The Fanatics Within
Barbara Kay, Jul. 28, 2010
“Strange times to be a Jew.” That’s the master theme, voiced early and demonstrated often, in a haunting 2007 novel about Jewish messianism, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.
Michael Chabon’s darkly brilliant achievement in alternate history sprang to mind last week, when news broke that if Israel’s extreme right wing ultra-Orthodox — the Haredim, who control the Chief Rabbinate–have their way, who is or isn’t a Jew will be far more narrowly circumscribed than ever before in Israel’s history.
The Knesset has approved a draft bill that would permit the Haredim to dictate the criteria for legal Jewish status. They would then hold the power to exclude thousands of Jewish converts, even many converted by Orthodox rabbis, from eligibility for Israeli citizenship under the “law of return” accorded all Jews as aninherentright.
Whether the bill passes or not this time — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reassured panicked Diaspora Jews he wouldn’t support it — it reminds us that, given Israel’s electoral system of proportional representation, the political will of the disproportionately swelling ranks of Haredim (now about 1.3 million) will, one rapidly approaching day, dominate the Knesset–and Jewish destiny.
The root of the word Haredim means anxiety, which is what all Jews should feel about a putative Haredi balance of power. The Haredim are not simply religious fundamentalists with a prolific birthrate. The most eschatologically ambitious amongst them harbour lunatic urges to “force history,” to hasten the arrival of a dilatory Messiah.