What is a nice leftist like you doing at the site of a right-wing demonstration?

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Thursday 14 b Tamuz
I just came back from Kfar Maimon, a sleepy,dusty village of 200 families in the middle of nowhere in the Negev, but also in the middle of the route from Netivot to Gush Katif. This week it was the site of a 25,000 person strong, three-day demonstration against the Gush Katif disengagement plan. I regret that I did not set out from Netanya early enough to get there until it was mostly over, but I was there emotionally, by listening to the minute-by-minute accounts on the radio. I decided to spend some time there afterwards and talk with participants to try to understand, kli sheni (second-hand) what transpired.

Intellectually I have been against the settlement enterprise since 1967 (5727) , but I found that my heart was with my friends in the religious-Zionist-settler demonstration in Kfar Maimon. Some 25,000 “right wing” demonstrators came to Kfar Maimon, and this elicited an (almost) equal and opposite reaction of some 15,000 police and soldiers. This was the largest joint army-police action in the state of Israel’s history.
In the picture below (Cross-currents July 21, “A 1000 words on disengagement”) we see religious soldiers praying minha along with, and on opposite sides of the fense from, the demonstrators whom they are supposed to be containing.

If I have to identify myself ideologically, I would say that I consider the position of the late Rabbi Shach ztz”l on the settlements to be pragmatic, and I have written about it at length (see website of Netivot Shalom Parashat Hashavua, English Behar-Behokotai 5762).

Rav Shach wrote that in the Land of Israel “we are not yet at home” in the sense of a metaphysical conception of the ephemeral versus the permanent, since we are still awaiting redemption, geulah.

“We are surrounded by people who hate us and want to destroy us…We have not yet reached a state of permanence in our Land, while we are surrounded by enemies. The only true feeling of permanence is when we are in the bet hamidrash, in the study hall. Establishing additional settlements in the Shomron will not guarantee our existence, and will not add to our security. The opposite is true, it will only increase the hatred of our enemies.”

I also have been influenced in my political thinking by Rav Ovadia Yosef and have written about his position. A one sentence summary I cite here does not do justice to his complex and nuanced approach. The references to his major work on this I cite in my essay on the Netivot Shalom website, English Parashat Aharey Mot 5763.

“If our statesmen and military experts will decide that danger to life exists… if we do not cede sections of Eretz Yisrael, while on the contrary ceding land will reduce the danger of war…it would definitely be permitted to return the territories for this purpose…”

The haredi sector, the majority of yeshiva heads and Chassidic rebbes, have been (for the most part) spectators in the unfolding drama of the evacuation/disengagement/uprooting (depending on your perspective) of Gush Katif.

Anticipating the closure of Gush Katif to outsiders, and wanting to better understand the situation, my husband and I went on a day-long visit a fortnight ago to the Gush Katif settlements. After the visit I felt awe towards what the settlers have accomplished and compassion towards those to be uprooted. Nevertheless, I support the disengagement for theological, demographic, security reasons). So last Shabbat when I read in a dozen synagogue pamphlets on Parashat Hashavua the call for participation in a 3-day march from Netivot to Kfar Maimon and from there to Gush Katif, I thought it was another in a long series of such gatherings and had nothing to do with me. But to my horror Monday afternoon I heard from friends who had gotten on 230 private buses from cities all over Israel to go to Netivot that police boarded the buses, confiscated the licenses of the drivers, and told the passengers to disembark. I, with my American background, was stunned, but my Israeli haredi neighbors were not. Many of my haredi neighbors appreciate the police and army and participate in limited numbers, but they do not have romantic notions about the security services, and therefore were somewhat less surprised by the halting of the buses by the police. If you want to read a fascinating, behind-the-scenes account of how this decision was made by the police, read Amir Oren’s account in Haaretz Friday “Democracy in Action”.
Despite the grounded buses, tens of thousands walked, hitched rides, and drove on their own to the gathering point in Netivot where the police stopped them, having revoked permission for the demonstration. With respect to the legality of attending the demonstration, going there was a “disturbance of the peace” (a lesser offense than “breaking the law”). For hours in the 90-degree Negev heat families with babes in arms, rabbis, yeshiva boys, ulpana girls, elderly grandparents, from all over Israel (not just the settlements) waited patiently in Netivot. There were hundreds of babies and toddlers among the demonstrators and the authorities feared that the police were overdoing it and they might cause real harm to the unarmed civilian protestors. Finally, because of the babies, the police “let” the demonstrators make the 8-mile trek to the night-time camp the demonstration leaders had set up in Kfar Maimon. The demonstrators reach Kfar Maimon after midnight, but awoke to an unpleasant surprise – during the night the police/army surrounded them, and during the next 48 hours caged the 25,000 demonstrators inside rolls of barbed wire. In the denouement Wednesday night the latter marched in rows along the inside perimeter path of Kfar Maimon, refused to engage in violence, and by Thursday morning dispersed.

