Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I've just been busy is all. Among other things, I was facing a deadline for an article on Religious Zionism that I had promised. I can't post the whole thing but here is an excerpt. Comments welcome.


.....I’d like to at least expose one lazy habit of thought that is the source of much surplus ideology: the tendency (all too common in our circle, especially among the chattering classes) to think in terms of some immutable ontology of ideology communities (e.g., religious-Zionists, Haredim, and associated sub-sub groups of each), and to trumpet the, often imaginary, differences between the node in the ontology where one locates oneself and the nearest neighbors of that node.

If we are to avoid this habit of thought ourselves, then, let’s begin by not exaggerating the proper operative significance of theological disputes regarding the foundation of the state. The determination that the state is yesod kisei hashem ba-olam or a manifestation of the sitra achra, or something in between, should certainly influence the degree of gratitude its existence might evoke in us. Choosing sides on this question might be of supreme religious importance. But such determinations are entirely retrospective in nature. If our experiences in Israel teach us anything, it is that theological determinations regarding the state are of no predictive value. The assumption that the state is headed inexorably down a particular path is a poor foundation for making policy, especially when your adversaries refuse to play along. If, for example, you believe that disengagement will not happen because it is theologically impossible, you will likely damage the cause of those who believe that disengagement should not happen because it will bring undesirable results.

Thus, whatever importance we wish to assign to theological considerations, such considerations ought to be bracketed for purposes of making policy. (If such bracketing diminishes the gap between religious-Zionists and Haredim, let us consider that a blessing not a threat to our identities.) Removing theological considerations from the policy-making equation does not mean that religious-Zionists are doomed to relating to Israel in the same way Jews once related to Poland. It means that Jews should relate to Israel the way Poles relate to Poland. I am unfamiliar with the various theological positions of Poles on the metaphysical significance of Poland, but I assume that regardless of such, most Poles see it as their duty to defend their state and contribute to its political and economic welfare. The same principle could work in Israel as well.

By relating to Israel the ways Poles relate to Poland, religious-Zionists would actually considerably increase the chances of advancing a religious and Zionist agenda. The first necessary step if we wish to influence policy-making in Israel is to re-assess our actual situation. That is, we need to distinguish between the virtual state that we think we wish to see and the actual state such as it is.

In the actual state, religious-Zionists are a small but growing minority with many potential allies in the political arena, provided that we judiciously pick our battles and the methods we use to fight them. We can, for example, pursue a more Jewish public square provided that we define our objectives in cultural terms that are sufficiently broad to carry meaning for those who are outside our community but share with us the rejection of the high-minded idea that, all else being equal, it is the “enlightened” secular vision of the public square that must always prevail. Stable compromises superior to the deteriorating status quo regarding the public nature of Shabbat, government recognition of marriage and other points of conflict can be reached provided that religious-Zionists regard compromise as an option.

In the actual state, government regulation and sponsorship of religious institutions hamper the independence of these institutions. Jewish communities in Morocco and Poland, Yemen and Lithuania maintained mikvaot and batei knesset under far worse financial circumstances than ours, but only in Israel does a mikveh remain closed for a week because the appropriate government agency has failed to pass on the funding. Not every rav in those places earned the respect of his baalbatim, but only in Israel could such a rav, as a tenured government bureaucrat, maintain his position for life. Surely, mikvaot and rabbanim are entitled to public funding no less than the opera, but we ought to carefully consider what we really want.

In the actual state, there is little sympathy for religiously motivated settlement and security policies but there is strong support for essentially the same policies when couched in (and actually motivated by) considerations of defense. Ironically, religious-Zionists choose to promote rational security policies in irrational terms, while our opponents promote irrational security policies in rational terms. The tables should be turned.

In the actual state, the courts and prosecution, the army, the police and the public press, are in the grip of a self-perpetuating elite hostile both to religious aims and to Zionist aims. The one effective way for this grip to be loosened is via the passage of legislation changing the method of appointments to these offices. If religious-Zionist legislators really wished to see these elites dislodged – and I have reason to doubt that they do – they would propose such legislation and advance it on liberal grounds.

To sum up, a coherent religious-Zionist agenda can better be achieved by bracketing theology and pursuing politics than by bracketing politics and pursuing theology....