Conflict in Israel

Aron Heller, from AP:

JERUSALEM (AP) – Deep in the heart of Mea Shearim, a Jerusalem bastion of hardline ultra-Orthodox Jews, hundreds of bearded young men in black suits have their noses burrowed into books, immersed in biblical study and oblivious to their surroundings.

They are the creme de la creme of a cloistered community, the Harvard of the ultra-Orthodox world, who are expected neither to work for a living nor serve in the military with other Israelis. But it’s not just the students at the prestigious Mir Yeshiva for whom prayer and study of scripture is a full-time job. Nearly the entire community has been granted sweeping exemptions that have infuriated the general public.

These young men, and their sheltered lifestyle, are at the heart of a battle that is tearing Israel apart in a clash between tradition and modernity, religion and democracy. The fight centers on whether ultra-Orthodox males should be drafted into the military along with other Jews, but it really is about a much deeper issue: the place of Judaism in the Jewish state.

The question has come to the fore as the government races to meet a Supreme Court-ordered deadline to revamp the nation’s draft law. In its current form, secular males must perform three years of compulsory service when they turn 18. Ultra-Orthodox men, like the young scholars at the Mir Yeshiva, have special exemptions that allow them to continue studying in their isolated enclaves while collecting government subsidies.

For their supporters, seminary students are preserving a tradition that has served as the very bedrock of Judaism for thousands of years.

“Jews need to study the Bible. That is what makes us unique as a people,” Yerach Tucker, a 30-year-old spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox community, said proudly as he guided a visitor through the Mir Yeshiva. “It is the essence of our lives.”

But polls show the vast majority of Israelis, who risk their lives and put their careers on hold while serving in the military, object strongly to the arrangement, and many see it as the essence of everything that is wrong with their country.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://DerekLeman.com/Musings Derek Leman

    There is a widespread feeling that far too many claim exemption as Torah students and that there is a “beggar state” going on with too many asking for donations to study Torah. The Mishnah commends the opposite virtue: working to support oneself and studying Torah in addition to work. Many Orthodox and others in the Jewish community look on the Mea Shearim beggars as failing to live up to the spirit of Torah in this sense.


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