Don’t Despair of Religious Zionism

2 April 2012

2 April 2012

By Gadi Gvaryahu, Field Coordinator of Yudbet be-Heshvan

During the waiting period before the Six-Day War, the most moderate ministers in Levi Eshkol’s government were those from the National Religious Party. Since then, Religious Zionism has undergone a revolution; the sector that forged a historic agreement with Mapai has become a right-wing nationalist group, including a significant National haredi segment.

The political radicalization is expressed in Knesset votes, in the National Haredi outlook of educational institutions and yeshivot, in the religious radicalization of the Bnei Akiva youth movement, in halakhic responsa by National Religious rabbis on women’s issues (military conscription of women, public singing by women), in disobedience of orders to evacuate settlements, in attitudes towards non-Jews and Palestinians, etc.

Note especially that despite the revolution, the vast majority of the rank and file of the National Religious sector remains loyal to the State of Israel, its laws, government, judges, and symbols. A small but by no means insignificant minority has been radicalized to the point that it does not accept the authority of the state and does not adhere to the rule of law. This refers to groups like the first Jewish underground, the Kahanist movements, Baruch Goldstein, the “Hilltop Youth,” “Price Tag” perpetrators, and, obviously, Yigal Amir. Of course, one “successful” price tag attack would be enough to send the entire Middle East into hysterics.

In tandem with the rightward shift, significant parts of the Religious Zionist movement are working on behalf of tolerance, openness, and pluralism. The Tzohar organization of rabbis was established in the wake of the Rabin assassination; the Beit Hillel group was established recently, after extremist remarks by National Religious rabbis against public singing by female soldiers; and dozens of integrated religious-secular schools have been established in mixed communities in recent years. A National Religious community that is willing to send its children to the same school as secular children is undoubtedly moderate, tolerant, and pluralistic.

The moderate National Religious camp composed a special prayer service for the date on which Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, which was distributed to dozens of schools throughout the country. In Jerusalem and outside the city, synagogues on the Shirah Hadashah model, which allow women to take part in the prayer service, have been established. Orthodox schools for boys and girls, which espouse tolerance, openness, and pluralism, have been established in Yeroham, Zichron Yaakov, Kiryat Ekron, and Jerusalem. These schools join the veteran tolerant schools of the Religious Kibbutz movement and in Jerusalem. The national Religious Scouts movement, which works together with the secular Scouts and Arab, Druze and Circassian Scouts, has established approximately 10 branches in the Galilee, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Rehovot. The Ahavat Shalom hesder yeshiva in Netivot educates for tolerance and social sensitivity; one of its students authored a book-length rebuttal to the racist halakhic tract Torat Hamelech. The hesder yeshiva of the Religious Kibbutz movement and the movement’s Yaakov Herzog Center lead a moderate state-based line; an egalitarian yeshiva was founded several months ago in Jerusalem. National Religious girls are enlisting in the IDF in large numbers despite the Chief Rabbinate’s stringent ruling forbidding such action, and thousands of girls are studying in batei midrash and pre-military academies before and after their IDF service. Social justice organizations and overtly left-wing movements have been established by people from the National Religious camp; even Hagit Ofran of Peace Now grew up in the National Religious world.

We cannot forget the feminist religious women’s movements that have spearheaded and continue to lead a revolution in everything related to the status of the religious woman in Israel. Today, they are working day and night to safeguard the rights of agunot and mesoravot get and are proposing laws to improve the status of these unfortunate women. Likewise, we cannot forget the religious organizations and the synagogue in memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that were established in the wake of the Rabin assassination.

Not only will the battle between the National Religious movement that supports the state as a matter of course and the radical religious right determine the image of National Religious Judaism. It may also determine who will have the authority to make decisions in Israel and whether decisions will be made on the basis of a democratic majority or in the “price tag” and Torat Hamelech style.

The state-oriented National Religious movement, which lay dormant for many years and allowed extremists to take the lead, is beginning to awaken and fight back. Anyone who is interested in an enlightened Jewish democratic state must rally to and assist the state-oriented National Religious movement.