A deep change in the demography of Israel is occuring. The orthodox (17%) and ultra-orthodox (8%) make for 25% of the population. Additional 55% are “traditional”, for a total of 80% religious, which leaves 20% of the Jews in Israel secular. Jews in America aren’t aware of it because “almost all the elites in Israeli society […] are found within the secular 20 percent, so that they frame the picture that outsiders get of Israel.”
Birth rate of ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel is 5% a year. It’s triple than that of the secular Jews. “Among Jewish students, haredi students make up 61% of the first-grade age group. Just 19% are secular, and another 19% are National Religious.” “A third of all elementary school-children in Israel are ultra-Orthodox.” In Jerusalem, secular schoolchildren are 13%. 40% are haredic. “The hareidi-religious system of recognized non-public schools experienced the fastest growth by far, with enrollment up by 3.76% in just one year.”
“Private ultra-Orthodox schools are supported by State budget yet they do not adhere to the curriculum prescribed by the Ministry of Education”. The Haredic schoolchildren learn to obey the Torah laws only, to defy the State laws and not to serve in the army. “Yeshiva students who declare that “Torah study is their artistry” can delay their conscription as long as they continue their studies, under the so-called Tal Law. In practice, many of them end up never serving at all”.
Not only the haredi anti-Zionist anti-modern education is supported by taxpayers money: “[There is an] ongoing effort to make the [general] educational system more religious.” General education in Israel gradually contains more religion, on the expense of English, science and general culture. The secular, scientific and democratic education budgets are systematically cut off in favor of budgets for religious-messianic educational content.
“The Israeli army is undergoing a similar process”. Religion infiltrates the army. Religious propaganda is spread, paid for – again – by taxpayers money. There are gradually more religious commanders at every level of the command and many soldiers say they will obey a rabbi and not a military commander in a case of a contradiction between the Torah laws and the military commands. “The Military Rabbinate’s Jewish Awareness Department recently ordered 25,000 books for Israel Defense Forces soldiers, [with] an illustrated children’s prayer book.” These processes results with steady deterioration of adherence and loyalty of the Israelis to the values and principles of democracy.
The Haredies get salary from the state in order to learn Torah in the yeshivot (religious schools). They don’t work for their living but rely on secular and the non-haredic religious segments of the population to sustain them. This tendency is so severe that a major Haredi politician admitted lately that a haredic city is unsustainable without a secular population to finance its infrastructure and public services. While discussing whether secular are to be encouraged to leave the mixed city of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, so it will become an entirely haredic city, the former haredic minister of interior, Eli Yishay, admitted: “A haredi city [is] lacking income, property tax and other taxes”; it can not sustain itself. However, efforts are made to reverse that tendency, to “integrate more members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community into the labor force.”
Many (or most) of the ultra-religious MKs (members of the Knesset, Israeli parliament) lack any understanding of modern science, international relations or even knowledge of simple English. The rightist parties (such as The Jewish Home – a major partner in the government) and the governing party, the Likud, has many messianic MKs. “These extremists, however, are only the tip of the iceberg, reflecting racist attitudes that are found among much larger groups of Israeli Jews.” Arabs who want to buy apartments in Jewish towns are threatened with violence. The main moving force behind this tendency are religious leaders: “Dozens of municipal rabbis signed a manifest ordering a halachic ban on selling or renting land and apartments in Israel to non-Jews.”
“the Chief Rabbinate [has] strict control over Jewish weddings, Jewish divorce proceedings, conversions, and the question of who is a Jew for the purposes of immigration.” “The state of Israel […] does not enable civil marriage. The state forbids and disapproves of any civil marriages or non-religious divorces performed amongst within the country. Because of this, some Israelis choose to marry outside of Israel”, as two of my sisters chose.
A new law proposal aims at fining any store which opens in Shabbat. Had it been in the United States, the Supreme court would throw it out of the window as a blunt breach of the first amendment. Here the government approved the bill and it‘s going to the Knesset for legislation. Would the Supreme Court in Israel stop the invasion of the religion into the law?
Unlikely. The judiciary aims at giving greater importance to the Old Testament legal code on the expense of the modern western legal codes. There is a growing tendency to “inject the spirit of Halacha into the process of legislation”, so the courts will have to judge according to the Jewish law. Former “Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman […] said that “step by step, Torah law will become the binding law in the State of Israel.”
To conclude, what happens in Israel reminds of the possibility of a Republican president and Tea Party representatives trying to influence him. However, the growth rate of the ultra-orthodox population and the religion’s takeover of the army, the education State system and the branches of government may cause this scenario to be only a first stage. In addition, the United States has a strong democratic tradition, to which also most of the Republicans adhere. In Israel there’s no such a tradition. A (secular) Likud party MK named Miki Zohar said lately (my translation): “I’m worried about the future of the Jewish idea. I say that the State of Israel can very easily in a few dozens of years be [not “become”. “be”. E.A.] a democratic state. i.e., it will no longer remain Jewish. It will be democratic, and when it becomes democratic, the existence of this people is a risk here.”
This ignorance regarding both the essence of democracy and it’s importance is rooted in Israel, unlike in the United States, in which the separation of religion and state is entrenched in the Bill of Rights – inseparable part of the Constitution. The courts in Israel, which are supposed to be the barrier and the shield of democracy, will soon be obliged – by the law of the land – to judge according the Jewish Halachik 2,000 years old law instead of the modern, western, democratic law. When it happens, Israel will smoothly enter the company around it, of ultra-orthodox fundamentalist states such as Iran, Isis, Saudi-Arabia and the like, which cut thieves hands, whip them with a lash, forbids women out of the house and ban every free thought.