Yedi'ot Ahronot, August 15, 1997

Israeli religious life and education is becoming increasingly Ultra-Orthodox and fanatical :
an interview with Professor Yehuda Friedlander:

                                                     The Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox campaign
                 against Reform and Conservative Jews has been fierce. Nevertheless, the
                 Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox are not a monolithic camp of fanatics. There is
                 a wide range of leaders, who criticize this fanatical attitude, including many
                 who support religious pluralism in Israel.
                      One, Professor Yehuda Friedlander, gave his opinion on aspects of the
                 religious conflict in Israel. Friedlander, Rector of Bar-Ilan University, grew up
                 as a child in an Ultra-Orthodox community in Tel Aviv. In an interview in the
                 Hebrew daily  Yedi'ot Ahronot, he describes with humor the radical trends
                 among the Ultra-Orthodox, but expresses his fear that an unbridgeable gap is
                 endangering the Israeli Jewish society.
                      Bar-Ilan University is the only Jewish Orthodox university in Israel. It has
                 been under fierce criticism for educating ultra-fanatics after one of its
                 students, Yig'al Amir, assassinated the late prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, on
                 November 4, 1995.

                 In the week that Reform Jews celebrated the confirmation of the appointment
                 of Professor Joyce Brenner to the Religious Council of Natanya, in the week
                 that Haredim looked with delight upon the police, who forcefully expelled
                 Conservative worshippers from the  Kotel, and secular Israelis enjoyed Tisha
                 B'Av with theaters and restaurants open without interruption -- Professor
                 Yehuda Friedlander, 58, Rector of Bar-Ilan University, said that he fears
                 civil war.

                 "Since the murder of Rabin, anything is possible in this country. Yigal Amir let
                 the demon out of the bottle. At first they threw sacks of shit in the streets of
                 Bar-Ilan [an Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem], now they do it
                 next to the Kotel. If Ovadiah Yosef loses control, our worst nightmares will
                 come to fruition."

                 Professor Friedlander has four sons and a daughter. The professor of
                 Hebrew Literature wears a large knitted  kippah and has a long beard. His
                 oldest is 36, and the youngest 12, all of them students and graduates of
                 religious-Zionist education. He is troubled that from child to child the
                 educational system has become increasingly ultra-Orthodox.

                 "When I was a small boy in Tel-Aviv in the 40's, I played with girls, wedding
                 celebrations were mixed, and I even bathed in the sea at a regular (not
                 sex-segregated) beach. The Hazon Ish, who was the admired spiritual leader
                 of the Haredim in those years, tested me there, on the beach, in Tanakh.
                 Today, the paranoia of separation between the sexes is so great, that soon
                 the Haredim will use technology in the service of halacha to patent a
                 mechitzah for the womb of a pregnant woman carrying male and female

                 "There is strict attention paid to superficial outward behavior, such as
                 forbidding girls to walk without socks. At my daughter's graduation, when the
                 girls' choir sang, the other fathers and I were not permitted to go, only the
                 mothers. What do they think, that my evil inclination is so great, that the
                 voices of my daughter and her friends in song is like a sex organ and will
                 cause me to lose my self-control? Today there are strict rules concerning skirt
                 lengths and the height of skirt slits. A teacher stands at the gate of the school,
                 eyes searching for the length of his students' legs, measuring who has slits that
                 are too high, and sends her home."

                 You are not speaking of Haredi educational institutions, like "Beit
                 Yakov," but about the religious Zionist institutions.

                 "To my great displeasure. Today, a girl in the national religious camp who is
                 not willing to sign that she will not serve in the army will not be accepted into
                 the [Orthodox] Horev High School in Jerusalem. Because the level there is so
                 good, many girls are forced to lie, and after their exams, they join the army.
                 My wife did this and served in Nahal, but when her younger sister applied,
                 they refused her, because the family already had a 'bad record.'"

                 "At the boys' elementary school of Horev, the principal refused to let my sons
                 and other children participate in the science day camp for youth at the
                 Hebrew University. Because I am an academic, he clenched his teeth and
                 signed, because he knew I wouldn't acquiesce."

                 "The religious Zionist movement does not produce enough teachers for its
                 institutions, and is forced to hire Haredi teachers. These Haredi teachers
                 make our education more fanatical, and are like a Trojan Horse breaking us
                 apart from the inside."

                 Professor Friedlander, who was the chair of the Department of Hebrew
                 Literature and Comparative Literature at Bar-Ilan University, is worried by
                 the fact that the religious educational system is becoming more Haredi. "The
                 Department of Religious Education at the Ministry of Education is insuring
                 that its curriculum will be different from that of the secular schools. Even
                 when we are speaking about teaching English. One will teach Macbeth -- and
                 the other, only to emphasize their difference, Julius Caesar. In one of the
                 meetings I attended, one of the educators said, that even though Warsaw is
                 the capitol of Poland, Gur is a more important city, and we should highlight
                 her more on the map of Europe. I did not restrain myself, and I said, the head
                 and the heart are two essential organs of the body, but from a Jewish
                 perspective, circumcision is more important. So, perhaps, in the anatomical
                 representation of the male body, we should highlight that organ more?'

