By Yair Sheleg | 20/08/2009
If there ever was any doubt, recent months have proven to what extent religious Zionism is a microcosm of Israeli society in general: On the one hand there is Yonatan Bassi, in charge of evacuating the settlements in the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria, and on the other, the members of Yesha (acronym of Judea, Samaria and Gaza) slated for evacuation, and their supporters and leaders, several of whom are threatening to refuse to follow military orders and state that “if there will not be a referendum we won't be able to keep the extremists in line.” And they all wear knitted kippot.
Religious Zionism's identity as a microcosm should not come as a surprise to anyone. It is hidden deep within the essence of the religious Zionist experience, which tries to take charge of every emerging identity which Israeli society itself (or at least the Jewish majority within) seeks to define: the traditional Jewish identity, the national Zionist identity and the universal modern identity. If, however, within Israel the wide range of identities exists throughout all strata of society, with each sector emphasizing one of its own values, religious Zionism attempts to establish, within its own camp, a tension and balance between them all. It would seem therefore, that religious Zionism
is more of a spiritual decision rather than an ideology; the decision of man, and society, to determine all the values of society because they can't relinquish any of them. The ideology of religious Zionism is none other than a theoretical justification – and often a defensive one – for the concurrent existence of often conflicting values, a justification which emerges only after the spiritual decision is made to, in principle, capture all segments of society.
The internal tensions in religious Zionism are not only expressed in disputes over political issues. No less fierce are the differences of opinion on religious matters, which have grown more acrimonious in recent years, between those who would anchor modern norms like feminism, music, art, and scientific research in the religious world (not only in the world of religious people, but in the world of religion, including the synagogue and the religious establishment) and those who vehemently oppose it. This latter group objects to the possible distortion of the existing Halakha (Jewish law), but even if introduction of modern norms posed no Halakhic problem, they say, this is not how pious Jews acted. After all, we have a tradition to uphold.
It would seem that the root of the internal conflict regarding these questions – the political as well as the religious – is the basic tension that comes from trying to balance the different values to which “religious Zionism” aspires. Gideon Aran defined this brilliantly many years ago in his doctoral work on the spiritual roots of Gush Emunim. He described the changes brought about by Gush Emunim among those who sport knitted kippot as a transition from “religious Zionism” to “national religiousness”. At first glance there don't seem to be many apparent differences between these two characterizations, and they are presented almost interchangeably in the public dialogue as well as in the press. Aran writes that the relationship between the noun and the adjective of these two labels makes it clear that “religious Zionism” means “the religious aspect of Zionism”, in other words people who define
themselves as Zionist-nationalistic but cloak their Zionism in religious garb; whereas “national religiousness” means a basic religious identity (“Torani” is how they referred to it in our day), which is then clothed in nationalism. They all do indeed wear the same knitted kippa, but in their outlook and certainly in their daily behavior, there are many differences between them.
If we continue with this line of thought then the basic difference in identity is essentially between those who have internalized the essence of the Zionist revolution and those who have not. What was the essence of the Zionist revolution? It turned a nation whose primary identity was religious (which, as a result of emancipation and secularization was in danger of disintegration) into a nation whose identity was based on national values. This wasn't a revolution easily accepted by the religious groups and even the founders of the ‘Mizrachi'(a religious Zionist group) organization were cautious in their approach. They were essentially Haredi Jews across the board – in their outward appearance as well as their religious observance – who differentiated themselves from other Haredi groups only in their recognition of the practical value (at that time not even theologically) of the political revival of a homeland for Jews. Only at a later stage, with the establishment of the Hapoel-Mizrachi and Bnei Akiva (a religious youth group) movements, did religious Zionism take on not only the political aspect of Zionism but “cultural Zionism” as well, in other words: not only do the ghetto Jews get to build a nation and an army, they also get to create a “new Jew”; even if, in contrast to his secular colleague, the religious Jew is interested in keeping religion and Jewish law as a part of his identity.
The Shift from Externalization to Internalization
In fact, by adopting the concept of the “new Jew”, (de-facto and never de jure, since this would have created a thicket of ideological problems and conflicts within the group itself), religious Zionism adopted a modern identity as well. This idea is, in and
of itself, a modern one, according to which a Jew is also a part of humanity and attempts therefore, to imbibe the best of modern humanity's values. It is not coincidental that religious Zionism has over the past few years easily embraced the contemporary world – from external appropriation of the clothing they wear to internally adopting the values of feminism and creative freedom.
