Israel's Haredim Effect: Theocracy In A Democratic State
Adler, Shannan Butler
ISRAEL'S HAREDIM EFFECT: THEOCRACY IN A DEMOCRATIC STATEShannan Butler Adler, B.A.MALS Mentor: Ralph D. Nurnberger, Ph.D.ABSTRACTAs the sole stable democracy in the Middle East and the only Jewish democratic country in the world, Israel faces unique challenges. The intersection of religion and civic responsibility has been a central internal conflict since Israel's founding in 1948, and today has reached a critical breaking point. The Haredim are a rapidly growing insular Ultra-Orthodox segment of Israel's Jewish population that have wielded disproportionate political influence since the birth of the nation. Refusing to seek jobs in a secular economy or participate in the military, these Jews perceive themselves as an independent religious community and actively seek to preserve that distinction. As Ultra-Orthodox, this community embraces only the most stringent interpretations of the Jewish bible, called the Torah, and insists that Israel's democracy incorporate central tenets of biblical law within its governing bodies.The Haredim's fervent rejection of the economic, educational, social, and military pillars that constitute the backbone of modern-day Israel comes at a high cost to the state. High unemployment rates and a refusal to participate in Israel's conscription military place the Haredim at odds with the vast majority of Jewish Israelis who do not share their values and pay large sums of money to support them. The Haredim currently comprise 11 percent of the total population and are expected to reach 18 percent by 2030. The social, economic, and military implications of this growth are dire and the need for remediation is urgent.A critical and thorough examination of evidence and primary sources supports this urgency. In 2014, a dramatic political shift in Israel enabled the current governing coalition to take a litigious approach towards addressing its shared future with the Haredim. Haredi compliance with new laws is unlikely given that the Haredim feel duty-bound only to the Torah, yet an emerging middle-class of Haredim who embrace secular values while retaining their religious roots may be the key to preserving Haredi values while encouraging more responsible civic participation. It is difficult to envision a future in which Israel is militarily strong, financially solvent, and able to preserve itself for future generations if Israel cannot thoughtfully address its complicated relationship with the Haredim.
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