Although forces against change remain strong and often intimidating for those who think otherwise within the community, changes are taking place among Orthodox Jews in Israel, among other places, as evidenced by the 5,000 Orthodox Jews who now serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), writes Andrew Friedman in The Jerusalem Report (Dec. 28). There is a cultural war going on in the Orthodox world between those who would like to remain immune to modernity in order to maintain their religious standards, and those—especially young people—who are no longer willing to live behind the walls erected by their ancestors. Economic challenges have played a role; lack of prospects for young Orthodox people due to their kind of training led to opening ultra-Orthodox vocational schools over the past decades. In 2014, 9,000 ultra-Orthodox students were studying for an undergraduate degree. However, the Internet and associated developments have proved to be the greatest challenge for Orthodox Jews, much more difficult to control than television (see RW, October 2015). It has given young Orthodox exposure to many things outside of their lifestyle. “One can still be a Haredi in the age of the Internet. But, Haredi after the Internet is not the same as Haredi before the Internet,” summarizes Rabbi Bezalel Cohen, founder of an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva high school in Jerusalem.
Another important change relates to evolving attitudes of many ultra-Orthodox toward Zionism, reports Amotz Asa-El in another article in the same issue of The Jerusalem Report. While Zionism used to be seen as the main enemy of Judaism, more than half a million ultra-Orthodox Jews now speak no other language than Hebrew (which Zionism revived), there is an ultra-Orthodox minister in Israel’s government, and the police force has trained and hired 15 ultra-Orthodox criminal investigators last year. While many ultra-Orthodox still keep the old walls of separation erect, an increasing number have now in practice made allegiance to the Zionist project that their forefathers used to reject.