But at the same time that the Torah-VeAvoda (literally ‘Torah and service of the land of Israel' and the symbol of Bnei Akiva) movement was growing, another world view was also developing. It originated in the study halls in Rav Kook's Yeshiva, which continued to champion the religious identity of the Jewish nation. The national revolution was what excited this group and it attempted to give its religious identity a national aspect as well. In those days as well, (not only in ours) the Hardalism(national-ultra-orthodoxy) promoted by Rav Kook differentiated itself from mainstream religious Zionism. Rav Kook never joined the Mizrachi movement (he hoped to establish an alternative movement known as Degel-Yerushalaym(the flag of Jerusalem), and religious Zionsim refused to accept Rav Kook's reluctance to give women the right to vote. Nothing much has changed to date: whereas it was completely natural for religious Zionism to accept modernity, as well as feminism, so was it natural for national religiousness (or in the more familiar and fitting name in use today, the national Haredism, or Hardalism) to reject modernism and even fight against it. Nationalism can (at least in theory) live in peace with old fashioned religion. Modernism can't.
This is the ideological basis for the tensions existing between both sides of the “knitted kippa”. But if one believes, as I do, in the saying attributed to Karl Marx, that “our physical reality shapes our awareness”, I would like to also address the spiritual roots of this divide as well. In my opinion, it stems from the different perceptions of the concept of “inner perfection”. Human beings have a need for this feeling of inner perfection. Psychologists often use the term “cognitive dissonance”, a phenomenon
referring to the discrepancy between what we know and believe to be true, and the reality in which we live and function; at times this becomes a disconnect between different and conflicting value systems. Psychologists describe the different approaches people use to deal with this dissonance: adjusting ideology, adjusting behavior which conflicts with this ideology, or alienation from one or the other.
The threat of cognitive dissonance is part and parcel of the worlds of both religious Zionism and Haredi nationalism. Both movements contain different values which are in a constant state of internal conflict. Religious Zionism attempts to bridge the gap by creating equilibrium between the different values. All the values are deemed important, so the definitive balance created will depend on the potential damage to each value. This outlook is by definition “compromising”. It contains within it the awareness that life demands compromise between different values, all of them admirable. Perfection, according to this approach, is found in the careful balancing between these different values.
On the other hand, Haredi nationalism seeks an ideological “inner perfection”, a pure perfection of unassailable values: the entire Land of Israel, the entire nation of Israel, the entire Torah of Israel, and so on. According to this world view, each of the values must remain complete. This creates a built in conflict. The leadership, operating in the real world, must often accept difficult decisions, forcing them to choose among their different values.
To prevent this dissonance between total devotion to Torah and Halakha, as it existed until today, and the “new values”, Haredi nationalism has chosen to preach devotion to its ideology and theological values while ignoring them in the real world. This is seen most clearly in its relationship to modernism: on the one hand, Rav Kook has already displayed great admiration – which has been passed down through succeeding generations of students at his Yeshiva – to the ideal of literature and art, and on the other, unequivocal opposition to any actual expression of these ideals.
Creativity itself contains conflict. This approach enables them to claim that the “correct perfection” among all the different values already exists within their framework, in contrast to the “compromising” typical of other groups.
Decisions and Pragmatism
The more this tension between the religious ideal and national values manifests itself, this strategy becomes problematic. Insofar as Haredi nationalism has chosen to actively engage in national life, it needs to make practical decisions. As long as its leaders were content to only respond to reality, rather than be part of the events creating it, it could continue to cling to the perfection of its ideal values. Therefore, in the past, when there would be signs pointing to tension between the religious ideal of the Land of Israel and loyalty to national interests, the Haredi nationalistic groups were left to function as a passive restraint in this struggle, so as not to harm national interests. Rabbi Zvi Tau, the clear ideological leader of Hardalism after Rav Zvi Kook's death, warned against stormy struggles against the evacuation of Yamit (an Israeli settlement in the Sinai Peninsula). He had particularly harsh criticism for the “Jewish underground” and spoke out against harming government leaders during the time of protest against the Oslo accords (even though this was done in retrospect, after Rabin's murder, rather than in real time).
