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In Israel, gentrification is about religion, not class

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(Len Small/Tablet Magazine)

Israelispeak is the way Israelis and the Israeli media use Hebrew. Behind the literal meaning, there’s an additional web of suggestion, doublespeak, and cultural innuendo that too often gets lost in translation. Every Friday, we reveal what is really being said. To view all the entries in this series, click here.

“What’s more dangerous for Israel,” asks an op-ed in Maariv. “Islamization or Haredization?”

“Haredization,” or hithardut in Hebrew, shares the same root as “Haredi,” the religious ideology that is colloquially known in the United States as “black hat” or “yeshivish.” Often translated as “ultra-Orthodox,” “Haredi” literally means “one who fears,” in the sense of fearing God.

But while the word “Haredization” makes sense in English, too (at least to those who have heard of haredim), its meaning in English tends to be limited to the rightward tendencies of Orthodox Judaism. In Hebrew, “hithardut” has broader connotations, partly because of the extent to which religious and civil society—synagogue and state—are intertwined.

Say “hithardut” in Israel and you call up visions of an increasing number of citizens who refuse to join the workforce or serve in the army—and must be supported, and defended, by the very Jews who risk getting beaten up by Haredim aboard certain public buses if they dare to sit in the section designated for the opposite sex.

Perhaps the most widespread use of some form of the word “hithardut,” though, is in reference to demographic changes in a neighborhood, city, or town. In this sense, it is similar to the English term “gentrification,” especially since both connote potential downsides (being priced out of a gentrifying neighborhood, being made to feel unwelcome in a “Haredifying” one) of a demographic shift.

Much of Israelis’ resistance to Haredim—and you are not likely to hear the word hithardut spoken in a warm tone of voice—can be traced to the disproportionately large influence over Israeli law and politics, personal status, and Judaism that is wielded by a minority that says it doesn’t believe in the authority of the state institutions that fund and protect it, and whose members periodically stage riots if they disapprove of the way the state exercises its authority.

When Haredim move into a non-Haredi community, the pent-up resentment is literally brought home, leaving longtime residents to fear —with some justification—that it won’t take long before they feel they are being pushed out of their homes, especially if they don’t keep Shabbat or adhere to the Haredi dress code. Sometimes that fear gives rise to rhetoric about “Haredi infiltration” and a “total takeover” that can sound, disconcertingly, almost as though it could have come from white homeowners in suburban America who are worried that letting a black family move next door will lower their property value. It is, after all, far easier for non-Haredim to target the new neighbors than to change the government policies that planted the seeds for their resentment.

Shoshana Kordova is an editor and translator at the English edition of Haaretz. She grew up in New Jersey and has lived in Israel since 2001.

Earlier: ‘Filipinit’
On Fire
Cast Lead
On Strike
‘The Peace Process’
No Confidence
‘After the Holidays’

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fred lapides says:

A person unwilling to defend his nation ought not have his nation defend him.

Thank you for introducing this problem to an audience unlikely to be aware, or if so, the degree of danger posed by “hithardut” to the future of the state of the Jews. What began as a well-intended effort by the mostly socialist and secular politicians to ensure a place for a Jewish religious identity for the newly-declared state has, through a flaw in coalition politics, projected not just the orthodox, but the most radical and extremist branch of orthodoxy to dominate Israeli politics, and openly challenge the very identity of Israel and Zionism.

As pointed out in the article the haredi contribute very little by way of taxes since the majority of men are self-justified to spend their lives studying Torah rather than earning a living, which is bestowed upon the wife. And since fewer than half of haredi women are in the workforce state taxes, already in short supply, provide the essentials necessary for life.

Neither do most able-bodied haredi men serve in the military since that would interfere with their studies.

It does not require a demographic wizard to realize that, with a fertility rate several times greater than the general public that sometime in the future this privileged group will come to dominate Israel not only politically and socially by edict, but by sheer numbers. A majority constituting the non-employed, so non-contributing the taxes needed to sustain themselves and the state; a majority who opt out of serving in the military leaving the state virtually undefendable.

And what about the purpose for which we, the Jewish people, created the state of the Jews, the Zionist mission of Israel? According to the haredi world view the only good Jew is one who follows their interpretation of Halakha. And since they control the levers of conversion, they determine Who is a Jew. And while Israel’s Law of Return insures that all Jews are guaranteed refuge in Israel, if and when the anti-Zionist haredim get their way, only the haredi will be welcome.

