As the acrimony between observant and non-observant Israelis reaches new heights of ugliness, the very existence of the Jewish State is at risk
A Jew is rescued having spent decades as a castaway on an uninhabited island. The rescuers find three structures on the island. Curious, they ask the Jew, “what are these?” “Well,” he answers pointing to one of the structures, “this is my humble abode, and these,” he points to the other two, “are synagogues”. Amazed, the rescuers ask, “but surely, one synagogue would be more than enough for only one person?!” “You are right!” says the Jew pointing to one of the synagogues, “this one is mine, and THAT ONE,” he spits on the ground, “i’ll never set foot in as long as I live”.
It is well established in the annals of Jewish history that both eras of Jewish independence in our historical homeland, the periods identified by the two temples that stood upon Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, came to bloody ends due to internal strife among Jews and nothing else.
The first, Solomonic, temple fell the moment that the united kingdom of Judah and Israel split into two immediately after King Solomon’s death. In practice, it took a few centuries, but the fate of the First Temple was sealed that fateful day when Solomon’s heir to the throne Rehoboam promised the representatives of the ten northern tribes that he would double down on the Judah-centric policies of his father.
The Second Temple fell because a band of Jewish messianic extremists decided to drag the nation into an utterly unwinnable rebellion against the world’s greatest empire at the peak of its power: Rome. They did it because they believed that God would fight their battles. He demurred.
Now we are witnessing the third period of Jewish independence in the Land of Israel, the Third Temple, and the same old winds of discord are raising their ugly heads again among Jews who live in Israel. In the religious-Zionist movement in particular, fragmentation and discord rule the day. There seems to be no limit to the number of micro-segments in that part of the Israeli public. From the material of which the kippah (skullcap) is made, to its size, to the length of the girls’ skirts and the exact shape of the headscarves married women wear to the precise modes of ritual observance, everything is seemingly fodder for division rather than unity.
From Observant “lite” to “ultra-Orthodox-nationalist”, ever more bizarre Hebrew acronyms, ones that were unheard of just a few years ago, are popping up every day like mushrooms after the rain. In the runup to each of the two previous elections that took place this year the religious/nationalist/Zionist camp became more and more fragmented and this trend is continuing, accelerating in fact, as we are headed for an unprecedented third election in a row on March 2nd.
Any disagreements between the various factions in the religious Zionist camp are minute and meaningless to any external observer and yet they are everything to people inside it. Ignoring the vast ocean of ideology and practical considerations that unite them, the people who make up this group are allowing the smallest and most inconsequential differences to divide them at a time when they have the most to gain and the most to lose than arguably at any other time in Israel’s history.
The exceptionally friendly nature of the Trump administration when it comes to Israel and specifically its conflict with the Palestinian Arabs and the willingness of the Arab Sunni world to give Israel a very wide leash when it comes to the Palestinians as long as it joins in the fight against the Shiite Iran are coming together to provide a generational opportunity for cementing Israeli presence in Judea, Samaria, and Greater Jerusalem, the core homelands of the Jews and the places were the vast majority of religious Zionists reside.
One would be perhaps forgiven for hoping that this incredible opportunity would be seen by these people as a sign from the Almighty and bring them together in support of a proven leader, the only leader that can take advantage of this historic opportunity, Benjamin Netanyahu. One would be forgiven, but the hope, it turns out, would be futile. Rather than uniting behind Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership, the religious Zionist Israelis and their leadership can find nothing better to do than engage in endless squabbles as to how many lists they will be presenting to the public in the upcoming election.
By putting their petulance and ridiculous fractiousness ahead of their common interest and the interest of the Jewish people as a whole, the religious Zionist movement is proving itself utterly incapable and undeserving of national leadership.
At this point, if you are anything like me, you are asking yourself “But why? Don’t these folks see the damage they are causing to themselves, their interests, and the Jewish nation as a whole?” I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that it is precisely their belief in God that is preventing them from uniting and leading the nation.
The secular, even atheist, Zionist Jews that built Israel did not believe in God. They believed in their own legs, and backs, and arms, and minds. They never entertained the notion that God would defend them, would save them from the wrath of Arabs or the boycotts and indifference of the nations of the world. That lack of belief made consummate pragmatists out of them. They always operated with their backs to the wall, always cautious, never biting off more than they could chew. And that’s why while secular Jews are every bit as fractious as the religious ones, they managed to form effective governing coalitions that allowed them to build the miracle that is modern Israel.
The truth is that Israel is at a real crossroads. It is a modern, democratic, technologically advanced state that occupies a particularly challenging piece of real estate on the world map and contains within it 20% of its population, the Arabs, that is hostile to its very existence. Additionally among Jews, about 30% have religious beliefs that to them are of primary and in some cases even exclusive importance.
This is a problem because the kind of religious belief that puts God at the dinner table and in the office cubicle and in the tank turret is incommensurate with modernity and democracy. By making God supreme in the everyday, no decision by the majority can ever be binding, can ever be legitimate. When God is in charge here on earth He can tolerate no rivals and all we are left with is a multiplicity of people who all claim to know better than the other guy what He wants.
Israel can never be and will never be a country ruled by the Halachah, or Jewish religious law. Israel already ha has and will have many stores open on the Sabbath and lots of restaurants serving dishes made out of pork raised in Israel by Jews who are no less Jewish than the most observant among us. Israelis will continue to enjoy Saturday mornings on the beautiful beaches to which they will get in cars and in buses and where Israeli girls and women will sport the tiniest of bikinis. This is what Israel is and this is what it will be or it will not be at all.
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