Regev Responds

Israel's new government is promoting "hatred of the ultra-Orthodox"

Initiatives of the new government: “antisemitism”

The main issue on the agenda this week was a series of reforms of the kashrut system. The Minister of Religious Services, Matan Kahana, is trying to promote them, intending to increase competition in the provision of kosher supervision services, while preserving the Orthodox monopoly over kashrut certification.

MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, source: WikipediaMK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, source: Wikipedia

Since the formation of Israel’s new government, we have reported on the sharp and crude language used to describe it, its partners, and its initiatives. No insult is too severe to demonize and de-legitimize this government, including, of course, its partnership with the Labor Party, which includes a leader and rabbi of the Reform movement among its representatives in the Knesset. The main issue on the agenda this week was a series of reforms of the kashrut system. The Minister of Religious Services, Matan Kahana, is trying to promote them, intending to increase competition in the provision of kosher supervision services, while preserving the Orthodox monopoly over kashrut certification. This is not how the ultra-Orthodox parties see it, just as they did not see Finance Minister Lieberman's initiative to condition daycare subsidies upon maximizing earning capacity as something related to his meritorious consideration regarding increasing labor market participation.

For example, regarding the initiative of the Minister of Finance to demand the realization of the earning capacity of both parents as a condition for receiving a subsidy, MK Rabbi Gafni, leader of the United Torah Judaism faction and former chairman of the Finance Committee described this as "antisemitism" and " hatred of the ultra-Orthodox." It should be clarified that the daycare subsidy was intended, in the first place, to allow parents to go to work, and that the demand for realizing earning capacity is not extreme, for it only requires that both spouses will work at a minimal level of half-time. As mentioned here before, Agudath Israel leader, MK Rabbi Litzman has already clarified his position on the matter, saying, “who said men should work? Isn't it enough that the woman works?” Their colleague MK Rabbi Uri Maklev announced last week that “Lieberman's move is only malice and cruelty against the children of Torah scholars;” and that “apart from harming Torah scholars, there is no economist who justifies the move.”

The sharp reactions must be understood (beyond the well-known Pavlovian phenomenon among ultra-Orthodox politicians in how they respond to any criticism leveled at them and their sector) in the way in which the ultra-Orthodox rabbinical leadership presents Torah study in yeshivas: “The yeshiva students who fully immerse in the Torah, day and night; it is they, and only they, who sustain the world.” This is how MK Rabbi Gafni presented the yeshivot and the yeshiva students: as the ones on whose merit God excluded Israel from the 2008 economic crisis and takes care of the Israeli economy. So too, MK Rabbi Deri (leader of Shas) described the yeshiva students: “It is thanks to the yeshiva students that the security of the State is maintained.” This position is rejected by the public, but this does not change the ultra-Orthodox rhetoric. Only a few days ago, a senior ultra-Orthodox journalist wrote the following in a critique of the Finance Minister's moves: “… here comes the Ministry of Finance and severely damages the defense budget – i.e., the budget for the yeshivas…”

A barrage of insults, threats, and obscenities is currently being hurled at Minister Kahana from the Yamina party, following his latest initiative to improve the kashrut system, opening it to competition, while reducing the authority of the Chief Rabbinate in this arena. Kahana would have the Rabbinate be responsible for setting the criteria and standards according to which various kashrut certification organizations will operate. All shades of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox leadership share this criticism, and an important religious Zionist rabbi [Rabbi Eliezer Melamed] who dared to come out in principle in support of the Minister's initiative, won quotes around his rabbinical title and was described by the Yated Ne’eman daily [of MK Gafni’s party] as: “A 'rabbinical' figure in the West Bank who recently expressed liberal views...” and accused him of being motivated by his desire to win the post of Chief Rabbi [in two years]. For this he pays the left in recognition of Reform Judaism. The Yated Ne’eman editorial emphasizes, therefore, that “if, God forbid, the plot of the Rabbi from the West Bank comes up, the walls of the purity of our lineage will be completely trampled under the feet of the Reform Jews’ cheerful victory, and the State of Israel will be flooded with thousands of bastards (from illicit sexual relationships).”

In general, the ultra-Orthodox politicians claim that opening the door to Reform Judaism is the ultimate goal in the formation of the new coalition.

In general, the ultra-Orthodox politicians claim, as we wrote recently, that opening the door to Reform Judaism is the ultimate goal in the formation of the new coalition. Hence, they have stepped up the vitriol they publish against Reform Judaism. For example, they just published a long interview with one of the best known rabbis known for his crusade against the Reform and Conservative movements, in which he says: “In a pincer maneuver, with rulings and legal proceedings on the one hand, and with the formation of a government coalition with a senior representative of the Reform movement on the other, the Reform and Conservative sects [now] throttle the throat of the Jewish people with a strong clutch and are attempting to infiltrate and gain influence and legitimacy.”

A study of the statements of the leaders of the Shas party, which represents Sephardic ultra-Orthodoxy, and the United Torah Judaism party, which represents Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodoxy, illustrates the extent to which they have entirely different paradigms regarding a Jewish and democratic state. This is not just in a debate over a particular piece of legislation or a particular political figure. Following are examples from the last few days, reacting to the publication of the reform initiative in the kashrut system that was presented by Minister Matan Kahana:


Reactions of ultra-Orthodox politicians

Rabbi Shalom Cohen, President of the Council of Torah Sages of Shas, in an open letter to the rabbis and religious court judges of Israel, wrote against Kahana and the current government: “They raised their hand against the Torah of Moses in destroying all the walls of religion, and declared war on God and His teachings; and seek to destroy and annihilate the foundations of religion in all that is sacred in order to cause a spiritual obstacle and serious mishaps to the people of Israel…”

Shas leader MK Rabbi Deri: "Kahana’s kashrut reform is … crushing the Jewish identity of the State… their main goal is the recognition of Reform kashrut certification bodies. No economic considerations [are part of] the process; [it] is only an urge to destroy and decimate… which harms most traditional Israeli citizens who keep kosher."…

Chair of UTJ MK Rabbi Gafni: "… To erase every glimmer of Judaism, and to prevent Jewish citizens from eating kosher food."

Head of Agudath Yisrael party MK Rabbi Litzman: "A fatal blow to millions of citizens; ultra-Orthodox, Zionist Orthodox, and traditional, who are interested in keeping kosher properly… Matan Kahana is a full partner in decimating the religious systems and that which is sacred to the Jewish People, something that has not been done here for decades."

MK Rabbi Maklev (UTJ): "Trying to privatize the world of kashrut is like privatizing the legal and health care systems… And practically abolishing kashrut supervision altogether."

MK Rabbi Asher (UTJ): "Neither Khan al-Ahmar, nor [Covid 19] failure of Ben Gurion Airport, nor unemployment benefits for the unemployed,Matan Kahana found [as] the most burning and urgent challenge of the State of Israel: the elimination of the Chief Rabbinate."

MK Rabbi Malkieli (Shas): "… destruction and annihilation of the kashrut system in the state of the Jews."

MK Azoulay (Shas): "Minister Kahana's kashrut fraud appears to have been created in the factories of the 'Tzohar' organization, with a Reform seasoning. This turns kashrut into a joke. This plan leads to the complete dismantling of the concept of kashrut. Even the most daring religious haters did not dare to harm the Jewish symbols and the observance of the mitzvot, as this government does under the self-righteous guise of ‘kosher reforms.’ I suggest we transfer the Rabbinate to the Ministry of Economy. Matan, wake up. The state is a Jewish state. There is only one Judaism."

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