JCarpenter says:

and do the Haredim own the copyright on God’s word—or did He become “public domain” long ago?

Excellent response David Turner.

Well-stated, David Turner. Thank you.

nifty says:

If these comments were made by non-Jews they would be deemed racist. Since when are all “haredim” the same in their outlook and their contribution to Israel. You are judging everyone who wears a black hat or kippa the same way – in anyone’s language this is just unfair and one eyed. Instead of taking the black and white view (pun intended) maybe step back from your prejudices and take a real look at people different to you.

nifty, if the views, you are referring to are of Ms. Kordova, who lives in Israel, or myself, who lives in the Diaspora, then you misunderstand that which you are reading. The article is by someone as concerned for Israel and the Jewish people as myself, not the writings of “prejudiced” anti-haredim, but Jews concerned with the direction that Israeli society is evolving. If Israel is to fulfill its intended purpose, to serve as refuge for Diaspora Jewry, then it must retain its identity as a the state of all Jews, not represent, or be seen to represent, the interests of a single faction.

Nowhere in the article, or in my response, is the term Haredi used to describe all persons of that community. Indeed, until the promotion of Yishai in Shas that party was much more liberal in social outlook and the need peace with the Arab world (not to enter into the question of “peace;” only to point out that Shas has turned inward). And today there are, within the IDF, a few units comprised solely of haredim. But the facts remain that Shas has merged into a far less tolerant and, in terms of a Zionist Israel, by its outlook and political influence, a serious threat. This is not “prejudice,” but observation.

The impact of this drift, called hithardut in Israel, is that Israel today appears increasingly restrictive and intolerant regarding Jews (one wonders if they even consider the non-observant as “Jews”) not compliant with Haredi lifestyle. And the continuation of this development will only further alienate the overwhelming majority of world Jewry, the Jewish People, Am Yisrael, from viewing the Jewish state as welcoming, even accepting. And in a time of future need many will hesitate. And hesitation, as German Jewry learned, results in tragedy.

What this all adds up to is that the majority of Jews living as Haredim, supporting political parties dedicated to discriminating against the non-halakhic (the vast majority also in Israel), are perhaps fulfilling their “purity” goal

of Eretz Israel as “Jewish.” But the cost, nifty, the cost may well be counted untold numbers of lives lost in the future. And how does that serve anybody’s understanding of a religion that maintains that, “To save a life is to save the world”?

B”H!, When coins were made of gold or silver people were careful about rubbing them unnecessarily. This applies to the value of every Jewish individual but a little polish won’t hurt. One criticism of the Charedi Jewish people is their extreme resistance to socialize with those who are not, but that certainly is not the explanation as to what Charedization means, and if anything the opposite is more true. It means people who did not observe mitzvahs are becoming baali teshuva and restyling their lives as pertains to infusing them with the Charedi value system. On the other hand, the Charedi lifestyle is the very core of Judaism that has prevailed to keep the Jewish People together, nowhere more evidenced than the Middle Eastern nations that hosted communities of Jewish citizens therein respected the right of existence virtually because the halacha prevents damage or insult to the governing authority throughout all the lands and all the years of our golus. This place beyond time and space is Hashem and it’s right for the way the Torah has developed the family and community government to include the quality, health wisdom and spirit of living equally for everybody. Integration of races and different languages is an ipso facto acceptance exemplified in that one place, the world of Hashem. Now to return to my point; our existence as a people is threatened no less today than it was eighty years ago, so don’t think it in fashion to arrogantly bad mouth any goy (inc, Charedi, Israeli, Reformer or another) for any of their stupid inconsistencies. You may wish to read my earnest efforts to portrays the vision towards a secure freedom at, page 2

Gitta Zarum says:

I understand that “Haredi” literally means “one who shivers” i.e. in awe. [Like the Quakers!]
On a less flip note, we must realise that not all “haredim” are the same and that the term coves a wide-ranging group of people. We are dismayed by those who think that they are the only ones who know the right way – but we can also admire the charity and goodwill of many of the haredim. It is always dangerous to generalise. We must relate to any person as an individual – and not “label” them.

Reb Zalman, I would appreciate reading the remainder of your comments. I believe that we agree than disagree, that our motives are the same, but from different directions.

