Division – certainly; Reconciliation – perhaps

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Mishpacha Magazine
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.

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13 Responses

  1. Shalom says:

    I would like to respond to Rav Menken’s post. Citing the “three oaths” as the basis for Chareidi mainstream halakhic opinion I believe is way off the mark. I don’t think this is the time or place to go into a lengthy debate about the relevance of the 3 oaths to normative halakha. However what is absolutley clear is that it does not say “if this is not the Messianic Era, then the establishment of a Jewish state violates our agreement with the nations of the world during our exile.” In my edition of Tractate Ketubot it says that they should not go up as a “wall” which means en-masse and they should not rebel against the nations of the world. Lets not forget that the Gadol Hador of his time, Rav Meir Simcha HaCohen said after the San Remo Conference that now once the nations of the worlds have agreed in principle that the land of Israel should be returned to the Jews we no longer have to fear violating the “3 Oaths”.

  2. Edvallace says:

    Netanel,

    Do you not understand that to these people living in a part of Eretz Yisrael is a matter of simple real-estate? That they were fulfilling the very same commandment that David and Yehoshua’s were fulfilling? This is not based on their whims but on all the poskim that explain that the mitzvah to conquer the land was not limited to one generation.

    Thing is – I do understand that. However, I also think you need to understand that these people are following their poskim who rule this way. This is not the opinion of most Chareidi poskim and therefore we do things differently. None of this compares with the times of Yehoshua and David etc. where there was an unquestioned mandate to conquer the land. No comparison.

    The shame is that your approach is so steeped in Torat Chutz LaAretz that you fail to appreciate the importance of the Jewish people being sovereign over all of the land of Israel.

    Since you do not know me, it would be pointless to defend myself against a silly claim like this. But I will do so anyhow, only because I think that behind your inner turmoil you’re probably a reasonable fellow and this may help you see another side to the story.

    As for being “steeped in Chutz LaAretz,” I lived in EY for five years under conditions that I hope you’ll never experience. We had no heat or hot water for two of those years. The only “freebie” we could count on was mold on the walls.

    Half of my immediate family [and it’s a large one – remember we’re chareidim] live in EY and all contribute mightily to the economy. I travel there at least once a year. I have been active in encouraging young people to go there for years and have probably influenced more people to live there than you’d ever believe.

    I am not alone among Chareidim in my love and devotion to the land. We sacrifice tremendously for it. We follow a different set of Poskim however, than the NRP and therefore we see things differently. You are right that we share much more in common that is typically evident, and hopefully the NRP will realize that if we can work together on the things that are important to BOTH of us, we’ll stand a much better chance of promoting Kiddush Hashem and merit the ultimate redemption.

  3. Yaakov Menken says:

    Netanel,

    I appreciate your emphasis upon that which binds charedim with Dati-Leumi’im, rather than that which divides them, as reflected in your comment above. At the same time, you should understand that Edvallace’s point cannot be countered with references to Yehoshua and David.

    There is a profound and obvious difference between the situation of Yehoshua and David and that of today. G-d ordered us to occupy the land then; according to the Talmud, if this is not the Messianic Era, then the establishment of a Jewish state violates our agreement with the nations of the world during our exile. Quite a difference. [The Chashmonaim, by the way, were the family of Matisyahu, son of Yochanon, who was a student of Antigonos Ish Socho, the outstanding Torah scholar of his day. They were “charedim.”]

    Today, as I detailed in a comment to my earlier post, there is a serious difference of ideology. The charedim regard the secular state of Israel as just that, and believe that it is incumbent upon us to do that which is rational and appropriate. “Complex security calculations” are the order of the day, not Messianic dreams — and no matter your views on disengagement, you know that every Jewish child in Gaza was a target, more than most anywhere else in the country. If continued dwelling in Gaza would have cost another 100 lives, charedim do not believe preserving current ownership of that land would have been worth that price.

