Sunday, March 19, 2006

If you're an American, to be a Religious Zionist (RZ) means roughly that you're frum and you think that living in Israel is a good thing. You might even think that the State of Israel is an important step towards the ultimate redemption. That's about it.

Unfortunately, if you're an Israeli, you're talking about something altogether different. Here, Religious Zionism is weighed down by a whole lot of 19th century ideological baggage, thanks in good part to the takeover of the RZ education system by students of Rav Kook, as well as unhealed scars left by long moribund battles with anti-Zionist Haredim.

In brief caricature it goes like this:
Every nation has an "essence" which is inevitably distilled by certain historical processes. In the case of the Jewish People, the State lies at the heart of just such a process and as such is imbued with sanctity. Consequently, the State is the sole proper vehicle for advancing the objectives of the Jewish People: social welfare, enlightenment, religious education, etc etc.

This is the sort of Bolshevik claptrap the danger of which is painfully obvious to anyone not in its ideological grip. Unfortunately, most Israeli RZs are exactly in its ideological grip, whether they are aware of it or not. Every time I sit down with Mizrachi makhers here, whether they be rabbanim or politicians or just plain folk, the conversation founders on this issue. They are all convinced that the State should be solely responsible for curing the ill and supporting the poor, the State should be building shuls and mikvaot, the State should be appointing rabbanim and dayanim, the State should be legislating religion, the State should decide who is a convert, who is married, what is kosher.

You can talk yourself blue in the face demonstrating how the result of all this is that an anti-religious oligarchy is bastardizing Judaism and holding financially dependent religious communities by the balls. Try and explain that impoverished Jewish communities everywhere in the world independently supported shuls and mikvaot for thousands of years and only in Israel do mikvaot close because the moetzah datit hasn't sent the check. Blank stares. It's like suggesting that toilets should be fastened to the ceiling instead of the floor. Does not compute. That Kookian ideology is like an operating system -- not visible but every thought in the Israeli RZ universe passes through it.

So now the RZ world here is suffering from a major case of cognitive dissonance. Everything we have seen here over the past few years highlights the clear advantages of limiting state control over vital institutions to which the oligarchy is hostile. But this thought can barely be entertained. The result is the politics of immaturity. Some suddenly wish to cut themselves off from the State entirely, as if such a thing were even remotely possible. Others insist that the State remains wholly sacred no matter what outrages it perpetrates. Hatzofe, Makor Rishon and a zillion rags for reading bein gavra legavra are full of adolescent huffing and puffing. Some vastly overestimate their own power and some vastly underestimate it. Some think that if a stuttering yeshiva bochur knocks on a random door shilling for votes, Joe Israeli will be so overwhelmed by the radiance of Pure Truth that, shazam!, he'll switch his allegiance to Ichud Leumi. Others think that if they don't vote -- so there! -- somebody somewhere will give a damn. And some think it urgent that they dance ma yafis before the oligarchy and announce their everlasting loyalty to Kadima (or some such) because otherwise we'll be "distancing ourselves from the nation" -- as if only decadent secular leftist Ashkenazim qualify as constituting the "nation".

So it will continue until the RZ world lightens up a bit and stops taking the State so damn seriously. The State isn't the solution to all our problems and it isn't the sitra achra. It's a political organization run mostly by jerks. What we should be shooting for in the political arena is what informed citizens in normal places usually shoot for: to get the State off our backs a little and from time to time to replace these jerks with slightly better ones.


Blogger bar_kochba132 said...

Generally well said. There is a article in Ha'aretz where they talk to bachurim at two "right-wing settler" yeshivot and how they are coping with their disillusionment with the state. Some want to disconnect and some want to be more connected in order to "influence from within" (all are angry about Amona and Gush Katif, the only difference is what to do about it). One thing I noticed is that apparently, until Gush Katif was plowed under, they were all "super-mamlachti". Now, a friend of mine is reading Ozrad Lev's book "Min haKis shel HaRais" (I recall you mentioned that book, Ben). The revelations are shocking---high ranking Israelis have close business relations with the terrorists who are attacking us and apparently are indifferent to the lives of the citizens of the country and its very future existence. If, before Gush Katif, I had tried to tell this bachurim about this, they would say either "it is forbidden to tell Lashon HaRa about state authorities", or "yes, their are problems but this is the klippah, and we should look at all the good things Yossi Ginossar did in his life", etc. Thus, only when the regime hit these people where they live, did they wake up to at least recognize there is a problem. To get Israelis, both religious and non-religious to realize how rotten and dangerous the regime really is here seems to me to be Mission Impossible.

Regarding voting, I have been tormenting myself over this question for months. I have voted MAFDAL in 1992, Moledet in 96, Ihud Leumi in 99 and 2003. I can not bring myself to vote for any of these parties today. For a long time I thought not to vote (which you don't approve of) thinking that "I will not be part of this farce", but now I am thinking of voting for a "right-wing" party that will not pass the threshold, NOT because I agree with what this party and its leader say they stand for, but simply as a protest vote and so the big boys in the mainstream "national camp" parties will be able to see disaffected voters voting for other lists. Opinions-please before 28/3!

