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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Those [religious] people..."

I never get used to hearing secular Israelis complain loudly and unabashedly about "those [religious] people". 

The most common themes found in these rants are:

1.  "Those people are unpatriotic because they don't serve in the army." - An interesting/convenient generalization since the number of secular and religious Israelis who ask for and receive deferments from compulsory service in the IDF is about equal.  Conveniently glossed over (or simply ignored) are the following:

a) There is a very distinct difference between the Chareidi (black hat/Hasidic) and Dati Leumi (religious nationalist) approach to compulsory army service.  While there are a relatively small number of Chareidim who now serve in special combat units in the Israeli army, most Chareidim ask for a perfectly legal exemption under the law.  However, virtually all Dati Leumi men not only serve... but as a group they tend to gravitate towards the most elite of the IDF combat units. 

b) By comparison, a large percentage of secular Israelis who receive exemptions from army service do so on much more shaky legal grounds (i.e. personal convenience or politics rather than core ideology).

c) Among women who request exemptions from army service, there is a very interesting distinction that falls along religious lines and which is ignored by people who complain about 'those people' not doing army service.  That distinction is called 'Shirut Leumi' (national service).  Secular girls who ask for and receive exemptions almost never perform some alternate form of national service while religious girls (at least in the Dati Leumi camp... I don't have a clue about how the Chareidi girls handle this) almost universally do.  This service can take many forms, but is often performed in the capacity of hospital volunteers, teachers, and youth advisers in development towns...roles that benefit both secular and religious Israelis.

2.  "Those people are parasites living off the government." - Again there is a seemingly willful glossing over of the very real distinction between the two main religious groups in Israel; 'Chareidi' and 'Dati Leumi'.  However, even if one was to lump these two very different worlds into one big bag... I would be interested to see how the ledger of government payments (including welfare, child support and other benefits) stacks up along purely secular and religious lines.  My guess is that yes, the religious community overall may receive a slightly larger percentage of such payments... but that the secular community is not far behind in terms of those who either can't or won't work/support themselves and/or their families.  If anyone has some hard facts to support or discredit my assumption I would be happy to post them here.

3. "Those people teach their kids to hate us." - This is the one that hurts me the most.  While there are certainly religious parents that point at some of the more unsavory aspects of secular society as a cautionary tale rather than as a lesson in brotherly love/tolerance, I am equally certain that there are plenty of secular parents who expose their children to the full catechism of "those [religious] people..." statements which I have listed here (and many more).  The difference can be found in which statements are considered more politically acceptable by Israeli society. 

The best litmus test of what is, and isn't, PC can be found in the statements that are entered into the public record by our politicians.  To illustrate this point I'd like to share the following:

a) At the start of the most recent Knesset session, MK Chaim Oron (Meretz) ascended the Knesset podium and actually proposed the following be codified into Israeli Law:

"Any person who attempts to influence a minor, to become more religiously observant of Judaism,(להחזיר בתשובה) will be subject to arrest and imprisonment for 6 months."  *

I was stunned when I read this.  It sounded like an edict handed down under Greek or Roman rule... not something that would be uttered in the Israeli Knesset!  To my knowledge MK Oron didn't propose a corollary law stating that anyone who influenced a minor to become less religious,(להחזיר בשאלה) receive a similar punishment. 

b) Entire political parties have been established (and widely supported by the Israeli electorate) on platforms made up almost entirely of anti-religious initiatives (Shinui being the most unapologetic example).  While there are several pro-religious political parties in the Knesset whose goals include advancing the agenda of the religious community (or some sub-set thereof), I don't know of any parties that have had a platform exclusively built upon advancing anti-secular initiatives.

Once upon a time in the US there was no social barrier/taboo to using pejorative and demeaning terminology when speaking about minorities.  Today if one were to use the 'N' word in a public setting or even call a black man 'boy', he/she would be publicly excoriated.  Likewise, even the casual use of the phrase 'Those people' when referring to any group is considered insulting and demeaning.

