Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Quiz


By Jeffrey Rudolph (April 2013, last update May 2018)

While Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was a marginal presence in 1948, it has since grown into a meaningful social and political force. And this community, true to its fundamentalist beliefs, is extremely illiberal and thus aggravates undemocratic tendencies in Israel. The longer Israeli leaders permit the state to finance the ultra-Orthodox, the more distorted Israel’s democracy and ultra-Orthodoxy will become, and the more difficult it will be to adopt and implement corrective policies.

The purpose of the following quiz is to explain how an introverted and poor ultra-Orthodox community has benefited from a stratified political environment to gain resources, influence, and exclusive rights.

The Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Quiz

1. What percentage of the Israeli Jewish population is ultra-Orthodox?

               “While ultra-Orthodox Jews constitute 12 percent of the population [in 2018], that figure is expected to quadruple by 2065, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.”

  • At least “two major camps can be generally identified among religious Jews in Israel–the Orthodox (typically National-Religious) and the ultra-Orthodox (or Haredim), each with its own subdivisions.” During the early 2000s, religious Jews “constituted about 17 to 20 percent of the Jewish population” of Israel. (Nachman Ben-Yehuda, Theocratic Democracy: The Social Construction of Religious and Secular Extremism, Oxford University Press, New York: 2010, 13, 21.)
  • Laws favoring religious Jews in Israel have led to an astounding growth in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox population—and in the spread of religious practices and attitudes. “From the early 1950s to the mid-2000s, the [Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox] have grown from approximately “10 percent to at least a quarter of the [Israeli] Jewish population, about 1.5 million people.” The percentage of Jewish citizens who “would choose halakhic [religious] law over any competing democratic standard” approximates 35 percent. Interestingly, the same proportion wants the state “to support the emigration of Arab citizens” and “would have Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, pardoned.” (Bernard Avishai, The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel Peace at Last, Harcourt, New York: 2008, 97. Hereinafter referred to as, Avishai 2008.)
  • The Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities have very different histories. The Orthodox began in Eastern European Orthodox parties, “whose leaders attended Theodor Herzl’s first [Zionist] congress [in 1897]. They saw in Zionist return a rapturous messianism, not unlike the kind of notions you find today in evangelical movements in the United States. ‘All the civilizations will be revived by the renaissance of our spirit,’ wrote their first great leader in Palestine, Rabbi Abraham Issac Kook….Early [Orthodox] groups…advocated for basing the state apparatus on [religious] strictures. So the [Orthodox] community never shrank from assuming power in any form, first in the Zionist movement, then in the state.” As a result, the Orthodox “have blended more or less comfortably into [Israel]; they acquired advanced degrees,…took management jobs…, and served in the army.” (Avishai 2008, 87-8)
  • The ultra-Orthodox communities have “roots in the small ultra-Orthodox societies of Jerusalem and Safed, which lived for hundreds of years on money sent them by Eastern European acolytes, and which kept mainly to themselves while Zionism was taking shape….Dressed distinctively in black caftans and rounded hats, even on scorching summer days, they remain pietists connected to Diaspora sects, many of which have since found homes in the United States….Haifa University demographer Arnon Sofer supposes their total number will be something upward of 20 percent of the Jewish population by 2020.” (Avishai 2008, 93-4)
  • “[I]sraeli Jewish society continues to advance, paradoxically, in two contrary directions: The majority is moving toward a more open, secular, Western lifestyle and polity; and the (growing) minority is moving backward, toward a medieval, obscurantist life, attentive to what are perceived as God’s wishes and commands. This ambivalence mirrors the development of the region’s Arab societies–except, of course, that in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and the rest–in which it is the backward-looking fundamentalists who are in the majority and increasingly in the saddle.”

2. When Israel became a state in 1948, what percentage of the Israeli Jewish population was ultra-Orthodox?

  • “Back in 1948, the [ultra-Orthodox] constituted about 1 percent of Israel’s Jewish population…”
  • According to a respected report, the ultra-Orthodox community has grown from 50,000 in 1948 to 850,000 in 2012 (i.e. 14 percent of the current Israeli Jewish population).
  • “‘The ultra-Orthodox have 6.5 children on average, and that’s solely thanks to public policy [which grants families more money if they have more children]. Once, the average was 2.5.’ ‘It’s immoral that [secular Israelis who] want to have a third child, but they don’t have money to pay for private day care, a dentist, after-school activities or university because [a meaningful percentage] of their taxed salary goes to finance [religious] families with 10 children – whose parents don’t pay taxes.’ ‘Subsidizing birthrates perpetuates and increases poverty. [It is largely why] one out of every three children in Israel live below the poverty line…’ ‘Israel’s middle class is collapsing. This isn’t a privileged segment of society, quite the contrary; it’s the segment that serves in the army, does reserve duty, pays taxes and can’t make it through the month.’” (, Netta Ahituv, 15 Apr. 2017)
  • It is important to note that in 1948 the great bulk of Jewish Israelis were confident that religious Jews, already marginal to the state, would only continue to diminish in significance. (In fact, after World War II the European center of ultra-Orthodox “culture was gone. In Palestine, their schools were few and starved for funds…”) This is one reason Ben-Gurion accepted several compromises with the religious parties. “No one imagined, for instance, that by financing [ultra-Orthodox] schools, the state would transform ultra-Orthodox society” and so augment its power. (Gershom Gorenberg, The Unmaking Of Israel, Harper, New York: 2011, 38, 41. Hereinafter referred to as, Gorenberg 2011.)

3. True or False: The great majority of rabbis welcomed Zionism at the turn of the 19th century.

  • False. Zionism “was among other things a rebellion against Judaism.” (Theodor Herzl and almost all the other Zionist Founding Fathers were convinced atheists.) When Herzl began his quest for a Jewish homeland, “almost all East European Jews were still living in a ghetto-like Orthodox atmosphere, ruled by the rabbis. All these rabbis, almost without exception, saw Zionism as the great enemy…And not without reason. The Zionists were nationalists – adherents of the new European doctrine that human collectives are based primarily on ethnic origin, language and territory, not on religion. It was the opposite of the Jewish belief that Jews are the people of God, united by the obedience to his commandments….[And,] As everybody knows, God exiled his Chosen People from their land because of their sins. Some day God will forgive them and send the Messiah, who will lead the Jews, including the dead, back to Jerusalem. The Zionists, in their crazy desire to do so themselves, were not only committing a deadly sin, but actually rebelling against the Almighty who had expressly forbidden his people to enter the holy country en masse.”  (2 June 2012)
  • In contrast, the Orthodox are “the offspring of the tiny minority of religious Jews who did join the Zionists right from the beginning. They are now a large community. Not only are they ardent Zionists, but they are…leading the settlement enterprise and violent right-wing Zionism. They don’t just accept the state and the army – they aspire to lead both, and have made considerable progress in that direction. Yet in religious affairs…they are becoming more and more extreme, approaching the [ultra-] Orthodox.”  (2 June 2012)
  • In the first half of the 20th century, Palestine, like America, was a place where many “young people left the [religious] fold under the influence of secular surroundings. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis discouraged emigration from Eastern Europe—with catastrophic consequences during the Holocaust (Gorenberg 2011, 38).” “As the renowned Haredi rabbi…Elchonon Wasserman put it, ‘Anti-Semites want to kill the body but Zionists kill the soul. Better to die than consort with the Zionists.’ This bitter anti-Zionist animus continues…among many Haredi Jews.” Indeed, to such religious anti-Zionists, the expression “Never Again” is an “anti-Jewish slogan. ‘If God wants to bring a Holocaust He will bring it.’” Such expresses the “passivity and fatalism against which Zionism rebelled.” (Charles Selengut, Our Promised Land: Faith and Militant Zionism in Israeli Settlements, Rowman & Littlefield, New York: 2015, 34. Hereinafter, “Selengut 2015.”)
  • “For the secular Jews who created modern Israel, the story of the Israelites’ presence in Egypt, and the Exodus, and the arrival in Canaan three thousand years ago is a testament to Jewish title to the land. History and archeology combine to tell a different story, however. There may have been Jews in Egypt, but there is no documentation by the ancient Egyptians—scrupulous record keepers—of their presence….A national trauma such as the drowning of a pharaoh and his army is not mentioned in Egyptian records….The vast migration through Sinai that the Bible describes—millions of people tramping about for forty years—should have left some archeological residue, but not a single scrap of evidence exists to prove that the Exodus ever happened. The archeological record seems to show that the ancient Hebrew people were a Bronze Age tribe native to the Canaan region—a province of Egypt at the time the Exodus is supposed to have taken place, a fact the Bible does not mention. That would give Egypt an equal claim on present-day Israel with that of the Jews, if antiquity is the yardstick used to measure territorial rights.” (Lawrence Wright, Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David, Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 2014, 87-8.)

