World, Middle East

Israel’s Haredi Jews pine for Ottoman-era ‘golden age’

Controversial court decision galvanizes Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community

Israel’s Haredi Jews pine for Ottoman-era ‘golden age’

By Esat Firat


Ben Tziyon Margilit, an Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jew, says Israel oppresses both Palestinians and devout Jews, going on to assert contentiously that Jews enjoyed “their best days under the Ottoman Empire”.

Haredi Jews gathered in Jerusalem on Tuesday where they protested a decision by the Ashkelon Criminal Court of Peace to perform an autopsy -- a practice expressly prohibited by Haredi Jews -- on a month-old child who passed away Monday.

“We want the child’s body, but they [the authorities] want to perform an autopsy,” protester Ben Tziyon Margilit told Anadolu Agency. “They won't let us bury the body.”

In regards to the sensitive issue of Israeli laws on compulsory military service, Margilit added: “They also impose military service on devout people when we have nothing in common with the secular Israeli state.”

Noting Israel’s “secular and Zionist” political structure, he lamented: “We just want to live a Jewish life, but they [the authorities] violate the Sabbath [the Jewish day of rest on Saturday] and fail to carry out their religious obligations.”

Ottoman ‘golden age’

“Our grandparents told us that Palestine’s Ottoman era was a golden age for Jews,” Margilit said, adding that, today, devout Jews -- along with Palestinians -- faced oppression at the hands of the Israeli state.

“We want the Turks to come back,” he said. “We want it to be like it was before Israel was established.”

He added: “Israel wants to be a secular country, not a Jewish state that fulfills its religious obligations.”

When they learned that the Anadolu Agency reporter covering the protest was from Turkey, some Haredi Jews began shouting slogans hailing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Military exemption

Haredi Jews, who account for 11 percent of Israel’s total population, reacted to the recent court decision by closing Jerusalem’s Sabbath Square to traffic and setting garbage dumpsters alight.

According to police, five Haredi Jews were arrested during the incident for “disturbing the peace”.

Later the same day, Haredi Jews gathered again along Meah Shearim, a nearby street, but were soon dispersed by police.

Known for their black hats, long black coats and long sidelocks, Haredi Jews recently organized countrywide protests to express their refusal to serve in the military.

Many protesters carried banners, reading: “We would rather die than serve in the Israeli army, which is opposed to our Torah [the Jewish holy book]”.

Haredi Jews believe that serving in the military would prevent them from carrying out their religious duties.

Concentrated primarily in Jerusalem and the city of Bnei Brak east of Tel Aviv, Haredi Jews reject Israel’s secular education system, preferring instead to send their children to religious schools (yeshivas).

Under current Israeli law, Jews educated at yeshivas are exempted from military service.

Most Haredi Jews do not use smartphones or watch television. Many receive subsidies from the state, while the size of their community in Israel increases rapidly as a result of their religious beliefs.

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