Yet here in Israel there is no such social barrier to making the sweeping statements vilifying large swaths of our society.  That politicians and private citizens alike feel completely comfortable making bigoted, wrong-headed statements about "Those people..." is a frightening indication of the hatred (and often self-hatred) that has been allowed to infect Israeli discourse... and society.

* Source

Hat Tip goes to my friend Jameel, proprietor of The Muqata


Posted by David Bogner on October 18, 2006 | Permalink


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In comparing payments, don't forget to include things like gov't money for kibbutzim (almost all secular), universities (= kollel*), and the arts.

Posted by: Mike Miller | Oct 18, 2006 12:38:13 PM

Mike Miller... In fairness, not all kibbutzim are secular, although it would be correct to say the majority are. Universities serve all segments of Israeli society. That most Chareidim don't avail themselves of these opportunities is not the government's fault. The same can be said of the arts.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Oct 18, 2006 12:54:58 PM

For a lighter view of the religious-secular "dialogue", I highly recommend Uri Orbach's "Saba Sheli Haya Rav - A Religous-Secular Lexicon".

Fun stuff.

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Oct 18, 2006 2:05:08 PM

I wonder if the story at scoop.co.il is on the level. I tried to find the text of the proposal at the Knesset site and other news sites, and couldn't.

Posted by: Simon | Oct 18, 2006 2:25:38 PM

Do secularists make hurtful and stupid (and untrue) comments? Yes.

Do religiously observant make stupid and hurtful (and untrue) comments? Yes.

Is one side in more of a position to enact their views as public policy? Probably.

Is it helpful to point out the universal human condition that the "other" is always in the wrong? Probably not.

Is it better to counter acts of baseless hatred with acts of baseless love? Definately.

(And I am not suggesting an 'OMG! Ponies!!! moment... rather implementing the words of the bumper sticker guru, "Practice acts of random kindness")

Posted by: Moshe | Oct 18, 2006 3:06:36 PM

I raised the same query as Simon has -with regards to "Scoop"- to Jameel.

Although, as you do point out, it isn't that we need such headlines to know that such sad and unproductive attitudes exist in our society.

I will take issue with one point you raise: "Secular girls who ask for and receive exemptions almost never perform some alternate form of national service"

My secular cousin- along with most of her classmates- all spent a year on Sherut Leumi.

Posted by: PP | Oct 18, 2006 3:29:29 PM

Dave... If you have a link to it I would love to see it.

Simon... I have not seen it elsewhere either. This is the reason I decided not to make this the cornerstone of my post (as jameel did). If you want to consider that fact suspect until you can find a corroborating citation feel free. But what about the rest of the post? Any thoughts... or does one suspect fact invalidate the entire topic?

Moshe... "OMG, ponies!" LOL, thanks, I needed a giggle. But seriously, this isn't a case of 'can't we all just get along'. Many people I know personally and try very hard to remain open to are secularists with exactly this kind of double standard. They claim that 'those religious people' are intolerant and teaching their kids to dodge the draft, live off the government dole and hate the 'real' Israelis... yet they are far more intolerant and reactionary in projecting their own views across the religious divide.

PP... Until I can find a corroborating citation I'll join you in reserving judgement. However I have a couple of questions for you:

1. On what basis is your secular cousin exempted from service in the IDF?
2. How is it that most of her (presumably) secular classmates are also exempt from army service?
3. Why do the Sherut Leumi statistics not support the model your cousin's class would appear to to represent?"

Posted by: treppenwitz | Oct 18, 2006 4:02:50 PM

lol, these secular people sound a lot like my mother here...

im not sure if i see political reasons/personal ideals and religious reasons so far off. ones just the secular version of the other. though i must admit im more ok with the second than the first, i dont know if there is truly much difference

Posted by: SF Lisa | Oct 18, 2006 4:09:25 PM

Here are a couple of links:

The Wikipedia article:


And one site (of many) that sells it:


You can also get it at your local bookstore (I've seen it there), or of course borrow it from me...