4. Did Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, govern with parties of the far left or secular right?

  • Ben-Gurion built his coalitions not with the far left nor with the secular right but with the United Religious Front, an alliance of four Orthodox parties.
  • In Israel’s first elections of January 25, 1949, “Mapai, led by Ben-Gurion, won a plurality but not a majority. Creating a majority backing in the Knesset for a government required building a coalition of several parties—as has been the case ever since. On paper, Ben-Gurion’s simplest choice…was an alliance with Mapam, the other party of the Zionist left. But Ben-Gurion was tilting toward the United States. Mapam favored ‘the world of revolution.’ It sought to nationalize industry; Mapai tolerated a mixed economy.” Mapam also “wanted a written constitution to restrain the ruling party’s power, and Ben-Gurion did not….As its main coalition partner, Mapai took the United Religious Front…The Orthodox parties tended to keep their demands to issues of religion and state, leaving Mapai to run everything else. At the time, this seemed like a low-priced political bargain.” (Gorenberg 2011, 30)
  • Ben-Gurion built a coalition, “not with the secular right wing, not the revisionists, not Jabotinsky’s group – who subsequently became Begin’s group, who subsequently became Bibi’s group. He allied himself with…the religious group. But there was a covenant between them: he would give them a free hand as far as Sabbath is concerned, as far as the conscription of religious young Jews is concerned, as far as issues of personal status was concerned, as long as they left him strategy and foreign policy.”
  • “[I]n 1953, the Knesset passed the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction Law, which established the Jewish religion as the state religion, replete with…rabbinical courts. The law empowered rabbis to determine, where applicable, if an immigrant’s conversion had been valid, and it reaffirmed the right of [Orthodox/ultra-Orthodox] rabbinic officials to preside over all marriages, divorces, and burials for Jewish citizens…Official rabbinic bureaucracies determined which restaurants, hotels, etc., would be declared kosher—a state-sponsored monopoly that has led to thousands of patronage jobs. By 1955, the state had set up two school systems for Jews, one secular and the other [Orthodox], that is, for children of those identifying with the National Religious Party…Ben-Gurion also permitted the sons of the relatively small, non-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox…communities to study in their own [religious] schools…and avoid military service.” (Avishai 2008, 87)

5. Why have ultra-Orthodox parties been able to wield disproportionate political power?

  • “In Israeli political discussions, the standard explanation for the ultra-Orthodox parties’ clout is that they hold the balance of power in parliament: since they can sell their support to a coalition of the left or of the right, they can drive up the bids from both sides. This description is misleading. [Ultra-Orthodox] parties have consistently preferred right-wing governments. Yet even when Labor won the 1992 election and Ehud Olmert’s centrist Kadimah did so in 2006, they sought alliances with the ultra-Orthodox [even though, in both cases, there was an alternative partner]. The real foundation of [ultra-Orthodox] strength lies elsewhere—in the exclusion of Arab-backed parties from power. In 1992, when Rabin was elected, two parties drawing their votes mainly from Palestinian citizens of Israel won a total of five seats in parliament. By 2006, three Arab-supported parties held a total of ten seats. The meaning of Labor’s 1992 election victory was that together with the Arab parties and another left-wing party, it won a majority in the Knesset. The same was true of Kadimah’s victory. But the iron rule…is that Arab-backed parties are not candidates for the coalition and cabinet. The most polite explanation is that as long as the Israeli-Arab conflict continues, Arab-backed parties cannot be trusted with sharing responsibility for national security. The less polite explanation is that much of the Jewish majority does not see a government resting partly on Arab votes as legitimate. Coalition building is like shopping: the major party must pay its smaller partners in some political coin. If there are several potential partners, each must set a lower price for its support. Because the Arab parties are eliminated, the ultra-Orthodox can charge more.” (Gorenberg 2011, 183-4)
  • In 1977, for the first time, Begin’s “Likud won a narrow plurality in parliament….And for the first time since 1953, Agudat Yisrael [an ultra-Orthodox party] joined the ruling coalition.” The 1977  and 1981 coalition agreements produced “a long list of promises to Agudat Yisrael on religious and budgetary issues.” For example, the ultra-Orthodox received more funding for their educational institutions, more strictures placed on businesses operating on the Sabbath, more government stipends for large families, and the “army removed the ceiling on draft deferments for yeshivah [religious school] students.” (Gorenberg 2011, 174, 175)
  • “To Rabin’s credit…he reached agreements under which [Arab-backed parties in the early 1990s] supported his government [without joining it]…When Shas quit the coalition, Rabin stayed in power with the help of the Arab parties, which was one more factor in the right’s fury against him. Since his assassination, no other party leader has had the courage to follow his example…” (The Oslo agreement would not have been realized without the ardent support of the Arab-backed parties.) (Gorenberg 2011, 184-5)
  • “Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president and Zionism’s first great statesman, wrote in his 1940s memoir” that “I have never feared really religious people, it is the new secularized type of Rabbi, resembling somewhat a member of a clerical party in Germany, France, or Belgium, who is the menace, and who will make a heavy bid for power by parading his religious convictions.” (Avishai 2008, 105-6)
  • Jewish fundamentalism is not unique. “Like their counterparts in Islamic countries, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox leaders gain power by trafficking in received truths, claim to reject the materialism of civil society but live off the bourgeois social contract, use information technologies but cannot see that technological advance is the product of open inquiry, depend on women’s work but banish the risks of female sexual power, and so forth. They protect male sovereignty, which regularly tips into justifying domestic brutality….[They accept democracy unless it] goes against what they perceive as their interests….[Israel’s] High Court has made all kinds of decisions protecting the rights of gays, belly dancers, nonkosher restaurants. Rabbinic authorities simply ignore these decisions.” (Avishai 2008, 105)
  • The ultra-Orthodox community “mobilizes completely at elections. The value put on trust in the leading rabbis of the generation, and the social pressure against public dissent, ensures voting as a bloc. These factors increase the community’s representation and its bargaining power. Yet participation in the democratic system is entirely instrumental—and seen from the inside, defensive.” (Gorenberg 2011, 186)
  • Ultra-Orthodox parties normally hold approximately twenty seats in the 120-member Knesset (parliament). The primary ultra-Orthodox parties had been prominent members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government until the 2013 elections. In the 2013 elections the ultra-Orthodox parties won 18 seats: Shas won 11 and United Torah Judaism won 7.

6. In 2012, what percentage of elementary schoolchildren in Israel were in ultra-Orthodox schools?

  • “A third of all elementary school-children in Israel are ultra-Orthodox.”
  • “In Jerusalem and Ashdod, two of the country’s main cities, [ultra-Orthodox] children account for over half the Jewish elementary-school population.”
  • “The basic lesson plan approved by the Education Ministry for use in the [ultra-Orthodox] educational sector differs from the standard state-run school core curriculum in allocating less time for core subjects, such as mathematics and the sciences. It doesn’t include any English-language instruction. In practice, the core curriculum lesson plan the Education Ministry is to enforce among [ultra-Orthodox] schools places a special emphasis on Bible and Talmud studies, which are allotted the most time out of all the subjects covered in the lesson plan.”
  • “[N]ot all teachers in [ultra-Orthodox] schools are accredited to teach core curriculum subjects, yet they are allowed to teach every subject at whatever level of academic rigor and depth at their own discretion.”
  • For an example of the anti-Arab racism taught in religious schools, view the following:
  • “In 1953, the fight between the [political] parties over educating…children had finally ended with a law creating a state school system. The time of the party-run school was over, it seemed. Yet the state system had two parts—one secular, and one ‘state religious [Orthodox].’ De facto, the latter was controlled by functionaries of the religious Zionist parties, which merged soon after to create the National Religious Party. The ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party was allowed to keep the school system it had recently established, with state funding but with minimal state supervision. Those schools taught children religious law and sacred texts, along with basic math, perhaps a bit of English. Civics was not part of the curriculum. Their job was to protect children from modern society, not to prepare them for it.” (Gorenberg 2011, 39-40)
  • It was Israeli government funding of compulsory, free education “that made it possible to open new ultra-Orthodox schools and pay steady salaries….Meanwhile, some of the Jews pouring into Israel from the Islamic world chose [ultra-Orthodox] schools…[As a result,] in the state’s first four years, Agudat Yisrael’s elementary schools went from 7,000 to 24,000 pupils….The state helped fund ultra-Orthodox secondary schools along with others, but the high schools for [ultra-Orthodox] boys were yeshivot devoted entirely to religious studies….From there, young men—not only the few brilliant scholars, as in Europe before the Holocaust, but the mass—proceeded to advanced yeshivot.” And, it became commonplace for ultra-Orthodox to marry young and for the men to continue studying Torah in religious schools for married students. (Gorenberg 2011, 167-8)
  • “By exempting the ultra-Orthodox from basic general educational requirements, the democratic state fosters a burgeoning sector of society that neither understands nor values democracy.” And, unless ultra-Orthodox “children receive a different kind of education than the one their parents and educators plan for them, they too will be lifetime dependents of the shrinking number of working Israelis.” In short, they too will be unemployable. (Gorenberg 2011, 167, 178-9)
  • Because the ultra-Orthodox community is heavily dependent on state funds, its power can be greatly reduced if an Israeli government decides to cut-off funding for, say, ultra-Orthodox educational institutions. If, for example, parents want to establish schools that include religious studies—in addition to a state-mandated core secular curriculum—then such parents should pay for the additional hours of religious studies.

  7. Why is English not taught at ultra-Orthodox schools?

  • Israel invests significant amounts of money in the independent educational systems run by ultra-Orthodox political parties, however, “the boys who study there will never learn math, English, geography or civics. This is so they will never be able to earn a decent living and emerge from under the rabbis’ thumbs. Only a suicidal state would agree to have a large and growing sector live off allowances and grants, without learning core subjects, serving in the military or making a living.”
  • In a typical ultra-Orthodox grade seven class, religious studies run from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The general curriculum also includes a little history and natural science. Studying any English, however, is out of the question. As an ultra-Orthodox principal explains, “The moment a boy studies English, he’s more exposed to the wider world, and he naturally leaves religion, and he can even engage in intermarriage, like in America.” (Gorenberg 2011, 187)
  • “For an education system to deprive young people of the knowledge they will need to support themselves as adults, in order to deny them the choice of whether to leave or stay with a sectarian community, is a form of child abuse. For the state to tolerate this abuse is abdication of duty. For it to fund such education is unconscionable. By forcing those children to become wards of the public as adults, the government also violates the rights of the remaining citizens who will have to support them. The problem with [ultra-Orthodox] schooling, however, is not just economic, and will not be solved only by adding job skills to the curriculum.…[U]ltra-Orthodox education [also] denies young people the chance to…question opinions…[and understand] the moral basis of democracy….Other Israelis [also] have the right to fellow citizens who can debate issues without fear and who can vote as individuals.” (Gorenberg 2011, 190-1)
  • Ultra-Orthodox “citizens are thus largely on the dole: state family allowances will support a family of ten with somewhere between $3000-$4000 a month. Almost 60,000 young, dependent, married men (called ‘avrechim’) are getting support both from their Yeshivot [religious schools] and from social insurance and family allowance programs. Men study virtually free-of-charge in Yeshivot…which are themselves funded largely by the Education Ministry. Over the past four years [ultra-Orthodox] parties have gotten about a billion shekels ($1=3.7 shekels) for their Yeshivot, another billion for general disbursement to retainers, 300 million for ‘educational networks,’ 60 million for ‘cultural activities,’ and another 60 million for boarding schools. This does not include funding for ministries and rabbinic offices they’ve controlled. The [ultra-Orthodox] are a world apart, and what spins it is public money. Imagine how Philadelphians would feel about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania subsidizing the Amish, whose numbers have consequently ballooned.”