Another means of muting the dissonance was defining the decisions as “the opinion of the Torah”, (in other words, a decision that must be adhered to because it stemmed from the religious authority of the Rabbis.) Thus, the Torah becomes the supreme value defining the relationships between all other “secondary values”, and therefore, if the perfection of the secondary values is somehow blemished, it can be seen as a result of devotion to the perfection that is above all else, i.e. the perfection of the Torah.
The situation today is different. For the first time the “Haredi nationalism” movement
finds itself not only in a position of responding to events from an ideological standpoint, but today they are also right in the mix of the events themselves: whether as evacuees or as soldiers being asked to participate in the evacuation. While the members of Gush Katif and Northern Samaria are not, for the most part, identified with the Hardal camp, Hardal leaders are well aware that evacuating these areas is but a prelude to the “opening round” of future evacuations which would take place in the very heart of Judea and Samaria. The way they choose to respond now must correspond to how they will be expected to react to future evacuations.
This produces a very strong degree of dissonance. What's needed are decisions which compromise with ideological purity: the decision to perhaps oppose organized ‘sarvanut' (refusal to participate in the evacuation),and certainly to oppose any violence, but to instruct soldiers to avoid fulfilling an order to evacuate by saying that they are “unable to fulfill this order”.
There is a built in internal conflict between a personal decision of conscience to refuse an order to evacuate and between a collective directive issued against participating in the evacuation. A decision like this basically avoids dealing with the fact that what's taking place here is a choice between values. A directive of this sort might solve the dilemma of the individual religious soldier – he didn't “refuse an order” and he also didn't undermine the security of the Land of Israel – but if many soldiers choose to follow this route (and that is indeed what many hope will happen), it could translate into an inability to implement the principle of Jewish nationalism, as well as dealing a severe blow to this value in the name of embracing the religious Land of Israel. To put it plainly, at the moment of truth, even the Haredi nationalists need to take decisions in the real world and can no longer hide behind the ideal perfection of pure
and noble values. However, the decisions of Haredi nationalists are not those of religious Zionism. The religious ideal of the Land of Israel is the one that is growing in importance in the eyes of the Rabbinic leaders of the Hardal movement, and not necessarily the national interests of the nation and the preservation of its national institutions.
In fact, the danger of undermining national interests can be seen today not only among the “Hardalim”, but also among those who clearly espouse “religious Zionism” – those who came to settle not in the name of some redemptive, religious program, but for “classic” Zionist values. They have adopted a modern lifestyle and yet, we hear them using phrases like “post-Zionist”. Some of them demonstrate a readiness to refuse to follow orders and some tout the phrase: “A state that will evacuate us is no longer our state.”
The roots of the crisis of religious Zionism differ from those of the Haredi nationalism. There are many crises here. On a personal and communal level, we are dealing with the intrinsic anger of a man forced to leave his home, and on an ideological plane we are dealing with a blurring of the lines between the means of accomplishing something (settlement) and the goal (Zionism). Because Zionism viewed settlements as the central means to accomplish its aims, this value merged with the Zionist concept itself, and there is a need now to clarify some basic ideas: the purpose of Zionism is not settling the Land of Israel – Jews have done this for generations, and certainly in the 19th century, in the years preceding Zionism. The purpose of Zionism is that very same, and much maligned political aim: to establish a sovereign national homeland for the Jewish people (Herzl, as we all know, was at one
point prepared to do this in Uganda). Settlement was indeed the main venue to accomplish this goal, but it isn't the goal itself. It became apparent, over the years, that settling in certain areas could paradoxically jeopardize the realization of the Zionist goal, insofar as it threatens the truly central goal of the Zionist vision, the establishment of a Jewish majority.
Paradoxically, the sector which, more than any other group, devoted itself to unity and national interests, is today the one that endangers them all. On the one hand, Haredi
nationalism has always viewed unity and national interest as essentially mythic: national interests and accepting the authority of the “desired” Israel, the one that fulfills the national vision, but not that of the real Israel. It sanctions harm to “Jewish values” as well as “Zionist values”. On the other hand, for some of those believing in religious Zionism, Zionism itself was identified with settlement, and when this is harmed, what is Zionism left with? There is also a sociological crisis here as well: religious Zionism put almost everything it had in terms of its image and standing in the eyes of the Israeli public into settling Yesha. Losing the status and momentum of this enterprise could be seen, by many of its leaders and followers, as destroying the overall status of religious Zionism itself. One might be able to find here a hidden motivation justifying a “Masada-like battle” to save the settlement enterprise.