5:09 PM  
Anonymous yehupitz said...


You might want to add that one significant part of the struggle centers around the fact that the RZ's see Zionism as a fulfillment of thousands of years of hoppes and dreams while the State leadership sees Zionism as a (Jewish) 19th century Colonialism project they are trying to salvage (as the white African models tried) at any cost or compromise.

The irony is that the State leadership is now in basic agreement with the PA and its allies over the underlying philosophy of this struggle.

6:11 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

Yashar Koach. Generally well said. Here is my post on a similar issue:

The main issue is not the Torah of Rav Kook Zt"l but it's misuse by those who have not studied it properly. Certain people can not seperate between potential and actual kedusha.

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How bizarre to see someone who purports to understand the need for a realistic view of the state considering casting away a vote by voting for a party that will not pass the threshold. If there is any value to such a protest measure, one would have to use a microscope to find it. The actual effect of this "protest" vote is to take a vote that would potentially strengthen the Likud-nationalist camp and instead use it to strengthen the Kadima-withdrawal camp. Real politics consists of coalition building for realistic and worthwhile goals, not symbolic immolation in the hope that someone will notice and care.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Nachum said...

Very well said! One small question, though: WHy do you not distinguish "State" and "government"? Can't one be super-patriotic and believe in an ultimate religious meaning to a State while still being, say, an extreme anti-government libertarian?

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. By the way, isn't this view of the state and its institutions very similar to what the hated Charedi Roshei Yeshiva have been saying all along?

10:50 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Voting is not a statement of identity; it is a means to an end. Vote for the party that in your estimation has the best chance of forming a government we can live with.

The distinction you refer to is not between government and state (though that is also a very important distinction) but rather between valuing the state (a lot) and wishing to expand its power indefinitely. I completely agree. I love my father but that doesn't mean I think he should play center field for the Mets.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I don't hate any Haredi Roshei Yeshiva, so it wouldn't upset me to agree with them. As it happens, (and I say this without malice, just as a point of painful fact)the Haredi Roshei Yeshiva I know are unlikely to have said this because they are too muddle-headed and inarticulate to put together a coherent paragraph in any language.

11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, Ben, who then are you voting for?

11:35 PM  
Blogger Tzvee said...

Sour grapes. The State is the greatest miracle of Jewish history but you just don't get it. Too bad. Go back to the kleine shtetl.

12:36 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Perhaps not the greatest miracle but a great miracle indeed. That is why I am here enjoying its successes, suffering its setbacks and contributing what little I can to help it muddle through.

1:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the Haredi Roshei Yeshiva I know are unlikely to have said this because they are too muddle-headed and inarticulate to put together a coherent paragraph in any language"

I am unsure if this comment of yours is anti-Semitic or just plain silly. Honest and well-informed individuals who are familiar with the Haredi Yeshivot may disagree with certain positions of their leadership, but to deny their clarity of thought, or to claim that they are inarticulate is demonstrably false.

1:12 AM  
Anonymous Delurking Girl said...

Thank you for stating what I could only think of in vague terms.
Though when discussing Judaism and the State with young secular Israelis, it seems that they do kind of get this idea.

1:12 AM  
Blogger Nachum said...

Tzvee, just wondering: In 2004, you voted only for incumbents, right?

4:18 AM  
Blogger bar_kochba132 said...

If I might point out something in my defense for arguing that I can not vote for the Likud or Ihud haLeumi-MAFDAL, it is important to remember that the big destructions of Jewish communities were both time carried out by "right-wing governments" of the Likud and MAFDAL. Barak, the Leftist, won big in 1999, offered everything, but in the end did not destroy any yishuvim, and in fact recognized many "Ma'achazim". Thus, it is not clear to me that having "right-wing" parties in power is of any real benefit. It was also the MAFDAL that kept Sharon in power for months after he announced his intention to destroy Gush Katif. I will never forget a no confidence motion that Netanyahu (as Finance Minister) and other ministers said they would support, and it seemed the gov't would fall, but the MAFDAL saved Sharon, saying they would NOT support the motion. They announced they were giving time to Sharon to propose a bill for a national referendum. Sharon replied he would do no such thing, but the MAFDAL supported him anyway and the Likud ministers backed off. THERE IS NO DOUBT IN MY MIND that the MAFDAL supported the destruction of Gush Katif, despite lip service to the contrary, and will support Olmert's attempts to do the same. I CAN NOT vote for a list that includes the MAFDAL. Period.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Reb Yudel said...

It's rather unfair to blame Rav Kook z'l for the students of his students becoming dogmatic party-line bolsheviks. AFAIK, Rav Kook was anti-dogmatic in his embrace of the Zionist movement.

