Jerusalem Ultraorthodox Gain With Large Families
CURRENTS IN JUDAISM
THE streets of Jerusalem turned black. Traffic curled into huge jams as more than 300,000 mourners dressed in the long dark coats and top hats of devoutly religious Jews brought the Israeli-controlled city to a standstill.Skip to next paragraph
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The occasion was the funeral of a prominent religious scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Auerbach, in February. But for the ultraorthodox community, now emerging from obscurity to become the dominant political and social bloc in Jerusalem, it was also a potent demonstration of their new demographic might.
Once a small community occupied with religious study and the raising of large families in the style of the old European shtetl, Jerusalem's ultraorthodox leaders are moving into positions of key political control in the new city administration of right-wing Mayor Ehud Olmert.
The trend is likely to have a profound impact on the social and religious character of the city holy to Jews, Muslims, and Christians, even as Israelis and Palestinians continue to debate Jerusalem's larger political fate.
The emerging ultraorthodox power is born out of sheer demographics. Calling themselves the haredim, or God-fearing ones, ultraorthodox families average six children each, a birth rate that is twice the Israeli average, equal only to that of Jerusalem's Palestinian community.
As an estimated 40 percent of Jerusalem's Jewish population today, haredim are likely to become the majority within the next two decades, says Yosseph Shilhav, a professor at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. Jews currently make up 73 percent of the city's 567,000 residents.
Mr. Olmert, an ambitious secular politician in the Likud Party, who has aspirations to become prime minister, formed an alliance with Jerusalem's haredi leaders during the 1993 city elections to unseat veteran Mayor Teddy Kollek.
While Mr. Kollek sought to enhance the city's appeal to secular Israelis by creating parks, cultural centers, and a city economic base, Olmert has made long-neglected haredi needs a city priority -- directing millions of dollars into over-crowded schools and religious institutions.
But the alliance also has exacerbated secular Israeli fears -- as well as Arab Christian and Muslim fears -- regarding their future place in the city.
''Our friends are moving to the suburbs, and their children are moving to Tel Aviv,'' says Nurit Yardeni-Levy, a representative of the opposition Labor Party on the City Council. ''The Haredim consider other Israelis as a foreign regime.''
Israelis split in Jerusalem
The chasm of suspicion and fear dividing the two Jewish communities runs almost as deep as that between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mutual ignorance is reinforced by an educational and social system where ultraorthodox and secular Israelis study and socialize separately from birth. When most 18-year-old Israeli youths enter the Army, religiously exempt ultraorthodox girls marry and begin child-bearing, while ultraorthodox men devote themselves to a spartan life of religious study.
However noble their aims, it is a lifestyle of grinding poverty and dependency on state welfare payments and religious subsidies.
Since the 1993 city elections, bitter battles have erupted between Jerusalem's secular Israelis and increasingly assertive haredi neighborhoods.
The city's cosmopolitan cultural life has been called into question as the new haredi leadership quietly seeks to slash city support for activities that they regard as ''immodest'' and ''immoral'' from avant-garde art shows to dance troupes and drama. A film on the Biblical King David, commissioned as part of the city's 1996 celebrations of Jerusalem's 3,000-year anniversary, has recently raised ultraorthodox Deputy Mayor Uri Lupolianski's ire.