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Oct 18, 2006 4:26:50 PM

my oldest chazar b'tshuvah when he was twelve...kippa srugah...at eighteen he became a tsanchan...at twenty-four, when my Father AH died, he climbed nineteen flights of stairs on friday and saturday because he wasn't going to stay in my mom's apartment and not go to shul...i have another child who has tattoos and piercings...and they're both wonderful kids...of course i may be prejudiced a tad...in my opinion the so-called 'settlers' are my heros...oh btw...my third kid doesn't wear a kippa and he doesn't have tattoos...he just started law school...could be worse, he could have ended up an accountant!!! stay safe

Posted by: marallyn | Oct 18, 2006 4:31:07 PM

David: Not only is the quote authentic (thanks for the hat-tip) but I just got a letter forwared to me from a reader from MK Oron himself -- he's proud of himself! I hope to post it later this evening, translated to eliminate any shadow of a doubt, since some find the "scoop" news source less accurate than say..HaAretz?

Posted by: Jameel | Oct 18, 2006 5:30:20 PM

1. Unpatriotic is not the same a sillegal. It is legal to be unpatriotic. When people refer to chareidim as unpatriotic because they don't serve in the army, it is an appropriate judgement if the chareidim are doing so for ideological reasons. On the other hand, if a secular (or religious) person uses dubious means to exempt himself b/c he is lazy, afraid, or whatever - that's a personal failing but doesn't meet the same level of unpatriotic-ness.
2. the distinction between can't work and won't work is important. The resentment of chareidim is certainly b/c of a perception that they are able to work but refuse to do so. If we analyzed only the won't work people (Chareidi or religious vs secular), what would we find? Also, there is an assumption that chareidim on welfare won't work because of their chareidi ideology, so they are a large identifiable group. This is unlike the group of secular people who won't work - it is assumed it is because of personal failings, not an identifiable ideology (i.e. b/c they are secular).
3. I'm completely with you on this, that accusation is simply based on ignorance and stereotyping.

More generally, though, as a religiously identifying person (DL type although living in the US - I guess MO is a better label), I prefer to take such criticisms to heart because, for all the inaccuracy and stereotyping, religious people should be seen as role models, not anti-social types. If we are not, we should view that as a challenge to improve ourselves and our compatriots, not defend ourselves on the merits of the argument. Perception is important here!

Posted by: dov weinstock | Oct 18, 2006 8:49:26 PM

And here's the followup -- a letter from MK Chaim Oron to the Muqata readership...


Posted by: Jameel at the Muqata | Oct 18, 2006 9:53:14 PM

The post as a whole is right on the button, I'm sorry to say. Some years ago I heard someone sum it up very aptly on television: many Israelis have no problem making statements that they would instantly condemn as anti-semitic if they heard them abroad. Care to make a guess who that was?

Posted by: Simon | Oct 18, 2006 10:46:02 PM

I can personally attest to how lack of information and interaction enforce stereotyping. Before getting involved in the Jblogosphere and real-life Jewish communities, I also tended to lump everyone who was more observant than me into the same group and couldn't Conservative from MO, much less differentiate among various degrees of Orthodoxy. I think many people simply don't realize what legal justification exists for the Chareidi, and assume that it's simply due to desire to work. I think more familiarity with the background would help alleviate the situation.

Posted by: Irina | Oct 18, 2006 11:42:45 PM

> not all kibbutzim are secular, although it would be correct to say the majority are.

And not all Yeshivas are chareidi. My point was that this is something that serves a sizeable segment of the Israeli population, and represents part of our history has Israelis. Yeshivas are part of that history, as well as the history of us as Jews.

> The same can be said of the arts.

My point was to say that the arts don't translate into any tangible benefit for anyone. Yet we acknowledge that part of a cultured society (which is an ideal) is to support them. The same can (and should, IMHO) be said about those who study for the sake of somewhat esoteric fields; be it philosophy or talmud.

