Friday, November 20, 2009

How NOT to honor Shabbat & promote Judaism


Shabbes! Shabbes!


Sometimes it seems as if there's an evil mastermind out there determined to make Jewish tradition, observance and ritual seem repellent, retrograde, even ridiculous to as many unaffiliated and secular Jews as possible while making even the traditionally observant cringe with embarrassment.

What better way to heighten alienation from all things Jewish than to rebrand Judaism as the sole province of a scowling ultra-Orthodox minority - and to do so in Jerusalem before the entire world. Last Shabbat, hundreds of "fervently Orthodox Jews" spent the afternoon rioting outside the Intel computer chip fabrication plant in Jerusalem, "desecrating the Sabbath in order to save it."

Hassidim and mitnagdim, comrades-in-arms, scuffled with reporters and cameramen whom they had lured to their demonstration and roughed up a haredi vice-mayor of Jerusalem whose zealousness was called into question.

The next day, Intel discovered that someone had broken into the company's chapel, smashed windows, broken furniture and left prayer books strewn about.

At issue were fears that Intel would induce, not obligate, Jewish employees to work on Shabbat. The company believes that the waiver it has long held to operate on Shabbat remains valid at its Jerusalem factory in Har Hotzvim, a hi-tech compound near an expanding haredi district. Intel says that for both technical and business reasons, the factory's fabrication work must carry on 24/7. The company's computer chips are a major Israeli export.

Clearly, Israel needs Intel more than it needs its benighted opponents.

THE ASSAULT on Intel has been instigated primarily by the virulently anti-Zionist Eda Haredit. This week, comparatively moderate Hassidic, Lithuanian and Sephardic ultra-Orthodox leaders have been negotiating with the company, offering to muzzle their acolytes in return for a verifiable Intel commitment to employ only non-Jews to work the Shabbat shifts.

Even if an agreement can be reached by sundown Friday, the Eda Haredit is still intent on sending its soldiers into the streets after Saturday morning services to howl, "Shabbes, Shabbes!" and seek violent confrontation.

For a living, the Eda Haredit provides kosher certification for vendors, stores, hotels and restaurants. Its imprimatur is ubiquitous - so in a sense, consumers who patronize establishments beholden to the Eda are funding its "Shabbes" activities.

The Intel riots were only the latest acts of intimidation by haredi extremists against the ideal of a Jerusalem that is tolerant, pluralistic, tradition-friendly and Zionist.

It doesn't take much to provoke haredi unrest: rumors of an autopsy; the arrest of an abusive mother - or a murderous father; the opening of a free parking garage; vehicular traffic on a boulevard haredim call their own.

By flamboyantly running amok in Israel's capital, the extremists perpetuate the sense of Jerusalem as unlivable, ungovernable and unreasonable.

WEDNESDAY SAW another manifestation of haredi bullying as "fervently Orthodox Jews" became enraged when a female medical student in the women's section of the Western Wall compound donned a tallit and held a Torah scroll.

Among the ultra-Orthodox, these activities are the preserve of men. Her actions also contravened a court-mediated policy that, for all intents and purposes, has converted the Kotel into an Orthodox shrine. The Wall reverts back to the nation on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hazikaron and for occasional military ceremonies.

The medical student is a member of Women of the Wall, which meets on Rosh Hodesh at Robinson's Arch, an enclave close to the Western Wall where women's - even egalitarian - services are tolerated. But this time, the Women of the Wall unwisely decided to push the envelope and moved their services to the Kotel's segregated women's section, where their un-Orthodoxy infuriated those who "tremble before God." The rabbi of the Wall, a government employee, denounced the defilement of his turf. So police whisked away the prayer shawl-wearing, Torah scroll-carrying woman before a riot could ensue.

While we sympathize with the desire to make the Western Wall prayer area a spiritually inviting place for all Jews, seeking confrontation with the entrenched Orthodox establishment is an exercise in futility.

Only when the political system is reformed so that religious zealots lose their disproportionate influence can this particular wrong be righted. Of course, when deliverance comes, Zionist decisors of Halacha, animated by the desire to harmonize tradition with the practical needs of running a modern Jewish state, will have taken charge of the spiritual direction of the country.

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