Like many Israelis of a certain farmer-soldier type, I am not very religious. However, “I was once young and now am old”, and with age, I have learned to deeply appreciate traditional forms of piety.
And this is the key to my sentiment towards the Orthodox (Modern, Ultra, and semi-orthodox alike). Paraphrasing Woody Allen, they’re benign!
Politically, Orthodox Jews are conservative. Between 74-83% have voted for Trump by comparison to only about 20% among the non-Orthodox. And why should they not be conservative? Orthodox Judaism is all about piety – piety towards one’s ancestors, piety towards one’s ancient religion, piety towards the circles of authority and knowledge in one’s community. When taken to the extreme, it results perhaps in the comical yet endearing reality of the Ultra-Orthodox, an Amish-like community, zealous of its old ways.
When in moderation, I find Orthodox Judaism to be like Catholicism, a faith highly suited for individuals appreciative of nice old things. The ontological chasm between the sexes is retained, filial piety is kept, traditions of modesty are adhered to (comically, perhaps, but Anne of Green Gables would also appear to us like a peculiar Haredi).
Ironically, the antisemites have gotten it all wrong. The infamous conspiring Jew of so many memes is actually a conservative. He wears a yarmulke!
In Israel, it is common to blame the ultra-Orthodox for over-reliance on state-provided welfare. However, I am sort of OK with that too. Why? Let’s look at some of the numbers. Using this report compiled by the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), ultra-Orthodox women are employed at a rate of 75.8%. Other Jewish women are employed at a rate of 84.2-3%, which is not much higher.
Ultra-Orthodox men, however, are only employed at a rate of 56%, much lower than the 90% rate common among other Israeli Jews. This is rather infelicitous, but how many people are we talking about? Let’s do the math. The report estimates the working-age Ultra-Orthodox population to be between 192,000 and 315,000 (apparently “who is an Ultra-Orthodox?” is no less elusive a question than “who is a Jew?”). That means that 34% of that population are, alas, not employed, which gives us a range of 65,000 to 107,000 (an average of 86,000).
Now, these are no small numbers to sustain at the expense of the public purse. But then again so many OTHER Israelis also live at the expense of the public, that I fail to be astonished. Israel’s leftist artists who do nothing but cobble together rusty rods of metal calling it “sculpture,” or shove flags up their recta, must number in the tens of thousands. And then if you add useless professors of gender studies and their students, then useless administrators in the government-run universities, and useless government bureaucrats, the score gets more than even. Such are the wages of the welfare state where Ultra-Orthodox are no exception. At least they spend their time in scholarly if archaic, pursuits.