Gita Zanrum, I repeat what I wrote earlier; “perceived” is just that, an individual understanding of another’s intent. Speaking for myself my effort, as would be apparent from reading other of my writings at my JPost blog, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival clearly reflects my concern for our people and the state of the Jews.

As to the issue of “hithardut,” clearly this does not apply to the many haredi individuals who are themselves Zionist in outlook, who appreciate that there are issues that, although perhaps admirable, even necessary within that community are disruptive, even harmful to Am Ysrael and the state of the Jews. Unfortunately the Haredi political parties and the Chief Rabbinate are now represented by, and projecting the image of Haredim first.

I gave the example of Shas earlier because that party, representing the Sephardi community, began life as Zionist and only later fell into line with the predominant Haredi-first, therefore anti-Zionism Orthodox parties as constituted today. These institutions represent all haredim who, representative or not, stand by quietly and allow them to do so.

I would be delighted to see a Haredi-Zionist political party emerge. But the last such was the National Religious Party which disappeared nearly two decades ago because non-representative of emerging Israeli orthodoxy. No more than does Zionism represent all who would call themselves so, containing within the term the left and right, settler and peacenik, so does Israeli orthodoxy. But where there is a Labor and Likud, a Settler Movement and Peace Now within Zionism, no such exist among the haredim.

Except even within Shas change may be taking place.

Rabbi Anselm of Shas recently took issue with his party’s position condemning IDF conversions as “not strict enough.” This is a re-opening of

the conversion controversy of a year or so ago in which three self-righteous Haredi rabbis overrode the Chief Rabbi of the Conversion Court, whom they considered a “Zionist.” The three declared all conversions under his auspices invalid, and disqualified thousands of conversions performed over an entire decade, a decision apparently supported by the Chief Rabbinate. That anti-Zionists should both be paid by the state, and allowed to decide social legislation for the state is not only undemocratic, but a travesty. Who, except those living according to “Haredi-“defined Halakha would even consider emigrating knowing that they would be second class upon arrival? How might such considerations affect the thinking of Diaspora Jewry, impact decision-making at a time when the difference between life and death is decision?

But I’ll allow Rabbi Anselm to speak for himself.

“I define myself as a Jew, a God-fearing man. I am also someone who regards the revival of the state of Israel as one of the greatest and most clear miracles that the Holy One Blessed Be He has performed for us. This is our state. We have to contribute to it. And that contribution has to be expressed in all kinds of areas. It can be a contribution via military service, via civilian service, via national service… we have to do our bit for the state. That does not contradict my assertion that a yeshiva student who studies Torah, who really studies, can absolutely be regarded in the same way as were members of the Levite tribe, who sat and studied Torah only… . But not all the people of Israel are Levites.”

There is no inherent contradiction between being Haredi and being Zionist. Nor is there a contradiction between being secular and being Jewish. Israel, as the Zionist mission of the Jewish People enacted the Law of Return providing refuge for any Jew in need. And to make the point absolutely clear the Knesset added the Grandparent Clause extending that privilege to anyone with a single Jewish grandparent, whether a practicing Jew or not. The year was 1950, four years after the gates of Auschwitz were opened and the survivors released.

Zionism did not grow out of a desire by Diaspora Jews to merely create a Jewish state, but to create a place where all Jews would find a welcome refuge. That mission is even more necessary six decades after the Holocaust than it was when first conceived six decades before the West attempted to erase our existence from the earth. Israel is not just for the privileged few residing there today.

I apologize for “going on.” But I feel it imperative that we understand the basics of the controversy as not being “anti-” but “pro-,” not anti-Haredi, or anti-Israel, or anti-Zionism, but pro-peoplehood. It is no accident that we only number between 13 and 16 million persons today. It has been estimated that over the past thousand years one of every two Jews was murdered only because a Jew. And the Holocaust certainly does not represent the end, but the continuation.

I did not provide the reason why a special state-provided protection, the Grandparent Clause, would be necessary. In 1933 Germany passed legislation defining as “Jew” and so fit for discrimination and, ultimately, murder, anyone born of a single Jewish grandparent. Over the years Shas has regularly raised legislation for consideration defining as “Jewish” for purposes citizenship and the state law only someone converted and living according to Halakha. And as recently as 2006, preparing for the 60th Independence Day celebrations the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee attempted to push through a constitution for Israel that would have limited, if not eliminated the Law of Return and its Grandparent Clause.