8. What percentage of ultra-Orthodox Israeli men aged thirty-five to fifty-four (prime working years) were not employed in 1979? 2008?

  • 1979: 20 percent;  2008: 65 percent. (Gorenberg 2011, 177, 178)
  • By 2008, “at least 55,000 ultra-Orthodox men in Israel were [students in religious schools for married men], meaning that full-time [religious] study was the most common occupation of adult men.” (Gorenberg 2011, 178)
  • According to a respected 2012 study, “The employment rate of ultra-Orthodox men is almost identical to that of non-[ultra-Orthodox] Israeli men who have completed four years of education or less…The study, which examined the value of the ultra-Orthodox school system in the modern labor market, found that the employment rate of [ultra-Orthodox] and elementary-school dropouts has significantly decreased over time, dropping from a range of 80 percent to 90 percent in 1979 to a range of 35 percent to 50 percent this decade. That’s because the job market has changed a lot… ‘At the end of the ’70s, when the quality of life in Israel was relatively low, it wasn’t necessary to have a lot of skills to find work…Today the Israeli economy is competitive and open to the global economy, and the data reflect the lack of employment opportunities that the ultra-Orthodox education system gives its sons.’”
  • There have been efforts to improve ultra-Orthodox employment. “Between 2009 and 2013, employment went up by 6 percent in the sector, and there has been a huge push through both state and philanthropic endeavors to get the ultra-Orthodox into the workplace.”
  • A main source of employment for ultra-Orthodox men, besides teaching, has been the state rabbinate and rabbinic courts. The rising power of ultra-Orthodox “parties since 1977 has allowed them to fill more of those posts with their appointees.” (Gorenberg 2011, 181)
  • Young ultra-Orthodox Israelis are becoming the world’s poorest Jewish population due to their employment prospects, declining financial support from parents, declining welfare allowances from the state, and their high number of children.
  • “The National Insurance Institute, a state agency, reported that one-fifth of all Israeli families lived below the poverty line [in 2008]—and about two-thirds of ultra-Orthodox families.” (Gorenberg 2011, 178)
  • “According to the [Central Bureau of Statistics], 61% of [ultra-Orthodox] women work ([versus] 88% of secular women)…”
  • Essentially, the women and the state support the bulk of ultra-Orthodox men. However, “a council of rabbis has decided to prohibit women from attending any institution offering a terminal academic degree.” (Avishai 2008, 100)
  • Young ultra-Orthodox couples, with little wealth and plans for large families, “are desperate for inexpensive apartments….At the end of the 1980s, the government began using that [desperation to draw them] into the settlement enterprise.” In 1990, 350 ultra-Orthodox settlers moved into Beitar Illit and for apartments paid “$60,000, with the government providing a $50,000 interest-free mortgage. Four years later, the first residents arrived in what would become the town of Modi’in Illit, east of Tel Aviv. The two communities grew faster than any other settlements in the West Bank. By the end of 2009, they were also the two largest settlements, with a total of 81,000 residents…[Unsurprisingly,] the internal growth of the communities was stunning….The government designated additional developments for [ultra-Orthodox] within settlements elsewhere in the West Bank. Virtually every extended [ultra-Orthodox] family in Israel now has members living” in occupied Palestinian territory. Therefore, they have “a vested interest in the territories” and have been converted to the extreme right by government action.  (Gorenberg 2011, 185)
  • In 2012, the Israeli government approved “zoning plans for the area known as E1, northeast of Jerusalem. The project is intended to link annexed East Jerusalem with the mega-settlement of Ma’aleh Adumin, thus finally making the creation of a contiguous Palestinian State impossible.” Housing in the E1 area is targeted for ultra-Orthodox.

9. True or False: Ultra-Orthodox society in Israel has changed little since 1948.

  • False. At Israel’s founding in 1948, ultra-Orthodox “society ‘was very different…It was a normal working society,’ similar to the rest of the Jewish population. The fertility rate was about the same….To get married, a man had to leave yeshivah [religious school] and find work. Rather than being a diorama of traditional Jewish life in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust…Israel’s present-day version of ultra-Orthodoxy is a creation of the Jewish state.” (Gorenberg 2011, 166)
  • Ultra-Orthodox males from an early age are instructed to obey their revered rabbis in every aspect of life. And, the ultra-Orthodox rabbis, unlike their pre-1948 forefathers, do “not need to interpret Jewish law pragmatically…for the sake of a working laity. [Thus, every] strict ruling become[s] the norm…Rather than seek to sanctify life in the modern world, ultra-Orthodoxy [has] tried to build a sacred preserve…” (Gorenberg 2011, 172-3)
  • In 2000, the newspaper Ha’aretz published pictures showing ultra-Orthodox men at work in New York. “For the Israeli audience, photos of gainfully employed [ultra-Orthodox] men — a private detective, a truck driver,…a welder — were news on the level of man bites elephant.” (Gorenberg 2011, 166)
  • “Kerem Avraham today is one neighborhood in the [ultra-Orthodox] belt of northern Jerusalem, a land of wall posters denouncing television, Internet, and rival religious factions; of lifelong Torah study for men and countless pregnancies for women; of schools that provide scant preparation for earning a living and no preparation at all for participating in a democratic society.” Unlike what was expected to be the case at Israel’s founding, “Socialism, not religion, is now a historical memory in Israel.” (Gorenberg 2011, 164-5)
  • A shared attribute of fundamentalist movements is that “they are creations of the present claiming to be old-time religion.” (Gorenberg 2011, 170)

10. What were the number of military deferments for ultra-Orthodox men in 1948? 1968? 1985? 2005? 2011?

  • 1948: 400; 1968: 4,700; 1985: 16,000; 2005: 41,000; 2011: 62,500. (Gorenberg 2011, 169, 175)
  • During the 1948-49 War of Independence, “about 400 men studying at ultra-Orthodox yeshivot—Talmudic academies—in Jerusalem were exempted from the universal draft, though other [ultra-Orthodox] men were conscripted. Jerusalem was outside the partition lines, and the government apparently wanted to avoid the spectacle of a conflict with extreme anti-Zionist groups in a place where its rule was tenuous. Yet the precedent stuck, and after the war the army continued to give several hundred deferments to yeshivah students.” (Gorenberg 2011, 39)
  • Remaining a full-time student, as is the norm for ultra-Orthodox men, permits deferment from IDF service; if instead they choose to work they become subject to the draft. Thus the deferment locks young men into a life of religious study. (Gorenberg 2011, 169)
  • It should be noted that a few hundred ultra-Orthodox men, who are particularly unsuited for religious study, do serve in the IDF in a special unit, Netzah Yehudah. “The unit is run in close coordination with the rabbinical association. ‘The commanders don’t do anything without consulting the rabbis…’ The unit is part of the Kfir Brigade, whose main task is policing the West Bank….It is a unit tied to a particular political community, with two hierarchies of command, military and ideological, a unit where esprit de corps is built on defending Jews and their homeland, not on defending Israel.” (Gorenberg 2011, 192, 193-4)

 11. Why don’t the ultra-Orthodox permit their children to serve in the army?

  • The ultra-Orthodox do not “allow their children to join the army, because of the justified fear that they will be contaminated by ordinary Israelis – learning about night clubs, TV…and, worst of all, listening to the voices of female soldiers singing – considered an absolute abomination in Jewish religious law.”  (2 June 2012)
  • As long as Israel has a universal draft most Israelis believe, in order to respect the principle of equality, that ultra-Orthodox men should either serve in the military or perform civilian service. However, the ultra-Orthodox continue to resist either option. Secular Israelis don’t “understand that this is a fundamental issue of the source of authority. The [ultra-Orthodox] believe that their rabbis are the sole source of authority, not the state, and the rabbis oppose the draft because they wish to continue to maintain control over their oppressed flock.”
  • The ultra-Orthodox believe that “having any female soldiers encourage[s] licentiousness and violate[s] the honor of Jewish women.” (Gorenberg 2011, 175)

12. Why do the Orthodox permit their children to serve in the army?

  • In stark contrast to the ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox men do serve in the army. In fact, Orthodox premilitary academies “combine physical training and studies that boost motivation to serve and rise through the ranks” and also serve to “create a cadre of ideologically committed Orthodox officers.” (Gorenberg 2011, 3)
  • “Because of [military deferments for religious study], and despite special arrangements introduced into the IDF at its establishment (such as keeping kosher and observing the Sabbath), in the early years of the state, the recruitment rate among the National-Religious [Orthodox] was lower than their share of the general population. This was primarily due to their anxiety that military service would lead to the corruption of religious youth through their exposure to an undesirable environment of cultural and social influences they perceived as negative….The establishment of the Hesder Yeshivot [in the mid-1960s which combines religious study with military service] was not the only factor leading to increased recruitment rates among religious Zionists. The [1973] Yom Kippur War, which led to the negotiations over the terms of a ceasefire—including the possibility of Israeli demobilization from the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights, thereby threatening the territorial integrity of ‘the Greater Land of Israel,’ was the catalyst for the founding of the Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) movement in 1974. Gush Emunim’s ideology was based on the teachings of Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook and his son Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook. They believed that the establishment of the Jewish State contained a messianic, redemptive meaning that had evinced their key tenets, divinely inspired commandments to settle, annex and safeguard ‘Greater Israel.’ Gush Emunim members saw themselves as the vanguard with a mission to point the right way to other Zionists, arouse the Jewish people of Israel and snap them out of their weakness.”
  • “In September 2011, [it was a] top news story when four [Orthodox] officers’ course cadets were discharged— and five more disciplined—after walking out of an event commemorating operation cast lead, in defiance of orders, when women soldiers went on stage to sing. The four were expelled from the officers’ course for refusing orders, failing to return to the hall, and for expressing no remorse for their actions.” This was one of a number of cases that “illustrates the extreme tension that attends the integration and growing involvement of religious soldiers in the IDF.”
  • The inherent conflict between Orthodox soldiers and female soldiers lies in the desire of both groups to “create an environment more suitable to its side. Other dimensions are less obvious, such as the desire to set the national agenda and maximize influence, and the perception of military duty—by both liberal feminism and the religious sector— as a vehicle for accumulating power, social mobility, and political capital outside the army, or at least to clear some of the obstacles to accessing such resources.”