To say that having a state is a good, and holy thing; and that having a mikveh is a good, and holy thing; is not to necessarily say that they should be one and the same.

I suspect that decades of defensiveness against haredim, rather than decades of poring over the Orot Hakodesh, created the mentality you deplore.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't you vote as a your sign of a protest for a left-wing party? Regarding the character of the state they agree with you. They too are for a separation of state and religion.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

I do not support separation of religion and state. I am opposed to outlawing religious legislation or funding for religious institutions.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Ben Bayit said...

I'd have to agree with BK132 regarding the role of the religious and right-wing parties in the disengagement. see

It seems to me that the issue of equating religious services with the State is more of a reflection of the socialist nature of the State and the monopolistic nature of the economy, than a theological notion. The reason that I say that is that religious services and religious education have increased despite government cutbacks. The average religious zionist family spends more than double on high school tuition now than they did a decade ago. They are doing exactly what Jews did for hundreds of years in the Galut. The schools are still thriving and new ones are opening up all the time. On the flip side, American Orthodox Jews also know how to get handouts from the government for religious and educational services - be it tax deductibility, welfare hidden within the tax code (child credits etc.), government support for institutions, givernment housing etc. etc.

So yes there are certainly messianic bolshevik elements within RZ (IMHO they lean to the center-left of the RZ spectrum), but I think that the picture is more complicated

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks that his vote makes the least bit of difference is fooling himself. Whether the so called right or left wins changes nothing. Israel continues towards disaster no matter who heads the government.

Israelis cannot choose the leaders they please. Any party that rises with an alternative vision than the current one will and has been banned from running by the elites.

The sooner Israelis learn this reality, the better. At least they could then decide what to do next.

(As to you analysis of religious Zionism, I mostly agree. It's almost sickening how obsequious they are to the state. It also amazes me that they think they must always be part of a coalition (and leave the big and important national decisions to Labor and Likud) and never for a second think of heading that coalition themselves. It's almost insulting to the Torah.)

6:04 PM  
Blogger mnuez said...

Okay, it looks like Bar is posting under a whole bunch of different names again. Maybe i'm wrong and he's never done this but i'm not the only one with such suspiscions. Bar, if that's what you're doing, please stop, it's ridiculous.

As for the post:

Ben For President. I absolutely love this guy. Which means that i better make sure to never actually meet him and end up disappointed. Benny, your my last refuge in my hope for some human sanity somewhere. I need you Ben. I need you.

Anyhow, Yudel's right of course and I thought that I had already posted that here, but it appears that I was high and had actually posted to crosscurrents. Whoops. (P.S. Cross Currents? As in more thgan one? Oh, a tzeilem. i get it. Like the chabad hat. Anyway - - )

Yah, so anyhow i happen not to worship AIHKook and am not "defending" him but jusso y'all know ttbomm (to the best of my memory) most religios zionists supported the Uganda plan and R' Kook (Zionist though he was) said that both sides had their points and that he wouldn't support one or the other. He may eventually have come down one way or another, but he was no decaying artifact of ideology. The ideologues are rarely as petrified as their fossilized followers. ('I don't know what Lenin would do if he were alive today but one that i know he would not do would be to follow the instructions of a 50 year old text.' - Tito ztk"l)

Anyhow, I'm sure i have plenty more genius that you're all thirsting to hear but my jailor's beell is ringing. I must trot.


12:13 AM  
Blogger Sharvul said...

Ben: Didn't think the day would come, but... I agree with every word you wrote.

7:36 AM  
Blogger westbankmama said...

I agree with most of what you say - but I don't think that the door-to-door campaign is a waste of time. Yes, they may not get people who thought of voting for Kadima to vote for Ichud HaLeumi, but they may get them to vote for the Likud, or they may just decide to stay home...

There is a crying need to look at our government from the perspective of an adult - not as a naive teenager, but also not as a slimy politician just out for himself.

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Great blog! I saw an article that articulated your POV linked in the brand new Tradition on line. RZ has to engage in serious cheshbon hanefesh and ask how it became so politically and religiously isolated from the Israeli equivalent of the "silent majority" and so emphatic on settlements at the expense of 612 other mitzvos. RZ has no allies to speak of and has allowed the settlement movement to take over a movement that once upon a time was a bridge to the secular world. one can oppose the disengagement without using demonizing rhetoric re the Holocaust and raising far too many children who are far more enthusiastic re the important days ofYom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim but whose enthusiasm for Shabbos, YT and Yamim Noraim pales by comparison.

5:31 PM  
Blogger still realizing said...

About Kadima and disengagement and all that: Are the people who supported the pullout from Gaza happy with the result? Or do they think it's too soon to tell? Or are they visibly chagrined? Or What?

I don't get to meet such people but I really want to know.

2:00 AM  
Anonymous yoeli from kj said...

I am forwarding this to the der yid newspaper
they are gonna reprint this under the title "afili zay veisen..."

8:02 PM  

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