Posted by: Mike Miller | Oct 19, 2006 5:46:36 AM

Sigh. What's the general definiton of "secular" over there? Are we talking, unobservant but God-semi-fearing, or God-fearing but somehow more bound up in the here-and-now than the religious types, or plain old agnostic/atheistic and b---s to the wall wordly? And if the latter, what's te point in calling yourself a Jew? So you can NOT believe in the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

Here in California, we seem to be 'blessed' with only a mild case of "those religious people"s disease. Here's hoping that, for you, it clears up a little. I think it's more crucial, in the case of Israel.

Posted by: wrymouth | Oct 19, 2006 9:46:14 AM

Ok- here are the answers you required. Some of them exepmted on "Mental Health" grounds (which in this country means you once cried in public) I think one of them claimed to be Chozeret BTshuva in order to volunteer at the place she wanted (which only takes religious SL girls)

And I don't know the answer to the last question. sorry. Maybe they're under-representative? Maybe the army doesn't want chiloni girls to know that there's that option?

Posted by: PP | Oct 19, 2006 11:32:01 AM

I have a bone to pick with your point about working and welfare. The frustration against chareidim is not about the numbers of people on welfare, but about the communal ATTITUDE and WHY they are on welfare.

In many chareidi communities, working is an embarrassing thing to do, a shameful concession to material needs when one really should be involved in loftier pursuits, and the community willfully denies its children the skills they need if they ever hope to work.

In the general community it is the opposite: Schools are SUPPOSED to teach skills, and when they do not they are "failing schools," and the people who are not working are considered, in PC terms, the "disadvantaged sector" of society - not the status quo or people to admire.

There is a difference between taking money from the government because you have no choice (or you think you have no choice) vs. taking it because you think that ideologically this is a perfectly acceptable arrangement for a healthy person who otherwise really could be earning a living for himself/herself.

The problem of secular people on welfare involves a host of changes to solve: it is partly a matter of attitude, but mostly matters of making training available, improving the schools, and society-wide economic changes that would make more, better-paying jobs available, etc.

The problem of chareidi people on welfare needs just one major change to solve: A decision by the community that working for a living is a good thing to do.

Posted by: Sarah | Oct 19, 2006 11:43:20 AM

I am putting on my Kevlar suit before I say this... but I think that it is fair to add that at least SOME Chareidi are fighting for Am Yisrael on a spiritual battleground. I have met some of these warriors. Though I would not want their job, and my sons are more cut out for the boots & weapons units, rather than the davening & learning units, I still value their service. Please don't waste your time telling me of the "slackers" who fake it as "shteigers," to get out of serving in the military. I know about them, too. But I thought it would be nice to acknowledge that we are ALSO a spiritual people, and there are "soldiers" who take that duty very seriously. I am grateful for them.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Oct 19, 2006 2:06:40 PM

Over the past two years, I've come to know lots of different kinds of religious Jews. Some of them wear black hats and some of them wear knitted kippot. Some of them cover their hair and others don't. I was worried what would happen when they found out that I was gay. None of them backed away or dropped me as a friend. The open mindedness of these folks that I've come to know helped me really see past the generalizations of "those people" and I hope they have too. Not that our difference don't pose barriers for connection at some point, but that as individuals we have the capacity and willingness on both sides to create a meaningful understanding of each other.

Posted by: John | Oct 19, 2006 2:11:04 PM

Oh, and by the way, in my reserves battalion there are more chareidim than you could shake a stick at.

Posted by: Simon | Oct 19, 2006 2:41:29 PM

As rutimizrachi stated, there is a spiritual side that must be accounted for. From what I've read, many of the Chareidi who do not serve in the army, non the less, serve a vital function for Israel. Making Torah a persons work should not be derided.

But one little thing does bug me, Many of the past sages have stated that a skill must be learned by those studying Torah.

MK Oron seems to be treading on dangerous ground with his proposal.

Posted by: seawitch | Oct 19, 2006 2:46:55 PM

I'll be honest. I'm DL (living in J-m). My brother made aliyah last year and he and his family have increasingly become full fledged chareidi. In the states they were more grey, their kids went to frum schools, but at least they were getting a decent secular education.

