The recent decision and determination of Mayor Barkat of Jerusalem to open parking lots on Shabbat for overflow tourist traffic has created additional tension and violence between the hareidi (ultra orthodox) and secular communities. There is growing concern that the religious community, whether hareidi (ultra orthodox) or hardali (national religious-daati leumi) is adversely effecting the fabric of Israeli society. The lack of separation of church and state may or may not be negatively impacting on society. This in turn has generated conversation about the influence religion is having within the IDF. Over the past ten days I have been in correspondence with dear friends who happen to be “Yerushalmim” (Jerusalemites), some secular, others religious each sharing their view and vision of Israel in the years ahead. Below is an edited exchange of those e mails:
I'm not sure just what your "case" is, but if you are referring to the fact that there is an ongoing, defacto religious takeover of the army, there was never any argument. And if you imply that this is happening because of the double edged blade of a willingness to serve by certain strains of the "religious" as opposed to a lessening thereof by secular Israelis, this too is uncontested. The "argument" resides in what this all means, what the ramifications are for Israel. While you wax triumphant, I view it as a disastrous slide towards a state of religious extremism, exclusivity and isolation; a halachic nightmare mirroring the mullah regime in Iran.
I am not against religion but it must be separated from the affairs of State to ensure a vibrant, pluralistic, democratic Jewish society. Ronski should be booted out of Zahal - not for his views but for propogating them.
I'm taking the liberty of sending this on to the addressees of your email, both to disassociate myself from your point of view and to invite discussion.
You've done us all a service by presenting the issue with the intention of inviting discussion. I'm sure you've read my posts (shaelsiegel.com) in the past regarding the religious establishment in the U.S. and in Israel so you know my thinking. I have however drafted a new essay, soon to be posted, but attached here. I look forward to any comments.
All of what you say is true. Equally, and more frighteningly true, is that a far greater extremism is occurring on the secular side of the equation whereby a critical, and growing, percentage of secular young Israeli know little and care even less. The demise and bankruptcy of the kibbutz movement has eliminated cultural Judaism in Israel leaving a terrible void and turning today's generation into cultural orphans through no fault of their own. Unfortunately no one is doing anything meaningful about this. Left unchecked Israel becomes totally defenseless very quickly. Like it or not the religious Zionists are keeping the finger in the dyke. To throw barbs at Rabbi Ronski when all he is doing is shoring up the handful that still believe in their country, whether one likes their style or not, is suicidal unless it is accompanied by a parallel effort to inject meaning into the lives of those whose golden calf is Shenkin Street.
I read your article, "In Search of Relevance." This led me to read several more articles in your blog, something I haven't done in quite some time. I don't agree with everything you write, particularly your feeling that Israel is moral enough so that organizations like B'tselem are redundant, but your approach is so right-headed and your writing so flowing and full of informative references that it is a real pleasure to read.
With "Gordian Knot," you hit the nail right on the head. Zeal is the great blinder shielding some from the wisdom of your words. M
While it is true that secular Israel is in a state of moral flux after the demise of the old beacons, this does not mean that secular Israelis don't care about their country and that they are merely flotsam, non-entities with no existential mass or meaning. The overwhelming majority of Israelis are secular and patriotic, with a strong connection to Israel and "Yisraeliut" and still serving in combat army units in regular service and through years of miluim.
Universal principles of mutual respect and pluralism have always been less focused as rallying points in times of change compared to more totalitarian doctrines of zealotry. Your statements that, "Left unchecked Israel becomes totally defenseless very quickly" and "...the religious zionists (your small "z") are keeping the finger in the dyke" resonate uncomfortably in my ear and recall bygone historical gambits to legitimize bids to supersede democracy.
Don't look to the Sefardim and b'nei hamoshavim to be religious Zionism's ideological bedfellows; though generally masorti in religious orientation, this sector, which comprises roughly 60-65% of Israel's population, is well known to be anti dogma, embracing, rather, a more balanced, live-and-let-live outlook on life.
Look at the last election results, where Tel Aviv voted Left, as opposed to the national vote to the Right. This Left/Liberal Tel Aviv vote had virtually no effect on the politics and ways and morays of the country as a whole. You can't have it both ways - artificially removing the Sefardim and b'nei hamoshavim from the equation means you are basing your whole, all-encompassing premise on a statistically and operationally insignificant minority.
I said the Sefardim and b'nei hamoshavim comprise between 60 and 65% of the population. In addition to them is everyone else that doesn't fit your "Shenkin Golden Calf Worshipper" profile - look to the last election returns to get their numbers. Hardly a figure to base a whole premise/sweeping generalization on.
As for the, "...40% of the population which controls 70% of the economy and 100% of the media" slur, this has no relevancy to, "The demise and bankruptcy of the kibbutz movement has eliminated cultural Judaism in Israel leaving a terrible void and turning today's generation into cultural orphans..." claim and is co-opted almost 100% intact from familiar and dubious models.
