Home Opinions Ideas The haredim are making it very hard to be passionate about Israel

The haredim are making it very hard to be passionate about Israel

People rally in support of Israel in Baltimore in 2014. BRUCE EMMERLING PHOTO

I hope everyone reading this is passionate about many things. Your family, the work you do, your health or the world around you might all generate that feeling of high energy that gives you the energy and desire to do positive things.

Like many of you, I am passionate about the Jewish People, about Israel and about Israelis. Years ago, I was focused solely on Israel, the country. While I have no close family in Israel, my years of working with Israelis has led me to get to know hundreds of them. Thus, my passion, which once belonged only to Israel, the state, has now been shared with the Jewish People, and with many individual Israelis.

I invest a good deal of time and money in Jewish and Israeli causes. My return on that investment has been the feelings that one gets when passion is rewarded with positive outcomes. My investment has been high. My return has been even higher.


Until recently, my passion for Israel and Israelis was unabated. But given recent decisions by the Israeli government, I must confess that the fuel is less than it once was, and my passion is certainly not at its highest levels. I refer, of course, to recent decisions made by the Israeli government, including the abrogation of an agreement that was developed several years ago to expand a mixed-sex prayer area at the Western Wall, as well as the decision to give more power to the ultra-Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

I recognize that decisions about what goes on in Israel must be made by the Israeli population on a democratic basis. I understand that Israel has a system of proportional representation that makes it difficult for any government to get things done without inappropriate compromises at times. And no, I am not threatening to stop making donations to help people in Israel. What I am saying is that my passion is being depleted by the belief systems of a minority of Israelis who have a disproportionate amount of power in the Knesset. And if my passion is waning, then I can only imagine how other, less committed Jews, in Israel and around the world, must feel.

I have always believed that there is room for all kinds of Jews – Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, secular. I was always aware that the non-Orthodox in Israel often find it difficult to get state support. I knew there were some Orthodox Jews who considered me, a Reform Jew, as treif. And I knew that all the haredim would disregard my Jewishness entirely. Being a tolerant person, I was willing to live and let live: believe what you want, as long as you do not encroach on my rights as a Jew. But I also believed that the level of tolerance and understanding within Israel was growing; that there was an increasing understanding that there is more than one way to be Jewish. Apparently I was wrong.

A man prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. THOMAS LEUTHARD PHOTO

Yet these two recent decisions show that the governing coalition is unwilling to oppose the extremists in their midst. Yes, the demands made by the haredim put the government in an untenable position. But the cabinet could have opted to call an election or enter into negotiations with another party to replace the ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition. Instead, the government decided to give in to the demands of the haredim and dismiss the concerns of world Jewry, in order to stay in power.

The haredim do not serve in the army, they receive large amounts of financial support and deliver little value to the economy. Yet they are granted this kind of power. They are happy to take the benefits of the state, but deliver little or nothing in return, other than intolerance and their requirement that all others follow their definition of what it means to be Jewish in the Jewish state. Last time I looked, Israel was the Jewish state, not the haredim state.

I refuse to cave to the belief system of extremists who cannot see the possibility of another point of view and who are brought up to believe a very narrow set of principles. When asked to summarize the core teaching of the Torah, Hillel said it all boiled down to not doing to others that which you would not have done unto yourself. The haredim do not follow that principle – they expect to be treated in ways that they are not prepared to extend to others, based on their personal interpretation of the Torah. To them, I and millions like me are not Jewish.

A haredi couple walk around the Tower of David in Jerusalem. MICHAEL PLUTCHOK PHOTO

They expect to receive, but do not give in return. They do not defend the State of Israel, or contribute to its well being. They are the takers and they have little tolerance for people who are not like them. Extremism is never good for a society because no society can bend to the will of one small group. And when the extremists gain power, society weakens.

There is, however, a solution. There will be another election and when it takes place, the Israeli public needs to show up to the polls and vote in favour of parties that commit to forming a coalition without the haredi. I know many will say that it is not that simple; that there is also an over-abundance of power in the hands of the settler movement. That may be true, but in my mind, that is a lesser problem than the haredim, who are trying to control who the homeland of the Jewish People considers to be Jewish. And given their very narrow definition of what constitutes a Jew, that could have far-reaching consequences for the vast majority of the Jewish People around the world.

