A few years ago, noted racist Baruch Marzel (who, every election cycle, comes up with some 70% of the votes in Kfar Chabad) tried to disrupt (Hebrew) the wedding of Moral Malcha, a former Jew, and Muhammad Mansour, a Muslim. Five hundred of Marzl’s supporters showed up outside the wedding hall, carrying signs saying “assimilation is a holocaust.” Marzel and his racists were confronted by 200 protesters. The right-wing protesters were roundly condemned by the decent center.
Last week, the chairman-elect of the Jewish Agency, Buzhi “Isaac” Herzog, told Ynet that during his last vacation in the US he encountered “something I called a veritable plague. I saw my friends’ children either marrying or in life partnership with non-Jewish partners, with the parents beating their chests and asking questions and agonizing, and listen, this touches every family in the US. We’re talking about millions of people. I said there must be a campaign, there must be a solution, we must break our heads and find a way to solve this great challenge.”
Needless to say, there are some definite differences between Herzog and Marzel. For starters, Herzog is clean-shaven. He’s also a well-oiled and oily lawyer, a member of the aristocracy – as much as Israel has any – deeply rooted in the establishment. Even when he distributes the same message as Marzel he does so much more calmly, as befits his sleepy personality. Marzel is hirsute, is anything but establishment – rather, he represents a counter-establishment – and finesse is not his strong suit. Marzel’s voice booms; Herzog, something of a squeak; and in all likelihood, you would have a much better time drinking a beer with Marzel.
And that’s about the sum of the differences between them. Yes, it is likely that Herzog would be horrified – truly horrified – by the measures Marzel suggests to treat the disease diagnosed by Herzog. But, in the end, if a person who chooses to love another is a disease, a clear and present danger to the existence of the Jewish people; if the decision of a woman to follow her lover, to leave her father and mother and cleave unto them, requires a “campaign”, demands a “solution” – if so, then tougher people than us have already said that when the wood is cut, chips will fly, and that you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. And if Herzog lacks the courage to see how eggs look when they are broken, perhaps he should make way for less sentimental people, who will carry out what he can only speak of.
(I have seen the broken eggs. I am yet to see the omelet.)
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Herzog, it’s important to note, said nothing unusual. He was merely repeating the old position of the Jewish Agency. Nine years ago, this ad caused an uproar, and the Agency had to hastily pull it. Perhaps Herzog was unaware of it. After all, nobody expects a newly elected chairman of a sham organization to actually be familiar with its history.
There is one main difference between Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews: In Israel, Judaism is governed by the state according to the Orthodox thinking. You’re a Jew if your mother was one. When it comes to immigration, we’ll accept a Jewish father as well – we’re suffering from a shortage of cannon fodder – but if you think that after your service you’d be allowed to live here as a normal human being, forget about it.
This takes us back to the 18th century, when Jews were finally allowed out of the ghetto – often, a self-imposed one. Europe’s Jewry underwent a great and shocking awakening. Great number of Jews found out that, when it comes to it, Judaism had nothing left to offer them; they went to other places, and often fertilized them. Other Jews began to reshape their religion and the way they related to it. The rabbis’ power to enforce their will was broken, once people had a way out – and a huge number left. Others reached the conclusion that the ossified rabbinate was not good enough for them, and that it requires an urgent update. Out of this explosion came Reform and Conservative Judaism, and the great project of Haskala, Jewish Enlightenment.
Haskala gave birth to Zionism. But Zionism murdered its parent: it diluted Judaism to tribalism and nationalism. It turned the tables: instead of the State of the Jews serving the Jews, the Jews now had to serve the State of the Jews. And Zionism sees no other meaning to Judaism. The most erudite and sharp Jewish scholar, should they decide to live in London, was considered by it as less Jewish as someone who shed his heritage to become a muzhik in a kibbutz.
Of course, the early age of Zionism possessed an intellectual elite; but it did its best to make certain it would have no heirs. Haskala went on, but in other places. Zionists, who often cannot elucidate what makes them Jewish and are uncomfortable with the racialism of the Orthodox thinking they absorbed, like to speak of “Judaism as culture”. But seeing Judaism as culture necessitates giving up the concept that birth dictates identity.
Certainly there is a lot of Jewish culture these days; but, generally, not here.
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When Orthodox Jews speak of assimilation (and Herzog seems to have taken that position hook, line and sinker) they generally speak of the assimilation of the woman. The fact that racists opposed sex between women of the “higher” race and men of the “inferior” race hardly needs mentioning; but it is particularly poignant in Jewish Orthodox racism. A women who “assimilates” annihilates the next generations of Jews, as the line is matrilineal. The children of a Jewish male who has sex with a non-Jewish woman are not Jews, anyway. Assimilation, in the Jewish Orthodox sense, is all about the women.
