The United Torah Judaism party in Israel issued a new set of demands prior to the formation of the next government under Benjamin Netanyahu. The demands entail a combination of more Haredi influence and control in the public sphere, special privileges for Haredi communities, and massive infusions of money to Haredi sectors.
As reported here at the TOI, the wish list includes:
–Passing a law to regulate the exemption of ultra-Orthodox youth from enlisting in the army
–Having a Chief Rabbinate representative on any panel weighing permits for work on Shabbat
–Barring electricity production on Shabbat
–Funding special archives known as a “genizah” — to preserve documents and papers containing God’s name, which according to Jewish law must not be thrown away
–Forming and funding bodies to provide answers to the public on questions of halacha, or Jewish law
–An agreement to increase the number of gender-segregated beaches
–Discounting public transportation in predominantly ultra-Orthodox cities
–Providing Haredim with affirmative action when applying for jobs in state-controlled bodies
–Allowing hospitals to ban hametz, or leavened wheat products, on Passover
–Allowing any citizen to demand in-ground burial, instead of above-ground structures known as vertical cemeteries established to battle overcrowding.
–Requiring more religious studies in the state’s secular school system
–Weighing the closure of the new Reform department in the Diaspora Affairs Ministry
–Mandating that all online government services also be provided via phone for those who shun internet use, as many ultra-Orthodox do
–Raising government payouts to yeshiva students
One can assume that not all of the items will be approved, perhaps some in abbreviated form. But the list is instructive in and of itself for the surreal vision of society it reflects. The demands reflect the world of illusion stamped by the omnipotence of thought in Haredi circles as Haredi political parties reach for real power in the actual world beyond their enclave.
In terms of a picture of a vision of a holy society, it was this particular item that caught my attention. As reported in the TOI, former Religious Services minister Matan Kahana argued that the agreement giving everyone the right to have an in-ground burial plot “would turn the center of the country into one giant cemetery….If it wasn’t so insane, it would be laughable.” Kahana pointed out that there are today 2.5 million graves in Israel. In eighty-three years there will be 9 million. “Whoever thinks we can continue in-ground burials is delusional.”
Death, of course, is a foundation stone of religion. Not a benign social force, the vision of Haredi political religion is necropolitical.
By “necropolitical” I mean less, as per Achille Mbembe and other critical theorists, about the capacity of sovereign state power to let live and make die. I am more focused on the internal organization of a polis, this particular polis, and the transformation of the polis into a necropolis (νεκρόπολι, city of the dead). A necropolis forms around death and the dead, It is a place where the dead overwhelm the living. A scaled up necropolis would be surreal, no longer recognizably organic. Under these conditions, the polis and its demos are brought by religious actors up to the gates of death and thrown back down into a terrestrial abyss.