Although I am impacted by these decisions, there is little I can do. Israelis must solve this problem themselves. But perhaps listening to voices like mine will help them understand that decisions made in Israel can form large waves that wash over and damage the Jewish People. The waves are rising and I feel my passion is waning, just a little. I don’t want it to wane any more. I hope Israelis come together to help me, and many others, rekindle that passion for Israel. If not, I fear for the state, because a state of the haredim is not going to survive.

  • john sanders

    Opposition to the regressive policies of the Jewish state vis a vis Jewish identity, gender equality,illiberalism, and equal rights of haredim and the non orthodox seems muted and evasive.Why are we walking on eggshells when it comes to contesting haredi mendacity? Why give mea culpas to a tyrannical regime?Perhaps instead of using the metaphor of burning bridges we should focus on a bridge too far.What do we need to do to contest the absurdity and maliciousness of an Israeli regime?There are psychological aspects to exclusivity which are damaging to thousands of non orthodox Jews who align themselves with Judaism and Israel. Surely we are not victims of a kind of Stockholm syndrome whereby the world’s non orthodox Jews are held hostage by living anachronisms?One notices that in the memoirs of orthodox Jews leaving or being forced out of Hassidic sects where some have lost family, kinship, and well being on account of idle gossip ,there is a reluctance to call a spade a spade lest there be reprisals real or imaginary.
    In addition to a black and white binary world we need to grow up and acknowledge that in reality there is a night where all cats are grey, but that would require freedom of expression,negotiation,goodwill and rationality not available when dealing with childlike minds on a lower level of a moral hierarchy..Bridges justifiably sundered can always be rebuilt if the regime changes or if a self serving head of state resigns in response to public pressure.

  • Jay Shiel

    Wow Michael! Too bad you chose to slander 12% of the Jewish population of Israel (not to mention those living around the world including here in Toronto) with unsubstantiated facts rather than stick to the issues you are concerned with.

    You stated: “And I knew that all the haredim would disregard my Jewishness entirely.” I would love to know what you base that on. Torah true Judaism may strongly oppose the views of Reform and Conservative Judaism, but we still strongly adhere to mitzvah of Ve’ahvata Le’Reyacha Kamocha – love thy neighbor as you love yourself. And to say “all the haredim”?! Perhaps visit Aish HaTorah or Ohr Sameach next time you are in Jerusalem. I would love to hear about how they have disregarded your Jewishness. Next time you are travelling and decide you want a warm Shabbat meal, maybe call upon the local Chabad house and report back as to whether or not they slammed the door shut on you. I think it would be worth your while to read about the relationship that was established between Howard Schultz, the non-religious former CEO of Starbucks and Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Haredi late Dean of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Rabbi Finkel, a lover of all Jews, epitomized Haredi Judaism. What you write about does not!

    You also stated: “The haredim do not serve in the army”. When you have some time I would encourage you to do an internet search on “Nachal Haredi”. I quote the following from YNET News, July 6, 2012. “The haredi regiment which was founded at the end of 1999 and started out as a small company of 32 troops is now one of the largest regiments in the IDF, with hundreds of combat soldiers and on average has around 100 more soldiers in its ranks than any other regiment.”

    Even more offensively, you wrote: “They are neither tolerant, nor generous, nor good to others, other than within their own small groups”. We hope and pray it shouldn’t happen, but next time there is G-d forbid a terror attack in Israel, I hope when you watch the news you will take note that a large number of the first responders are Haredi volunteers from Hatzalah and Zaka. I can assure you they are not checking to see if the victims were wearing kippot and tzizit before they decide to save a life or in the case of Zaka, to ensure that the remains are dealt with in a proper way. I am also pretty certain that the next time Yad L’Achim (another of many “Haredi” organizations) sends people in to an Arab village to rescue a woman who has been kidnapped and forced into marriage by Arabs, they won’t leave her there if they discover she is not from “within their own small group”.

    One more: “They do not defend the State of Israel, or contribute to its well being.” Would you not consider serving in the Knesset as many Haredi MKs do, as contributing to the well being of the country? Were you aware that in 2016 Yaakov Litzman, the Health Minister from the Haredi party United Torah Judaism, was rated as the most liked cabinet minister by the Israeli public, orthodox and secular alike based in a poll taken by Israel’s Channel Two News. Moshe Gafni, also from United Torah Judaism, has served as a Member of the Knesset since 1988. He has served on and chaired the Knesset’s Finance Committee since 2009.

    Michael, you may disagree with the Haredim on many issues. I get that. What I don’t get is how a “tolerant person” such as yourself has the right to slander a significant and the fastest growing segment of the Jewish population.