The War With­in: Israel’s Ultra-Ortho­dox Threat to Democ­ra­cy and the Nation

  • Review
By – October 15, 2013

Israel’s most recent war does not involve the ongo­ing con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans. The fight­ing is with­in the country’s bound­aries and it involves the Hared­im, the ultra-Ortho­dox Jews con­sti­tut­ing a minor­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion, but wield­ing an inor­di­nate amount of polit­i­cal pow­er. Unlike the sec­u­lar Jew­ish major­i­ty, the Hared­im have their own schools, which do not teach math­e­mat­ics, Eng­lish, and oth­er sub­jects need­ed for func­tion­ing in mod­ern soci­ety. They do not serve in the mil­i­tary, and they depend on gov­ern­ment assis­tance for dai­ly liv­ing expenses.

In The War With­in jour­nal­ists Yuval Elizur (for­mer deputy chief edi­tor of Ma’ariv) and Lawrence Malkin, a writer and reporter for Time Mag­a­zine, the Asso­ci­at­ed Press, and the Inter­na­tion­al Her­ald-Tri­bune, ana­lyze the sit­u­a­tion and exam­ine issues such as mil­i­tary ser­vice, women’s rights, wel­fare depen­den­cy, and pri­vate edu­ca­tion. Not­ing that the lack of a con­sti­tu­tion allows a minor­i­ty undue influ­ence, the authors wor­ry that the lack of tol­er­ance for non-Ortho­dox Jews in Israel threat­ens to frag­ment the coun­try. This could, in the­o­ry, lead to the end of a Jew­ish state. They also point out small bright spots: Hare­di schools in Beit Shemesh that teach a stan­dard aca­d­e­m­ic cur­ricu­lum, Hare­dim who seek employ­ment that brings them into con­tact with oth­er com­mu­ni­ties, and Hared­im who serve in the mil­i­tary and have to work with oth­ers. They hope that these small steps on the part of some ultra-Ortho­dox will lead to increased tol­er­ance and, ulti­mate­ly, a solu­tion that will allow the coun­try to prosper.

This is an excel­lent book for any­one inter­est­ed in Israel, and a good choice for book clubs inter­est­ed in polit­i­cal issues.

Read Yuval Elizur’s and Lawrence Malk­in’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

Fol­low the Tal­mud or a Jew­ish Sharia?

Rab­bi Gafni’s Revenge

Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

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