Ultra-Orthodox Leaders Reject Reports of ‘Constituency Disintegration’ in Israel
JNS.org — Haredi Jewish leaders are challenging the claim made in a recent report by Israel’s Channel 10 that their constituency in Israel is “in the process of disintegration.”
Orthodox figures and rabbis have said the Channel 10 report, which was broadcast in October, was “shocking, exaggerated and bombastic” in quoting a researcher’s statement that one in 10 haredi Jews in Israel are leaving the community and a religiously observant lifestyle on an ongoing basis, and that haredim will never represent a majority of Israel’s population despite their relatively high birth rate.
Baruch Rochamkin, a supervisor at a youth center in Elad that caters to youths who have drifted away from religious practice, acknowledged that, “as the haredi population grows bigger, more people are leaving,” but insisted that “haredim have opened their eyes and are dealing with the problem.”
He pointed to new educational options, such as vocational training, being instituted to meet the abilities and desires of young people who are not interested in studying full-time in a yeshiva.
“Today, the community responds and follows the direction of the youth’s needs,” he said.
Rochamkin estimated that in Elad, a city with residents from a variety of streams of Orthodox Judaism, less than 5 percent of all local youths drift away from religion, and claimed that many non-religious Israelis are actually turning to greater observance.
An Israeli rabbi who asked to remain anonymous said in response to the report, “There have always been those that leave the religious way of life, but this is not something new.”
“There is no specific anxiety about the haredi population,” added the rabbi. “We worry about the entire Jewish nation. If there is a problem in the haredi population, it needs to be dealt with just as if there is a problem in the non-religious public.”
The national-religious perspective
Rabbi Naftali Schonfeld, a national-religious Orthodox rabbi teaching in the pre-military academy in Nave, located near Israel’s borders with Egypt and Gaza, believes it does not matter how many national-religious or haredi Jews become secular or how many secular Israelis are becoming religious.
“The question is, what is the ideology that can move Israel forward?” he told JNS.org.
Though Haredim and the national-religious sectors have conflicting concepts of the proper role of the Jewish state, Schonfeld argued that the secular Israeli public lacks any clear ideological direction and “are unable to move the country forward.”
Schonfeld added that he believes the national-religious constituency is the future of Israel, as it combines “fear of heaven” with loyalty and service to the state, and actually views the state of Israel as “part of the religion.”
“For over 3,000 years, the Israeli nation has existed and no one succeeded in getting rid of our religion,” he noted. “Every time they tried to destroy us they didn’t succeed — with the sword or by assimilation. So why would they succeed now?”