The decline of ultra-Orthodox power: since the recent elections, new laws are changing Israeli society for better and worse.

Author:Ragen, Naomi

Never do I remember more post-election excitement and upheaval in Israel, on the civilian front, than in the last few months. Swept into the government by an unprecedented populist tide, big winner Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid [There is a Future] Party opened the floodgates of hope that, after 65 years of stifling stalemate and rising fury, the increasingly grating and fraught divide between secular Israelis and their ultra-Orthodox brothers and sisters was in for a vast change. We crossed our fingers; election promises can melt and disappear like ice in spring rain. But this time, we have not been disappointed.


Lapid, appointed minister of finance, heralded the change with his brilliant rhetorical fireworks at the opening of the 19th Knesset on April 22. In response to haredi heckling and six no-confidence motions, in which haredi MKs accused Lapid of budget cuts that would "starve our children," Lapid responded for most of us when he answered, "We will not let any child in Israel starve, but the parties responsible for feeding children are called their parents. When you bring a child into this world it is a serious responsibility, and you cannot have children under the assumption that other people will provide for them."

At a loss for a response to what even haredi journalists subsequently granted was "simple logic," the typically articulate haredi MK Moshe Gafni lamely accused Lapid of desecrating the holiness of the Sabbath by texting. "I don't tell you what to do on Shabbat and you won't tell me what to do," Lapid countered, his words echoing throughout a country weary of religious coercion.

But the coup de grace was no doubt Lapid's response to the ill-timed concern voiced by haredi MK Meir Porush about the diminishing percentage of IDF draftees. "You are worried?" Lapid pounced. "Well, don't be. The government will make sure that there are plenty of new recruits, straight from your own backyard."

The initial haredi response to all this was unfortunate but perhaps predictable. Left out of the corridors of power for the first time in 30 years, they held a huge demonstration on May 16 in Jerusalem, subsequently amping up their rhetoric to horrifying heights. Rabbi Moshe Gerlitz, editor of the haredi magazine Mischpacha and no extremist, said on Holocaust Remembrance Day: "A gnat of fear is gnawing at my heart that [the Holocaust] will repeat itself. And it will repeat itself here in Israel. It will repeat itself...

To continue reading