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Despite the predictions of many of Israel’s secular founders, the ultra-orthodox population of the Jewish state has only grown in size and influence. During his recent campaign, Yair Lapid, now Finance Minister in the coalition government, famously declared to a crowd of Haredi students at Ono Academic College, “You won. There was a competition in Israel for Israeli-ness that lasted for over a century… and in the end you won.”

The point is clear: Israel’s future as the Jewish state depends on the successful integration of its Haredi communities into the mainstream of society. But what might this integration look like? Is there a peaceful and productive way forward that overcomes the deep antagonism dividing secular and religious in Israel (and was, in fact, still evident in Lapid’s remarks)?

Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer has made it his life’s mission to work toward such a positive integration. Rabbi Pfeffer was a student in Tikvah’s Jewish Thought and Enduring Human Questions program and this year will be an instructor and panelist in our Summer Fellowship on Jewish Thought and Citizenship. Rabbi Pfeffer is a young Haredi Jerusalemite with considerable standing in his community – a rabbinic judge and an acclaimed author of a book on Jewish law. He is also a recent graduate of Hebrew University with a law degree and a distinguished appointment as intern to the Israeli Supreme Court.

We republish here a video clip along with excerpts from an interview we conducted with Rabbi Pfeffer in September, 2012. Since that time, he has initiated two important projects: The first is a yeshiva high school for Haredi students that incorporates basic grounding in secular studies within a traditional yeshiva framework: “The novelty is that the school aims at a mainstream Haredi public, and is molded on a classic Haredi high-school model. I think it can be an important step in helping the community find direction for the future.” The second, an academic program for Haredi college-age students, is designed to introduce the “Yeshiva-University” model into an Israeli setting: “It is a challenge, and there’s a long way to go — but we have already received many positive vibes, and hope to reach important achievements for the community. Aside from teaching there whenever I can, I am officially the ‘rabbi’ of the new ‘campus’ and a member of its board.”

Watch a clip and read the full interview here.

A Modest Proposal

December 3, 2013

Every now and then, people who in the grand scheme of things look and sound more or less like me voice opinions that make me wonder whether I’ve been sucked through the rabbit hole. Often these opinions have to do with freedoms they would like to sacrifice to government bureaucrats. All too often, those freedoms […]

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