And when Zionism embraces the Orthodox position about miscegenation, it embraces a more subtle position: that a woman is indentured to the needs of the people and race. The Orthodox-Zionist emphasis is on the argument that women have rights that a Jewish male may deny. Such as the right to decide where to walk.
* * *
In the last few years, Israel suffered from a plague of exclusion of women. Actions that were once taken for granted, like women singing in public, became controversial. The Minister of Transportation supported ultra-Orthodox demands that women ride on the back of buses. In Beit Shemesh, the police are running a dispirited rear action against closing streets to the movement of women; the courts said time and again it is illegal, but the police can’t seem to find the hooligans who put signs declaring streets closed to women and harassing those who brave them. The Minister of the Interior, Aryeh Deri, refuses, and refused for years, to implement a government decision prohibiting women exclusion. Last week, the most racist movement in Israel, Chabad, held a provocative rally in Rabin Square – and segregated women from men during the rally.
The Tel Aviv municipality, which finally moved into the void left by Deri and announced it would prohibit events in public places that segregate women, realized too late it already approved the Chabad rally. The municipality rescinded the permit for the rally, Chabad sued, and the judge ordered the event be held – once Chabad announced it would not enforce gender segregation.
Naturally, Chabad’s promise was empty air (Hebrew). Women who tried to reach the square to protest the rally were pushed back, violently; Chabad cultists attacked women and men who stood by them; men were prohibited from entering the designated women’s side; and a woman who lived near the square, and had nothing to do with the rally or the counter demonstration, was spat at and was cursed by the godly as she walked home from the bus.
Some Members of the Knesset, mostly women, issued stern admonitions. But aside from that, the largest square in Israel, in its most liberal city, was declared off-limits to women for two hours – and the outrage was gone with next news cycle.
* * *
This will not end in Rabin Square. Jewish Orthodoxy is inherently hostile to women. Yet the Zionist majority cannot face Orthodoxy, precisely because it is Zionist. Zionism, after all, relies on the premise that God – even if it does not exist – promised us the land. And since Zionism killed Haskala amongst its adherents, it failed in developing a Jewish alternative to Orthodoxy. For 70 years, since the founding of the state, after incessant speeches about a “Jewish state”, the Zionist failed in finding a positive meaning to the word “Jewish.” We know what the negative meaning is: depriving Palestinians of their rights. But where is the positive one?
(I have seen the broken eggs. I am yet to see an omelet.)
As Zionism made certain to kill Haskala, and as its ideal New Jewish Man is a Hebrew-speaking Cossack, most Israeli Jews have no real knowledge of Judaism. No one ever asked them to spend some time thinking about their Jewish identity and what it means, because the government always relied on the Orthodoxy for that. Rabbis decide who is a Jew when they come to be married, to be buried, and to bring children into the world – that is, in every critical point in their lives. Those rabbis are, without exception, Orthodox. Reform Jews ask too many annoying questions and speak too much of Tikkun Olam. Zionism is fine with the world as it is.
And hatred of women is built into Jewish Orthodoxy. Women are considered property. Marriage is a purchase of a woman by a man from her previous owner, her father, who according to Jewish law may sell her into slavery if he so wishes. One could argue, and it would be an easy argument to make, that the Orthodoxy became more anti-women with the advance of women’s rights – just as Orthodoxy itself is a reaction to the Reform and Haskala movements. The proper name for Jewish Orthodoxy is Jewish reaction.
And yet, as most Israeli Jews are hollow Jews; as they have never received a liberal education; as they tend to accept the Orthodox position on what Judaism is (as it is the only position they are taught) and on what doctrine is; and as Orthodoxy is essential to Zionism, so as to maintain the claim that “the land is ours” – when all this is put in balance, Zionists are liable to give up women’s rights in order to pacify the Orthodox.
The Zionist and the Orthodox arcs are destined to merge, and Zionism will be swallowed by Orthodoxy.
Palestinians have already paid the price for Zionism. Israeli women are likely to be next. If Israelis want a way out of this labyrinth, they would have to dismantle the Zionist state, whose Judaism is based on Orthodoxy.
Which will not happen without a struggle. But, if we wish to avoid the fate of Saudi Arabia, we should attend to it.
As for the Diaspora Jews – they are likely to survive Herzog. Assuming they even pay him any attention.