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.

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.....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....

6 Comments:

Blogger Ben Bayit said...

generally excellent. 2 points:

1) when you write "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.", you ought to take note of the fact that it was precisely this formula that enabled the army and state organs to carry out the disengagement. I belive that Amnon Lord wrote a column within the last year or so that explored this aspect of "Israeli" patriotism disconnected from any Jewish and/or historical context and the downside of it. well worth re-visiting

2) it is simply naive to belive that the method of appointments will change things. Do you really believe that the rubenstein, berliner, jubaran panel that has been selected to hear the upcoming appeal by lev yehudi against the police disallowing the protests outside Yair Naveh's house will be any different than it will be had they selected procaccia, beinish and jubaran. The entire appeal involves Religious Zionists - Jubaran is the token goy. A change in the appointments process would have led to the same judges - Rubenstein and Berliner. Won't change how they rule - we know how it's going to go down. Protests outside Rav Ovadia's house - Yes; outside Naveh's house - No.

3:27 PM  
Blogger bar_kochba132 said...

Agreed, you have a lot of good points here. However, it is an uphill battle to convince religious Jews of this. I have been arguing that a truly more democratic Israel would only benefit the (Orthodox) religious community because it has reached a critical size and is very disciplined, so it can not be ignored, even by its opponents. I say that, yes, we would get Arutz 7 legalized, but we would have to also allow a Muslim religious station (assuming it does not broadcast incitement). The police would not beat us up, nor would it beat up peaceful haredi or Arab demostrators. Orthodox rabbis would be allowed to teach Judaism in the secular schools, but so would Reform (don't worry, I am confident the Orthodox Rabbis would more than hold their own with the Reform).
Unfortunately, most religious people don't understand what I am saying. They are saying it would lead to a "state of all its citizens",
or the complete separation of religion and state, since the large majority of Jews in Israel don't want those things.
One of the major bases of democracy is that people behave reasonably and are willing to compromise (the Weimar Republic was very democratic, but the Germans did not behave in a reasonable way, but preferred absolutist policies). I heard a MAFDAL Knesset member who opposed the pogrom of Gush Katif say, that once the order was given, IT HAD TO BE CARRIED OUT because if it wasn't then the IDF would collapse since no one would carry out orders in the future. POPPYCOCK! Reasonable people understand that the army's job is NOT to carry out all orders without question, but rather to protect the Jewish people and carry out the aims of Zionism. A reasonable Jew in the IDF KNOWS that his job is to fight the enemy, not other Jews as in Gush Katif. If an MK does'nt understand this, then we are a long, long way away from getting ideas like ours accepted. Yet, there is no other way. The current system is dead.

11:56 PM  
Blogger bar_kochba132 said...

Oops, I meant to say that more democracy would not necessarily lead to a "state of all its citizens" or "separation of religion and state" since most reasonable Jews don't want these things. Countries like the UK, Denmark and Sweden have official state religions, yet they are democracies.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

People (and specifically non merkaz harav religious zionists) love harping about yesod kisei hashem beolam and its supposedly correlative extreme theological position.

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... 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.

I believe I've commented before on this blog that the yesod kisei hashem baolam is desriptive and not predictive - empirical and not speculative theology. Kisei hashem baolam is interpreted including in the moreh as god's dominion over the world (or, to be more precise, the perception by the people of god's dominion, as this dominion exists regardless and is not variable). There are periods when this is stronger (such as in this week's parsha following kriyat yam suf where the people exclaimed - hashem yimloch leolam vaed) and periods when this is weaker. A yesod of kisei hashem baolam is something that helps solidify this dominion. A Jewish state with the concomittant implications of jewish continuity, jewish strength (with the premise that jews are the "chosen people" or whatever) and the realization 2K year old prophecies held to solidify the perception of god's dominion amongst the people's of the world - hence, yesod kisei hashem baolam.

4:50 PM  
Blogger D.C. said...

I agree 100% with your basic point.

I think the problem, though, is that people always like promises of quick solutions. Olmert was elected because he had a plan for a "solution." It may not have been a very good solution, even from the perspective of a seclular political analysis, but people will grab at anything that offers hope for a "quick fix," and nobody else was offering that.

In the past 20 years, at least, left-wing governments have been elected when they offered the prospect of a peace deal being just around the corner. Right-wing governments were elected during major waves of terrorism when people felt that they would take the toughest position and solve that problem fastest.

In my mind, the most rational policy at this point with regard to the Palestinians is to basically maintain the status quo. The official position can be that we'll consider a Palestinian state in 15 or 20 years if they have proven themselves to be responsible by then, though we may be highly skeptical that this will have happened.

The right has yet to offer a convincing argument to the majority of Israelis as to why, when there is not a major wave of terrorism, they should prefer those who say that a permanent solution needs to wait at least a generation to those who say that we can arrive at one now.

Some on the right, such as Moledet (now Ichud Le'umi) and Manhigut Yehudit, think the solution is to offer alternative right-wing quick fixes. But, as the e-mail that I got this week with an article by the leader of MY reminded me, these ideas are so detatched from reality that they stand practically no chance of adoption by the general public.

The Likud is probably the party that comes closest to reflecting the position I'm advocating, but its problem is that its only electoral strategy is playing to people's fears. That will work for some people, but look how far it got the Likud in the last election. Most people, I'm afraid, think something along the lines of "if a big bitchonist like (insert your favorite name here) thinks this is a good idea, who am I to say that it presents a danger?"

The Likud needs a new stragegy, but not the one being proposed by Manhigut Yehudit.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Thanks everybody for your cogent comments.

Jonathan,
Your analysis of the phrase "yesod kisei" may be perfectly correct but it does not change any of the substantive facts. There are way too many people, both in and out of the sphere of the "kav", who do politics based on a preconceived notion of how the redemptive process must unfold. I leave the question of "nevuat sheker" to others; I'm concerned with the detrimental consequences of this kind of thinking on politics and on education.

The excerpt I posted is part of a longer article. If you (or anybody out there) wants to see the whole thing, please send an email to benchorin613@yahoo.com

9:09 PM  

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