MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/EAST NEWS
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/EAST NEWS

SOCIETY / 13:00,

Jews at war with Israel

They’re waiting for the Messiah to return and create a real Israel. As for the existing Jewish state, they will have nothing to do with it. Occasionally they protest and get locked up in its jails

“Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the name of Judaism, as if he’s the spokesperson for Judaism,” says Chaim Grunfeld in his thick New York accent. “They’ve already left Judaism, they’re secular Jewish people. None of the people who declare that they’re fathers of the Jewish state, none of them keep the Torah.”

In the picture above a Jewish protester from the Haredi sect shields himself against police water cannon, Jerusalem, August 2013

Grunfeld lives with his family in Mea Shearim, a suburb of Jerusalem founded in 1874. The ultra-Orthodox community of Haredi Jews that live there follow a very strict interpretation of the Torah and Talmud, the basic texts of Judaism. Following the Torah, they believe the Jewish people are still in exodus for their sins and have no right to establish a Jewish state. That cannot happen until the Messiah comes to restore them to their homeland. 

These teachings are disputed by many other schools of Judaism, which hold that the ultra-Orthodox err in their interpretation of the holy texts. But the state of Israel has accepted them, according to the logic that Jews are Jews, irrespective of their beliefs. The difficulty is that the ultra-Orthodox do not accept Israel, even though they live there and benefit from the refuge offered by the “illegal” Jewish state. 

The most radical ultra-Orthodox sect, the Haredi Jews, have formed an anti-Zionist resistance called Neturei Karta, or “Guardians of the City”.

Tessa Fox

Chaim Grunfeld with his family

Tessa Fox 

Grunfeld is one of its members. He helps manage the Israel vs Judaism website, which seeks to “expose the vicious Israeli oppression of religious Jews.” 

Another resident of Mea Shearim is Chavi Deutch. In her opinion, the Israeli government is Jewish “in name only.” 

“They don’t want to be real Jews, they just want to be in power,” she says. “We [Orthodox Jews] have a lot of restrictions, but that’s our Torah… They go against all the religious rules [and] make their own law.”

‘An army against God

Rejecting the state of Israel means rejecting its military. Grunfeld describes the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as “an army against God.” 

“Our religion does not allow us to serve in an army at all,” Grunfeld says. “It’s not a military force, the whole idea is to make the youngsters more Zionist. That’s what the founders of the state said – the whole idea was to have a Zionist church.” 

Ultra-Orthodox or religious Jews who spend their lives studying the holy books are exempt from military service. This includes the Haredim, although Grunfeld complains that the authorities keep seeking loopholes to press them into service.

RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS/FORUM

March 30, 2018: Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim district before the Passover holiday

RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS/FORUM

In mid-April, the anti-Zionist Jewish community held a protest in front of the IDF recruiting office in Jerusalem. The demonstration was in support of a religious Jewish woman named Yuval Dadon, who was imprisoned for refusing to military service. Israeli forces dispersed the protesters with water cannon and stun grenades.

The controversy stems from the fact that Dadon came from a family of secular, non-Orthodox Jews. She became religious later in life, Deutch explains, which “the government says was just an excuse” to avoid the draft.

Disturbers of the peace

Deutch said her husband’s participation in the demonstrations for Dadon’s relase have made her family a target for Israeli police. Her home has been raided six times by the elite Yamar investigative unit of the Israeli police. 

Tessa Fox

Chavi Deutch

Tessa Fox 

“They came banging on the door, we were scared to open. We had a glass door, they took a chair and smashed it in,” is how Deutch described one raid. “They looked for my husband in every cupboard, even the freezer. My son was so scared, he was shivering.” 

Deutch’s husband spends most of his day studying the Torah and is out of the house. Even in the early hours of the morning, he can usually be found at the synagogue, making it difficult for the police to arrest him. When the police finally found him, Deutch says, “they pulled him by his beard – two handfuls of hair they pulled out.” Recollecting this, she is visibly upset. 

Deutch’s husband was convicted of disturbing the peace and barred from appearing in public for 120 days, except for prayer. 

