Cult that corrodes a capital

Further evidence of a Charedi intrusion into mainstream Israeli life emerged last week when "Superdox" members of Jerusalem's city council proposed a ban on the capital's forthcoming opera festival, scheduled for next month.

The objections of these self-appointed guardians of Israel's morals and ethics are not directed at the musical onslaught of Mozart, Vivaldi, Corelli and Bach, but rather at the location of the 30 concerts in the city's many churches. Such an act, they claim, is an invitation to idolatry.

The festival is organised by the Israeli Opera Society and the Jerusalem municipality, and includes leading local and international musical talents. While some concerts will take place in the Sultan's Pool just below the Old City walls, and at the Tower of David Museum, the majority will be performed inside Jerusalem's many denominational churches. One reason for this is, presumably, the wonderful natural acoustics that these places offer.

That a group of Charedi councillors and the communities they represent should object to these concerts is by itself legitimate - in relation to their own participation, or non-participation, in the events. No one is forcing them to attend or listen to the music. But what right do they have to impose their own standards on everyone - or anyone --- else?

This view refuses to see Jerusalem's sacred importance to millions

A leading Charedi writer and broadcaster, Kobi Arieli, recently noted that the Charedi community feels increasingly self-confident, enough to break out of the bounds of their self-imposed ghetto and make an impact on their secular and non-Charedi environment.

Be that as it may, the values this community propose are woefully at odds with those of the majority of Israeli Jews - even in Jerusalem. Indeed, opposition voices, which have already objected to this proposal, point out that similar events took place with the backing of Jerusalem's previous mayors, Ehud Olmert, and even the Charedi Uri Lopoliansky.

Underlining these objections is something far more fundamental, even pernicious. It is the desire to Judaise the capital and to exclude from it non-Jewish elements. What is even more grating is that these representatives of the Charedi world have a deep antagonism not just to the non-Jewish world but also to the Zionist state of Israel - from which they derive much of the funding for their ever-growing educational and other needs.

Much of what the rest of the world takes for culture - architecture, painting, sculpture, music, horticulture etc - derives in great part from the Church. But, for a section of Charedim, the four square feet of Torahmitzvos (a neologism of the yeshiva world) is sufficient to the day for all their cultural needs. Dayenu!

None of these shenanigans would work without the implicit support of the political authorities who seem to bend over backwards to accommodate ever more extreme demands of this minority, cult-like caucus of narrow-minded fundamentalists.

It is at one with a government that declares its desire to live in a purely Jewish state and wishes to introduce an oath of allegiance to this end into the fabric of its legal system. Concerning Jerusalem, this same mindset refuses to acknowledge that millions of people the world over regard the city as sacred and feel a deep sentimental attachment to it. The opportunity to use this goodwill to encourage a multi-faceted, cosmopolitan city is endangered by such censorial moves as that now being demanded.

Unfortunately, Mayor Nir Barkat, having staked his regime on claiming all of Jerusalem, east and west alike, as a virtually exclusive Jewish heritage, has now promised the Charedim that, while he will not cancel the opera festival, he will remove the municipality's logo from all its publicity. Such capitulation merely reinforces his image as a leader whose only flexibility is his spine.

Jerusalem, with its rich, multi-levelled history and mosaic present, surely deserves better. As the mishna says: "No one ever said in Jerusalem - 'the place is too narrow for me.'"

Mordechai Beck is a writer based in Jerusalem

    Last updated: 12:47pm, May 20 2011