 13. What percentage of graduates of advanced infantry officer training courses were Orthodox men in 1990? 2008? 2011?

  • “Although the social composition of the IDF is a well-kept secret, partial data indicate that, in 1990, the share of religious fighters among graduates of advanced infantry officer training courses was 2.5%, by the end of the 1990s it was around 15%, in 2008 it reached 26%, and in the latest [2011] infantry officers course it was 42%.”
  • By 2010, “six of the eight top commanders in the Golani Brigade, one of the IDF’s main infantry units, were Orthodox, with ranks of colonel or lieutenant colonel. At least five of the six were alumni of yeshivot [religious schools] known for [religious] nationalism…” (Gorenberg 2011, 143-4)
  • “A great many of the children of [Orthodox] settlers do their service in their settlements, and see guard duty and expansion [of settlements in the West Bank] as entirely consistent.” (Avishai 2008, 91)
  • “Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon ignited unprecedented public debate about the government’s use of the military. A purportedly limited operation turned into a march to Beirut aimed at remaking the Lebanese regime—a war of choice, not of self-defense. The crisis of confidence was greatest among the Israelis who had identified most strongly with the military—secular Jews from Kibbutzim and the urban middle class. For the first time, reservists rejected call-up orders, on grounds that could be described either as political opposition to the war or as conscientious objection to immoral use of force. According to the pro-refusal movement Yesh Gvul…,168…were jailed for refusing to serve in Lebanon, with the army quietly refraining from prosecuting many others.” The First and Second Intifadas led to additional waves of refusal to serve, these times in the occupied territories. As a “source of combat soldiers and officers, the old elite was no longer as reliable—either in numbers…or in unquestioning identification with the mission.” (Gorenberg 2011, 139)
  • The attitude of the Orthodox toward military service “took the opposite direction” from the seculars. “Only one hesder yeshiva [which combine religious study and military service] existed before the Six-Day War. Afterward, amid the messianic fervor that merged nationalism and religious revival, more Orthodox men wanted to combine combat service and religious study. The government had a practical reason to lend support:…a hesder yeshiva was a way to create a presence in newly conquered territory….The army got a new source of combat soldiers with high morale….The ‘arrangement’ was one more way in which the state, in a fit of absence of mind, promoted religious radicalism.” In addition to the hesder program, premilitary religious academies were developed which placed less stress on Talmud study and more on military conditioning “to help graduates qualify for top combat units.” By 2010, there were 36 Orthodox and nonreligious premilitary academies. (Gorenberg 2011, 140-2)
  • Many young Orthodox Jewish soldiers would not break religious law if the rabbis say not to. In 2004, “In the run-up to the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip…former chief rabbi Avraham Shapira, then the religious right’s leading authority on Jewish law, spoke out. He declared that religious soldiers must tell their commanders that they would no more follow an order to evacuate settlers than they would obey an order to eat pork. ‘Heaven doesn’t want this,’ Shapira asserted, supremely confident that he knew the divine will…The following day, sixty rabbis—including several prominent heads of hesder yeshivot—issued a proclamation stating, ‘It is forbidden for any Jew to participate or assist in dismantling settlements.’…[S]ixty-three soldiers [were] tried for refusing orders, among them twenty-four hesder soldiers….[However,] it would be a mistake to use those figures to dismiss the risk of future insubordination or mutiny.” The IDF had “an institutional interest in showing that all was well in the ‘people’s army,’ and did not acknowledge the full extent of resistance in the ranks. Moreover, the government and the army’s top command carefully chose who would carry out the disengagement in order to avoid dissent.” For example, “large numbers of Orthodox soldiers, were not assigned to evict civilians….All these measures were needed to remove 9,000 settlers, almost all from the Gaza Strip, to which the army could control access with relative ease. The national police force stretched its resources to the maximum, and had to be backed up by troops drawn from select, limited resources.” (Gorenberg 2011, 148-9, 151-2)
  • A meaningful withdrawal from the West Bank would be far more challenging to execute than the Gaza withdrawal. Tens of thousands of settlers would have to return to Israel and the “ideological settlement movement would face…the final shattering of its vision of redemption through the Whole Land of Israel. Its core communities—Kiryat Arba, Ofrah, Elon Moreh, Yitzhar, and many others—would face evacuation. The army would have to confront a young generation of settlers determined not to repeat the ‘shame’ of Gaza….Yet since 2005, the army’s dependence on soldiers coming out of Orthodox academies, hesder, and other yeshivot aligned with the theological right has increased.”  (Gorenberg 2011, 152-3)
  • “As the Gaza evacuation was being prepared, the IDF High Command issued explicit orders not to compel religious soldiers to take part in the operation….Some argue that the lesson religious Zionist youth took from the Gaza disengagement is that quiet struggle fails, and that, in the event of future evacuations, they must be much louder and consider more violent forms of resistance. [However,] religious Zionism is not a monolith but a broad collection of people, attitudes and beliefs, and in attempting to imagine scenarios and create forecasts, we must take the silent (and moderate) religious Zionist majority into account.” Therefore, not all Orthodox soldiers are on the right; and some of their rabbis have “accepted the idea of relinquishing land for peace since the 1980s.” (Gorenberg 2011, 149)
  • In mid-1995, in anticipation of Oslo II pullbacks from West Bank land (but not from Jewish settlements), YESHA Council rabbis drafted a “ruling calling on soldiers to refuse to evacuate army bases…” (YESHA Council is the leadership body of Jewish settlers.) (Dan Ephron, Killing A King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel, W. W. Norton, New York: 2015, 147-8.)
  • “In December 1993, the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren, a former chief rabbi of Israel and chief rabbi of the IDF, published a ruling forbidding Jews to evacuate any settlements in the biblical Land of Israel, declaring that ‘a soldier who receives an order that runs contrary to Torah law should uphold Halakha [religious law] and not the secular order.’” (Avishai 2008, 104)
  • While “the deans of the Orthodox [premilitary] academies” issued a statement against refusing military orders with respect to the Gaza disengagement, many sent mixed messages by stating, for example, they wouldn’t personally “be able to carry out the mission.” (Gorenberg 2011, 150-1)
  • An Orthodox soldier commenting on his 2005 refusal to obey orders to clean out material (not settlers, who had already left) from small West Bank settlements, had this to say, “I can’t get up in the morning…to say prayers about the wholeness of the Land and its sanctity, and in the afternoon do something that’s the complete opposite.” The soldier was merely demoted one rank and remained an officer. (Gorenberg 2011, 136-7)
  • “Advisors to Israeli intelligence will tell you that 10 percent of hard-core settlers…might well resist evacuation with force of arms.” In general, it needs to be understood that when religious settlers speak of moral values, they mean “a willingness to sacrifice for nationalist Orthodoxy and not much more. Immoral, in their view, were Jews who believed in mere Israeliness, or who subscribed to the settlers’ Zionism but were unwilling to sacrifice for it.” (Avishai 2008, 86)
  • “The problem is not one of individual conscientious objectors. There are already whole units that the IDF fears using. As men who believe in the inviolable sanctity of the Whole Land of Israel climb the ladder of command, possibilities loom that are worse than refusal: outright mutiny, even decisions by senior officers to deploy their units to prevent withdrawal.” (Gorenberg 2011, 160-2)
  • “In the State of Israel, military and political elites are intertwined through both the incorporation of the military elite into political decision-making processes, and in its function as a human resources reservoir for the political system (and, more and more, the business sector as well). Revisions and decisions introduced in the military arena carry major social and political implications for Israeli society as a whole. As former Chief Military Rabbi Brigadier General (Ret.) Avihai Rontzki astutely described it, ‘the struggle over control of the IDF is a battle over the shape of Israeli society.’ The IDF is at the forefront of a culture clash between opposing forces, each vying to impose its approach and normative values.”
  • “In the longer term, as part of the separation of religion and state, [special programs to accommodate religious soldiers] should be dismantled entirely….[Israel does not want] ideological combat units that are beholden to clergy.” The country can only have “one army, responsible to the elected government. [T]he history of Lebanon provides a gory warning of the dangers of permitting armed groups linked to political factions.” (Gorenberg 2011, 234-5)
  • “The top posts in Israel’s national police force are [in October 2016] in the hands of hardline religious settlers…The growing influence of the settler movement [is thus reflected by] the appointment of Rahamim Brachyahu as the force’s chief rabbi….[And] Roni Alsheikh [was] made police chief [in 2015]…It is the first time members of the religious settler community have held either of these top posts. Both have expressed their commitment to accelerating a programme called Believers in the Police, established five years ago, to recruit settlers and fast-track their promotion to officer rank.”
       “[Brachyahu] has…declared his intention to place a stronger emphasis on Jewish religious law, or halakha, in policing work. His goal, he has stated, is to create a book of Biblical and rabbinical commandments for use by all police officers as they go about their duties. That has raised deep concern among Palestinian leaders because Brachyahu has defended a notorious rabbinical handbook for settlers known as the King’s Torah. It argues that Jewish religious law justifies killing Palestinians as a preventative measure – including children in case they grow up to become ‘terrorists’.”
       “The gradual infiltration of religious settlers into the police has mirrored a similar process in the Israeli army that began two decades ago…Although the so-called national religious community…make up only 10 per cent of Israel’s population, recent figures suggest that as many as half of all new army recruits are drawn from their ranks.”
       “Israeli police operate both inside Israel and in parts of the occupied territories under Israel’s full control, including East Jerusalem and settlements in the West Bank.”
       “’Relations between the police and Palestinian citizens are already disastrous…But the situation will deteriorate much further if the ideology of the settlers becomes the norm among the police.’”
       “[A] likely flashpoint is policing of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli police control access, and have been allowing ever larger numbers of religious settlers to enter the site. That has included settlers committed to the destruction of the mosque to replace it with a Jewish temple.”
       “The settler movement has recently captured top posts in Israel’s other main security services, including the Mossad spy agency and the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency.”

