The Ultra-Orthodox Blight

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There are all sorts of reasons that people like me, who are basically sympathetic to Israel but have never been hardcore partisans, have slowly felt our sympathies wane over time. A lot of the reasons are obvious, but some are a bit less so. The rise of fundamentalism is one of those less obvious ones, as this LA Times piece about the effect of haredim on women in Israel spells out:

Ultra-Orthodox leaders […] insist that it is the secular and the liberal religious communities that are seeking to impose modern values and prevent the ultra-Orthodox, also known as haredim, from practicing a stricter form of Judaism. Those traditional values typically include restrictions on television and the Internet, modest dress codes and segregation of the sexes, which haredi leaders say is needed to protect women from sexual exploitation and men from temptation.

“Women walk down the street as though they are at the beach,” said Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim, a spokesman and leader for an umbrella group of ultra-Orthodox factions….The conflict is gaining intensity, he said, because of the rising influence and numbers of the haredi community, once a small, scattered minority that today numbers 1 million, about 15% of the population.

….As their political power grows, they are demanding more accommodation for their way of life, Pappenheim said. “We used to be a small minority fighting for survival,” he said. “Now we are a huge minority. As the saying goes, with food comes more appetite.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike Muslim culture in the Middle East, especially its more conservative strains. Among them are its widespread embrace of sexism, theocracy, and intolerance. Watching Israel, once a beacon of modernism, slowly but steadily succumb to a similar set of pathologies is one of the more depressing sights in the world today.

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