August 18, 2005
The first casualty of the Gaza withdrawal has been the sundering of the relationship between secular Israel and the national religious camp. The national religious have become the new chareidim as far as the secular media goes.
The anti-disengagement campaign has been an unsurpassed failure in terms of winning over wavering secular voters. The use of Holocaust imagery — prison camp uniforms, Jewish stars — strikes most Israelis as an egregiously offensive example of the trivialization of the Holocaust as universal metaphor. The charge that the Gaza withdrawal is anti-Semitic in its essence enrages those who support the withdrawal as the only way to preserve Israel as a Jewish state. And comparisons troops carrying out the uprooting to Hitler’s S.S. infuriates parents of all those who serve in the army.
Repeated efforts to close major highways — including in a few cases by pouring spikes and oil onto highways — has succeeded only in trying the patience of the average Israeli. Even the manner in which young teenage demonstrators have been imprisoned for up to a month has failed to stir the secular public. They see their incarceration as further evidence of the fanaticism of their parents, who refused to ensure that their kids would not engage in further illegal demonstrations.
Repeated calls for soldiers to refuse orders, including by some heads of hesder yeshivot, has intensified suspicions of the national religious world within the IDF. Ideologically homogenous units of hesder students, who answer to their roshei yeshiva as well as their commanders, are being reevaluated. If the hesder framework is weakened so will the ability of national religious youth to serve at all in the IDF, in which they currently constitute 40% of the junior officer corps. In the past, charges have been raised that the IDF has a glass ceiling preventing religious officers from advancing to the highest echelons. That glass ceiling is likely to become a steel barrier.
TO ITS GREAT CREDIT, the national religious world has not responded in kind to the vitriol directed at it. While calls to disengage from the state have been heard from some of the more extreme groups within the national religious world, there have been no such calls to disengage from the Jewish people.
At the same time, a very deep sense of betrayal runs through the national religious world. Rabbi Yaakov Meidan, the incoming Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, gave full expression to this sense of betrayal in an interview in Ha’aretz with Ari Shavit. He charged that the secular elites, with whom the national religious world forged “an alliance based on love for this land [and] the desire for revival of the state” have “plunged a knife in our back.” “[F]or part of the secular elites breaking religious Zionism is the goal,” said Rabbi Meidan.
In the past, the national religious camp imagined that the larger secular public supports them, and the only impediment to the realization of a more fully Jewish state is a few narrow elites. No longer. The recognition is dawning in the national religious world that the bridge they sought to build to secular Israel goes only one way.
Sarah Bedein, a resident of the Jerusalem suburb of Efrat, wrote recently of how the national religious world drew close to the culture of secular Israelis — humming their tunes, knowing their movie stars and television programs — without drawing secular Israelis any closer to Jewish culture.
DOES THE DISILLUSIONMENT of the national religious world with its former secular “partners” herald a rapprochement with the chareidi world? Rabbi Meidan held out such a hope in his Ha’aretz interview. He termed the national religious world’s decision to forge an alliance with the secular elites at the expense of “our more natural alliance with the chareidi public” a historical mistake.
For its part, the chareidi public remains deeply ambivalent about its relationship with the national religious world, in general, and to the Gaza withdrawal, in particular. Most chareidim oppose the disengagement on security grounds, and sympathy for the settlers is widespread. The heavy coverage in most of the chareidi press of the uprooting of 26 shuls and yeshivot from Gaza, as well as Jewish graves, strikes a responsive chord in the chareidi community. So does the forced separation of neighbors and extended families who have lived together for three decades.
At the same time, United Torah Judaism joined the government during the final stages of the political process leading up to withdrawal. At the very least, UTJ’s presence reflects the judgment of the Torah leadership that withdrawal from Gaza is not halachically forbidden, if it will result in greater security for Jews. The chareidi Torah leadership finds the security/diplomatic calculus too murky to mandate a departure from its long-standing policy of not casting the decisive votes on matters of national security, and especially not where the majority of Jews appear to be on the other side.
With the exception of last week’s truly massive prayer gathering at the Kosel, the chareidi world has been almost entirely absent from demonstrations against the withdrawal. In part, that reflects the misgivings the chareidi world has always entertained about the settlement enterprise and its attendant elevation of yishuv ha’aretz to a preeminent place in the pantheon of Jewish values. And in part, it reflects an ongoing concern with what it views as national religious world’s glorification of martial virtues. Last week’s murder of four Arabs by a member of the ultra-nationalist Kach movement will only intensify the latter fears.
Chareidim continue to be viewed as infected with a galus mentality by the national religious world, and they do not even reject the characterization. Chareidim are vaguely unnerved by the swagger of Jews with guns stuck in their belts, and find the determination to live, with one’s wife and children, in areas that necessitate carrying a gun somewhat fanatical.
There is a long history of bad feelings between the two religious worlds — some ancient, some much more recent. The chareidi world remembers that the national religious world, as Mrs. Bedein acknowledges in her essay, has always been absent from demonstrations for Kavod HaTorah and Kavod Shabbos [the Honor of Torah and Shabbos].
Nor has it forgotten that the National Religious Party was in the government at the time of the most drastic cuts in child allowances and funding of yeshivot. A recent editorial in Yated Ne’eman (which did not even report the mass prayer gathering at the Kotel) quotes Midrash Eichah: “If you see cities that have been uprooted from the world, know that they did not pay the salaries of the scribes or provide meat to the teachers of Torah.”
In short, the profound theological and historical differences cannot be easily reconciled. Still, it is impossible not to see a ray of hope in the rediscovery that the common bonds between Torah Jews are more profound than any other.