Tel Aviv Diary: Ultra-Orthodox Turn Up the Heat – Newsweek

The Israeli government and or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to approve three exceedingly unpopular proposals in the last few days.

It did so as a result of the political pressure wielded by the ultra-Orthodox factions, who make up 8 percent of the Israeli population.

First, the ultra-Orthodox urged that repair work must not be done on Israel’s railroads during the Sabbath. Netanyahu agreed and ordered all such work stopped.

Second, the ultra-Orthodox insisted on the cancellation of the agreement reached to create a distinct area of the Western Wall that dedicated for egalitarian prayer, (which, incidentally had been approved by this current government) and this long and fiercely negotiated, good-faith compromise was set aside.

Third, the ultra-Orthodox demanded that only conversions done under their auspices be recognized by the state, and now a new law was approved by the government makes that so. The second two decisions have provoked outrage in the American Jewish community.

A bit of explanation is necessary to clarify who the ultra-Orthodox are.

GettyImages-517401416 An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man dances on a table in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak on March 24, 2016 during the feast of Purim. The carnival-like Purim holiday is celebrated with parades and costume parties to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewish people from a plot to exterminate them in the ancient Persian empire 2,500 years ago, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty

Ultra-Orthodox sects of Judaism developed in 18th century Europe, as a response to the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment and the Emancipation allowed Jews to become integrated in the larger European society, without having to convert to Christianity.  

Jews responded in a number of ways. Many Jews became secular, while others founded Reform Judaism, which was an early attempt to integrate Judaism into a largely Christian world.

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