If one lives in the Jewish State, carries a state-issued ID that identifies one as “Jewish,” and keeps the customs of the Jewish people, one might be forgiven for thinking that assimilation is not much of a threat. If, however, one is to believe the election campaign of Shas, Israel’s Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party, one would be mistaken.
In a series of ads intended to send the message that voting for Shas is the only way to temper all that’s wrong with the party widely expected to win the upcoming elections—Netanyahu and Lieberman’s Likud Beitenu—Shas sets itself up as both coalition partner and savior: “Only a strong Shas will take care of the weak,” reads one ad, alongside a picture of Netanyahu. Alongside a picture of Lieberman wearing, rather startlingly, given his antipathy towards the religious parties, a black kippa, we read: “Only a strong Shas will prevent assimilation.”
"Assimilation." Not even—I don’t know—“a watering down of the faith,” but: "Assimilation." If you are not Jewish like Shas is Jewish, you are in danger of assimilating—even if you live in the Jewish State, carry a Jewish ID, and keep Jewish customs.
Because you see, there is only one right way to be Jewish. And ultra-Orthodox kingmakers have been given free reign on Israel’s domestic scene for 64 years to determine what that is. (Which is why, among other things, the only way for a Jew to get married or buried in the Jewish State is with an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, following ultra-Orthodox custom, your own beliefs be damned.)
This sad truth was given full expression last week when Emily Wolfson and Rhiannon Humphreys, young Jewish women from Great Britain, had the temerity to try to daven at the Western Wall in the custom in which they have been raised: Wrapped in a tallit.
Last Friday, the women—both 18 and participants in RSY-Netzer's Shnat gap year program—were detained for several hours by Israel Police after wrapping themselves in tallitot, or prayer shawls, at the Western Wall. The women were taking part in a monthly service organized by the group Women of the Wall.
… Wolfson said she wore the tallit that her grandfather presented to her at her bat mitzvah.
You can see why wearing a tallit presented to one by one’s grandfather might signal assimilation. But don’t worry! The ultra-Orthodox in Israel’s political system are doing all they can to protect us from that scourge: “Under a new decree by religious authorities, women cannot enter the Western Wall plaza with Jewish ritual objects.”
Shas wants to make sure Israeli voters know: they are here to protect Israel from that sort of calamity. Otherwise, Israeli Jews might assimilate—into something that looks very much like American Jews.