ISRAEL last month got itself a new government – a ‘wicked’ one set to boost secular education and withhold cash from schools that refuse to reach subjects such as English, science and math.
This, plus the fact that the new coalition will vastly diminish the influence of ultra-Orthodox Jews in politics and deprive them of the generous cash hand-outs they’ve grown accustomed to receiving, has infuriated the likes of Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, above.
His reaction to the the new administration’s plans – which includes drafting young ultra-Orthodox men into the military – was one of fury, and this week he called on ultra-Orthodox youth to shun the Education Ministry’s core curriculum of math, science, English and other key subjects, which he described as “nonsense”.
Yosef’s remarks were delivered during a series of lectures delivered over the past few days. He said:
Blessed is the person and blessed is the portion of he who knows the correct views. He knows that there is nothing like the holy Torah, this Torah is above all else.
Yosef, who exclusively studied in yeshivas (religious colleges), appeared proud of his lack of a secular education.
I myself, did I study the core curriculum? Did I finish school? To this day I do not have a diploma, no matriculation certificate and no diploma. Did I miss out on something? It’s nonsense, the main thing is our Torah.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox factions, including the Shas party founded by the chief rabbi’s father Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, have spent the past several weeks attacking the new government over its support for expanding access to secular studies and other policies opposed by the hard line religious community.
Over the past decade, Haredi parties have become staunch allies of recently ousted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In return, they have enjoyed a continuing monopoly over several issues of domestic policy related to religion and state, as well as an exemption for haredi men from Israel’s mandatory military draft and functional autonomy for their schools.
Their absence from the current government may change the way Israel is governed under the leadership of Naftali Bennett, above.
Yosef has a history of incendiary remarks, including calling on orthodox Jews to prevent their children from spending time with secular relatives, declaring that non-Jews should be forbidden from living in the Land of Israel according to Jewish law and comparing black people to monkeys. He has also compared women who do not dress according to religious modesty standards to animals.
His late father, former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, was also known for his controversial statements, including that Hurricane Katrina was “God’s retribution” for American support for the 2005 Gaza disengagement and that gentiles “were born only to serve us.”
Yosef’s position stands in stark opposition to that of his sister Adina Bar-Shalom, an Israel Prize winning educator who founded the now defunct Haredi College of Jerusalem, the country’s first ultra-Orthodox institution of higher learning, in 2001.
Yosef expressed his views after Leaders of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties mounted a furious, unrestrained attack on Bennett.
According to Al-Monitor, last month Minister Yaakov Litzman, above, of the United Torah Judaism party accused the Prime Minister-designate of “disgracing” the yarmulke he wears and demanding he remove it. (Litzman is currently facing charged obstruction of justice and breach of trust for protecting a paedophile.)
He accused Bennett of forming a radical left-wing government lacking moral values. He warned that the so-called government of change would annihilate Israel’s Jewish identity by allowing liberal conversions to Judaism, imposing the military draft on ultra-Orthodox men instead of allowing them to dedicate themselves to Torah study, allowing civil marriage and public transportation on the Jewish Sabbath and recognsing the Reform stream of progressive Judaism.
Convening what they termed an “emergency” meeting, the ultra-Orthodox vowed to fight the “wicked” government, calling it a spiritual and material threat to the denizens of the Holy Land.
They also warned against a government that will cooperate with the Reform movement, which they regard as a desecration of true Judaism.
And then there’s the question of the loss of financial support that they enjoyed under Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule. (Netanyahu is currently on trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.)
The new administration includes Ra’am, a religious Islamist Arab party which reportedly will be rewarded with much of the benefits of which the ultra-Orthodox themselves are being deprived — mammoth budgets and jobs.
They see Bennett as a “bad guy’, a heartless and immoral politician defrauding them out of their rights. They insist this is particularly egregious given the fact that he is a religious, right-wing ideologue who had assured them he would do everything it takes to forge a right-wing government with Netanyahu.
They are at the mercy of a government with what they regard as distinctly left-wing, secular overtones, and Netanyahu cannot save them.
The extent of the ultra-Orthodox rage at Bennett was illustrated clearly in an ugly personal assault against him. Knesset member Moshe Gafni, above, the longtime chair of the Knesset Finance Committee, sounded particularly bitter, calling Bennett a “wicked” man who has formed an anti-religious government. He vowed to:
Erase this wicked government from the face of the land.
In a political broadcast ahead of the election, Gafni warned that Bennett’s government would abolish the Sabbath, allowing trains to run and shops to open on Friday nights and Saturdays.
Ramping up their up their assault, ultra-Orthodox leaders said that Bennett should hold the title of the biggest liar in Israeli politics. In addition, they ordered “a boycott” of the Prime Minister.
The ultra-Orthodox radio station Kol Hai announced that it would not broadcast the vote on the new “left-wing” government and its swearing in on June 13, and would instead air a live prayer session to strengthen its “hundreds of thousands” of listeners.
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