The Coronavirus pandemic and its impact on Haredi society and the impact of Haredi society on the State in Israel are highlighting the strong core point of liberal political theory and liberal religion in relation to matters concerning the distinction between religion and state. Against the claims of so-called political theology and theo-politics, also revealed by the pandemic is the ultimate internal weakness and precarity of Haredi society and cultures as a dysfunctional autonomous social-political segment, unable to take care of itself while flouting the general rule of law. At issue is the conflict between the values of citizenship and the talmud Torah of the society of learners.
I’m sharing this op-ed here from the Israeli, Hebrew-language Haredi newsite Kikar Ha’Shabbat which they reposted from Tzarich Iyyun, a contemporary-Haredi platform of thought, culture, and politics. The piece has this confusion. On the one hand, there is a bracing insider-critique of Haredi society and culture relating to the state and the responsibilities of citizenship. On the other hand, there is a prescriptive project that aims at the Haredization of the State of Israel.
The critical line is here:
One of the conclusions to be drawn from the crisis of relations between ultra-Orthodox society and the state, which arose in all its severity during the Corona period, is that the ultra-Orthodox must integrate into the state. The Corona has revealed both the catastrophe in which such a large population group is run independently, and the internal need of ultra-Orthodox society for civilian governance. Within the ultra-Orthodox society, each sub-group in the corona crisis acted on its own, regardless of the fate of the rest of society. This situation made the country dizzy, and caused significant damage to the economy and the routine of life of the other residents, and there was no ultra-Orthodox body that could take responsibility for what was done, even if it wanted to. At the same time, this conduct created a deep rift between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of the people living in Zion.
The impossibility of this disconnect is also felt in the ultra-Orthodox society inside, in three different arenas. The first arena is poverty. The economic poverty that the separation from the life of the act entails encourages many ultra-Orthodox to integrate into the Israeli economy. The second arena is the activity of the third and fourth sectors – social associations and municipal authorities. The civic needs of ultra-Orthodox society have pushed many ultra-Orthodox to specialize in the areas of urban management, welfare, welfare, care for dropout youth and more. The third arena is the spirit world, which in recent years has longed for a healthier connection with the life of action. The disconnect between the Torah and life, between the Beit Midrash and the life of action, bothers many scholars. Experience shows that the most urgent issue for the writers of “Need to Study” – a topic that rhymes with countless articles published on this stage – is the disconnect between the Torah and life. In a month devoted to discussing the world of kollels, it has been repeatedly argued that the feeling of disconnection from the life of the act is a severe burden on the residents of the beit midrash, even the objects must persevere in their study.
But maybe there’s no way out of this conundrum.
At the end, what the author of the op-ed, Eliyahu Levy, offers is a theoretical reflection about the Haredi State in Israel. There is something of a fantasy about it. Against exile and the negation of the state (shlilat ha’medinah), the author of the op-ed is confident in the long term integration of Haredi society into the life of the state, i.e. a Jewish majority nation-state, while anticipating, by the end of the op-ed, the eventual Haredization of the secular state and society. Is a Haredi state an oxymoron, built as it is upon rabbinic authority and the authority of constant talmud Torah that decenter secular authority and preclude secular knowledge?
The op-ed takes into account the competition between centers of secular power vs. centers of Haredi power and deep divisions within Haredi society re: this kind of integration. Levy does not work through the implications of how that conflict between these centers of power might pan out, not seeming to realize that these competing centers are not equal, demographically, that Haredi Jews are, after all, a minority political and social power. The tension between worlds, between Haredi Judaism and state power that the op-ed wants to resolve may be irresolvable.
(The op-ed translates well at Google translate if anyone wants to read the op-ed in full but can’t read the Hebrew.)
(Much of the confusion about this op-ed may relate to Tzarich Iyyun being an internet -product of the Haredi arm of the Tikvah Fund in Israel, a conservative think tank with a definite hostility to liberal politics and religion.)