Hardly. While the kibbutzim were still perceived as the pinnacle of secular Jewish culture, Tel Aviv took its cues from that form of Judaism albeit in an understandably watered down way. The role of the people at the pinnacle of any culture, religious or otherwise, is to serve as an ideal from which there is a trickle down effect that serves as far broader population base. During all this time the media was more colorful as there were kibbutz newspapers and labor newspapers in addition to the private media. In important ways these served as checks and balances to one another while offering the population as a whole access to a greater variety of opinions. All of these papers were, incidentally, located in Tel Aviv. The demise of the kibbutz movement was very sudden, much like the fall of Communism in Russia. When such epic change happens so suddenly it wreaks havoc on the mindset of the population. In this sense Israel is no different from Russia wherein both lost their secular gods virtually overnight and what came it its place was the crudest paganism, degeneracy, alcoholism. mafias, murder, and rampant consumerism. Likewise Russia saw a resurgence in religion, with the Orthodox Church enjoying a powerful resurgence. Again for the same reasons. You must understand that the half century cultural reign of Israeli labor and its iconic kibbutzim was a religion of sorts, and worked mightily control the minds of the people, including the inculcation of a hatred of religion. So long as they were able to control people's behavior the system worked. But once the system crashed and burned it left an orphaned population. If you think the past anti-religious coercion was any less offensive than what your perceive as religious coercion, well that myopia is your privilege
I think you've gotten hung up on an ideological cliff which is difficult to back down from, yet treacherous to continue forward. What is quite apparent from your position is that rather than find common ground and common language by which civil discourse can proceed fruitfully you have chosen to advance an extreme position disregarding the secular side by painting them all as degenerates?
"in this sense Israel is no different from Russia wherein both lost their secular gods virtually overnight and what came it its place was the crudest paganism, degeneracy, alcoholism. mafias, murder, and rampant consumerism".
For you it becomes black and white; good verses evil, secular verses religious, and to make your point you resort to hyperbole.
To compare the USSR to the kibbutz movement is unfair and some might argue mean spirited. Russia was a despotic empire with so much blood of the innocent on its hands. The kibbutz movements on the other hand put Israel on the map and contributed so much to the welfare of its people as well as contribute much to humanity. And let's not forget that although they were the breadbasket of the country they are also Jews. You may not approve of their practice, but Jews they nevertheless are, and deserving of respect no less than a hareidi in Bnei Berak.
What is most troublesome, however, is that you have placed "halachic" Judaism on a pedestal; making it the beacon by which our path has been illuminated. That may be true for a few, but for most, that option has been rejected. In fact no enlightened democracy can predicate their existence on religious standards and values, for those are very personal choices. To insist otherwise would be a vote for a theocratic state not unlike Iran or Saudi Arabia.
I doubt very much that even you would want that. Just think how limited you would be. Your ability to travel, your creativity, and your pursuit of personal pleasures would be circumscribed by some halachic mullah, excuse me, rabbi.
The Israel which you desire, the one draped in Torah and halacha is a vision that is galuti. While halacha has some charm it can't be the grounding upon which a country is built. Halacha as we have it is primarily the product of galut. It's raisson d' etre was to preserve the Jew in the diaspora -intended to be the substitute mortar for as long as there was an absence of the Land. Religion and its practice is but one facet of Judaism. Don't reduce Judaism to religion. That, the reform movement did in the 19th century as a means to find endearment and acceptance among its protestant neighbors. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch fell right into the same trap. But prior to then, Judaism wasn't considered a religion. We are a people, a nation, a civilization with a culture. Religious practice is but one piece of the tapestry. To place primary emphasis on the religious component would be a distortion of the brilliantly balanced tapestry.
Israel, from its inception has tried to maintain that balance by offering a place at the "table" for the religious component. They did so in the spirit of brotherhood. Perhaps there were the naysayers, but even they extended respect and camaraderie to clerics who in their heart of hearts, rejected their theology. But they were extended the respect that every Jew is entitled to.
Unfortunately, the religious community, collectively, is guilty of judging their non religious brothers with a sanctimonious demeanor that has not endeared them in the public square. There is also their sense of entitlement, as though because they were "religious" special treatment ought to be accorded to them. A state by which halacha reigns supreme would spell disaster. As I said earlier, your out on a limb and it may be tough to back up, but it’s a hell of a lot more dangerous to venture forward, my friend. Be careful for what you wish for!
Evidently you have not been reading my emails carefully. I rue the demise of the kibbutz movement and had always liked the fact that there existed an alternative Judaism which was deeply and creatively anchored in Jewish history and biblical sources and which was able to inspire less idealistic urban types to some sort of connection to Israel and its roots. Sadly this movement was also connected to some of the most ruthless, hateful, prejudiced ideological thinking that systematically discriminated against all who did not hue to their leftist line. Hence, rather than leading by example alone they hedged their bets by also leading through outright exploitation and discrimination. And then the chickens came home to roost. And what is left is sickening. Perhaps you should read the Hebrew papers more regularly and see for yourself the endless parade of articles of incest, rape, murder, gangsterism, alcoholism, road rage that are the daily fare in the Jewish state. If you think this has nothing to do with how the secular left mishandled its affairs then think what you will. My point of departure is not a Pollyannaish view of halacha, not by a very long shot. But I do see that the diminishing piece of real estate called idealism and 'ichpatiut' is increasingly populated by a certain element. Hence if there is any hope for the future we should at least acknowledge where it resides.
