It’s None of Our Concern
Yaron London • Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 25)
Translation: Didi Remez • Coteret
The chief Sephardic rabbi dresses in a gown decorated with lace and wears a Persian turban. The Ashkenazi rabbi wears a black coat and a homburg hat, like a bourgeois German of the 18th century. Isn’t one funny rabbi enough? Once, when Sephardic Rabbi Bakshi-Doron was in office, he said to me on the matter: “The Jewish people is like a palm. It has separate fingers, but it can be clenched into a fist.” He meant to say that we are tribes that are connected to a common root. The analogy made by the rabbi may not satisfy you, but until the Messiah comes one should not complain about the fact that most analogies do not fit their referents.
The double-headed Chief Rabbinate, however, exemplifies unity in comparison with the division that exists among the Haredim. Each of their sects has its own Halachic authority, and education institutions, and one quarter of a party, and kashrut supervision mechanisms, and traditions, and books, and saints, and residential areas, and characteristic clothing by which an expert can classify who belongs to what. It is reasonable to assume that an Ashkenazi man and a Sephardic woman will not find themselves under the same bridal canopy, just as a newly religious Jew will not place a ring on the finger of a Haredi woman of distinguished lineage. “Tradition, tradition,” as Tevye the milkman, the main character of the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” sings.
Adherence to tradition has its advantages, but excessive adherence to tribal traditions weighs heavily on the existence of a modern state. The state, if it is not an unbridled dictatorship, hesitates upon encountering people who say that its laws do not conform to the sacred laws of their community. God commanded, their sages interpreted, and they would rather die than commit a transgression. Here, in an overwhelming majority of cases, the state has backed down before the Haredim: they were exempted from the obligation of being drafted into the army, they have caused the education system to crumble into fragments, supervision of the laws of marriage and divorce has been turned over to their rabbis, and the laws of naturalization have been determined according to their wishes, more or less.
The state’s capitulation on such critical matters makes the battle for small achievements ridiculous. Such a small issue is now awaiting examination by the High Court of Justice. A girls’ school in the Haredi town of Emmanuel keeps female Sephardic pupils away from female Ashkenazi pupils. The parents of the Ashkenazim say that they should be separated, so that the Sephardim, who are lenient in their religious observance, do not spoil the strict Ashkenazi girls. I will wager that the Supreme Court will impose punishments on the Ashkenazim, on the grounds that it is forbidden to separate people according to their ethnic origin.
The expected ruling will be politically correct, but unjust according to the custom that has taken root here. If it is permissible to separate Sephardic Haredim from Ashkenazi Haredim, and develop for the former an education system that follows the educational and religious worldview of Ovadia Yosef, why is it forbidden for the Ashkenazim in Emmanuel to separate their pale girls from the dark-skinned ones? If it is permissible to refrain from drafting people with dark suits and curly side-locks, while one drafts people with uncovered heads and knitted kippa wearers, why is it forbidden to separate between girls who speak Hebrew with an Ashkenazi accent and girls who read the Torah in a guttural accent?
If we accept the right of the Haredim to send women to the back of the bus, because their appearance threatens the males’ peace of mind, why is it forbidden to send Sephardic girls to the end of the corridor, to a place where they will not be able to corrupt the minds of the Ashkenazim?
I propose that as long as the quarrels of the Haredim do not adversely affect others, the authorities refrain from intervening. There is no need to come to the aid of a person who subjects himself to the rules of Halacha as interpreted by the Haredi leaders, just as one should not listen to the cries of pain emitted by a client at an S&M club. If you have willingly joined the club, don’t ask for my help when the madam with the whip flogs you on the buttocks.