Why do I care about Kfar Maimon, if I am in favor of disengagement as a painful necessity? I see this as a turning point from a religious-philosophical perspective. While the haredi position has always differentiated between the state (small “s”) of Israel and the Land (capital “L”) of Israel, most modern Orthodox and non-religious Jews do not understand this distinction. “Which seminary are you going to in Eretz Yisrael?” is how the youth in American Beit Yaakov schools and in the yeshivot speak, although from a practical perspective when they have to buy a ticket they will formally put down “Israel” (and not Eretz Yisrael) as the destination.

The penny seems to be dropping in the religious-Zionist public. See the interview with Rabbi Yaakov Meidan, soon to be head of the Har Etzion Hesder Yeshiva in Alon Shvut. Rav Meidan was a staunch pro-settlement, pro-IDF, pro-State (capital S) of Israel supporter. He is crestfallen in the light of the trauma at Kfar Maimon. Here are some Questions and Answers from Friday’s Haaretz Magazine cover-story interview, “Nobody is Listening”. Take into account that Rav Meidan can be emotional and given to speaking in hyperpole.

Q: “Did you draw operative conclusions?”
Ans. “In order to forge an alliance with the secular elites, we neglectd our more natural alliance with the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) public. Today I think that was a mistake. In the future, we will behave differently. In the past, with all the disagreements, I thought there was also something we could learn from the secular elite. After I saw the secular elite stick a knife in my back and turn away from its own values – democracy and human rights- I have no more to learn from them.

Q: “If so, your next dialogue will not be with the [secular] Democracy Institute but with the leader of haredi Judaism, Rabbi Elyashiv.”
Answer: “Correct. Only then, when religious Zionism and the haredi public stand together, will our place be different, will we be treated differently….This summer will be a very dramatic period in the contest for the internal identity of the Jewish peole and the state of Israel…I may be in prison… I will not be violent…but I will go to prison without batting an eyelash.”

Crowds: In describing the thousands who gathered at the siyum Ha Shas (completion of Talmud study after 7 and -a-half years) I wrote on Cross-currents (see March 4) that one of the main differences between the national-religious and haredi sectors is the problem of prioritization. The national-religious emphasize the Land of Israel along with Torah study whereas the haredi sector puts a higher priority on Torah study, though they also stress love of the Land of Israel. I documented statements where national religious leaders talked about mesiras nefesh (ultimate sacrifice) for the Land, in contrast to haredi yeshiva heads who referred to mesiras nefesh for study. One statement that encapsulates the haredi attitude, and that resonates with me, is from the Talmud, Shabat 119b “Ein mevatlin tinokot shel beit rabban afilu l-binyan beit hamikdash” – we don’t stop study (by children in schools) even for rebuilding the Temple.

Crowds: Imagine in your mind’s eye 25,000 civilians, dressed modestly, most in orange, with babies and children, elderly great-grandparents, rabbis, eating and sleeping outdoors, singing, dancing, STUDYING, praying. Avigayil Kling who lives in Kfar Maimon said her family’s cottage accommodated over 100 strangers, feeding them, giving them showers, and shade for 3 days. And outside the barbed wire covering the desert in all directions, mounted police, water canons poised, 15,000 police and infantry swarming around.

Denouement: The state (lower case “s”) of Israel is a “yeshua” – a means to save the remnant of the people of Israel, and I do appreciate and highly value it. Indeed 5 of my 6 children served in the army, as a necessary mechanism, but not as an institution with sanctity. Therefore, I want to end on a positive note.
The Yesha (Yehuda, Shomron and Gaza) leaders announced all day Wednesday that the demonstrators would line up in rows and start marching at 8 pm to Gush Katif. All of Israel heard these bulletins on the radio – highnoon tonight at 8. It seems to me that the demonstrators could have broken through the fence and headed to Gush Katif, despite the array of police and army. The police said no one would go out the gate, west to Gush Katif.
For the time being, there has been a happy ending. There was no violence, and the demonstrators sang, “We love you Tzahal (IDF), we love you police.”
Suddenly, Effie Eitan, one of the demonstration leader,a Member of Knesset and former head of the national-religious party, stepped forward and said to the head of the police, Bar-Lev, “I was your commanding officer when we were together in the army. Remember?” Then the two “adversaries” embraced in front of the crowd of 40,000 (demonstrators, army and police) and the demonstration formally ended.
For now.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She is on the board of the Charedi College of Jerusalem. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survved the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She s available to lecture in Israel and in the US.

