Monday, June 16, 2008

Fractionalizing Ourselves into Oblivion

Religious Zionism is being attacked. And it isn’t only by Charedim. And not only by secular Jews. It is being attacked by their own - former members who left it because they say it has been hi-jacked by right wing Religious Zionist rabbis:

"Religious Zionism has lost its true substance and has become a cult," said MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima) Wednesday at the Religious Zionism conference on education, the economy and society.

Otniel Schneller is a religious member of the Knesset who was raised in a Religious Zionist home. He went on further to say:

" The fight for the Land of Israel is important, but hailing it as the sole theme makes Religious Zionism a cult. I know many of you will resent this definition, but this wasn't the way taught by the Religious Zionism I grew up on."

I have been pointing this out for some time now. And I think it is an accurate assessment. Settling the land of Israel seems to be the number on agenda item of Religious Zionist rabbis these days. So much so that a Psak was made recently by one such Rav that allowed homes for Jews to be built on Shabbos:

Concerns that the High Court of Justice might put a stop to the construction of new homes in the West Bank settlement of Ofra have led to the extraordinary step of keeping the work going seven days a week, irrespective of the religious prohibition against labor on Shabbat. The decision relies on a religious ruling by Ofra's rabbi, Rabbi Avi Gisser, aimed at expediting construction so homes can be occupied before a possible court intervention.

Of course no one is saying a Jew may work on Shabbos. What Rabbi Gisser is talking about is Amira L’Nachri – the rabbinic prohibition of telling a non Jew to do work for a Jew on Shabbos - which has parameters for dispensation. But this is one illustration of the focus of the ‘New’ Religious Zionism.

MK Otniel has a point. Like some other movements in Judaism they too have taken devotion to a principle to an extreme and have become obsessed with it. Sometimes to the point of violence. Religious Zionism has become ‘land’ centered instead of God centered.

Religious Zionism was once looked at by the secular Israeli public with great esteem. It was the Hesder soldiers that were the most elite commandos of the army. They were the ones who volunteered in groups for the most dangerous missions. Their ranks had the highest numbers of casualties in battle. Secular Jews knew that and admired them. It was the Hesder soldier that was on the front lines protecting their families. But now extremist rabbis seem to have taken over. And Religious Zionist Jews are now reviled by a secular public who knows an obsession when hey see one. They now see Religious Zionists as fanatics who will take them down the path of oblivion.

While it’s true that some of the most sincere and devoted Religious Zionists have taken this position, their focus on ‘ settling the land’ with a messianic fervor has sometimes led to violent confrontation with the very government so many of them have sacrificed their lives for.

The more politically rightward they go the more marginalized they will become - to the mainstream of both the secular world, the more moderate Religious Zionist world, and the Charedi world.

The Charedi world has grown to a point where they can now assert themselves like never before. They are currently on a tear to take over religious institutions formerly controlled by Religious Zionists. They have ‘packed’ the Israeli Rabbanut with Charedi Rabbis who have asserted their authority over it even though they normally eschew it. With a siren call of strengthening Mitzvah observance or preserving the integrity of Jewish lineage, Charedi Rabbis have undermined decades of religious Psak issued by Religious Zionist rabbis - issues such as Shmitta or conversions - while Religious Zionist rabbis are busy building or expanding settlements. Rome burns while Nero fiddles!

This is not to say that the claims made by Charedi rabbis are not legitimate. Perhaps they are and should be debated. The point is that this is a bloodless coup – a hostile takeover of the reins of control over religious policy in Israel by Charedi rabbis.

Because of this, some are now calling for a complete break with Charedim:

Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, a leader of the religious kibbutz movement and a former Meimad MK, summed it up: "Enough with the ultra-Orthodox hegemony. We need another leadership, a moral one with national responsibility."

What a sad state of affairs we now have. A once powerful, strong and united Religious Zionist movement is now fractured and polarized - high-jacked by extremists. And it is being attacked from all sides.

A complete break is from Charedim is unviable in my view. The fractured state of affairs in Religious Zionism will doom any such attempt to failure. While it is true that Charedim have their own very serious problems that may implode on them sooner than they expect, they have a very distinct advantage. They are united. They have an authoritarian system which they never question. Their leaders are considered sages - Gedolei HaDor – leaders of the generation whose views they treat as infallible. Religious Zionists do no have such leadership.

I am just an observer commenting from the sidelines. I am neither secular, Charedi, nor am I a Religious Zionist - at least not politically. But it still saddens me when as a seeker of Achdus, I see the opposite happening right before my eyes. Attacks from without and attacks from within - all in a climate of unprecedented animosity. I hope that Klal Yisroel is not disintegrating before my eyes – fractionalizing itself into oblivion.