“A holy war is being waged against Judaism in Israel,” warned the leader of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, Moshe Gafni, last night at the end of Shabbat. By this he means the government opponents who have been waging a religious war within the Jewish people for months. The proof of this, according to Gafni, is the incident between religious and secular Jews during public prayer on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, in Tel Aviv. “If fighting breaks out in Tel Aviv over the Jewish prayer Kol Nidrei, it means we are in the middle of a war against religion. The issue is not judicial reform or anything similar. They are waging a religious war against us,” said Gafni.
I’ll put it this way, we’re all a little afraid of our neighbor who doesn’t believe and think like we do. That is the zeitgeist in the country.
In this regard I have to agree with Gafni; from his point of view, the Jewish people are in a dangerous religious war. Until now, only Orthodox Jews have determined official Judaism: what is Jewish, who is Jewish, what is kosher, what is allowed or not allowed, and everything else surrounding it. The vast majority of the people, the silent majority, have gone along with everything for decades, occasionally grumbling in the Knesset and on the streets, but doing nothing. With the controversial judicial reform, everything has now broken out, including many things that have nothing to do with reforming the justice system, and that’s the problem.
There are 18 Orthodox Jewish members of Knesset, giving them 15 percent of the 120 Knesset seats. This is approximately the percentage of the Israeli population that is ultra-Orthodox. There are between one and two million Orthodox Jews in the country who want to live their own lives, separate from the rest of the people of Israel. In recent months, Jewish Orthodoxy, its representatives and rabbis have been accused of trying to determine the character of the Jewish state, which does not suit a large part of the population. And this part of the population is accused of now waging a religious war against Orthodox Judaism.
Gafni also sharply attacked Israeli entrepreneurs: “Their war is not socio-economic or security-related, but their war is against religion.” Israeli business owners who oppose the government’s judicial reform are waging a religious war against Judaism, the Orthodox lawmaker claimed during a political rally at the religious kibbutz Hafetz Haim. “That’s the only thing you can call it.” Gafni lamented what he said were false warnings from Israel’s economic experts about judicial reform and explained how he had been meeting for months with business leaders who told him how serious Israel’s economic situation is and what could happen if the reform is passed. “A lot of time has passed since then and the economy is in great shape,” said Gafni.
In his speech, he stressed: “I told them that this is not about judicial reform or anything related to that, but that you are waging a religious war against us. This is the reason why United Torah Judaism members no longer give interviews on Israeli radio. That never helped us.”
There is nothing to overcome the worldview of Jewish Orthodoxy, because an Orthodox Jew has no freedom to compromise on his faith-based legal system. This was expressed again in May when Gafni spoke out against what he called a “secular smear campaign against Jewish Orthodoxy” after model and TV presenter Galit Gutman called Orthodox Jews “bloodsuckers” on camera. Her remark was related to the billions of shekels in the annual budget that go to Orthodox Jews as part of coalition agreements. “She calls us bloodsuckers. Shame on you. I don’t even know who she is,” Gafni said, casually adding a reference to Noa Kirel. “My daughter didn’t grow up with Noa Kirel’s music, doesn’t she deserve a budget too? I would also give her some clothes.”
Two months earlier, Evangelical Christian leaders urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block a bill proposed by Gafni and fellow ultra-Orthodox lawmakers that would impose prison sentences for proselytizing. The bill was intended to prohibit people of one faith from speaking to people of another faith or trying to persuade them to switch to the other faith (Christianity). In particular, attempts to convert minors would be punished with higher prison sentences.
One must understand that Jewish Orthodoxy has a problem with Jewish secularity, but the reverse is also true. It is true that not every Orthodox Jew and not every secular Jew has a problem with their neighbor who believes differently. But yes, no matter what you want to call it, religious war, war over the character of the Jewish state, war over democracy or war over everything, Israel is engaged in a spiritual battle. And the trigger is once again the controversial judicial reform. Orthodox Jews are afraid of even more secularism, and secular Jews are afraid of an Orthodox takeover. And this fear is driving all sides crazy.
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