Shades of Being Jewish
By Moshe Arens
July 2, 2017
There are Orthodox Jews and ultra-Orthodox Jews. There are
Conservative and Reform Jews. There are traditional Jews, secular Jews, agnostic
Jews and atheist Jews. There are Zionist Jews and anti-Zionist Jews.
Although decades have passed since the Holocaust there
is no doubt that the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust included
this very same variety of denominations and beliefs. They were all Jews of one
kind or another. The Germans did not differentiate between them; they were all
destined for death.
Since then the Jewish people have slowly recovered from
this almost fatal blow that sought their extermination. Israel welcomes all Jews
with open arms, hoping to heal the wound we have sustained and envisioning the
unity of the Jewish people. In Israel, this welcome is enshrined in the Law of
Return, the law that defines the state’s mission.
In Israel, the haven for all Jews seeking such a haven, one
segment of the population – the ultra-Orthodox – is spreading out the
welcome mat only to those who are ultra-Orthodox, or who have undergone a
conversion to Judaism by a “recognized” ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Israel or
abroad. The rest are facing insurmountable difficulties if they want to marry,
or if they bring their dead for burial, of if they want to convert in an effort
to “regularize” their status. In other words, they are told they are not
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet
Union have decided to simply stick to their “irregular” status, while others
have decided to leave Israel. This policy of the ultra-Orthodox establishment is
dealing a heavy blow to Jewish unity.
Ultra-Orthodox leaders should be reminded that this
separatist policy in the years before World War II expressed itself by agitation
not to move to Palestine, a move that could have saved their followers. It also
prevented the unity of the Jewish community in prewar Poland, leaving the Jews
there leaderless during the Holocaust.
One might expect that ultra-Orthodox leaders would learn
the lesson of the past and now make their contribution to the unity of the
Jewish people. Their insistence on not accepting
the compromise reached regarding prayer services at the Western Wall,
any liberalizing of the conversion process, seems to indicate that this
lesson has not yet been learned, and the damage they inflict on Jewish unity
Everyone pays lip service to the need for unity among the
Jewish people. All well know the tragic results of the absence of such unity —
2,000 years ago in the defense of Jerusalem against the Roman conquerors, and
decades ago against the Germans who came to destroy the Warsaw Ghetto.
“Unfounded hatred” it is called in Jewish tradition. There is no excuse for
that in the State of Israel.
Since the establishment of the state, another division
among its Jewish citizens has sprung up: those who take upon themselves the
obligation to defend the state and serve in the Israel Defense Forces, and those
who refuse to do so. Here too it is the ultra-Orthodox establishment that is
responsible for this situation, unique in Israel, where some of its citizens
refuse to participate in the defense of the country in which they live.
There are some encouraging signs among ultra-Orthodox
rabbis who encourage the drafting of ultra-Orthodox youngsters into the IDF, and
among the growing number of such youngsters serving in the IDF today. In
contrast, there is the vicious campaign against such enlistment, including
attacks against soldiers in uniform by members of the ultra-Orthodox community
dead set against this trend.
It is not at all clear that the majority of those who voted
for the ultra-Orthodox parties support the intransigence of their
representatives in the coalition government who are applying their leverage to
veto the Western Wall compromise and prevent the liberalization of conversion to
Judaism. Their obstructionist policies may yet lead to their political demise. A
little soul-searching is in order.