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Beliefs & Perspectives Zionism/Nationalism

A Hareidi Mother Views the Current Scene

One of my most thoughtful e-mail correspondents is a Hareidi mother—a journalist—quite knowledgeable about Israeli politics and the various factions of the Jewish world. The letter below was prompted by the government’s brutal treatment of the settlers in Amona. Even if one disagrees with the Hareidi critique of the State and its religious Zionist supporters on theoretical grounds, or deems their attitude toward abandoning Jewish settlements unapt on pragmatic grounds (as she does), nevertheless, the letter is worthy of serious study by both religious and non-religious Jews.

While reading this letter one should bear in mind that no less than Nobel Prize laureate Professor Yisrael Aumann, a lifelong religious Zionist, has said that the ideology of the chassidei Satmar, which negates all ties with the State and all that it represents, including its institutions, may have been right after all! The author of the letter, however, is not of the Satmar school.

AHareidi Mother Views the Current Scene

It should have been obvious to the settlers, at least since their expulsion from Gush Katif, that the police and soldiers would deal brutally with them. The government has been deligitimizing the settlers since the beginning of Oslo, especially since the announcement, two years ago, of Sharon’s withdrawal and expulsion policy. In Amona, the police knew that they had the backing of acting PM Olmert, the courts, the media, and all the other foci of power, and that they would be exonerated no matter what they did to the settlers.

The government is putting into action the old anti-Semitic tactic of “Hit the Jews and save Russia.” Their blood is completely hefker [worthless], and if there are a few dead, it will only make the government happier. The suitable lie will be spread to plaster the blame on the settlers (whom they falsely accused of dousing soldiers with paint thinner during the Gush Katif expulsion). The only question is: Why don’t the settlers realize this?

Their kedushas hamedina [Holiness of the State] ideology has blinded them and brought them into this tragic situation. They keep deluding themselves that they have to retain their fidelity to the State—its institutions and leaders—and persist in their “love of all secularists,” even while these forces are doing everything they can to destroy their lives. The settlers send their youths and women to do most of the protesting—in contrast to the Hareidim, whose demonstrations are always led by men, and never women in attendance—because the settlers foolishly believe the police will treat women and children more compassionately than adult men. Instead, their demonstrations leave youths scarred, women humiliated, and the brutal treatment continues unabated. Some of the youth may one day wonder where the adults were, and why they left the battles to the young.

The Sages say, “The building of youths is destruction and the destruction of elders is building” (Nedarim 40a). Youths should not be the leaders in anything. But in all the writings of the religious Zionists that I read, they keep praising the youth whose actions gives them hope for the future. Another recipe for catastrophe.

I can’t help smirk while reading the calls for a commission of inquiry. Again, this shows the extent of their naiveté. The only thing a commission of inquiry has ever been used for—in this country and everywhere else in the world—is to whitewash the government and put the citizen’s rage on hold until it fizzles out. Appealing to the courts is likewise an exercise in futility. In Israel, the courts are the primary instrument to maintain the leftist hold on the citizenry. Historically, in totalitarian regimes, the only thing that changes such a situation is either a coup or widespread violence, not these placid measures. The question is whether Jews have the temperament to carry such things out. I doubt the Hareidi community does. They would just keep suffering, bowing the head and suffering more.

Incidentally, I believe that the secular leftists controlling the country are actually a small percentage—not more than 10% to 20%, while the Hareidim and religious Zionists together are at least 25%. If enough people would get enraged, it shouldn’t be that hard to topple the government. Unfortunately, due to Israel’s political structure, the government has all the power in its hands. It brainwashes everyone through the media, pays the salaries of everyone else, controls all the utilities, determines who gets the government jobs, who the tax authorities swoop down on, who the police investigate, who gets tied down in drawn-out, impoverishing court cases, and who goes to jail. That’s why the Sefardim filling the police force do what they say.

Unfortunately, I don’t see a way out for the religious Zionists. Their ideology has always been “the politicians in politics and the rabbis in the beis midrash.” Politicians are usually small-minded, egotistic, bribable, self-aggrandizing individuals who cannot be relied upon.

This creates a demoralized environment where the Zionist rabbis are not particularly revered by their community (which may take advice from them but not necessarily obey them). This part of the religious public has no one it sufficiently respects to accept guidance.

The Zionist rabbis are ineffective for several other reasons. Since Torah study in this society is not viewed as the ultimate goal but just something to do if you want to go into the rabbinate, the rabbinate is viewed as a job so that the rabbis command minimal respect. As a result, relatively few people go into the rabbinate, and the quality of the rabbis is mediocre.

Another reason why these rabbis cannot lead their community, even if they wanted to, is because they are all dangling from the State’s purse-strings. To go against the State today means giving up State funding, a monthly salary, recognition, promotions, and alienating one’s own religious Zionist constituency, which was raised on blind adulation of the State and will reject anyone who contradicts long-cherished Zionist beliefs. This is a big part of the reason why the Yesha Council can always be relied upon to ruin the settlers’ interests and support the government. (As Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld said, when he rejected the State Rabbinate in the 1920s, “If you’re paying my salary, you won’t have to convince me to do your will—I’ll run to do it without any prompting.”)