14. True or False: During the 2009 Gaza Invasion IDF soldiers were issued a booklet that stated that the Torah forbade giving up any of the Land of Israel.

  • True. “During Operation Cast Lead, the IDF invasion of Gaza in January 2009, the rabbinate issued a booklet for soldiers, containing selections from the teachings of Shlomo Aviner. In it, Aviner wrote that the Torah forbade ‘giving up a millimeter’ of the Land of Israel to gentiles [non-Jews], even by allowing Palestinian autonomy. Jews were commanded to go to war to conquer the Land, Aviner said. He explicitly rejected the idea that saving Jewish lives might be more important than territory….Providing another reason for going to war, Aviner said that any time the Jewish nation is humiliated, ‘it is a desecration of God’s name,’ which a Jew should give up his life to prevent. The pocket-sized booklet showed how the religious right had taken the principles of the secular Zionist far right from the 1930s and ‘40s—militarism, national pride, the Whole Land of Israel—and dressed them in theology.” (Gorenberg 2011, 154-6)
  • During the 2009 Gaza invasion, “The IDF’s behavior, especially toward Palestinian civilians, was intensely controversial—not just abroad, but within Israel. Half a year after the war, Breaking the Silence [an organization that publishes testimony from soldiers about serving in the occupied territories] revealed that in order to prevent [Jewish] casualties, the army had used firepower with less restraint than in the past, ignoring the price to enemy civilians.” (Gorenberg 2011, 155-6)
  • For the national religious Orthodox community, democracy “is a human construction, worthy…but inappropriate for the unique situation of the state of Israel, which is…the vehicle for messianic transformation….As the messianic process progresses and with an increasing Orthodox population, the entire state apparatus — politics, economics, the military… — will come under rabbinical control.” In fact, “The state of Israel [to the Orthodox settlers] is to be valued only insofar as it fulfills its purpose as a vessel for attaining Jewish sovereignty and encouraging the messianic process.” (Selengut 2015, 52-3, 66)

 15. True or False: Right after Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, the chief rabbi of the Israeli army, Shlomo Goren, pleaded with the Israeli commander, General Uzi Narkiss, to blow up the two mosques on the Temple Mount.

  • True. The “floodgates of fundamental [Orthodox] Zionism [grew] with the conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967. Why? Because this is the first time since Titus and Hadrian that Jewish soldiers were walking on the Temple Mount. Zionist religious triumphalism took off at that point. An episode will illustrate this. As soon as the Temple Mount had fallen, the chief rabbi of the Israeli army, Shlomo Goren, rushed to the site and took the Israeli commander, Narkiss, on the spot by his lapels. ‘Do it now, do it now!’ Narkiss said, ‘Do what now?’ And Goren said, ‘Blow up the two mosques! Blow them up – this is the time to do it. It can be done with a hundred pounds of TNT.’ Narkiss had actually to threaten to put the chief rabbi in jail if he did not stop this nonsense. But such was the feeling of triumphalism.”
  • The most egregious example of apartheid-like justice in the occupied territories was the treatment of the Jewish terror underground of the early 1980s. “The group’s twenty-eight members, most of them settlers, crippled two Palestinian mayors and an IDF sapper with explosive booby traps, murdered three students at a Hebron college, attempted to bomb five East Jerusalem buses during rush hour—and plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in order to shatter Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and prevent the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. Judges in the case noted that if carried out, the Dome of the Rock plot could have ignited war with the entire Muslim world. Three men were sentenced to life for the Hebron murders. But with repeated commutations, they walked free after less than seven years in prison. Yehudah Etzion, mastermind of the Temple Mount plot and an organizer of the attacks on the mayors, spent less than five years behind bars.” The army and police in the occupied territories “understood their role as protecting Israelis, not Palestinians.” (Gorenberg 2011, 88)

16. How did Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War affect Orthodox theology?

  • “Before the [1967] war, Orthodox Zionism had functioned mostly as an auxiliary to the secular mainstream….Politically, the National Religious Party [NRP] was a perennial coalition partner, generally dovish on foreign policy issues, in Mapai governments. Like secular Zionist parties, [the NRP] had its own youth movement, Bnei Akiva, which hoped to keep its members Orthodox and make them aspire to live in religious kibbutzim.” (Gorenberg 2011, 90)
  • Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War was interpreted as a miracle. Accordingly, “a new theology swept much of Israeli [Orthodox] Judaism. It described the battlefield triumph as part of God’s plan for redeeming the world, for bringing humankind into the perfected age of the messiah. The theology assigned sanctity to the state of Israel and its military. It made settling Jews in the newly conquered territory a divine commandment ‘as important as all the others combined.’ The new doctrine constricted Judaism’s universal moral concerns, and made militant nationalism a pillar of faith.” (Gorenberg 2011, 2-3)
  • “For young religious Zionists, [settling in the occupied territories] also cured a double sense of inferiority. In building the state, their movement had been a very junior partner. Secularists saw them as milquetoasts. The ultra-Orthodox, meanwhile, regarded them as practicing lukewarm Judaism. Now they seized the chance to be the vanguard fulfilling the old secular Zionist value of settlement….The greatest practical difficulty that Labor governments faced in building settlements was a lack of willing manpower. Their Likud successors faced the same problem…[However, the state made settlement easier by providing large financial incentives.] Partnership with religious Zionists…provided the foot soldiers. In turn, religious settlers became the role model for the Orthodox Zionist community. After the emergence of Gush Emunim in 1974, the National Religious Party metamorphosed into the faction representing settlers and ultranationalist faith….The government was outsourcing a project that combined defense and foreign policy to an ideological camp that read pragmatic restraint as a lack of faith.” (Gorenberg 2011, 92-3)
  • On their homogeneous settlements, young Orthodox Jews “became a sect, apart from the Israel they sought to lead.” “In their partnership with Orthodox settlers, secular politicians underwrote the indoctrination of a new generation in radical religious culture.” The settler youth, for example, justify stealing from Palestinians because “All the soil of the Land of Israel…belonged to the Jewish people…so that by taking the fruit, Jews are ‘returning what has been stolen to our own hands…’” With enough determination, sacred texts can be interpreted how one wishes. (Gorenberg 2011, 94, 96)
  • “The West Bank olive harvest has become an annual low-level battle, with settlers stealing from and ravaging [for example, setting on fire] Palestinian groves, and with outpost settlers as prime suspects….[E]ach incident is part of the effort to drive” the Palestinians out of the West Bank to Jordan or another country.  (Gorenberg 2011, 100)
  • The young settlers of the “illegal” outposts — all settlements are illegal according to international law; however, the outposts are illegal according to Israeli law–aspire “to see Israel governed only by religious law.” They have very little use “for the political, religious, and settlement establishment that have helped put” them in their outposts. (Gorenberg 2011, 102-3)

 17. True or False: It was religious Israelis who first promoted settlement in the occupied territories.

  • False. “Contrary to a common portrayal, secular politicians initiated settlement in the occupied territories and have continued to back it ever since. But the most ideologically committed settlers have been [Orthodox] Zionists — and the government’s support for settlement has fostered the transformation of [Orthodox] Zionism into a movement of the radical right.” (Gorenberg 2011, 8)
  • Settlement had been a quintessential Labor Zionist value. After the 1967 War there was new land to settle. Pioneers could again act, however, this time “with the power of a state behind” them. “The initiative to start settling came mainly from Labor politicians, officials, and activists. At first, [Orthodox] Zionists were junior partners. Labor governments approved new settlements on a piecemeal basis” that roughly fit the (never formally approved) Allon Plan — settlements should be placed in lightly populated areas that provided security benefits. “Tension between Labor and Orthodox activists began in earnest only after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the religious settlers feared that the government might return a piece of the West Bank to Jordan.” (Gorenberg 2011, 68-9)
  • “The first settlement in occupied territory was a kibbutz established in the Golan Heights in mid-July 1967, less than a month after the government told Washington it was willing to retreat from the heights.” The organizers were motivated by security, ideology, and history. “When Porat, Levinger, and other religious activists formed Gush Emunim [Bloc of the Faithful] in 1974, they followed the example of the secular Golan settlers: they saw themselves as heirs of pre-state Zionist pioneers, shaping the future borders of the Jewish state. Yet the Jewish state existed, and they were violating its laws. They, too, had help from the highest levels of government — particularly from Defense Minister [Shimon] Peres, the most prominent advocate in Labor for settling throughout the West Bank.” (Gorenberg 2011, 70-2)
  • When Begin came to power in 1977, “Labor had provided legitimacy for settlement and a solid start.” Begin, however, believed “that Israel must rule the Whole Land of Israel…[Begin’s] Likud [party] built large suburbs and small exurban bedroom communities, offering massive subsidies to attract settlers. As head of the Ministerial Settlement Committee, Ariel Sharon took a major role in drawing the map of new settlement, aimed at driving wedges between Palestinian towns and preventing the emergence of a contiguous Palestinian state. ‘The intent was for there to be facts before any peace negotiations…with the idea that wherever we were living [the territory would remain ours]. Just like in the War of Independence, when most of the places where Jews lived ended up on the Jewish side,’ explained attorney Plia Albeck, head of the Civil Division of the State Attorney’s Office, who attended every meeting of the committee under Sharon.” (Gorenberg 2011, 69)
  • In 2010, “At least 65,000 Orthodox Israelis live in exclusively Orthodox Zionist settlements…” Naturally, such Jews will be the hardest to remove from the West Bank when a peace agreement is reached. Orthodox settlers “will be defending the vision…on which they have built their lives for two generations….Before Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, hesder yeshiva dean Nachum Rabinovitch argued that settlers should ‘plant explosive charges around the whole area’ of their settlements to prevent soldiers from evacuating them. Justifying that approach, he said that Israeli troops who carried out orders to evacuate settlers would be ‘really evil.’ He added, ‘We remember that the German soldiers also acted under orders.’” It is fair to ask why dean Rabinovitch was able to keep his job. “It is absurd for army-affiliated institutions to instruct soldiers to place the political agenda of the Whole Land of Israel above orders.” (Gorenberg 2011, 232-4)
  • “Jewish immigration into the West Bank has dwindled since the second [2000] Intifada but natural growth has more than offset this decline. In 1991, 9,000 Jews immigrated to the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) and 2,600 were born there. By 2011, the relation had been inverted: 3,600 Jews immigrated to the West Bank, while 10,800 were born there.” “In 1991, there were less than 5,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews in the West Bank [excluding East Jerusalem], comprising 5% of the settlers. By building thousands of apartments and providing an array of subsidies, Israel encouraged ultra-Orthodox Jews to move to the West Bank en masse during the Oslo years. Currently, over 30% of settlers are ultra-Orthodox. [By 2020]–and just by virtue of their high birth rate–they will comprise nearly 40% of the settlers.” (Of the 3.2 million inhabitants of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, “one of every six is an Israeli settler.”)
  • In 2013, the ultra-Orthodox party Shas declared it was willing to support evacuating settlements. “This new political environment forces a divide between those who support the conservative parties who have declared war on the settlement enterprise, like Shas, and those who support the alliance between national religious [Orthodox] Habayit Hayehudi and centrist Yesh Atid, which aims to challenge the make up of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.” “Particularly, this new political environment forces us to choose between whom we wish to support economically: the ultra-Orthodox, or the settlers.” “By highlighting a populist issue such as the universal draft, the settler community has managed to morph themselves into the Israeli middle-class while demonstrating the clear ‘otherness’ of the ultra-Orthodox population. By turning the ultra-Orthodox into hated figures, the Yesh Atid-Habayit Hayehudi alliance risks backsliding on the positive trends that the ultra-Orthodox community has made in the past few years, and masks the fact that the settlements are just as dependent on the state as those they attack.”

