Friday, March 8, 2019

Just Selfish (Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel)

Blue and white workers keep this country going, not black hatted shirkers.
Last night I tried to get to J's house in Bet Shemesh, about a half hour ride from Jerusalem. I dropped DD off at another friend where she was staying the night, and went to catch my bus into town. Who knew that there was a huge demonstration by thousands of ultra-orthodox Jews, blocking the roads leading to and from the Central Bus Station (CBS) and the light-rail system?

You have to feel sorry for them - not. While everyone in Israel has to do some sort of National Service (not necessarily in the military - it could be in the voluntary sector) the ultra-orthodox are exempt.

It's an old law from the beginning of the State, when there were only a few remnants of ultra-orthodox Jewry left after the Holocaust. All the huge Jewish study halls (yeshivot) in Europe were gone. Thousands of years of learning were in danger of being forgotten. Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, decreed that these men could receive a stipend to study the Jewish sources full time and that they would be exempt from Army Service. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was a good idea for its time.

Since then a lot has changed. For one thing, we now have an alternative Voluntary National Service for those not suitable for combat. However, the main problem is that after 70 years, and with a religious ban on family planning, there are now thousands of ultra-orthodox men who opt out of real life and spend their days in the study halls. And believe me, they are not all scholars. They live off charity, and/or they send their wives out to work - the women who also have to look after a household of, give or take, 10 children.

They say that they want nothing to do with the State while using the roads, sanitation, electricity, water, gas, engineering, doctors, hospitals, schools, police, transport, agriculture, food, other commodities, and national security that the working people of the State provide.

The demonstration was about new laws that cancel the exemption from National Service. Why should ultra-orthodox men take any responsibility at all? For anything? So they chose Thursday evening for maximum disruption.

Thursday night on public transport is crazy at the best of times as our weekends are Friday/Saturday. Hundreds of people leaving for the weekend. Many with backpacks or suitcases escaping the city after a long working week. With half the system down it was absolute chaos. The buses that could run were crushingly crowded and the roads were in gridlock.

I eventually arrived at the CBS to find that all buses had been suspended until 7.45, after the protest. So after a week spent in the study halls (because they don't work) while others earned the taxes to pay for their everything, they then shut down the transport system so the tired workers couldn't get home to begin their weekend.

It was 6.15. At the Bet Shemesh terminal, people were just sitting and waiting. I had somewhere to be at 8 pm and I wasn't going to wait. A taxi to Bet Shemesh costs about 200 shekels (£42.50) but if four people split the cost... I called out loudly, "Who wants to share a taxi to Bet Shemesh?" Three people jumped up and off we went.

I got to my event on time but people travelling further afield couldn't just take a taxi. And after a while there were very few taxis available. Another friend walked for over an hour to cover the part of his homeward journey that was void of public transport. As he said, not everyone is young and fit enough to walk long distances.

On Friday morning there were special prayers for the new month at the Western Wall. A group of women pray there on new month days, days, which are attributed special status for women. The ultra-orthodox selfish brigade regrouped to heckle, throw stones, and physically attack these women for the crime of praying the full service with a Torah scroll - an act traditionally reserved for men.

The ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel protest against doing army service because combat would sully their pure, but selfish, souls. Yet the next morning they come and beat up women who only want to pray. It's not about purity or serving God. These men have only basic education, if any, outside of religious studies. They are not equipped to think for themselves. They do as their rabbis tell them and for the despot rabbis, it's all about retaining control.

It's all about power.

It has to stop.


  1. And how appropriate that they would treat women in this way on International Women's Day! I sincerely hope they were arrested and charged with assault!

    1. No, the police issued a statement as if nothing happened at all. They are in kahoots with the rabbis of the wall. Rather than bring in serious riot control, they just gave in.

    2. THAT is disgraceful! The women should get themselves a good civil rights lawyer and start suing everyone in sight - that might get them some attention!

      Better still - the next time a situation like this start up - ensure that someone is filming and posting to social media around the world - that should do it!

    3. Well no, these are very influencial women. It's all on film, it's all over the media and social media, they have top lawyers.... The problem is that the law already says they have the right to pray but the ultra-orthodox rabbis of the wall don't accept the law. In order to uphold the law the police would need to bring in serious riot control forces It would get extremely ugly. The Women of the Wall, as they call themselves are not going to get violent and there are far fewer of them. So the police take the easier stance of pretending not to see anything and if they do, they claim it's the women being provocative.