By Brian GORDON, Barnett Councillor
During recent weeks there have been massive religious prayer rallies in a number of cities around the world with sizeable Jewish communities.
The largest took place in Jerusalem, attended by 600,000 people – more than one sixth of the country’s Jewish population. Other venues included New York, Paris, London and Antwerp.
To assemble such vast numbers of people would not usually be an easy task. Yet on these occasions it was.
The gatherings took place with just a few day’s notice, promoted and attended by leading Rabbis. Their success – in terms of attendance and atmosphere – was indicative of the depth of current anxiety concerning a new type of anti-semitism – arguably of the worst kind.
It is that of Jew against Jew, being perpetrated – to its shame and disgrace – by none other than the government of the state of Israel.
The campaign of anti-Orthodox oppression being promoted in Israel at the highest political level should make the blood of every conscious Jew curdle.
It is devoid of logic, utterly self-destructive, and vindictive.
It is arguably the severest worst manifestation of “sinat chinam” (causeless hatred) since the Second Temple era, and we know the catastrophe to which that led.
Israel’s current administration – in my view the most squalid, incompetent coalition the state has known – is intent on forcing Yeshiva students into the army at the expense of their learning. It seeks to drastically curtail the draft deferment that existed under the previous “Tal” law.
It intends, with the connivance of the appallingly biased law courts, to effectively outlaw the thousands of kollel families whose husbands and fathers are engaged in full-time Torah learning – a sacred activity, which hitherto exempted those involved from service.
The politicians driving this campaign are Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, aided by Naftali Bennett whose inappropriately named “Bayit Hayehudi” misrepresented itself at the last election as a religious party.
These individuals seem oblivious to the damage they cause. They are blind to the fact that Israel’s miraculous survival for 66 years against all odds is not only due to its military capability.
It is equally due to the protection afforded by widespread Torah study and observance of mitzvot.
The anti-religious campaign goes much further than the draft issue. Government subsidies, tax credits and benefits are being systematically reduced or even removed from Yeshivas, seminaries and the welfare entitlements of orthodox families. The severity of these measures is quite disproportionate to the stringencies being imposed upon the rest of society.
Laws are being introduced to mandate state-backed Charedi schools to teach subjects totally contrary to Judaism.
Religious studies are being expunged from the curriculum of secular schools, a move calculated to alienate ordinary Israelis from their heritage.
The Jewish fabric of Israeli society is being eroded. It is shocking that when Jewish freedoms are under such threat globally, on issues such as shechita, brit milah and faith schools, when anti-Israel hatred and neo-Nazi activity have reached alarming levels, Israel’s government can think of nothing better to do than indulge in its own anti-Semitism.
Many of us will recall our student days campaigning for Soviet Jewry. We fought with all our political might to free our brethren from the spiritual tyranny of a hideous regime. We travelled to Russia to visit the courageous “refuseniks”.
We studied with them, brought religious articles, laughed and shed tears with them and discussed how wonderful life would be for them in Israel.
Never did we envisage that a future government of the so-called Jewish state would itself become the perpetrator of tyranny, that thousands of Orthodox Jews would one day feel compelled to rally against its policies. Israel needs our prayers more than ever.
Prayers that the country should be saved from the madness of its misguided politicians, that the public should have the sense to vote them out at the next election.