One of the most horrific things I have noticed in Israel’s public discourse is the talk of creating an “exemplary society.” To me, as a rock-ribbed conservative, actively engineering society—any society—seems like just another way of intervening in people’s private lives. I would take a flawed and imperfect society any day over a society that is just a structure of human resources officials with a sign on the door reading “Welcome to Hell.”
However, for academic purposes, I would like to explore what this effort might entail. What should we expect of such a society if it is ever created? Let me explain what I would want this society to have, however utopian it might sound.
I would like to see a society in which the problems of the populace as a whole are also my problems. I would like to see individuals who are committed not just to themselves and their nuclear family, but also to their neighbors and the poor. My dream is that we have social safety nets of mutual support and assistance.
I would even say that I want to see a society that lacks crime. Of course, this can be achieved through totalitarian methods like in North Korea, but in my exemplary society, there would be no police force because it would be redundant. People’s exemplary conduct would be a product of internal codes rather than their fear of being punished or the expectation of being rewarded.
There would be no drug addicts, alcoholics or prostitutes. This society would redefine what we mean by couplehood and marriage, and ultimately we would declare this institution a success. Divorce would be all but non-existent.
But wait, such a society does exist, at least in its general contours: Haredi society. I would be the last to embrace the Haredi lifestyle. It’s far from perfect, and like all sectors of Israeli society, it has its own internal problems. But it would not be a stretch to say that in the race towards achieving an “exemplary society” along the lines I have just described, they are well ahead of all of us.
I do not seek to analyze Haredi society, but to urge Israelis to second-guess their own assumptions about our lifestyle. Perhaps we should take a renewed look at Haredi society, one that lacks condescension and even—God forbid—shows a keen interest in learning from it. Perhaps the patronizing attitude towards the Haredim we so often adopt is just wrong? Yes, I may have described a utopian vision, but it is fair to say that in certain areas, the Haredim have figured things out and we haven’t.
I support having the state impose a core curriculum on the Haredi school system, but deep inside, I also worry that we Israelis as a whole need to study several core subjects as well.