    You can disagree, but do not assert that the same would apply were this the time of David or Yehoshua, when G-d told us to occupy the land.

  4. Netanel Livni says:

    Francine,

    your post is as much of a cheap-shot as JR’s. Do you really think that it is the chareidim live comfortably on the backs of others??? The Chareidim sacrifice a tremendous amount of comfort and wealth for the ideal of upholding the Torah. I would go as far as saying that without the dedication of the Chareidim to Torah study, the Dati-Leumi camp would have been lost. 30 years ago the Dati-Leumi world was completely dependent on Chareidi Torah teachers since for the first 80 years of its existence it mistakenly invested in Zionism at the expense of Torah instead of settling the land as a commandment from the Torah. You also ignore the tremendous toll serving in the army has taken on the spiritual life of many of the Dati-Leumi youth. You talk about middot?? So much of the chesed in Israel is run by Chareidi institutions. You seem to only appreciate national contributions in the realm of army service. While the army is important, a healthy spirit is the only foundation upon which you can build a healthy army. The same army that sanctified G-d’s name in war, just desecrated His name in the worst possible way by becoming a vessel for the antisemitic expulsion of Jews from their land and hading their life’s work to their enemies. Those soldiers who were of strong spirit refused to take part and many are now sitting in jail. Mostly because of the Torah values they share with the Chareidim.

    I think you are very wrong. While many in the Dati-Leumi world still differ with the Chareidim on particular issues LeShem Shamaim. They now realize that there is much more that binds us than divides us.

    I pray that pointless hatred will not overcome a historic opportunity to join forces and empower the Jewish people to go in the path of Hashem.

  5. Shragie says:

    I recently heard a very well known respected Charedi Rav bemoan privately the aforementioned. He lamented the fact we could make asifos (gatherings) for every issue but 10,000 Jewish lives are being shattered and we do nothing. He was literally in tears over the issue.

    My point is expressing the fact that there was a mistake is not heresy and should be addressed.

  6. Francine Marino says:

    Mr Rosenbaum’s cheap-shot labels “guns in the belt”, “swagger”, “martial virtues”, “fanatical” are the flailings of a threatened man. And that is understandable The Dati Leumi live as G-d-fearing, Torah-observant, learned Jews while imbibing secular knowledge, acquiring professions and raising their children to follow in their footsteps. In so doing they rattle the very foundations of the Charedi platform.

    With all due respect to Rav Meidan and Sara Bedein, we, i.e. most Dati Leumi Israelis, have no interest in forging an alliance with the Charedim. People who are content to live their lives securely in a war zone while the sons of their secular and Dati Leumi neighbours are sacrificed in order to achieve that security lack the midot that we aspire to. Their selfishness and callousness in avoiding the draft inspire pain and resentment that cannot be easily erased.

    You’re “deeply ambivalent” about us? We aren’t about you.

  7. Netanel Livni says:

    Edvallace,

    Do you not understand that to these people living in a part of Eretz Yisrael is a matter of simple real-estate? That they were fulfilling the very same commandment that David and Yehoshua’s were fulfilling? This is not based on their whims but on all the poskim that explain that the mitzvah to conquer the land was not limited to one generation. See Ramban, Seforno, Abarbanel, Ohr HaChaim, and many others that explain that the mitzvah of kibush haaretz is not limited to the seven nations.

    So I once again ask you, what is the difference between the things these great heroes of the Tanach did and that which the heroes of Gush Katif did for so many years? They were both fighting a milchemet mitzva.

    They did not to this “only to live in a certain part of land” but rather in order to fulfill the command of Hashem and to sanctify His name in the world. Therefore, I do not believe it is “incoherent” to compare their lives to the life of the heroes of the Tanach. The shame is that your approach is so steeped in Torat Chutz LaAretz that you fail to appreciate the importance of the Jewish people being sovereign over all of the land of Israel.