                 "Later, he demanded to remove from the reading list every book that had
                 been made into a movie. I requested instructions in writing from him, if he
                 was also thinking about removing the Tanakh from the curriculum, given the
                 movie "Ten Commandments."

                                A File Overflowing With Nonsense

                 Professor Friedlander remembers from his childhood and his youth that he
                 wore shorts, even when he went up for an aliyah to the Torah, but now the
                 educational institutions only allow his sons to wear long pants, from fear of
                 sexual attraction.

                 "One hundred years ago, they never entered your soul. Now they interfere
                 into the smallest of details, even the most intimate ones. I glanced at an
                 announcement hanging at one of the yeshivas, that warned the boys to clean
                 their rectum well with water and not just with paper, because if they don't, it
                 will 'hinder their prayer.' Mothers are requested 'to teach their sons from a
                 young age not to hold their penis when they urinate, as if it would flood the
                 world, and that they should teach a boy when he is young, that when he goes
                 to bed, he should lie on one side and not with his face pointing up or down."

                 "Engaging in intimate details day in and day out, not only does not advance
                 modesty, but turns it into a pervert."

                 Didn't Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef already go back and rule that it is
                 forbidden for married women to wear wigs?

                 "Excessive ultra-Orthodoxy is a sign of crisis. Like in the army, if a
                 commander has to repeat a command hundred times, it is a sign that his
                 authority has weakened. Today there is a sado-masochistic desire to add
                 stricter obligations, and I have a file overflowing with nonsense. For example,
                 there is a halachic ruling that forbids shaving with an electric razor, from fear
                 of pulling out beard hairs by their root, something against Halacha. Jews
                 have been using electric razors for forty years, and suddenly they discovered
                 their danger? I know that in the end, someone will get rich off this ruling. Only
                 one electric razor will be certified kosher by the rabbis, and thousands of
                 yeshiva students will run out to buy it."

                 "Three weeks ago, I went into a hardware store and was astounded to hear
                 an Orthodox man asking the merchant if he had kosher nails for putting up a
                 mezuzah. If he ate meat, and grasped the nail in his teeth before nailing it into
                 the doorpost, he would not want to commit a sin with a milkhic nail. So great
                 is the ignorance.

                 The worst are the newly religious. On the radio program 'Questions and
                 Answers,' one of them asked the honored rabbis if he was permitted to wrap
                 tefillin on his arm that was tattooed with a naked woman."

                 Why do the Haredim feel threatened? Aren't more secular Jews
                 becoming religious than religious Jews breaking out of the fence?

                 "In Israel in 1997 there are more yeshiva students than in all the communities
                 in Europe on the eve of W.W.II, and for this the Haredim can thank David
                 Ben-Gurion. In the Diaspora, the communities financed the yeshivot by
                 themselves, and therefore, only the top students were admitted after passing
                 difficult exams."

                 "Yeshivot in Israel, that follow the prestigious yeshivot in the Diaspora, have
                 an undeserved reputation. Their directors told me explicitly, 'we take anyone,
                 even if he is stupid, in order to save him from the claws of the army.'"

                 "The result is that the level of learning decreased greatly. A new phenomenon
                 has been born in Judaism: the eternal yeshiva student. Usually they learned at
                 a yeshiva until marriage, and as soon as a man married and established a
                 family, he had to support his wife and children. [Now they continue studying
                 after marriage.] And who permits this? The state treasury, that finances the
                 yeshivot, with a larger budget than is given to higher education. This is how
                 yeshivot have turned into asylums for freeloaders."

                                    Copies of "Mein Kampf"

                 "The level of the Rabbinate has also dropped. I was shocked when I heard
                 that on kibbutz Hafetz Chaim they appointed a rabbi for the swimming pool.
                 What is he going to check there, the kashrut of the diving board? Once, the
                 rabbis were teachers and judges. Today there is a new generation. As with
                 the matriculation exams, there are rabbis certified for 3 units [the lowest level
                 of exams] and for 5 units [the highest level]. There are more rabbis of the first
                 type, that deal only with rituals, they marry and bury, but they cannot be
                 judges and pass halachic rulings."

                 "Today, the words of Rabbi Soloveitchik from twenty years ago are
                 becoming a reality: "the Haredim among us, many of them do not truly fear
                 God, but only superficially. Therefore, our we lose in the intellectual struggle"

                 "Even at Bar-Ilan University, which has 15,000 students, one feels this new
                 excessive Ultra-Orthodoxy. In the beginning of the 60's, 90% of the students
                 were religious, and only 10% were secular. Today, in some departments,
                 60% are secular. There are many knitted kippah wearers in law school,
                 business administration and computers, but in sociology, literature and
                 psychology, the majority are secular, because these are 'dangerous'
                 professions, that which post moral and religious questions."