I have been reading your e mails but I sense that, in spite of what you are professing, a delight that the hareidi community has the answers to he ills of Israeli society. I do read the Hebrew papers, and I am acutely aware of the rise in crime etc. I am not willing however to ascribe responsibility to the social vacuum created as a result of the decline of the influence of the kibbutz movement.
While the Kibbutz movement played a significant role in the development of Israeli culture and society it certainly wasn't the cornerstone of Israeli mores. There are significant external factors that have come into play over the past twenty something years i.e. the massive Russian immigration which also introduced to Israel a new, more dangerous form of organized crime. Drugs and human trade are also contributing factors to the precipitous rise in crime. Poverty too, breeds crime regardless of whether or not the kibbutz movement is thriving or declining.
Placing the blame on the” collapse" of the kibbutz movement is too easy. Incidentally, there has been a disturbing rise in domestic violence within the hareidi community. Is that too the fault of the "collapse" of the kibbutz movement?
Actually, when you think about it there has been a precipitous rise in crime among the mitnahalim too, unless you don't think that there vandalism is just benign civil disobedience. The point is that it is too complex an issue to ascribe so much weight to the kibbutz movement and at the same time pin your hopes on the hareidi community who are a marker of the past and not a vision for the future.
I have no idea where you ever got the notion I am a supporter of the hareidi community. I consider them the parasites and vermin of Israel, especially the yeshivish part. My support is limited exclusively to the dati leumi people who are holding the front lines of Israel both geographically and militarily because they still know enough to believe in something.
I am glad you clarified that point, however even the "hardali" have a serious problem with dealing in reality especially when you revise some of the teachings, statements and positions of one of their spiritual leaders and mentors Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, who is in a war against what he calls the neo-reformists of the religious Zionists like B'nei Akiva. He's at war with them because of their desire for co-ed programming.
Interestingly enough as a teenager growing up in B'nei Akiva in Chicago all the programming was co-ed. The gap year at B'nei Akiva kibbutzim (Lavi, Tir Atzvi) were all co-ed. Over the years there was a pull to the right which actually created a distortion of their program. Now that they want to restore it back to its original values, Rabbi Shapira labels them "neo-reformists".
Congregation Shira Hadasha is out of bounds for Shapira too. Shapira himself believes that this phenomenom has an anti-rabbinic ideology to it.
JJ, the Hardal (Daati Leumi) are precisely the people who you think are the backbone of Zionism now and last hope for Israel's survival. They too, however are fast approaching the demarcation line between themselves and the hareidi community. After all, if Shapira can make B'nei Akiva and Shira Hadasha out of bounds and call for a new culture with "a passion of loving hashem, fearing hashem and following hashem... then what distinguishes them from the Eda? Very little, if anything, except fro the style of kippah. Big deal!!!!
One does not have to be a fan of every development or nuance among the dati leumis. However I can comfortably say that I am far less concerned with the increased humras of the dati leumi crowd than I am with the far more extreme disenfranchisement of secular Israeli from any vestigial connection to anything Jewish. One thing is certain, even the most extreme haredi of today will have grandchildren who will remain Jewish enough to rebel and become more moderately Jewish. By contrast the secular of Israelis of today, particularly those who leave Israel, will almost inevitably have grandchildren who are irretrievable to the Jewish nation. I think it would behoove you to be more concerned with this than you are with the phenomenon of separate dancing at Bnei Akiva weddings.
This has nothing to do with separate dancing. Shapira is moving further right and dragging with him a wonderful movement. The way they are drifting the "hardal" community will morph into hareidim and the country won't have a snowballs hell in chance to survive the onslaught of the Palestinians.
The former Sephardic chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu has called on religious IDF soldiers to walk out of military events and ceremonies if there is "kol Isha". This was the former chief rabbi of the State who quoted the Talmud that its better to go to jail than to hear the voice of a woman sing. The chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Shermeister is concerned over the incident where soldiers walked out of an event where kol isha was heard, claiming that it affected discipline as well as grpoup cohesion.
The drift is indeed worrisome. With this kind of pattern developing Israel will be at a great disadvantage. The IDF will be weakened and demoralized because they will place their trust entirely in "hashem" as our brothers did during WWII . It took a special kind of Jew to build a country. The direction of Shapira and the likes of him don't offer promise for a future but an undignified end to an otherwise admirable experiment. Don't assume because one is chiloni one will intermarry, assimilate and devalue Israel. Why is it that the frumer one gets the more pessimistic one becomes about the future?
What you fail to realize is that today’s IDF is largely made of religious soldiers and boys from society’s periphery. The children of those whom you idolize for creating the state are shirking, avoiding, claiming homosexuality or mental illness, or using heir parents connections to get them desk jobs or into galei tzahal. This is a far more worrisome phenomenon than not wishing to hear a woman sing hatikva. You are truly out of touch with the military demographics not to mention the absolute illiteracy of Israel's secular white youth. You are worrying about the color of the curtains when the house is on fire.