The Sages say, “You can’t make a crooked line straight.” This prompted the present writer to warn a reputedly right-minded organization against joining the Likud Party some ten years ago. This was before 23 Likud MKs betrayed the nation by voting for “unilateral disengagement” from Gaza in 2004—a policy rejected by a vast majority of the public in the 2003 election.
The Likud government’s expulsion of Gaza’s 8,000 Jewish residents was called a crime by Professor Benzion Netanyahu. He said this despite the fact that his son Binyamin was a minister in that government. The same crime would be re-enacted if Dan Meridor, who recently rejoined the Likud, prevails in a projected Likud-led government to yield the Golan Heights to Syria.
But what is there about the Likud that prompts the title of this article? To answer this question, I turn to Israel’s first and illustrious Chief Rabbi, Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook.
The Likud is rooted in secular Zionism, in Theodor Herzl’s tract The Jewish State. Herzl severed Judaism from public law and relegated the Torah to the home and the synagogue.
Rav Kook rejected secular Zionism as a travesty of Jewish nationalism. He was also critical of the Mizrachi, the forerunner of the National Religious Party, which, while emphasizing its religious activity within the Zionist movement, failed to challenge the secularist character of that movement. It’s not enough for religionists to join a secular party; they must relentlessly criticize its transgressions of the Torah. The Rav does not suggest a time limit for collaborating with a party that violates, for example, the Sabbath, but we may reasonably assume that remaining in such a party, when an alternative is available, would have met with his firm disapproval.
Because the Mizrachi failed to be a source of constant intellectual ferment in the Zionist movement, Zionism was dominated by practical atheists. Rav Kook discerned its superficiality. This atheism, he saw, was largely the result of corruption of the Catholic Church on the one hand, and of the lack of Jewish philosophy on the other—a philosophy based not on Aristotelian or Kantian concepts, but on concepts drawn from the Torah.
According to Rav Kook, the atheism that dominated Zionism was primarily a failure of the intellect, and not of the heart. The Rav, who was a philosopher as well as a Kabbalist, has been called the Jewish Nietzsche. Like Nietzsche, he rejected antinomies. He boldly declared that that atheism served a positive function, to rid Judaism of the dregs it had accumulated in the Diaspora, the better to articulate the philosophy underlying the Torah.
Writing to Rabbi Meir Berlin, the great Mizrachi leader, Rav Kook denounced as disgraceful a Zionist declaration that religion is totally irrelevant to Zionism. For the Mizrachi to be silent or compromise in such matters would reflect mental impotence and render Mizrachi incapable of triumph in so dynamic an enterprise as Israel’s national regeneration.
He urged Rav Berlin, “Let us brace our mind with forthright, original and firm principles whose vibrancy will illuminate the current national aspiration’s Divine source that impregnates God’s People with new life.”
The task of articulating a Jewish philosophy to inspire and guide Israel’s renaissance seems to be beyond the intellectual capacity of the religious parties or their leaders. The Rav saw that the masses were throbbing with untapped vitality. Needed was a religious appeal to their hearts and a set of principles and institutions to consolidate their vitality. We look in vain for a party in the Knesset equal to this task. Although Rav Kook saw a holy aspect of Zionism, he saw that the Zionist state as conceived by secular Zionists “tarnished our rebirth.”
Hence, it is utterly naïve to believe that the Likud or any secular party can make a crooked line straight. The same may be said of their religious counterparts. The leaders of the religious parties have yet to offer the Jewish people a practical alternative to what is now crystal clear: the decadence of both secular and religious Zionism.
Stated another way, the Zionism that founded the State of Israel is dead. And there is not a single party in the Knesset, or vying for a place in Knesset, that shows signs of possessing the intellectual capacity to articulate a new Jewish national philosophy that can unite and inspire the people of Israel.
Is this a counsel of despair? No. To inspire our people, we need to clear away the rotting foundations of the State of Israel. Without denying its positive accomplishments, this state is based on an oxymoron, namely, the very title of Herzl’s book, The Jewish State. Needed, to begin with, is conceptual therapy.
When we utter the word “state,” we have in mind the “sovereign state” whose laws are binding on all residents of a nation. In Judaism, however, the laws of God are higher than the laws of the state. The American Declaration of Independence affirms this original Jewish idea. The Declaration affirms that above the laws of the state—of kings and parliaments—are the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.” The idea of the “Jewish State” is a contradiction in terms.
This contradiction is compounded when one calls Israel a “democracy.” For, whereas the term “democracy” literally means the “rule of the people” or popular sovereignty, the Torah proclaims the sovereignty of God.
Former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak has thoroughly confused the issue. He repeatedly calls Israel a democratic and Jewish State; yet he proclaimed the despotic dictum that “everything is justiciable” in this supposedly democratic Jewish state. The Talmudic dictum, “you can’t make a crooked line straight,” applies ten-fold to Israel.
These oxymoronic concepts confuse public discourse. They corrupt the rulings of the Judiciary, the laws enacted by the Knesset, and the decisions of the Government. Nevertheless, while this cognitive dissonance confuses, divides, and degrades the people of Israel, we look in vain for any political or religious party that has the intellectual capacity and moral courage to address this impossible discord on any public forum.
There are, of course, individuals, religious as well as secular, that profit from this discordance. They may privately admit that Israel has a dysfunctional system of governance. They may even have a website that proposes institutional reform. But they persist in referring to Israel as a “Jewish state” or as a “democracy,” and hell will freeze over before they admit Israel is in need of “regime change”—despite the Winograd Report of the ineptitude of the government in the Second Lebanon War, and the absurd delay in replacing its shameless prime minister.
Calling for “regime change” requires the articulation of a Jewish philosophy. It requires philosophic statesmen comparable to James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the authors of The Federalist Papers. Israel has no such leaders. We have only politicians who can hardly comprehend the wisdom of those Americans, let alone adapt their wisdom to conditions in Israel.
The primary preoccupation of Israeli politicians is to win a seat in the Knesset. But since they could not win, say 30,000 votes, in a single regional electoral district composed of diverse ethnic, religious, and ideological groups, they perpetuate the existing system, where their party slates compete for votes on a national list via proportional representation. A clever way of obscuring their shortcomings.
The mere fact that some 30 parties compete in an election illustrates the paltriness of Israel’s political system, and why so many Lilliputian politicians speak of “vision.” The religious parties say nothing about the crass materialism of the secular parties. And if any speaks of “Jewish identity”—well, even many secularists affirm a need for Jewish identity. More “spin.”
According to some studies, the vast majority of the people in this country know that the entire system of governance is rotten. Yet no political party calls for regime change. Of course, there is a war on, and this complicates matters. But the Government and the Supreme Court behave as if there is no war—despite 7,000 Arab missiles having fallen on Sderot during the past eight years! Neither the Government nor the Supreme Court give a hoot about the Jewish people and about Israel’s incomparable religious heritage. Zionism and Israel’s system of governance have emasculated the people, have virtually disenfranchised them. The Jewish democratic State of Israel is inexorably oxymoronic.
You can’t make a crooked line straight.