There is something else hidden here as well; what is likely to happen in the future to those wearing knitted kippot, and their eventual influence on all of Israeli society. The late Yeshayahu Leibovitz foresaw that on the day evacuations begin, “false Messiahs” from Gush Emunim will be drawn to one of two possible apocalyptic scenarios: leaving the country or converting to Christianity. Leibovitz was correct in predicting the crisis to follow the dismantling of the settlements, but he exaggerated somewhat in drawing practical conclusions. As things stand today, no one is talking of leaving the country or converting to Christianity, but there is another gloomy script waiting in the wings: a Haredi, post-Zionist outlook ( and just when the Haredim themselves are becoming, de facto, closer to the general Israeli public).
The logic behind this script is simple: Since secular Zionism (and who is a better poster boy for secular Zionism than Ariel Sharon himself?) has “proven” that it can't
hold on to its values ( i.e. the settlements), this immediately shows that it has no validity anymore. Therefore, it is time to return to the old value system of the “ancient nation of Israel”, that same spirit of “historical Judaism” whose political decisions never let us down, in part because they never had to take the kind of decisions forced on us today ( this is, of course, just for show, in actuality the Haredi decision to come out against Zionism was very much rooted in their reality).
A Clear and Present Danger
Within the spiritual world of Haredism, there is no need to make decisions or compromises: in this world you are devoted to the “perfection” of your values (if not in actuality, then at the very least in your world of values). There is also something very special about focusing solely on your spiritual world – as many detractors of Zionism knew, as well as enlightened Jews like Franz Rozenzweig or members or the early Reform movement, who presented spiritual exclusivity as a Jewish ideal; much like the Yeshiva students of today, for whom the entire week, as far as they are concerned, is like the Sabbath. They therefore have no need of responsibility, or tough decision making relative to practicalities, but in practice do accept the difficult, practical decision of living a subsidized existence. (This is also the problem with the “New-Age” in religious Zionism. There's nothing wrong with an emphasis on spirituality. The problems begin when the spirituality changes from a kind of “seasoning” for life, without which life is tasteless and bland, and becomes the “main course”, and when “Shabbat” dominates the entire week, and weekday life is seen as pointless. In instances like these, “spirituality” becomes just another form of escapism).
This, therefore, is the most immediate and present danger: that many in the religious Zionist movement, and even more so, those in the Hardal nationalistic movement, the ultra-Zionists” as it were, will begin a process of estrangement and alienation from the country – will be drafted (if at all) only to the Nachal Haredi units, assuring the separation of the men from the women, and only for the minimal necessary period of service (and presumably we can also predict a lower percentage of volunteers to be officers in the army which will be evacuating the settlements). This scenario is troubling for the society, especially since the level of idealism and volunteering is
going down in other sectors as well. To what extent is this scenario relevant? The answer to this question can be found in statements by people like Adir Zik,(*note to Marty- Adir Zik died and the sentence says that he has ‘spoken recently about…'So how do you want to handle this) who have spoken recently about their jealousy of the Haredi model of separation and isolation; like Yifat Erlich from Amona (a settlement outpost near Ofra), who threatens to “return her identity card if the state evacuates me from my home”; in the petition of the residents of Gush Katif declaring that in the future they will refuse all army service, if the IDF participates in evacuating settlements; or in the statement I heard from one of the members of the council of Yesha, and one of the more moderate among them: “if they evacuate Judea and Samaria, well, then it's possible to live a good Jewish life in Monsey(a suburb north of New York City with a large religious Jewish population) too.”
