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Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division

Discussing Jerusalem, JPPI Dialogue participants described the alienation separating most Jews from the ultra-Orthodox minority. In almost all communities, participants referred to Haredi communities in negative terms expressing both apprehension and frustration with their actions. “I have a problem with control and domination by the Haredim, who I see as intolerant,” a participant in St. Louis said. We, the Jews, “need to maintain a Jewish majority [in Jerusalem], but we also need more diversity in the Jewish population to balance the Haredi influence,” said a participant in Sydney.

This should not come as big surprise. In many studies and surveys, Haredi communities in Israel have been shown time and again to be unpopular among their counterparts – Jewish Israelis, non-Jewish Israelis, Jewish non-Israelis.

JPPI’s 2016 Annual Assessment included a chapter on the ultra-Orthodox community in the United States, and concluded that “the barriers to the integration of the Haredi sector into the established mainstream Jewish communal organizations are significant. Fundamental ideological conflicts divide the Haredim and the broader Jewish population, and given the existence of their own network of charitable and social service organizations, there is a lack of incentive on the Haredi side to bridge those differences.”[1] Of course, the challenge posed by the Haredi presence in Jerusalem is not identical to the challenge posed by their growing presence as a share of the Jewish community worldwide.[2] Still, some of the challenges are similar – and the difficulties Haredi and non-Haredi Jews have in finding a common language and agreeing on common interests are also similar.

In JPPI’s 2017 Pluralism survey of Israelis, we found (as we did in 2016) that Haredis in Israel are considered by almost all other groups as one of the two groups least “contributing to Israel’s success.”[3] Their average score among Jewish Israelis was 2.27 on a scale of 1-4 – second from bottom (Muslim Arabs scored 1.85). They were ranked last by “totally secular” Jews, second to last by “secular-traditional” Jews, and fourth from last by “traditional” Jews. Interestingly, they are also ranked as the group contributing least by Christian Arab Israelis, and second from last (after “settlers”) by Muslim Arab Israelis.

In the same survey JPPI found that 78 percent of secular Israeli Jews believe they should not live with the Haredim in “the same neighborhoods,” and, in fact, most other Israelis agreed that such mixing would not be advisable (graph 18). The approximately 10 percent share of Haredim among Israel’s Jews said they feel comfortable “being themselves” in Israel – more so than most other religious groups. But other Israelis do not seem comfortable around them. In Jerusalem, where the presence of Haredis is more pronounced than in most other cities, the suspicion that exists in all cities becomes more dramatic.

The worries Dialogue participants raised as they discussed the Haredi presence in Jerusalem were of two main kinds: concerns about religious pluralism, and concerns about economic vitality. Jerusalem – most Dialogue participants believe – needs to both be attractive to world Jewry, and to serve its mission as a center of the Jewish people. Haredi Jerusalemites make these two issues problematic. In Minneapolis, participants raised “concern about the ‘hegemony’; of the Haredi population, its lack of respect for non-Orthodox Judaism and the ‘work’ that needs to be done within the Jewish community around [mutual] respect. In Chicago, a participant warned that if Jerusalem is “poor and dirty” it will inevitably become “less attractive to Jews who come to visit; for them, a visit to Jerusalem is also a vacation.”

Thus, when we asked participants if having a growing Haredi community in the city is “a positive development as it gives Jews of various types the opportunity to live together,” more than 70 percent disagreed with the statement (32.2 percent strongly, 39.6 percent somewhat). When we asked if the growing percentage of Haredim is “a positive development as it makes the city more diverse,” the result was similar. Only 26 percent of participants agreed with the statement (20.8 percent somewhat, 5.2 percent strongly).

Both these answers reflect a sentiment that the Haredi community does not contribute to Jewish diversity, but is rather a danger to such diversity. Thus, more than 80 percent of Dialogue participants agreed that “if this trend” of a growing Haredi presence continues, “Jerusalem will not be a pluralistic city that is hospitable to Jews of all streams and denominations.” In the “elect a mayor” activity, very few participants even considered “voting” for ‘Moshe’, the Haredi candidate. “Moshe, no votes,” stated the report from Washington; “Nobody showed any interest in voting for Moshe,” stated the report from Melbourne.

When it comes to economic issues, the skepticism concerning the contribution of the ultra-Orthodox community to creating a city fitting the vision of world Jewry is similar. They see the Haredi community as a burden on Jerusalem’s path for economic success. More than 90 percent of participants agreed that the Haredi presence is “an economic problem for the future” of Jerusalem (graph 19).

[1]  See: Orthodox Jews in the United States, JPPI annual assessment, 2016. The chapter begins with the notion that “The growth of the Orthodox population as a percentage of the U.S. Jewish population potentially disrupts settled conceptions of the overall character of U.S. Jewry.”

[2]  On the Haredi challenge in Israel see JPPI, Dov Maimon and Shmuel Rosner, 2013. http://jppi.org.il/new/en/article/english-the-haredi-challenge/#.WWuZ4tN95sM

[3]  You can see these findings and all related material here: http://jppi.org.il/new/en/article/english-2017-pluralism-index-survey-results/#.WWuAYNN95sM

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