Haredi Jews: A quest for a space within Israel’s modern state

Jerusalem, Apr 27 (EFE).- Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population, the fastest growing community within the country and one that abides by a rigorous and full-time religious practice that is deeply anchored in tradition, faces a very different nation to the one founded 75 years ago.

The Haredi community, which currently represents 13.5% of the population, is expected to account for a quarter of Israel’s citizens by 2050.

But secular Israelis fear the population boom of the country’s most conservative faction could have a considerable effect on domestic politics and dynamics.

There is also an economic divide between ultra-Orthodox Jews and secular Israelis, who according to the country’s statistics office pay six times more in taxes than Haredi Jews.

Haredim receive subsidies, do not work or serve the army and are viewed by many in Israel as an economic burden.

Haredi Jewish leaders have long objected to modern Zionism and in 1948 with the foundation of the state of Israel, they were granted great levels of autonomy in education, were exempt from compulsory military service, and declared the reading of the Torah as their profession.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis do not celebrate Independence Day nor do they drape nationalist flags or symbols in their neighborhoods.

There are also anti-Zionist factions that do not collaborate with the state – some even support the Palestinian cause.

Having said that, most back greater cooperation with the state because “they need to participate in the political system in order to influence and be part of the system,” Gilad Malach, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), told EFE.

But many within the Haredi community consider that “this State is by definition not the right state, because the Messiah never arrived yet, so until the Messiah comes they don’t want to establish a State,” Malach adds.

However, the parties that represent them – Shas and United Torah Judaism – have entered into a coalition government with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form an ultra-conservative and right-wing bloc.


“The feeling of the ultra-Orthodox is that they can get more from the right,” the researcher says. “They feel the right wing is more traditional, more focused on elements of Jewish State.”

Furthermore, their position on the occupation of the Palestinian territories, which was previously “cautious” and focused on peace, is now shifting and many “believe the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, and that god gave it to the Jewish people.”

The emergence of settlements with an ultra-Orthodox majority, such as the city Modi’in Illit which has a population of over 40,000 and is one of the largest settlements in the occupied West Bank, is proof that a shift in regional dynamics is taking place.


But while Israel, which has a burgeoning tech sector, and the rest of the world move forward at a rampant pace, friction between an existence focused exclusively on religion and participation in the secular world is emerging.

For Amiram Gabay, a 60-year-old Jew who became an ultra-Orthodox Jew and “surrendered to God” as a young secular man, spiritual life takes precedence over political or earthly matters.

But some Haredim are keen to join the labor market without giving up on their identity, as is the case of Yitzik Krombie, a 39-year-old member of the Kemach Foundation, which leads initiatives to train and increase employment among ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

“We have four challenges. We have challenges with the education system, with the army, with the academic system and with the workforce,” says Krombie.

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