Lithuanian Haredim stream is known in Hebrew) would probably die. A new “Decider of the Generation” is being looked for these days. A leading candidate—Rabbi Steinman—is already 96 years old and would probably be skipped in favor of a younger tyrant. Meanwhile—while pocketing a fortune every year—their followers continue to protest against the State of Israel, calling it a “Nazi State” (see pictures above). Can one find a better example of hypocrisy? Shabat Shalom!
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