The ex­trem­ists are tak­ing over

Charedi ac­tivists are try­ing to ban ‘non-kosher’ mu­sic and force women to dress more mod­estly in Is­rael

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - GE­OF­FREY AL­DER­MAN

WHAT ARE THE salient char­ac­ter­is­tics of a “fun­da­men­tal­ist” creed? The dic­tio­nary will tell you that the ad­jec­tive de­notes the be­lief in the in­fal­li­bil­ity of a sa­cred text. But in com­mon par­lance the mean­ing of re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism goes far be­yond such dogma, be­cause al­most all re­li­gious pre­cepts re­quire in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Nowhere in the Pen­ta­teuch does it say that a Jew should not eat milk and meat dishes at the same meal; the fact that I my­self do not do so de­rives ex­clu­sively from an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a bib­li­cal verse. Call me a fun­da­men­tal­ist if you like. But in or­der­ing my life ac­cord­ing to this in­ter­pre­ta­tion I harm no one else. My fun­da­men­tal­ism is, at least in this re­spect, my own af­fair, an ex­clu­sively pri­vate mat­ter.

More of­ten than not, how­ever, re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism tends to be much more than a merely pri­vate mat­ter. If you ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion to dine at my house, you will have to ac­cept the sep­a­ra­tion of milk and meat. Of course, you do not have to ac­cept the in­vi­ta­tion. But sup­pose that I phys­i­cally forced you to mod­ify your be­hav­iour so that it met the de­mands of my fun­da­men­tal­ism. We would then have done away with re­li­gious free­dom, and would have re­placed it in­stead with a form of tyranny.

In Is­rael me­dia at­ten­tion has re­cently fo­cused on the tyran­ni­cal lean­ings of rab­bis Ephraim Luft and Yitzhak Meir Safra­novitch. Rabbi Luft has es­tab­lished a “Com­mit­tee for Jewish Mu­sic”. He con­tends that much of the mu­sic played at Or­tho­dox func­tions or pub­lic events is not kosher. What ex­actly (you may ask) is mu­sic that is “not kosher?” Ap­par­ently, any mu­sic that is con­tem­po­rary, and any that is “West­ern”. Any that uses “mod­ern in­stru­ments” and any in which per­cus­sion (“the beat”) is em­pha­sised at the ex­pense of the melody.

Mod­ern mu­sic, he adds, is “dis­re­spect­ful”, and leads peo­ple — es­pe­cially young peo­ple — astray, re­sult­ing in low moral stan­dards and threat­en­ing the col­lapse of civilised so­ci­ety as we know it. No won­der, there­fore, that his com­mit­tee has com­piled a black-list of treifah mu­si­cians, and that, no doubt in­spired by him, Charedi ac­tivists were re­cently able to se­cure the sack­ing from an Is­raeli ra­dio show of a well-known disc jockey, Me­nachem Toker — de­spite the fact that Toker is him­self Charedi.

Mean­while, Rabbi Luft’s broth­erin-arms, Rabbi Safra­novitch, has been hard at work en­forc­ing fe­male “mod­esty”. When I say “en­force”, I mean just that. Un­der Rabbi Safra­novitch’s pa­tron­age, “mod­esty” squads op­er­at­ing un­der the um­brella of his Va’ad L’maan To­har Ha­machaneh (Coun­cil for the Pu­rity of the Camp) pa­trol the high­ways and by­ways of Jerusalem beat­ing up women who, in their view or in the view of their husbands or fam­i­lies, dress or be­have in an “im­mod­est” way.

In one in­stance a hus­band con­tracted with a “mod­esty squad” (to which he paid around £1,000) to at­tack his ex-wife with a club. In an- other, a Charedi wife who had left her hus­band and his life­style was beaten up. How they could have touched her when they could not have known her men­strual state is be­yond me, but what need have we of Yid­dishkeit when moral­ity as de­fined by th­ese yobs is it­self at stake?

In Meah Shearim one lo­cal “en­forcer”, Yoel Kreus, boasts that through his strong-arm tac­tics he as­sists peo­ple to be­come “moral”. If his spies re­port that a Charedi home has a com­puter, he makes sure the chil­dren are thrown out of school. Non-re­li­gious girls, he ex­plained to one news­pa­per, “don’t dress prop­erly. They make me sin.”

But of course it is not they who make him sin. It is his own emo­tional im­ma­tu­rity, and his con­vic­tion that the sort of prej­u­dices he holds sit squarely within Jewish Or­tho­doxy. Whereas, were he ca­pa­ble of any­thing re­sem­bling ra­tio­nal thought he would soon re­alise that the re­li­gion he prac­tices has lit­tle to do with Ju­daism but pos­sesses many of the traits of the Deoban­dism of the Tal­iban.

His rav­ings do, how­ever, re­mind us that most re­li­gious fun­da­men­talisms are male-dom­i­nated, and that at their core they ar­tic­u­late a primeval fear of wom­an­hood. How re­fresh­ing it is, there­fore, for me to re­port that at its re­cent pre-Rosh Hashanah meet­ing the Coun­cil of the Fed­er­a­tion of Syn­a­gogues voted over­whelm­ingly to per­mit women to at­tend its meet­ings as ob­servers, in ac­cor­dance with a rul­ing first made by the late Dayan Fisher some 31 years ago, and re­cently reaf­firmed by Dayan Licht­en­stein.

This is a small step for the Fed­er­a­tion but a large one for au­then­tic To­rah Or­tho­doxy.

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