Doss vs. Chiloni: Two Sides of the Same Shekel


By Melchett Mike
November 15, 2009
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"Too many dossim."

This is the almost universal response I have received from Tel Avivim these past weeks, when I have informed them that I am considering a move to the country's capital (though many of them probably do not even consider Jerusalem as such).

"Dossim" (singular "doss") is Hebrew slang used to refer to the ultra-Orthodox or charedim (though it can also be used, usually less pejoratively, in relation to modern Orthodox dati le'umim).

Quite apart from its dearth of dossim, Tel Aviv has more to offer than Jerusalem in terms of nearly everything outside the religious: arts and entertainment, food and drink, nightlife and shopping. It also has the sea. Jerusalem has the Old City, Israel Museum and Yad Vashem (Holocaust Memorial Museum).

But the other thing that Tel Aviv has a lot more of than Jerusalem is poza (pose) and bullshit. Big bullshit. And I need a break from the city. And fast.

The faces on the shdera (Rothschild Boulevard) that I not so long ago greeted with warmth now elicit little more than a perfunctory smile. And, as for the regulars at the kiosk who insist on sharing their views on nearly everything – but invariably worth nothing – with anyone sufficiently unoccupied (and kind) to listen, I can hardly bring myself to look at them. Like the Israeli football pundit, each one "talks a great game" in his or her respective field or area of knowledge – real or, more often, imagined – but you can list their collective achievements on the back of a Tel Avivit's thong.

And I find the Tel Avivi's "Too many dossim" verdict more than mildly offensive. Whenever I hear it, it sounds rather too much like "Too many Jews". Anyway, it is as ridiculous as generalising that Tel Aviv is full of godless chilonim (seculars) who fornicate with strangers in nightclub toilets (most of the Tel Avivim I know would never dream of such a thing, having enough respect for their womenfolk to utilise instead the back seat of their car).

Whilst I could never be referred to as a "doss", my fairly typical Anglo-Jewish upbringing means that neither will I ever be labelled "chiloni". And I am very pleased about that. Your average proud chiloni usually possesses a code of values not far above that of the real estate agent or politician. And I certainly don't see anything so wonderful in the chiloni Tel Aviv lifestyle that gives its practitioners the right to look down their noses at their compatriots forty-five minutes down Road Number 1.

Israel's charedim, too, are far from perfect. One would like to say that they don't tell others how to lead their lives, and that they don't "throw stones". But, of course, they do both (the latter literally). On the whole, they set a pitiable example, providing ample ammunition to detractors who didn't require much to start with.

It is quite clear that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews fit into the category of either doss (in the widest sense) or chiloni. Those occupying the sparsely-populated middle ground include traditional (though not Orthodox) Sephardic (North African) families, but extremely few Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin).

Jewish practice in the Diaspora, on the other hand, works a whole lot better, being far less polarised. I don't believe I ever heard an English Jew describe Golders Green, or even Stamford Hill, as containing "Too many frummers" (the Yiddish equivalent of dossim). Anglo Jews display a solidarity – even if out of necessity – that is sadly lacking in Israel, where chiloni and charedi and are in a continuous, and perhaps inevitable, struggle for political, social and economic influence and rewards.

Growing up in London, we would often joke about the United Synagogue Jew who would come to shul on a Shabbes morning, and then go to watch Arsenal or Spurs (his football team) on the very same Saturday afternoon. And favourite players would often be guests of honour at family bar mitzvahs.

Such a compromise would seem most odd to the doss and chiloni Israeli (though for opposing reasons), for whom its enabling factors and conditions – mutual religious tolerance and respect – is, tragically, as much of a pipe dream as peace with our Arab neighbours.

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