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3 Responses

  1. Shragie says:

    Rav Shach didn’t mean to give back land without any solid secure return. He meant that a qualified promise of peace is a prudent deal. The current deal with Jews getting slaughtered is not prudent. I highly doubt that Rav Shach would back this suicide pact

  2. Daniel Weltman says:

    This post demonstrates the sad split between torah and halacha on the one hand, and hashkafa on the other. The author quotes Rav Ovadia as support, and then has the temerity to ignore his public statements that clearly contradict her conclusions. Rav Ovadia has stated that the “peace process” and “disengagement” are NOT valid halachikally, even in his view, because it is clear to everyone, even the defense and security establishment, that there will be only more danger and death in their wakes. So Mrs. Schmidt, do not claim that you are for the transfer of Jews out of the settlements because Rav Ovadia is. He isn’t.
    But more importantly, we Jews must realize that, after 2000 years of murderous Galut, G-d has given us a tremendous gift. He called it the State of Israel. He then added to that gift in ’67 Aza, Yehuda, Shomron and Jerusalem. We all must realize that by giving any of it away, we spit in G-d’s face and scorn His gift. Instead of doing that, we should be working to strengthen and empower our Nation in its State (with a capital ‘S’), bringing the Jews there closer to Torah and Mitzvot, and building our Geula out of the ashes of the horrid Galut.
    Of course Torah is the most important ideal. But that does not mean it is the only one, and the only ideal that deserves our attention. Torah is the sine qua non, and without it, we cannot exist. But without the Land of Israel, we have lost our national sense of direction. We act as individuals instead of as a nation. And, as Yechezkel 36 points out, our national disgrace of being thrown out of the land, is a chillul Hashem. Torah is not enough to combat that. There is also a need to return to our land and become a proud and respected Nation once more.
    Giving land to our enemies is not only a halachik problem according to the vast majority of poskim, it is also a tremendous national disgrace that is sure to bring us more terror and death. It also brings more chillul Hashem, as the nations see us as weak, and say, “that G-d of Israel must not really exist.” It is that reason, the chillul Hashem aspect, that we as a nation must grappple with and realize that, “echad shogeg v’echad mezid b’chillul Hashem”. The chillul will be almost impossible to fix, as will the other effects of “disengagement”.
    So, how should Israel deal with the demographic and security problems? Well, the Arabs have 22 states. They must go home, and leave us and our sliver of a State alone. This is the clear position of the Halacha.

    Shabbat Shalom, and may we see true peace, a peace of the mighty, with the arrival of mashiach, quickly!

    Daniel Weltman

  3. Moshe says:

    Shira,

    The Haredi community in Israel has long ago left the ideology of Rav Shach. Was Rav Shach for the building of the large Charedi cities of Beitar and Kiryat Sefer? If you think that he was, you’re dealing with semantics. The world will never agree to anything but a full pullout to 1967 lines. As such, building in Beitar is problematic. Yet, the Haredi community has gone in it’s masses to Beitar and Kiryat Sefer.

    There were many other Gedolim in Israel aside from Rav Shach who supported the settlements. I never met Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, but from the stories I hear about him, he was a great friend of many settlers and a rabbinic leader of theirs as well. Noam Livnat, brother of Ed. Minister Limor Livnat is a Baal Teshuvah who lives in the settlements near Shechem, and was close to Rav Auerbach. One of Rav Auerbach’s closest talmidim – Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl has stated unequivocally in shiurim that the disengagement plan is Assur, and it is forbidden for soldiers to take part in it – they must refuse orders. Rav Nevenzahl is not Mizrahi by any stretch of the imagination, he is staunchly Charedi. I personally know of a family on the Old City – Rav Yosef Zilberman, who now lives in the Moslem Quarter. Before moving there, he went to Rav Elyashiv, as people were trying to tell him that it is assur to live there. Rav Elyashiv would not give a psak that it is forbidden – and as such, he lives in the Moslem Quarter today (soon to be Jewish Quarter, with the coming of Mashiach).

    To speak Rav Ovadia Yosef’s name in trying to justify the disengagement does a great disservice to a great man. Rav Ovadia Yosef has consistently stated that the disengagement plan is forbidden, and we should work against it. He has stated that it will place us in a great danger, and as such should not be done. I’m not sure how you can fathom that he is pro-disengagement – he has clearly stated that he is against it.