One final reason for the rabbis’ weakness: each Zionist rabbi decides his own policies and he is not beholden to anyone else. Rabbi Aviner or Rabbi Lichtenstein—to mention only two—can do whatever he wants without fearing repercussions from any other religious Zionist rabbi including even the venerable Rav Avraham Shapiro.

The Hareidim were careful to have independent institutions (with minimal state funding), and their own independent batei din and rabbonim whose salaries do not come from the State. Their rabbinical hierarchy is extremely complex, and although there are different batei midrash, it takes years of doing shimush by the gedolim, as well as the scrutiny and interaction with other rabbonim, before one’s status is established and one is given a carte blanche for his views. Policy decisions are usually made in bodies such as the Moetzes Gedolei Torah or the Aida Hareidis, so there is always a consensus for the public to follow.

Yated Ne’eman editorials referring to Amona spoke about the religious Zionist “Greater Israel” ideology, and how Rav Shach constantly spoke against it. The following is an abbreviation of these comments.

Rav Shach said many years ago the day will come when the government will give back territories and this will cause a crisis for the youth. One editorial differentiated between one whose beliefs are centered on physical objects (even if they carry spiritual significance), and one whose beliefs are centered on spiritual matters, and how the first can be taken away from you by superior force but not the second….

During the Holocaust, Jews sat and prayed “May our eyes see Your return to Zion” and no one even knew they prayed. And even if they knew, they couldn’t do a thing against it. In contrast, when one’s ambition revolves around objects like land and homes, a strong Jew can be chased out by a stronger Jew or by several Jews who are even stronger. For anyone whose ideology depends on physical objects, his entire belief system is on the line.

The entire concept of “victory” and “defeat” is completely different between the Hareidi public and all other publics. An excellent example concerns the Holocaust. While the general public sees Jewish behavior during the Holocaust as weak, only the Hareidi public sees the same behavior as strength. The general public looks at the physical parameter of who oppressed whom, while the Torah outlook is, who upheld his Jewish identity and who lived and died as a Jew—thereby clearly defeating the oppressors, the Nazis. The Nazis may have killed us physically, but they didn’t take the Shema Yisroel away from us even to the very end. In the end, the Nazis were defeated and fell, and we simply kept going on.

Were the religious Zionist public less militant, they would perhaps understand that just carrying on a struggle is a kind of victory. But what can we do when this public has imbibed from its youth, “kochi v’otzem yodi”—“fighting and militancy.” No wonder there is a great ideological crisis in these circles. Would that they would wake up….

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[The letter-writer resumes: As part of their sanctification of the State and its institutions, the religious Zionists called the army uniform “kohanim garments.” Yet who does not understand the abysmal and frightening alienation from Judaism symbolized by the black uniforms now worn by Israeli defense forces? This chilling metamorphosis conveys the great crisis—the stark contradiction to their beliefs—now confronting religious Zionists.]

At the beginning of the struggle against the disengagement, our newspaper wrote that the day wasn’t far off when a mighty song of protest will burst out of the mouths of many knitted kippot wearing Zionists in Yesha: “We don’t believe in the government of the apostates, and we don’t acknowledge their laws!” This scenario is already too pale, and pictures of burning the state flag are no longer considered outside the realm of the possible…

While protesting the government’s violence and identifying with the victim’s pain and suffering, we shouldn’t forget that, in the past, their ears were deaf to hearing Daas Torah, which called them not to be swept away by the nationalistic delusions of a “Greater Israel.” At every opportunity, Rav Shach warned against the delusion of “Eretz Yisroel Shlaima.” When the Degel Hatorah party was founded in 1989, he said that one of its goals is to warn and reject the belief in “Eretz Yisroel Shlaima.”

Once, when he was speaking about the settlers’ nationalistic delusions, a well known talmid chochom from Jerusalem came up and said he heard from the settlers that they were very insulted by his words. Rav Shach replied, “Listen well. It is clear that these people are precious. But the day will come when they will remove settlements, and since they make their main attachment to Judaism contingent on this thing, the crisis, G-d forbid, will cause their Judaism to be undermined! I want them to remember that there was an old man who cried out that this is not the main thing!” He said this at a time when no one dreamed that Israel’s government would remove an entire bloc of settlements… He continued to speak his opinion out of hope that perhaps a crack, a doubt, a question mark would slightly dent the blind mistaken “faith” in “the holiness of the settlements” so as to partially diminish the terrible and stinging pain when this false belief would explode against the rock of reality. [End of Yated Ne’eman comments.]

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If I can be so presumptuous as to make a metaphysical guess, I think the falsehoods behind Mizrachi are finally being bared, and this shatnez ideology is coming to its end. ln the coming years, its adherents will split up and become either traditional/secular Jews or Hareidi Jews. What we are seeing now is the beginning of this process. It’s a process going on all over the Jewish world. A whole bunch of “isms” fell at WWII (Communism, Bundism, socialism) and now we are seeing the last isms which had a hold on the Jews reaching its end (Zionism, religious Zionism, Reform, Conservative). In 30 years there will be nothing left but Torah Jews. But hopefully Moshiach will come before that.

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