Haredi Leader: Most of Us Are Not Extremists

By Haaretz

Published January 14, 2012.
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Most ultra-Orthodox Israelis want to work and sought to take part in last summer’s cost-of-living protests, but extremists in the community - including its politicians - have prevented them from doing so, said MK Chaim Amsellem yesterday.

Amsellem, a Shas Knesset member who is at odds with the ultra-Orthodox party’s leadership, blamed these extremists for oppressing women and subjugating the moderate Haredi majority.

He cited the “the Sicarii” - an extremist faction that takes its name from Jewish zealots in antiquity. “Don’t look for them in Beit Shemesh or Mea She’arim,” he said, referring to places with ultra-Orthodox communities.

“They have representatives in the Knesset. If Knesset Economics Committee chairman Moshe Gafni [of the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism] says he’ll stop supporting ultra-Orthodox joining the army - as if he ever supported this in the past - then as far as I’m concerned he’s part of the Sicarii.”

Amsellem, who was speaking at the Sderot Conference at Sapir Academic College, said most of the ultra-Orthodox he knows are moderate and pleasant people. “But what comes out is the marginal, extreme members who scare Israeli society as a whole,” he said.

The Haredi community wants to work and wanted to take part in the social protests, but its leaders silenced it, he said. “Haredim need leaders who will help them obtain social justice.”

Referring to the norm of Haredi men studying Torah instead of working, he said, “Tens of thousands are chained within a study framework that doesn’t always suit them. The Haredi public is tired of being called parasitic and accused of not serving in the army, but it doesn’t know what to do about it. They’re trapped. People with financial interests, standing and power tell them, ‘Don’t open your mouth, you’re hanging out your dirty laundry in public.’”

He also objected to how Haredi leaders portray the secular community. “It’s a serious problem when they say things like ‘The secular hate us.’ Do we want to create a civil war or a society based on the ingathering of the exiles and respect?”

But he said he believes soldiers should not be forced to hear women singing if this violates their religious beliefs. “Why not find another way?” he said.


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