How far we’ve strayed!

chumpsky says:

Unfortunately most people don’t know what they are refereing to when they say “Charedim.” It’s very usual to clump anyone who is somewhat observant in the group and then toss the proverbial baby out with the bath water. I’m for a example am a Modern Orthodox Jew and I do not agree with the perspective of the “Kollel” life style and many of my friends do not either but we frequently find ourselves at odds with vitriolic reproaches of those who would prefer not to be observant or are just ignorant of the highly segmented nature of the Jewish nation and justify themselves with labeling us in that category. Again Shinat Chinam at it’s worst.

a concerned jew says:

i subscribed to Ms. Kordova’s employer’s paper, Haaretz, and read it on the net. while well written, its editors have no problem publishing the occasional anti-semitic article. months ago, in response to one such article, i cancelled my subscription. the customer service rep seemed to agree with my assessment. he said he would ask an editor to call me. i am still waiting for the call.

i live in katamon, a mixed english-french-hebrew speaking neighborhood of jerusalem – composed mostly of somewhat- to very-religious jews, and secular jews. on friday night, unmarried people, with a very strong desire to become part of a couple and speak with friends they haven’t seen all week, & socialize outside of a popular modern orthodox synagogue. when cars drive by, the drivers complain about religious jews intentionally blocking the road. but, there is no where else for these people to meet after services. this perhaps is what mr. turner describes as religious coercion. almost all of these socializers have (or are gaining) army or national service experience following when high school graduation. some, have made the army their home.

i lived in NY and LA for several decades, two months ago i gave up an apartment in chelsea (NYC) , not exactly a religious environment, and made aliah. i feel comfortable everywhere in jerusalem. there are neighborhoods i would not live in, but there are very few where i have heard of religious coercion, if someone saying good shabbos to you as you get into your car is coercion, than i myself sometimes coerce, most people don’t. but i abhor anyone who would throw a rock at, or or otherwise prevent, a car from traveling on shabbos.

as to anyone’s concern that that charadim will become a majority in israel, (s)he can prevent that by making aliah. israel needs lots of improvement, particularly politically, we need americans to make them happen, come home. it’s cheaper to live here also.

Michael says:

Unfortunately, even Religious Zionism is increasingly prone to the haredization phenomena, exemplified by such prohibitions among some communities to have their women enter the work force, more negative attitudes towards higher education, and so forth. Religious Zionism used to be the bridge between secular and religious sensibilities in Israel: by contrast, we now experiencing a dangerous polarization.

Hineni says:

Nor is hithardut confined to Israel. We have seen it in Oak Park, Michigan; in the Five Towns on Long Island; in West Rogers Park and Skokie in the Chicago area,, and I’m sure elsewhere. The previous inhabitants may be willing to live and let live, but when the Haredim gain critical mass, it’s they who abuse their neighbors for Shabbat “infringements,” etc. More insidious is the way the right wing Orthodox push the more moderate Modern Orthodox out of their modernity, their willingness to engage in the general Jewish community, much less the broader American society.

1. B”H March 3, 2011. You may wish to read my earnest efforts to portray the vision towards a secure freedom at If the ignorance of Charedi is what people wish to de•le•git•i•mize
there is much to rectify in their thinking, mainly that fact they are afraid to die as victims of assimilation; not only rip off the government at every opportunity. I don’t like to defend the Charedi communities of Israel but the reason of their growth is actually similar to the growth of Islamic populations throughout the world, while the rest of your lord you intelligence and die in the disappearance of even a smidgeon of Judaism as a principle of your existence and I am against both extremes equally. Furthermore, the extremism of Islam is moderate in comparison to Charedi lifestyle. The two nephews of Mohammed became the Suni and Shite tribes of Islam, one of the has Jewish descendants although that is a matter of argument. We might even offer protection to Colonel Gadaughfi if he’ll become chozair b’teshuva. Outside my door to the Negev desert the lands are being overcome by Bedouin adherents to Islamic tradition, on both borders of the Sinai the cities are becoming a majority of gentile populations, the only force to affront them is the Charedi communities, and they live splintered into disarray over the self-imposed reclusion from the disaster of assimilated extinction suicidal tendencies typical of our brethren. Just some thought to make your Purim festive; smile it warms my soul essence.


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In Israel, gentrification is about religion, not class

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