August 10, 2013

Ultra-Orthodox headed to boot camp

A new law would compel Orthodox 18-year-old men to enlist or perform public servic

By WILLIAM BOOTH and RUTH EGLASH The Washington Post

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews known as Haredi may soon join their secular counterparts in taking responsibility to defend Israel Shown above are Haredi Jews in the Me’a She’arim neighborhood in Jerusalem and, below, Haredi Jews during religious studies in the Sha’arei Hesed neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Photos by The Washington Post

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Yair Lapid, the Israeli finance minister and leader of a party that campaigned on a platform that called for the ultra-Orthodox to serve, said that when exemptions and subsidies for Torah learners were established, they went to 400 students. Today there are 800,000 ultra-Orthodox in Israel.

With their triple-stroller families and high birth rates -- supported by taxpayers kicking in for tuition, child support, health care and housing -- they are the fastest-growing population here, comprising about 13 percent of the 6 million Jews in Israel and about 10 percent of the total population. Their numbers are expected to double by 2030, according to the Bank of Israel.

Lapid said at a news conference earlier this year that Israel's enemies "do not distinguish between us."

"If tomorrow, God forbid, a third intifada should break out, and there are waves of terror as in the past," that affects the ultra-Orthodox as much as it does anyone else in Israel, Lapid said.

The Haredim are the most conservative and insular of Jews, following a strict religious doctrine of study, clothing, food and gender segregation. In the United States, outsiders sometimes lump them together as Hasidic, but that is only one specific stream.

In Israel, many Haredim are poor, their participation in the workforce low. Few Haredi women work outside the home and among men, unemployment has been measured at 60 percent. Because their student years are often devoted to the Torah, they come into adulthood with limited math, science and foreign language skills.

"Some people like us believe that without the Torah, the Jewish people have no raison d'?e," said Moshe Gafni, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party. "You can smile your smug smiles while I say it, but no bill will change our way of life. We are not afraid."

In Jerusalem, anger about the coming draft has been simmering for months. In the Haredi neighborhoods, gangs of ultra-Orthodox have attacked the relative handful of Haredi soldiers returning home in their uniforms, grabbing their yarmulkes off their heads, spitting and cursing, throwing rocks and rolling burning trash cans toward them.

An ultra-Orthodox politician told a Haredi radio station that an army uniform looked to him like the outfit worn by garbage collectors, a low and dirty cloth. In posters plastered on walls in Haredi neighborhoods, there were calls to assault the locals who joined the army.

Many Israelis say enough is enough. On a radio program, Israeli Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy said the utlra-Orthodox must "bear the burden together, join the job market."


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