My brother still makes a very, very nice American salary; his wife doesn't have to work, they live in a very nice apartment. Yet they are sending their kids to cheder here and therefore it's unlikely that they will go to university or get any kind of decent higher education. My brother insists that they "can go into business" but who knows what their prospects will be like. I find this to be a very precarious solution.

I find his choices to be extremely selfish. He and his wife get to live in pretty much the lap of luxury because my brother not only got a good university education but also because he learned how to live successfully in "the outside" world. His kids will not have that.

Basically, I don't think it's necessary to tolerate intolerant ideologies. I do think the chareidi ideology is parasitic and hurtful to society as a whole. When the money has dried up, they will finally wake up and realize it's time to get out in the world and get a decent job.

Posted by: qtavitali | Oct 20, 2006 9:31:28 AM

for whatever reason, most israelis (and americans) think of haredim when they think of datiyyim. they don't compartmentalize between modern (or dati leumi) and haredi. and from your attempts to defend the religous camp by distinguishing between DL and haredim can we infer that you agree with the substance of what the hilonim are saying about the haredim regarding giyyus and welfare? otherwise what is the point of refuting the claims of hilonim by discounting haredim as statistical outlyers?

also you find numerical parity between haredim and hilonim regarding numbers of deferments and welfare recipients. but you can't compare absolute numbers because the haredim are a much smaller segment of the population; so the "problems" are much more prevalent among haredim. also, the high numbers of hilonim not serving (or not going to combat units) is a recent phenomenon. they are only now copying what haredim have always done. finally, it is not enough to compare numbers, but you must also look at motives. haredim, as opposed to hilonim, don't serve in the army and rely on government subsidies as a matter of policy dictated by official community mores and doctrine.

regarding your third point, it is my impression that the hatred flows in both directions. and i must disagree with this statement:

"While there are several pro-religious political parties in the Knesset whose goals include advancing the agenda of the religious community (or some sub-set thereof), I don't know of any parties that have had a platform exclusively built upon advancing anti-secular initiatives."

by their very definition the religous parties are anti-secular. what does it mean to call for torah state guided by halakhah? they are not interested only in "advancing the agenda of the religious community"; they are interested in imposing their agenda on the entire state.
the religous parties definately push for certain policies/legislation that restrict hilonim. just consider, for example, the dati influence on policies of marriage and divorce. why should a hiloni kohen have to go to cyprus to marry a divorce?

shabbat shalom!

Posted by: Ari Kinsberg | Oct 20, 2006 7:23:02 PM

As someone who under no stretch of the imagination could be stamped 'religious Jew', I must say I find the distinction that seems to exist between religious Israelis and secular Israelis more than a little odd.

But I will admit, grudgingly, that I do not think of totally secular Jews as really being Jews, and tend to conceptualize Yiddishkeit as in some ways both observant and halochocentric.
[To put it differently, as just one example I cannot take that radical feminist-empowerment womyns Wicca 'minyan' over in the East-Bay seriously.]

Part of this is undoubtedly exposure - I do not associate with the Pro-Palestinian side, do not speak of Jewish matters with reform, and have few correspondents who identify themselves as Jewish-Apikorus or Jewish-Amha'aretz.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | Oct 21, 2006 1:56:49 AM

I have to admit I was guilty of that too, when I lived in Jerusalem.

I was a teenager back then, but nevertheless, because it was so foreign to me, you do develop opinions and stereotypes.

It also doesn't help when one has a sour experience in a Yeshivishe neighborhood, or witnesses the hyprocrisy from the American "religious" teenagers engaging in ALL types of vices.

Posted by: jaime | Oct 23, 2006 7:39:05 AM

SF Lisa... You may have a point there.

Dave... Thanks, I know I could count on you. :-)

marallyn... Wow, you have your own little diversity seminar going on over there. :-)

Jameel... Thanks, glad to have that cleared up. Anyone...?

Simon... Unfortunately I think we are even losing our will to recognize anti-semitism abroad.

Irina... That 'lack of familiarity' you talk about is an entire post I have been wanting to write. Thank you for reminding me.