But this is still the milder scenario – one of “passive Haredization”, where the new Haredim simply shrink from involvement with the rest of society – perhaps along the lines of the “Essene model” from the time of the second temple – until their status and influence completely disappear. More dangerous than the “Essene model” is the “Kanaim(zealots) model”. This refers to “active Haredization”, along the lines of the “Jewish leadership” of Moshe Feiglin: an elite group of Haredi nationalists, who would like to serve as an alternative to the inferior Zionist government. Today this
group is seen as ephemeral, but other strong-willed groups throughout the twentieth century were viewed much the same way when they first began to coalesce, and challenge inferior and corrupt governments (corruption, which by the way, is present in today's government. The questionable way that Sharon went about planning the disengagement, at least in its initial stages, only serves to cushion the ability of those who would wish to convince others of how right their message is). Like other strong-willed groups in the past, the “Jewish leadership”, is beginning its path within the parameters of democracy, and their leaders, to their credit, take care to emphasize their rejection of violence. But what will happen when they begin to understand that they have no chance of succeeding by following the democratic model? Will they give up, or say that “the cynical and corrupt use of democracy” is what prevented actualizing their goals the democratic way, and therefore they “have no choice” but to find “alternatives to democracy”?
Religious Zionism is paying a steep price today for refusing to acknowledge the fact that the Zionist turnabout is not solely one of physical locale, but a reversal which demands a redefinition of the parameters which were acceptable for the Diaspora existence: a nation accepting statehood cannot continue to cleave to the absolute values it followed when its identity was purely religious (and even in the religious domain those “adherents of what already exists” is problematic). This holds true for superpowers like the United States, which must compromise with both its rivals and allies. This was true also in the time of the “Kingdom of Israel”, touted as a paradigm by Haredi nationalist purists. King Solomon gave away twenty cities in the Galilee, not for the security of his kingdom, but in exchange for lumber sent to him by Hyram, king of Tyre for building his palace and temple, (and in the end Hyram complained about the “quality” of the cities he received). This will be true even if a “religious candidate” heads the Israeli government – unless, of course, he knowingly will lead Israel to destruction. The spiritual-Diaspora option has its own attraction which is
easy to understand. But if today someone mourns the “price of “compromise” demanded by the Zionist experience, let them not forget the cost of Diaspora life. In any event, there needs to be an awareness that clinging to absolute values sends us back to ruin and exile. This is how religious Zionism can fulfill the apocalyptic vision of Yudke in the short story “The Sermon” by Hazaz, where “Judaism (in its traditional sense) will determine Zionism”( criticism and disagreements on the tension and balance between different policies is legitimate, and probably even justified, as long as it is understood that in principle one may forego political concessions).
It is important to note that outside factors can impact on what takes place in religious
Zionism: if purists from the liberal wing (even if their purity is only for show and they will accept more practical and balanced decision making, what can you do, the medium is the message), will continue to stand at the head of the elite sectors of Israeli society (communication, culture, academia, law), without the “balance” of the Jewish-national aspect, there will be an opposing reaction and popular support of the religious purists, to the point where there is the danger of popular-democratic support for groups like “Jewish leadership”. Simply put, there is only one way to achieve equilibrium among the compromises – between the state's Jewish image and her democratic one that can bring Israel safely through all the stormy times lying in wait. Any attempt to divert the direction to any of the purist sides – Jewish or liberal – will necessitate bringing about a counter-reaction pushing in the other direction.
This scenario of Haredization is especially tragic because what Israeli society needs today, more than ever before (in light of the era of globalization blurring all unique identities) are the leading qualities of religious Zionism, especially in its classic sense, which brought together Judaism, Zionism, and modernism, and the compromises they understood were necessary to bridge between them. In short, another of the many
paradoxes accompanying religious Zionism is that it needs to be a central factor in the government, and worthy of this central place. It is not coincidental that it hasn't as yet
reached this point. It will be able to, but only if it accepts the principle of balancing compromise necessary for leadership. Otherwise it is destined to always be in the opposition, from where it can only rule with force. To those who would attack and question, what's the point of a religious Zionism which compromises its positions (why not leave the compromises to the original “Mapaynikim”), (the early Labor Zionist movement), what needs to be said is that there is value in having people whose outlook is traditional-Judaism in a position of leadership, especially if they also possess an awareness of the need to maintain a balance between their needs and other goals.
In paraphrasing the famous parable accompanying religious Zionism since the Six-Day War – the kashrut supervisor on the train wants to become the one who drives the train– it can be said that religious Zionism can and must occupy a central place in pulling the train along, as long as she will accept the consensus of all the passengers as to where the train is heading. If she doesn't accept this, one of two things will happen (and today both these scenarios can take place simultaneously): the passengers will unceremoniously throw her off the train and she will have to build herself an alternative train, and hope she can persuade the travelers to board the new train, or she will have to try to rule the train by force.
