So where is God in history? Many Christians rightly emphasise that Jesus spent little time either fighting the Romans or telling his fellow Jews to wait until the next world for justice. For the most part He simply responded to the individuals He encountered. He could heal a sick person without claiming to eradicate all illness. He was primarily person-oriented. Yet He was certainly an integral part of history.
Jerusalem has this week entered a new phase of its history, one that will bring into sharp focus the question of God in history and society. Jerusalem has elected its first ultra-orthodox mayor and the papers are abuzz. The question does not so much concern the person of the new mayor, Lupoliansky, as the increasing political clout of the ultra-orthodox sector of Jewish society. The ultra-orthodox (often called Haredim) are mostly a society who keep to themselves. They have their own schools and rarely participate in any of the community activities outside their own enclaves. Very few of them hold paying jobs, because the government supports them in order that they may spend their time studying the Torah. Few of them serve in the military but their political stance is often right-wing and militaristic. This makes cooperation with the settlers a given even though the two groups are otherwise at odds. Nationally they are about 15 per cent of the population, but their political strength far exceeds their number. One result of the January election for Prime Minister was the formation of a government that reduced their strength and thereby strengthened their resolve to keep control. Which brings us to the issue of Jerusalem.
Over the last few years Jerusalem has been steadily declining in population as secular Jews and businessmen have moved out of the city to find housing in more open communities. According to Ha'aretz (the daily newspaper), the Haredim now form around 30 per cent of the remaining population here. The average income in Jerusalem is lower than that of the rest of the state and unemployment is higher. Haredim's success in the mayoral election demonstrates its control here, and will enable a shifting of even more of the city's resources to the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods for schools and social services. Pundits fear that Jerusalem may become simply an ultra-orthodox ghetto. (Most Arab citizens of Jerusalem refused to vote, thereby implicitly recognising Israel. Same dynamic - different community.)
So where is God in this? How can anyone reach out to a community whose total life-style says "just leave me alone"? Yet they do not leave the city or the state alone, and drain a huge amount of resources. This is the kind of closed community that exemplifies the problems of both Israel and the rest of the world. All of us are convinced that our way is the way of God and many simply want to be left alone. Ultimately none of us can be totally alone, and Jesus never encouraged us to withdraw. The tendency to do so is strong today in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, but Christian theology pushes us inevitably toward involvement with each other. Whether we like each other or not, God created us all in His image and put us in history together. Our task is not simply to tolerate each other, but to appreciate each other and learn from each other.
So what is God teaching us through the Haredim? I need to write at least one more paper for that!
This article was first published as Dean Jones's 10 June 2003 Update e-newsletter.
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