Mike Miller ... Benefits don't have to be tangible. Arts and Torah study improve the world. The question is whether every artist and every yeshiva student deserves support?

wrymouth... That's a hard question to answer fairly. May 'secular' people here consider themselves to be quite traditional while others go out of their way to defy as many religious edicts and rules as possible.

PP... OK, but there still remains the essential questions; why are these secular girls seeking exemption from army service under less then ethical/legal terms? Even assuming that an entire class of secular girls are doing national service in place of the army... you would have to agree that this is an extreme departure from both the law and the spirit thereof. One doesn't normally base an argument on such an exception.

Sarah... when the money dries up the attitude will change.

rutimizrachi... There is no doubt that the nation reaps benefits from the people who sit and learn Torah all day... benefits that are hard or even impossible to define. The same can be said of artists and poets. But how many of each can the nation afford to sponsor?

John... If only your experience were the rule rather than the exception this would be a better world.

Simon... Who said anything about shaking sticks at Chareidim? I just want some of them to get a job! :-)

Seawitch... There is obviously merit in making Torah study ones occupation. But how many can the country support? as to MK ORon. He passed dangerous ground years ago.

qtavitali... This is a perfect example of how each successive generation becomes doomed to dependence on hand-outs.

Ari Kinsberg... Saying that "by their very definition the religious parties are anti-secular" is a ridiculous statement. No party that I know of is calling for the overthrow of the present system in favor of a theocracy. This is a Jewish state. What religious parties are trying to do is ensure that it retains as much Jewish character as possible. What MKs like Oron are trying to do is directly attack the very basis upon which the State was founded.

The Back of the Hill... Obviously you are entitled to your opinion on the subject, but many secular would take exception to the way you view them. I try to differentiate between what a Jew is and what a Jew does. It is possible to be Jewish and not observant... although this tends to be a non-perpetuating trend over the course of several generations (i.e. assimilation, intermarriage, etc.).

Jaime... I've had those kinds of bad experiences in both kinds of neighborhoods. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Oct 24, 2006 12:09:59 PM

David, to answer your question about why a secular girl would want to do community service rather than army service. I can't speak about others, but when I lived in Israel and was faced with the possibility of having to enlist, I too wanted to do community service instead of the Army service. For me, though, it was because of the language barrier and the opinion that even though everyone's contribution in the Army, no matter what it is, is crucial and important, I felt I would be able to give more through community service than just making coffee and filing papers.

Also, just a note to your comment to Simon. Though this isn't about Anti-Semitism, per se, it does have to do with the blinders that other ethnic groups have towards racism directed at themselves. My Iranian girlfriend was extremely upset yesterday when she read in the Austrian newspaper about how much open the racism and discrimination is against foreigners or those who come from other ethnic groups in Austria. How, denying entrance into a club or restaurant is on the rise and that it's no secret why they are doing it. She always knew it existed but what is making her upset is how open it is. Somehow she had felt more at ease or safer when it was hidden or disguised.

Posted by: jaime | Oct 24, 2006 9:15:22 PM


"No party that I know of is calling for the overthrow of the present system in favor of a theocracy . . . What religious parties are trying to do is ensure that it retains as much Jewish character as possible."

1) and in that quest to accomplish this they are imposing their understanding of what it means to be jewish on others who do not share that same understanding. there are quite a few examples, but i will stick to the one i cited above regarding marriage restrictions.

2)i did not say anything about overthrowing, but my understanding is that many haredim are opposed to the government (if not the state itself) precisely because it is not guided by halakhah.

"What MKs like Oron are trying to do . . ."

oron is a moron.

Posted by: Ari Kinsberg | Oct 25, 2006 8:31:21 AM

I agree with the overall sentiment of your post; I do kind of wish you did not feel the need to point the finger at one segment of religious society in order to exonerate another.

That said, I think it is deplorable that some perfectly capable men reap the beneits of living in Israel while not feeling any obligation to defend it. Yes, there are those who feel they defend Israel by learning Torah, and I would not argue with that. But there are others...

Posted by: mcaryeh | Nov 5, 2006 8:02:55 AM

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