18. True or False: In 2011, the Israeli general in charge of the West Bank, Nitsan Alon, described the violence by radical Jewish settlers as terrorism.

  • True. In recent years Israeli leaders have begun to recognize the problem of terrorism by radical Jewish settlers against Palestinians, the IDF and mainstream settler leaders. In 2011, “the Israeli general in charge of the West Bank, Nitsan Alon, described the violence by radical settlers as ‘terrorism’ and urged the IDF to ‘do much more to stop it.’…And following settler vandalism of an IDF base in the West Bank, the Israeli ministers of defense, legal affairs, and internal security discussed officially designating [such radical settlers] as a terrorist organization.”
  • Jewish terrorists “have staged politically motivated attacks against Palestinians and pro-peace Israelis before. [For example,] In the early 1980s [there was the] group, known as the Jewish Underground…And in 1995, an Israeli law student, Yigal Amir, assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, dealing a devastating blow to the peace process….According to UN investigations, in 2011, extremist settlers launched almost 300 attacks on Palestinian property, causing over 100 Palestinian casualties…The UN has also reported that violent incidents against Palestinians have proliferated, rising from 200 attacks in 2009 to over 400 in 2011. The spike in assaults on Palestinians by settlers has come despite the fact that over the same period, Palestinian terrorism fell dramatically…”
  • “Settler violence is undoubtedly working. It has made it more difficult for the IDF to govern the West Bank and fractured the settler movement, weakening the influence of the more moderate elements that would accept the legitimacy of the Israeli state even if it committed to another withdrawal.”
  • In the documentary “The Gatekeepers” six former heads of Israel’s domestic counterterrorism agency (Shin Bet)–Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Avalon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin—“speak publicly for the first time about their work combating violence from both Palestinians and Israelis….Interestingly enough, these six men…share a belief that a Palestinian state should have been a priority [and show] disdain for Israeli politicians for not doing more to make it happen.” According to Peri, “When you retire, you become a bit of a leftist.”,0,7530779,full.story

19. Which country is the world’s only democracy where Jews do not enjoy religious freedom?

  • The Chief Rabbinate makes Israel the world’s only democracy where Jews do not enjoy religious freedom. The Rabbinate has opposed any official recognition by Israel of non-Orthodox and non-ultra-Orthodox Judaism. “The problem here isn’t with Orthodoxy. The Rabbinate is problematic even if Reform or Conservative rabbis, and not Orthodox ones, were to hold the top spots. And the problem is not the rabbis, either; rabbis have a crucial role to play in Jewish religious and communal leadership. The problem is a state giving governmental power and authority to religious leaders as religious leaders. Doing so has historically led to the persecution of those who refuse to embrace their beliefs. Ironically, Jews have frequently felt the negative ramifications of state-sponsored religion. Israel was intended to provide sanctuary to a people who had suffered as a religious minority and to enable religious freedom for those of all backgrounds. Israel is a shining beacon when it comes to non-Jewish faiths….There are and ought to be a myriad of valid ways of interpreting and observing the Jewish tradition. All Israeli Jews should have the right to live out the fullness of their Jewish identities according to their beliefs and the dictates of their own consciences, and no Jew should be coerced by the state to practice a brand of Judaism with which she or he does not agree. Only abolishing the Chief Rabbinate will fulfill Israel’s promise of religious freedom for all its citizens.”
  • “Every ten years, two rabbis—one representing Ashkenazi, or European-descended Jews, the other of Sephardic, or Middle Eastern lineage—are appointed to co-lead the chief rabbinate. It’s the country’s supreme body overseeing civil services for Jews from cradle to grave—circumcision, [conversion,] marriage, divorce and burial….For the past two decades, ultra-Orthodox Jewish political parties have wielded outsized influence in governing coalitions and, in turn, held sway over the panel of 150 rabbis and politicians that appoints the new chief rabbis.” (The Orthodox would like to see a Zionist, national religious chief rabbi.) (Montreal Gazette, Feb. 14, 2013, A17)
  • “Exploiting political patronage, ultra-Orthodox clerics have largely taken over the state’s religious bureaucracy, imposing extreme interpretations of Jewish law on other Jews.” This impinges “on the freedom of religious Jews as well as secular ones: for important parts of their religious life, they [are] obligated to turn to clergy that the state chose for them.” (Gorenberg 2011, 39, 166)
  • “History is littered with despots who held executive, legislative, religious, and/or judicial powers, and the Israeli chief rabbis act with similar tyranny. Need proof? Ask the women who are left chained to abusive husbands, the Jews by choice whose conversions have been annulled, or the female worshippers at the Western Wall who have been arrested for the crime of wearing a prayer shawl…”
  • Ultra-Orthodox men, when they work, often do so in religious schools or in the state’s religious bureaucracy, for example, “supervising kosher food production for factories and restaurants that” want the Chief Rabbinate’s seal of approval. (Gorenberg 2011, 173)
  • Opposition to “a state religion” does not mean opposition to religion. Many people seek out the worth of religion. Indeed, “The most elementary religious questions are finally inescapable and, lacking answers, sublime. A great many [secular] Israeli[s] claim to be deaf to these questions, but then wonder why their children linger on the banks of the Ganges or, indeed, are drawn to cultish forms of Halakha [Jewish law]. Then again, the claim to oppose all religious feeling is in part a reaction to Orthodox [and ultra-Orthodox] Judaism’s ubiquity…. Israelis mostly take for granted that being religious…means being an observer of the commandments…[However, secular Israelis] revere the Orthodox tradition for nationalist reasons, as the primary source of national survival during Zionism’s prehistory.” (Avishai 2008, 106)
  • “It’s clear why the United States has never had a chief rabbi. In a religiously pluralist country, with no established church, there was no need or desire to set up a Jewish primate. In the innately free-market approach of American society, in which Jews, like everyone else, crave choice, it was always going to be impossible for any one leading denomination to claim superior status. The effect of this pluralism has been to ensure that the United States has been the engine room of development of all the significant currents of contemporary Judaism —  [ultra-Orthodox], Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform[,] [Reconstruction] and so on. Unlike in the [United Kingdom and Israel], different currents can develop themselves without having a chief rabbinate challenging their legitimacy.” (Reform and Conservative movements, which are dominant in the American Jewish community, have a limited presence in Israel.)

20. As part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, were the Palestinians required to recognize Israel as a Jewish State?