                 "Many Haredi groups have stopped sending their children to Bar-Ilan in
                 recent years. Religious Zionism threatens them more than anything, and they
                 are afraid to study at a university of gentiles. There are women who approach
                 us, after listening to lectures, complaining that they are forced to listen to
                 words of heresy. Analytical thinking has gone out the window, students are
                 accustomed to preaching, not to thinking."

                 What do you think of the law being considered in the Knesset
                 forbidding the owning of the New Testament?

                 "If the Israeli parliament passes such a draconian law, perhaps I will have no
                 choice but to pack my bags and find another place to live. We are an open
                 institution, in our library we also have "Mein Kampf," because history
                 students must know this text."

                 "It is impossible to learn history, to engage in the study of Hebrew and the
                 history of the nation of Israel without quoting the New Testament. Rabbis and
                 great leaders of Israel, like the Hatam Sofer, were mistaken when then said
                 that the expression "there is no prophet in his own city" is a rabbinic saying. I
                 have news for them. There is no trace of it in our sages' sayings. It is a direct
                 quote from the New Testament. Maybe now they will be shaken up and will
                 stop using it. In a place where they ban books, the next step is to burn them,
                 and from there, the road to burning people is short."

                 The rise in the standard of living, according to Friedlander, contributes to the
                 increase of Ultra-Orthodoxy. "The Halacha set its norm according to the
                 poor, while today's Ultra-Orthodox Jewry set their standards according to
                 the rich. For example, today one is expected to beautify mitzvot and pay
                 $200 for an etrog for Sukkot, and people look down and despise, and
                 consider the person a Jew of lower rank, if he buys one for only 50 shekels
                 ($12). The standard of living of the Ultra-Orthodox has risen as a result of
                 the fortunes that the state puts in their pockets. he beautifying of mitzvot is
                 impossible for many families who collapse under its weight. This materialism
                 shows that the Ultra-Orthodox suffer from the same defects as the secular.
                 They do not know from modesty. They have no reason to demonstrate

                 Friedlander was appointed rector after Amir pulled the trigger. "There is a
                 defect in our admission criteria if a person such as Amir was admitted. Our
                 university is only for those ready for critical thinking. I would have been
                 happy if there had been a way to test for this quality among applicants for an
                 academic degree."

                 "Amir came from a reasonable background but the mystical education he
                 absorbed was disastrous. Mystical messianism, one of the characteristics of
                 the new ultra-orthodoxy, has an evil root. Halacha was always based on the
                 rational. But today, Rabbi Kedouri takes over. The Kabbalah has become
                 mainstream and so has the ruling that permits the killing of those who do not
                 act in accordance with the Halacha. The seeds for Rabin's assassination
                 were sown when stones and trees became more sacred than life. When
                 Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef says that Shulamit Aloni may not live to see the year's
                 end, the way to pulling a gun is short."

                 Commenting on Tisha B'Av, and the fact that in Tel-Aviv and other cities
                 places of entertainment were open, Friedlander said, "I can understand that
                 some are fed up, we have too many days of mourning. We have become a
                 people that lives in cemeteries. Maybe it would have been better if Tisha
                 B'Av were declared a national day of mourning, on which we remember all of
                 our tragedies, from the destruction of The Temple until today."

                 "Tisha B'Av is a day of fast for me, but I don't have the right to impose it on
                 others, not in their home, and not in public where they dine and seek
                 entertainment. I don't have cable, but I heard that they showed a porno
                 movie. I don't think that on Tisha B'Av they have to darken the screen or
                 broadcast only programs on the destruction of The Temple. I don't like the
                 total imposition of religion. Also on Independence Day, when we dedicate so
                 many programs to the day that the public grows sick of them. It is easier to
                 deepen awareness when it comes in smaller doses. An overdose causes

                 Friedlander thinks that the conversion bill is a disaster. He supports the
                 participation of women on the religious councils. In mixed cities of Jews and
                 Arabs, like Haifa and Acco, Muslims and Christians have the right to
                 participate in the religious councils, because they also have a need for
                 religious services. Friedlander is against the idea that the Western Wall be
                 treated as a synagogue, and supports designating a place for men and women
                 to pray in a mixed group.

                 In the deepening gap between the Ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews there will
                 never be understanding. It is only the political needs that keeps things quiet on
                 the surface. "According to the Ultra-Orthodox, the ruling that 'the law of the
                 land is the law,' is not applicable to Israel. The Jew who lives in Brooklyn is
                 willing to live according to the laws of the United States because they are
                 laws of the gentiles. When he comes to Israel, he sees himself exempt from
                 obeying laws that Jews have legislated. According to their law, all Israel is
                 responsible for one another, and therefore, they consider themselves our
                 guardian. As soon as you, the secular Jew, drinks milk after eating meat, you
                 make him impure as well, as if you poisoned him. In the name of this mutual
                 responsibility, the Ultra-Orthodox also use violent means to impose their way
                 of life on us and they are not going to stop."

                                               by Yehuda Koren