Curb Your Enthusiasm
Nahum Barnea • Yedioth Ahronoth
Translation: Didi Remez • Coteret
The Haredim take a bit longer to usher out the Sabbath: the majority of people in Israel bid farewell to the Sabbath 13.5 minutes after the sun sets, but the Haredim abide by the Talmudic commentator Rabeinu Tam and bid farewell to the Sabbath nearly an hour later.
This late farewell held up the buses that were sent last night to bring demonstrators from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh to the grave sites at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital. The attempt forcibly to prevent the removal of the graves was off to a slow start but could get far worse in the near future.
The goal is not restricted to one hospital in Ashkelon. It is quite possible that other archaeological sites in Israel will come under attack. The graves of statesmen are liable to be desecrated, and Haredi neighborhoods might begin to riot.
Atra Kadisha, the organization that specializes in the struggle against moving graves, is merely a small, violent band affiliated with the Eda Haredit, a coalition of extremist groups, who detest the state, and who amount to no more than ten percent of the entire Haredi community. A minority within a minority that is within a minority. The trouble is that on occasion the minority sweeps the majority along with it. Sometimes it is the tail that wags the dog.
In the beginning of the struggle over the new hospital ward, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman introduced to the cabinet a proposal that involved massive waste and which would essentially have buried the hospital. Litzman was afraid of angering Atra Kadisha. The cabinet adopted his proposal: it was afraid of angering Litzman. Only common sense, firm pubic pressure and determination on the part of the Prime Minister’s Office director general saved the hospital.
Litzman, it should be said to his credit, accepted the verdict. His party, as well as its rabbis, have no interest in a coalition crisis at this time. Despite sensitivities felt by the Haredim when it comes to graves, those of Jews and those suspected of being Jewish, they realize that this is not the right battle. The majority of the Israeli public would not be able to comprehend a government that prefers dead pagans over live patients.
The question is how the entire Haredi public will behave, especially the young people of the Eda Haredit. Will they abandon a confrontation that they have no hope of winning or will they be dragged after a small gang of thugs and ignite a large and unnecessary fire between Haredim and non-Haredim.
The Eda Haredit has something to lose. They may take pride in the fact that they refuse to recognize the state, refuse to take its money or be adjudicated by it, but essentially a large portion of the money that funds their operations come from the very public they claim to boycott. The Eda Haredit kashrut seal is a thriving business, and it is awarded to many of Israel’s most popular food brands, from Osem’s Bamba, to Angel Bakery’s bread, Elite coffee and Tnuva milk.
There are many kashrut organizations in Israel, some more Haredi and some less, but none thrives the way the Eda Haredit’s organization does. The amounts charged by the Eda Haredit are among the highest. Most of the surplus income does not go to the inspectors, but rather to the community itself, and is often employed for violent protest activities.
Despite the Eda Haredit’s boycott of the state, and the fact that elements within it operate forcefully against it, I am not proposing we boycott all products festooned by their seal. But the boycott will come, from Israelis who have had enough. A call for a boycott is currently being circulated across the internet and is garnering much interest. Eda Haredit members remain unimpressed by such petitions. Those who may be impressed, however, are the corporations that finance them — Osem, Strauss, Tnuva, and others.
If not out of a sense of responsibility, then perhaps out of cold calculation — the Eda Haredit would do well to restrain itself this time around.