  • No. “[T]he Palestinians have…repeatedly recognised the State of Israel…in the 1993 Oslo Accords (which were based on an Israeli promise to establish a Palestinian state within five years — a promise now shattered) and many times since. [However, beginning in 2011,] Israeli leaders have dramatically and unilaterally moved the goal-posts [by insisting] that Palestinians must recognise Israel as a ‘Jewish State’.”
  • “[U]ntil the Annapolis summit of November 2007 [–where it was briefly floated by the Israeli delegation and essentially ignored–] there was never an Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize the Jewishness of Israel. Nor has Israel made that demand from any other state that [it has] diplomatic relations with – not even from Egypt or Jordan.” (13 April 2010)
  • Recognizing Israel as a Jewish State is problematic for various reasons including the following two. First, it is not clear even to Jewish Israelis what being a Jewish State entails; yet it is clear that the majority of Jewish Israelis do not want to live under a theocracy nor as an apartheid state. However, “recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ implies that Israel is, or should be, either a theocracy (if we take the word ‘Jewish’ to apply to the religion of Judaism) or an apartheid state (if we take the word ‘Jewish’ to apply to the ethnicity of Jews), or both, and in all of these cases, Israel is then no longer a democracy — something which has rightly been the pride of most Israelis since the country’s founding in 1948.” Second, at least 20 percent of the Israeli population “is ethnically Arab…and recognising Israel as a ‘Jewish State’ as such makes one-fifth of the population of Israel automatically strangers in their own native land and opens the door to legally reducing them, most undemocratically, to second-class citizens (or perhaps even stripping them of their citizenship and other rights)…”
  • “I suspect that the Jews of the USA or of Britain would regard it as anti-Semitic if Christians would propose that the USA or the United Kingdom should become a ‘Christian state’.” (Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, Pluto Press, London: 1997, 4.)
  • There will never be agreement among Jews as to “what it means to be Jewish or to live in a country where the public sphere is overwhelmingly Jewish.” However, Israel can be the place “where Jews can argue with the least inhibition, in the most public way, about what it means to be Jews.” (Gorenberg 2011, 235)
  • “[R]ather than demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a ‘Jewish State’…Israeli leaders [should] ask instead that Palestinians recognise Israel…as a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism, and whose majority is Jewish. Many states (including Israel’s neighbours Jordan and Egypt, and countries such as Greece) have their official religion as Christianity or Islam (but grant equal civil rights to all citizens) and there is no reason why Israeli Jews should not want the religion of their state to be officially Jewish. This is a reasonable demand, and it may allay the fears of Jewish Israelis about becoming a minority in Israel, and at the same time not arouse fears among Palestinians and Arabs about being ethnically cleansed in Palestine. Demanding the recognition of Israel’s official religion as Judaism, rather than the recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish State’, would also mean Israel continuing to be a democracy.”
  • Rather than promoting a Jewish State, Israel should be working to end all forms of discrimination against Arab Israelis. “In some realms, affirmative action is needed to make up for past injustices…[For example,] Universities should actively seek to recruit Arab students; [and] the civil service must enlist Arab staff and actively seek to advance them in the hierarchy. [Also,] state land must be equally available to all citizens. Admissions committees and other techniques of housing discrimination against Arabs should be assigned to history books.” (Gorenberg 2011, 236)
  • “[Z]ionist intellectuals have no compelling answer to arguments that there can be no such thing as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ without massive and ongoing violations of the basic rights of millions of Palestinians, especially refugees who are barred from returning to their homes solely because they are not Jews. This is precisely why Israel and its lobby groups are attempting to redefine any questioning of Zionism’s political claims as a form of anti-Semitism. [Accordingly, a January 2017 report by segments of the Israel Lobby] sets as a goal to make ‘delegitimization’ – any questioning of the ‘right’ of Israel to exist as an explicitly Jewish state regardless of what that means for Palestinians – ‘socially inappropriate.’ By this definition, calling for a modern, democratic state in which Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of all national identities have full, equal and protected rights constitutes an anti-Semitic attack.”  (28 April 2017)
  • “Israel is not the only country on earth to face a tension between its desire to protect and nurture one ethno-religious community and its commitment to provide equality under the law. Many European democracies have immigration policies that favor a dominant ethnic group. Many have crosses on their flags. The 2003 Palestinian Constitution states that ‘the Palestinian people are part of the Arab nation’ and that ‘the principles of Islamic Sharia shall be the main source of legislation.’ So if a Palestinian state is ever created, it will likely wrestle with the tension between ethnic nationalism and democracy, too.” “[Justifiably, many Jews] believe that in a post-Holocaust world, it’s important to have one country on earth that assumes a special obligation to protect Jewish life. The goal, therefore, should be to minimize the tension between Jewish statehood and liberal democracy as much as possible, while acknowledging that you can never erase it entirely. The challenge, as Martin Buber once put it, is to ‘do no more injustice to others than we are forced to do in order to exist.'”  (21 June 2017)

21. True or False: The Israeli political party, Shas, functions internally as a theocracy.

  • True. “In 1984 a new ultra-Orthodox party entered parliament. Known as Shas, it was led by Jews from Middle Eastern countries educated in Israeli ultra-Orthodox [religious schools]….[Shas extended] its appeal beyond [the ultra-Orthodox] to the larger Middle Eastern Jewish underclass in Israel, portraying the community’s social problems as symptoms of loss of religious tradition. Combining faith with ethnic and economic resentment, Shas attracted former Likud and National Religious Party voters. As in Agudat Yisrael [another ultra-Orthodox party], the Knesset members followed orders from a rabbinic leadership….Shas was a democratic success story on the outside and a theocracy internally….Shas set up its own school system, generously financed and barely supervised by the state.” (Gorenberg 2011, 176)
  • In 2014, Shas split as its former hard-right chairman, Eli Yishai, left and formed his own party. Under its current leader, Arye Deri, Shas supports more dovish foreign policies such as the Arab Peace Initiative. (Jan. 29, 2015)

  • In a 2013 book by Ari Eitan, In the Name of Reason: Conversations with Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, a former Shas MK Chaim Amsellem makes the following claim: “[The real leaders of the ultra-Orthodox public] are the behind-the-scenes wheeler-dealers, not those righteous rabbis and Torah scholars, who unfortunately only serve as a tool in the hands of those around them…Over the years it has become very clear that the body called the Council of Torah Sages is in effect a group that serves as a rubber stamp for the decisions of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef [the former spiritual leader of Shas who died in October 2013], who himself often serves as a rubber stamp for the decisions of Shas politicians.”
  • United Torah Judaism, another ultra-Orthodox party, represents ultra-Orthodox-Ashkenazi interests. “It is an alliance between Agudath Yisrael (Hasidic community) and Degel HaTorah (Lithuanian community). Its MKs are representatives of senior rabbis and large Hasidic courts. The group is primarily interested in privileges for the ultra-Orthodox, but is centrist on foreign policy and security issues.”

 22. Who, in a 2009 book widely discussed in the Israeli press, declared it religiously permissible to kill gentile (non-Jewish) children because of “the future danger that will arise if they are allowed to grow into evil people like their parents”?

  • Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira. (Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, Times Books, New York: 2012, 166. Hereinafter referred to as, Beinart 2012.)
  • In 2009, two respected rabbis from the Od Yosef Hai yeshiva located in the settlement of Yitzhar near Nablus, Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, published a book, “The Law of the King.” “The book’s repeated themes are that a Jew’s life is worth more than a gentile’s, and that for a Jew to kill a gentile is a lesser sin than killing another Jew….Indeed, they claim, there is even a basis in religious law to argue that [gentile] children may be intentionally targeted, ‘if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us [Jews].’…In the years 2006 to 2010, the government allocated an average of nearly $400,000 annually to Od Yosef Hai….The funding continued [even after the book] appeared and caused national controversy….[I]t seems no one in the Education or Welfare ministries considered whether the government should be funding [approximately one-half the budget of] an institution that taught racism.” However, during 2010, due to pressure from the “civil rights arm of Reform Judaism in Israel” funding by the ministries was suspended to the yeshiva due to reviews of “accounting” issues. “By implication, once the bookkeeping problems was resolved, the flow of money could resume.”  (Gorenberg 2011, 118-120)
  • Apparently, ultra-Orthodoxy is premised on racism. As a result, the ultra-Orthodox are raised on hatred of the gentile—with an Arab being the ultimate gentile. (“[In 2016], a poll by the Israeli research organization Maagar Mochot found that almost half of Israeli Jews—and 82 percent of Modern and Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews—said they would oppose an Arab teaching their children. A Pew Research Center poll that same year found that a small plurality of Israeli Jews—and substantial majorities of Orthodox Israeli Jews—believe that ‘Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.’ [Israel in fact] expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in its war of independence, and regularly revokes the right of Palestinians to live in Jerusalem to this day.”) (30 Nov. 2017)
  • Religious Israeli Jews are not unique. Frederick Douglass’s “life as a slave had convinced him that having an ostensibly pious slaveholder for a master was the worst fate any slave could face….Christianity as practiced by masters was ‘a mere covering for the most horrid crimes;…and a secure shelter, under which the darkest…abominations fester…'” “Yet for Douglass, the tragedy of American religion went deeper than the fact that individual slaveholders often professed Christianity but used the faith to justify slaveholding. Far worse was how, at an institutional level, slavery and the Christian church remained inextricably connected….Masters give their ‘blood-stained gold to support the pulpit,…and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.'” (D. H. Dilbeck, Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet, The University of North Carolina Press, 2018, 42, 61.)

23. Who said the following? “One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”

  • The quote was stated by Rabbi Yaacov Perrin at his eulogy of Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the American Jewish settler who, on February 25, 1994, entered the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron and opened fire on Muslim worshippers. Twenty-nine Palestinians were killed and many more wounded. In the riots that followed the massacre, another 9 Palestinians were killed. (Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, the late Israeli chief rabbi, “likewise declared, ‘A thousand Arabs are not worth one yeshiva student.’ [He also had ruled] that since God gave Jews the entire land of Israel, settlers have the right to steal Palestinian crops.”)  (Beinart 2012, 165)
  • “At a meeting just weeks after the [September 1993 Oslo] signing in Washington, members of the [YESHA] council [–the leadership body of the Jewish settlers–] discussed a range of measures [to frustrate the deal], including taking over the army bases Israel would evacuate, calling on soldiers to refuse withdrawal-related orders, staging mass demonstrations around the country, and burning Palestinian orchards. When the plan leaked, the Israeli media called it a blueprint for a ‘Jewish intifada.’” (Ephron 2015, 55)
  • At mass rallies to denounce the 1993 Oslo Accord, “the protesters were almost all Orthodox settlers and supporters….Though the [Oslo] agreement did not immediately require evacuation of settlements, it pointed in that direction—threatening their homes, their understanding of their place in society, their life’s work, and the theology that gave it meaning….The sacred state was relinquishing sacred land…Rabbis of the religious right described the threat in incendiary language. Rabbi Nachun Rabinovitch, head of the state-supported Birkat Moshe yeshivah in the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, compared anyone who carried out orders to evacuate a settlement to Jewish collaborators with the Nazis.” Goldstein’s motivation was clear: he “told friends he had a plan for ending the Oslo process. He stopped shooting only when Palestinians managed to kill him….Among [Goldstein’s] posthumous admirers was Bar-Ilan University law student Yigal Amir. On November 4, 1995, Amir carried out his own plan to prevent dividing the Land of Israel. He assassinated Yitzhak Rabin.” (Gorenberg 2011, 106-7)
  • “It is impossible to measure Amir’s share of responsibility in the breakdown of the Oslo process….But Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres, a much weaker candidate, lost the 1996 election to Netanyahu by a mere 1 percent. Netanyahu spent three years as prime minister trying to avoid diplomatic progress….When Labor’s Ehud Barak defeated Netanyahu in 1999 on a platform of renewing peace efforts, he showed fealty to the [goal of unifying Israeli Jews] by bringing the pro-settlement National Religious Party into his coalition and making its leader, Yitzhak Levy, the housing minister. Levy accelerated building of new homes in settlements to an unprecedented level…” (Gorenberg 2011, 107-8)
  • “[D]ov Lior, the head of the West Bank’s rabbinical council, has called Baruch Goldstein…, ‘holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.’ In the mid-1990s, Lior and other prominent…rabbis implied that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s willingness to cede land to the Palestinians made him a…moser (traitor), a transgression they claimed was punishable by death. Emboldened, one of their disciples, Yigal Amir, murdered Rabin…” (Beinart 2012,  23)
  • “For [Baruch] Goldstein, the Palestinians had to learn that Jews and Israel are powerful and violent, and if the Israeli government would not stand up for Jewish honor and sovereignty, then martyrs had to offer their lives in support of Jewish destiny. In Goldstein’s West Bank community, he was seen as a heroic figure…A memorial site in Goldstein’s settlement community of Kiryat Arba was erected adjacent to his gravesite, which became a religious shrine attracting sympathetic pilgrims from around the world.”