  8. Joshua says:

    Now is not the time to point out what divides us now is the time to work together to help the thousands that were left homeless to help them build their lives up again.

  9. Edvallace says:

    “I wonder how the chareidim would feel if they had to live in the same generation as the Chashmonaim. I guess they would not involve themselves it the matter because of the “complex security calculations” involved in deciding whether or not to revolt against the Hellenists and their sponsors. Also the sight of Jews carrying swords and spears would just make them way too uncomfortable.”

    Netanel,

    Judging by the tone of many of your recent comments you seem to be very upset so I imagine we can blame your incoherency on that but the above statement is so out of touch with what JR wrote that I doubt it needs to be pointed out, but I’ll do it anyhow in case someone missed it.

    Can you compare placing women and children in constant danger simply in order to live in a certain part of Israel, to a situation where Jews were literally forced to take up weapons or forfeit all of Yiddishkeit altogether?

    “The question is: would the chareidim feel comfortable following any of the heroes of the Bible? Was David HaMelech Yeshivish enough for them? How about Shimshon? would he be too fanatical? how about Pinchas, Elyahu, Elisha, etc.?”

    Again, focus on the fact that the aforementioned heroes fought for the right to practice Yiddishkeit or to live in safety. That’s it. Not because they needed a specific tract of land [unless there was an outright divine command as in the case of Dovid HaMelech in which case it’s not different than the original Kibush Haaretz].

    Yes, Chareidim can tolerate the sight of a gun. They’ve brandished them throughout history, but the reasons had to be primarily for the sake of upholding fundamental tenets of Yiddishkeit, not in order to live in a specific part of the land.

  10. Netanel Livni says:

    Bob,

    I do not know what you are talking about. Maybe you should ask why the government of Israel made thousands of Jewish children homeless and destroyed their community. If people would not have put themselves and their kids in dangerous situations, the whole settlement enterprise in Israel would never of taken off the ground 120 years ago. The ideals we strive for are not something we bequeath to our children when they graduate high school, they are something we demonstrate by example from the moment they are born and they are part of every struggle along the way. That is what Chinuch is all about.

    Nati

  11. Bob Miller says:

    Could someone please explain why children have been allowed to put themselves in harm’s way as the Gaza action winds down?

  12. Netanel Livni says:

    “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.”

    I wonder how the chareidim would feel if they had to live in the same generation as the Chashmonaim. I guess they would not involve themselves it the matter because of the “complex security calculations” involved in deciding whether or not to revolt against the Hellenists and their sponsors. Also the sight of Jews carrying swords and spears would just make them way too uncomfortable.

    The question is: would the chareidim feel comfortable following any of the heroes of the Bible? Was David HaMelech Yeshivish enough for them? How about Shimshon? would he be too fanatical? how about Pinchas, Elyahu, Elisha, etc.?

    Give me a break

  13. Toby Katz says:

    The secular liberal Ashkenazi Israeli media and academic elite have been hostile to the Religious Zionists for many years, regarding ALL of their “settlements” –i.e., all the communities they built in the West Bank — as “obstacles to peace.” The secular left NEVER cared for the hesder boys.

    And as for the liberal media elite here in the States, they always got the Religious Zionists confused with the chareidim, as they never could quite fathom that in Israel, right-wing political attitudes did not correlate closely with right-wing religious beliefs. The chareidim always tended to be on the doveish side, a fact the Times never got a handle on.

    I have argued for years, with my RZ friends, that their attempts to curry favor with the secular left were doomed to failure, as the leftists tended to be hostile to every color yarmulka. The hesder boys were very conscious that they were not “parasites” like the full-time yeshiva guys, but the secular left was not impressed, because they regarded the RZ guys as unwilling to make peace with the Arabs.

    I always thought that a more natural alliance was between the RZ and the chareidim. I hope there will be a rapprochement now between the religious camps in Israel. As you say, there is far more that unites us than divides us.