Thursday, March 23, 2017

Doing the Right Thing the Wrong Way

Rabbi Baruch Zalman Melamed (Arutz Sheva)
If there is anything about me that people can be assured of, it is that I am a centrist (small c). I am not talking about my Hashkafa or world view. Although I am a Centrist in that regard too, I am also a centrist in a general way. I am a firm believer in the Rambam’s ‘Shvil HaZahav’ – the golden mean. With apologies to Barry Goldwater I actually believe that extremism in pursuit of just about anything is a vice. And that includes what passes for religious fervor in both the Charedi and religious Zionist camp.

My issues with the Charedi camp in Israel are well known. It is not I am opposed to their values. I am opposed to the extremes to which they take them, and the negative impact that it has not only on themselves but on the rest of the country - and even the world. 

For example - abandoning secular studies while increasing government subsidies as their population grows is not the best formula for survival. Not for themselves and not for the country. And although I am a firm believer that a Jewish state needs an official rabbinate, it troubles me that it seems to have been taken over by people that don’t recognize them as their own religious leaders.  Control of an institution that is not accompanied by belief in it - is what led to choosing the previous Chief Rabbi who was recently convicted of corruption.

One might surmise that my issues with the Charedi camp in Israel would lead me to support the religious Zionist camp. But I have issues with them too. And just like th Charedi world, it isn’t that I am opposed to their values. I am a huge supporter of the State of Israel. Which is clearly a Zionist State. Israel is the ancestral home of the Jewish people.All of them, including me. Originally given to us by God. That is what gives us, the Jewish people, the right to be there and call it our own. Not to mention the fact that Israel’s doors opened up for Holocaust refuges and Jews all over the world. And the ‘Never again’ aspect of living in a land where we Jews can, with the help of God, determine our own fate, and not rely completely on others for our salvation.

I am not, however, a believer that we are witnessing the first flowering of our redemption. Which means that living in Israel means that you are still living in Galus (exile). Until the era of the actual redemption, that is where we all live - no matter our geographic location.

Unfortunately it is the belief by far too many religious Zionists that by the establishment of a state we have begun the redemptive process. That in my view is the source of much of the extremism. Like those who view settling all of Eretz Yisroel (including the West bank) a goal worth shedding blood over. Not just Palestinian blood but even our own. This mentality produced the Baruch Goldsteins and Yigal Amirs of the world. And the many admirers these two murderers still have.

And now both the Charedi world and the religious Zionist world seem to have combined in the person of Rabbi Yigal Levinstein the religious Zionist rabbi who is one of the heads of a prestigious mechina (pre-IDF preparatory) yeshiva in Israel. 

One may recall a few months ago when Rabbi Levinstein made some truly disgusting comments about the IDF’s approach to a variety of groups and issues. It isn’t that he had religious problems with them. I have them too. It is the extreme – even inflammatory language he used about the IDF in raising those objections. Placing himself squarely in the extremist camp.

Arutz Sheva has found another ‘eminent’ religious Zionist, Rabbi Baruch Zalman Melamed backing him up. 

The issues are real. For example I agree that blurring the differences between the sexes in the IDF is wrong. I agree that it would undermine the moral values that ‘have preserved the Jewish people for millennia’. I too am in vigorous opposition to same sex units in the army. But to back up a man who said what Rabbi Levinstein said - backs up extremism. And that almost always leads to no good. 

There has to be a happy medium between agreeing with the underlying Halachos expressed by Rabbi Levinstein and endorsing a man who used such extreme rhetoric. That can only turn people away from the very values that he promotes. Rabbi Levinstein deserves to be reprimanded for those comments, Not supported. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way. And the right way is to abide by the Shvil HaZahav. That is always the better choice.