by Jonathan Rosenblum
February 19, 2000
The disappointment of some that the dire predictions of bloodshed and 'people falling like flies' did not come to pass last Sunday was palpable.
TV anchors kept asking reporters on the scene, 'Didn't anyone push you? Didn't you at least hear some vulgarities?'
A secular couple strolling through the crowd failed to elicit a single remark or otherwise distract anyone from their prayers, much to the amazement of reporters.
Prepared to excoriate the religious for the misbehavior of even one teenager at the huge gathering, those for whom haredim can never do anything right quickly switched to mocking them for their sheep-like docility. One particularly rabid woman writer not so subtly compared 250,000 people reciting psalms to the crowds at Hitler's Nuremburg rally.
For good old-fashioned hatred, The New York Times' Deborah Sontag, had to go to Sacher Park to hear Avraham Burg proclaim a battle of life and death. (The same Burg, by the way, who once charged, 'The Supreme Court has taken into its hands the entire authority of government.... For what do we need a government and a Knesset?')
There she was told by one demonstrator, 'I came to this demonstration because I despise the haredim' and heard another shouting, 'You no-good parasites.'
By contrast, the religious man she quoted told her, 'We feel toward the seculars that they are brothers who made a mistake with their lives.'
Now that the charges of haredi intentions to impose a theocracy on Israel stand exposed as baseless propaganda, perhaps we can focus on the real issue: the Barak Court's determination to be the final arbiter of the values of Israeli society. All those prominent jurists, members of the bar, politicians, and political scientists who have pointed out how the judicial activism of the Barak Court subverts democracy will again be able to speak without being accused of offering succor to the haredim. Their ranks run from the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and late president Chaim Herzog to former justices Moshe Landau, Ya'acov Maltz, and Menachem Elon.
The Barak revolution can no longer be carried out in secret. Public scrutiny has now been focused on the situation in which Meretz has nine seats on the court to match its nine seats in the Knesset. And the people of Israel will have to decide whether the court should be the vehicle for imposing the post-Zionist conception of 'a nation of its citizens' in place of the Declaration of Independence's affirmation of Israel as a 'Jewish state.'
No case better exemplifies the Barak Court's unlimited conception of its own powers and the complete estrangement from Jewish values, noted by former justice Tsevi Tal last week, than a suit pending in the court to ban brit mila (circumcision). The suit has already been pending for over a year, and full hearings have been scheduled.
The court does not recognize that it has no authority to regulate 'medical' practices in Israel or to prevent millions of Jewish parents from raising their children as Jews. (How would the court have treated a suit by a group of rabbis to force 30 ultra-secular parents to circumcise their children to prevent them from being subjected to ridicule later in life?) Nor does it consider it unthinkable that the Supreme Court of a 'Jewish state' might outlaw the first mitzva given to the Jewish people, and one for which tens of thousands of Jews have given up their lives over the centuries.
Placing the anti-democratic nature of the Supreme Court on the public agenda is an important consequence of Sunday's prayer gathering. But it was prayer, not politics, that brought out the masses.
For the 250,000 men, women, and children who attended Sunday's prayer gathering, the day will be long-remembered as one of the highlights of their lives. They experienced the power of prayer among a multitude - the special power of a community to connect to God and thereby to one another - in a way few ever have.
Children asked their parents, as they converged on the old central bus station from all over the country, 'Is this what it was like when the Temple stood and hundreds of thousands of Jews came up to Jerusalem for the festivals?'
An 18-year-old American seminary student standing next to a Jerusalem matron, tears streaming down her face as she recited psalms for Klal Yisrael, found herself suddenly thinking how trivial are the teenage upsets that so often bring her to tears.
When the last of the penitential prayers, sung responsively by everyone present in a Sephardi niggun (melody), which many may never have even heard before, had been recited, and the final 'The Lord is God' had resonated, just as at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur prayers, those present lingered to savor what they had just experienced. Circles of dancers formed spontaneously - knitted kippa and black hat, Sephardi and
Ashkenazi, hassid and Litvak, young and old.
Walking home, I ran into an older neighbor, his eyes still brimming with tears of elation. He explained to me why my too clever calculations about the likely political advantage to Ehud and Aharon Barak from focusing attention on the haredim were beside the point. 'We have a tradition from our forefathers,' he said. 'In a moment of pain and danger, we turn our eyes and mouths towards heaven. When we do so, we do not make any calculations as to how we will look in the eyes of others. We place our trust entirely in the hands of the Ribbono Shel Olam.'
He was right. Those present had no expectations of immediate practical consequences. They no more expected the Supreme Court to levitate off the ground in response to 250,000 people crying out Shema Yisrael in unison than they intended to attack the building with planes from the Mea She'arim fighter squadron, as some apparently expected.
The joy experienced was not that of some transitory political victory, but rather a heightened awareness that we have a father in heaven, who has preserved us as a nation until now and will continue to do so.
The prayers recited Sunday are those traditionally associated with repentance. The religious community surely has plenty of its own failings, not the least being a failure to fully convey the beauty of Torah. Let us hope that Sunday's prayers are heard and that the many discussions which took place between those wending their way home from the respective gatherings represent a new beginning, not a one-time occurrence.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics
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