“The punishment is so much bigger than what he did,” Deutch says. “My husband is not a criminal, he’s someone who sits and studies all day.” 

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli policy, says that demonstrations are illegal in Israel if they have not been registered with the authorities. In addition, he says the ultra-Orthodox protesters have been particularly aggressive, blocking roads, burning dumpsters and stoning the police.

JIM HOLLANDER/PAP/EPA

Israeli police break up an Orthodox demonstration at the entrance gate to Old Jerusalem in February 2014

JIM HOLLANDER/PAP/EPA

“That’s why we’re often forced to make arrests,” he said. “Unfortunately, what we’re seeing is that the rabbis and leaders of the community [organize these demonstrations] all of a sudden, and then in a few minutes you have a thousand or more people on the streets. So we’re speaking with different leaders and the ultra-Orthodox community to calm the situation down.” 

According to Rosenfeld, some young men from the ultra-Orthodox community have only themselves to blame. All that local draft boards require is for ultra-Orthodox Jews to show up and sign a form saying there are exempt because of religious studies. But they refuse to do this, because to recognize the draft board would mean recognizing the state of Israel. And whoever fails to respond to a draft notice is by law a wanted fugitive.

Collective punishment

The ultra-Orthodox community believes that the Dadon case shows that Israel is punishing them collectively. 

“We feel they don’t want her – they want all the Orthodox Jews, they want to break us,” says Deutch. “They hate the real Jews.” 

Grunfeld echoes this sentiment. “They work very hard to oppress our voice and our practice of religion. They want to make everyone secular.”

79 percent of Israelis oppose a bill to automatically exempt Haredi Jews from military service

In a March 2018 survey by Smith Polling Institute, 79 percent of respondents said they opposed a bill to automatically exempt Haredi Jews from military service. At present, only Orthodox women have blanket exemptions; men are released from their service requirement on the basis of a government decree that could theoretically be rescinded at any moment.

Even more controversial is the refusal of most ultra-Orthodox Jews to work or pay taxes. This stance has exposed the community to harsh criticism from the government and Israeli society, but the Haredim respond that they don’t accept welfare benefits or other privileges from the state. 

Israel allows religious Jews to not work if they study the Torah full-time. The majority of the ultra-Orthodox community does so, receiving stipends from Torah schools, which are funded by “rich Haredi Jews” from abroad.

RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS/FORUM

Dec. 22, 2011: A Yeshiva student reads the Torah at the West Bank settlement of Betar Illit

RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS/FORUM

Since the stipends are modest, “it’s not an easy life to live,” Grunfeld says. Still, it’s better than taking money from the state. 

He’s aware of how other Israelis perceive the Haredim. 

“The narrative is that we do nothing but take taxpayer money and avoid military service,” he says. 

Deutch’s family also relies on a stipend from Jewish donors, paid through the school where her husband studies. “It’s hard, but we don’t require much,” she says. 

She stresses that the family will not accept any government benefits, including health care. 

“I see private doctors, even when I had a baby,” Deutch says. “My husband is very strict about it.”

At times, it’s hard to completely ignore the state of Israel. 

“Getting an ID card or a passport are things we have to do,” Deutch says. “My husband doesn’t have either, though, because he never leaves Israel.” 

Some things are impossible to do without, like the municipal water supply. Deutch said her family is hooked up because “we have no choice.” 

Grunfeld had a choice – he came to Jerusalem a year and a half ago as a voluntary immigrant, with an Israeli wife. 

“I moved here to be with her, but I don’t like it. I was looking all over [for a wife], and this is what God provided. I tried not to come here. This came from above,” Grunfeld says. He hopes to move back to the United States in the near future. 

Deutch is also an immigrant; as a child, she moved to Israel with her family. “I live here because it’s a holy place, the site of the Second Temple.” 

She points out that Jews have always lived in the Holy Land alongside Palestinian Arabs, long before the state of Israel was established. 

Asked what it would be like to live under a Palestinian government, Deutch replies: “I think it would be more normal. Now we live in a place where someone is on top of us… and it’s just a constant fight. Our wish is that they would go away.”  

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