In the end we are left with several practical conclusions regarding religious Zionism. First, there is the need to differentiate between two levels of the Hardal, political and religious identity. Politically there is a need for an unequivocal stance against the Hardal ideology, (and note: not necessarily against all right wing positions, or a position opposing the “disengagement”), in other words, against the outlook that demands absolute loyalty to values, because an outlook like this is a sure-fire recipe for political ruin.
A decision like this is essential, especially for those Zionist-religious institutions with a direct connection to the army: Hesder yeshiva programs (combining army service and Torah studies) and Mechinot (pre-army preparatory programs). Without a clear cut decision, understood to be unequivocally, without any clever loopholes, against the idea of refusing to follow an order for political reasons, not only the members of “Shinui” (a liberal political party), but religious Zionism as well will need to demand the dismantling of these institutions. And just as a reminder: Ben-Gurion dismantled the Palmach for much less.
Despite this, since there is no existential danger of the Hardal position taking up residence in the religious domain, there is room to legitimize its existence, simultaneously, alongside that of the Zionist-religious outlook, since they both represent devotion to God's word, as long as Hardalism doesn't try to control the other. In this fashion, it is possible to legitimize the branches of Bnei Akiva who seek separation between men and women, but not the official position of the movement which would require only activities that separate the sexes, as in the separated leadership seminars.
Secondly, we should look carefully at the tendency of late in the Hardal movement to turn its eye on the religious-nationalist approach to “Hachzara BeTeshuva”(Jews returning to a Jewishly observant lifestyle). On the one hand, this is another aspect of the Haredi approach which typifies their activities; the content of the Hachzara Be Teshuva groups is Hardalist.
On the other hand, choosing this path is a good approach for religious Zionism in general: placing the emphasis on spiritual-educational activities, and not necessarily on settlement activity. After all, there is no one who would dispute the fact that Israel's cultural and spiritual image today is not all that impressive, and it is also clear that the secular academic approach is not suitable for all the different groups in Israeli society. Moreover, this type of activity seems to be a substitute for an even worse scenario, a semi-Haredi isolation, already mentioned here already, or an attempt to
rule Israeli society by force. Seen in this context, it is possible that those active in Hachzara BeTeshuva offer another interesting example of “the deceit of history”: what began as an attempt to bring Israeli society closer to the Hardelim, could become a bridge connecting the Hardelim to Israeli society. It would seem, therefore, that we need to view these activities positively and even join forces with them to attempt to influence the movement in the direction of religious Zionism, and not Hardelism.
Third, religious Zionism's political image is in need of a dramatic change. Its followers today are the wise and educated elders of society and members of the Hardal sector, who continue to cling to their sectorial identity. As to the majority of religious Zionists, and especially the younger members, the education they received, integrating them into all aspects of Israeli society, has succeeded so phenomenally, that they don't see the need anymore for a sectorial party, and are even averse to the concept. The political activism of religious Zionism must shift its focus from the sector to the theme, in other words, to call together all those who believe in integrating Judaism, Zionism, and modern life – religious as secular, doves as hawks, even if in practice the ones who answer this call will be primarily the religious.
And fourth, religious Zionism must remember that balancing its values is necessary not only in their attitude toward the Hardalim, but in their attitude toward secularism as well. Unfortunately there is more and more evidence showing that under the heading of “a balance between values”, or an openness to the best values that the Western world has to offer, there is simply an attempt to imitate and adopt every secular-western fashion (especially in the area of leisure time), as long as they don't wind up looking like “dossim”(a negative connotation for religious Jews), chanyukim (nerds), and those who don't go with the flow. This approach is not only invalid in and of itself, but it has the effect of immediately strengthening the opposite side, the Hardeli side, which points to religious Zionism as having chosen the path of
compromise. It is time to renew the unique pride inherent in religious Zionism, which can be proud of its values and the balance it maintains, and not become inert when faced with the Haredi and Hardal movements, nor with the secular majority as well.
Yair Sheleg is a member of the editorial board of “Haaretz” and a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.