       “Martyrdom and the willingness to offer one’s life for God and for Jewish destiny and honor has deep biblical roots in Judaism. The Hebrew Bible records the story of the patriarch Abraham, who is commanded, as a show of faith, to offer his much-beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice….The lesson learned from Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son is that life is not the ultimate value; rather, obedience and unquestioning faith in divine providence are demanded of the faithful Jew. Perhaps the most prominent example of Jewish martyrdom is the story of the mass suicides in 70 CE at Masada…There, for three years, 960 Jews were surrounded by Roman soldiers during the Judean revolt against the Romans, who controlled Judea….The theme of suffering and martyrdom is an essential part of Yesha culture and theology….Those who are killed are Kedoshim, sacred martyrs who gave their lives to secure Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.” (Selengut 2015, 77-8, 112)

  • In the Bible “God promised the Children of Israel a land which was the home of other peoples. He told them to kill these peoples, expressly commanding them to commit genocide. For some reason, He singled out the people of Amalek, ordering the Israelites to eradicate them altogether. Later, the glorious King Saul was dethroned by His prophet because he showed mercy and did not murder his Amalekite prisoners-of-war, men, women and children. Of course, these texts were written by people living in times long past, when the ethics of individuals and nations were different, as were the rules of war….[However,] in religious schools in Israel today, the commandment to commit genocide against the non-Jewish population of Palestine is taken by many teachers and pupils quite literally.”  (31 March 2018)

24. True or False: In 2005, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the late Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, had this to say concerning Hurricane Katrina: “There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study…black people reside there [in New Orleans]. Blacks will study the Torah? [God said] let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.”

  • True. And, in 2010, Rabbi Yosef “provoked a firestorm of outrage and criticism, even from pillars of the American Zionist establishment…by comparing non-Jews to farm animals and saying they were only fit to serve Jews.” (Rabbi Yosef died in October 2013.)
  • According to Rabbi Yosef, religious Jewish doctors cannot break Sabbath rules to save the lives of non-Jews. However, those same doctors must “do everything in their power — even if it requires violating the Sabbath — in order to save Jews whose lives are in danger…”,7340,L-4229767,00.html
  • Rabbi Yosef’s theology concerning equality for ultra-Orthodox women is also a tragedy. In one case a woman went to “Rabbi Yosef and asked for permission to sue her brothers in state court, because they took all their parents’ estate and are not prepared to give her one shekel. Yosef ruled that she must submit and shut up, because ‘anyone who goes to a [secular] court curses, slanders and raises a hand against the Torah of Moses,’ and the Torah of Moses states that only sons inherit, though if the spirit moves them they are permitted to bequeath a ‘gift’ to their sister, who is in any case scatterbrained and disqualified as a witness.”
  • In 2013, Israeli “media outlets, basing their information on several non-profit organizations, reported that sexual abuse is more prevalent in ultra-Orthodox communities [than in secular ones]. In 2012, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services reported” that the number of sexual abuse cases against children was comparable, in proportion to population size, for the ultra-Orthodox and non-ultra-Orthodox communities. However, there is a “strong taboo in ultra-Orthodox society against addressing sex crimes.” Many ultra-Orthodox rabbis defend “applying the principle in Jewish religious law of ‘din moser,’ which forbids betraying Jews to secular authorities”; this prevents victims from complaining to the police about sex crimes. (So, at best, a community dedicated to observing sacred law, is no better than others when it comes to the sexual abuse of children aged 12 or under.)
  • “In a democratic society, it is reasonable to protect parents’ rights to pass their values and their faith to their children. But that right must be balanced against the rights of the children themselves…and against the rights of other citizens….Freedom of religion does not protect child abuse.” (Gorenberg 2011, 190)
  • In March 2018, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the “Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel called black people ‘monkeys’ during his weekly sermon…” (In 2016, “Yosef was forced to retract a comment that non-Jews should not live in Israel…Non-Jews, Yosef said, are in Israel only to serve Jews.”) (20 March 2018)

25. True or False: In 2010 Shmuel Eliahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, published a manifesto saying that Jewish religious law prohibited selling or renting homes or land to non-Jews anywhere in the Land of Israel.

  • True. Rabbi Eliahu went on to write, “Their way of life is different from ours, they despise us and they harass us to the point of endangering lives.” When “Eliahu came under public criticism, he gathered the signatures of the state-salaried rabbis of dozens of other towns and settlements for his racist interpretation of Judaism.” (Gorenberg 2011, 217-8)

26. What percentage of the Jewish population in New York City is Orthodox?

  •  In New York City, “the epicenter of the organized American Jewish community, 40 percent of the Jewish population is now Orthodox. Most of these are actually ultra-Orthodox Jews.” (Dov Waxman, Trouble In The Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel, Princeton University Press, Princeton: 2016, 208. Hereinafter, “Waxman 2016.”)
  • “[B]roadly, on most matters concerning Israel and the Palestinians, the biggest division in American Jewish opinion is simply between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. In [a 2013] Pew survey, for example, a majority of Orthodox Jews (61 percent) did not think that Israel and a future Palestinian state could coexist peacefully, whereas most non-Orthodox Jews thought that this would be possible.” “The issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank divides Orthodox and non-Orthodox American Jews more than any other single issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” (Waxman 2016, 130, 131)
  • “The polarization between the non-Orthodox majority of American Jews and the Orthodox minority (who [in 2015] make up around 10 percent of the American Jewish population, of which 6 percent are ultra-Orthodox and 3 percent Modern Orthodox) poses a severe challenge to the future cohesion of the American Jewish community, threatening to split it into two. [H]owever, if non-Orthodox Jews continue to assimilate, intermarry, and have far fewer children than Orthodox Jews, over time the Orthodox could gradually come to dominate the American Jewish community.” (Waxman 2016, 195)
  • “In [a] 2013 Pew Survey of American Jews, 57 percent of Orthodox Jews said they identified with or leaned toward the Republican Party, compared with just 18 percent of other Jews. In fact, Orthodox Jews are far more Republican than Americans in general—39 percent of whom identify as Republican or lean Republican. Thus…‘the only other US religious groups that are as conservative and Republican as Orthodox Jews are white evangelical Protestants and Mormons.’ Politically, Orthodox Jews have more in common with evangelical Christians and others on the religious right in the United States than they do with non-Orthodox Jews, especially on controversial social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, and on issues concerning the separation of ‘church and state’ (such as government funding of ‘parochial’/religious schools).” (Waxman 2016, 199-200)
  • It is likely that the American Jewish community will “become much more Orthodox, and especially ultra-Orthodox, over time. The reason for this is simple: the Orthodox have more children than the non-Orthodox. Nearly half of all Orthodox parents have 4 or more children…, compared with just 9 percent of non-Orthodox Jewish parents. Non-Orthodox Jews have a much lower birthrate than Orthodox Jews (1.7 children compared to the Orthodox birthrate of 4.1 children), and a lower marriage rate…[T]he non-Orthodox birthrate is well below what demographers refer to as the ‘replacement level’ of 2.1. This means that the population of non-Orthodox Jews will probably sharply decline, while the population of Orthodox Jews will rapidly increase…[O]rthodox Jews could well become a quarter of the total US Jewish population by 2050…(they already make up…35 percent of all Jewish children under the age of 5).” “This potential demographic change could have major long-term political implications…The long American Jewish love affair with liberalism and the Democratic Party would come to an end…The growing religiosity of American Jewry might also weaken future American Jewish support for religious pluralism in Israel, Arab civil rights and Arab-Jewish co-existence, Israeli-Palestinian peace…” (Waxman 2016, 207-8)
  • “For AIPAC, [its] rising cohort of young Orthodox Jews is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it means AIPAC can sustain itself at a time when assimilation is weakening many other Jewish institutions. But it’s a curse because it undermines AIPAC’s bipartisanship. Orthodox Jewry has become overwhelmingly Republican. [In] September [2017], an American Jewish Committee poll found that 71 percent of Orthodox Jews approved of Trump.” “The same emphasis on security, nationalism, and traditional religious morality—the same tendency to see the world in zero-sum, us-versus-them terms—that makes [young American Orthodox Jews] hawkish on Israel makes them comfortable inside the GOP.”


Jeffrey Rudolph, a Montreal college professor, was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He was awarded the prestigious Cheryl Rosa Teresa Doran Prize upon graduation from McGill University’s faculty of law; has worked at one of the world’s largest public accounting firms; and, has taught at McGill University. He has prepared widely-distributed quizzes on Israel-Palestine, Iran, Hamas, Terrorism, Saudi Arabia, US Inequality, the US Christian Right, Hezbollah, the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox, Qatar, and China. These quizzes are available at,

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