Religious Zionism or Radical Extremism

In one of the lectures I offer regarding Radical Islam and its pervasive influence on the world around us, I demonstrate the differences between it and Judaism. Radical Islamic faith believes that it is necessary for all to adopt the Shari’ah (Islamic law) and it implements extreme and often dangerous measures to enforce Shari’ah upon its societies and the world at large, which is ultimately its intended target; all notions which a short while ago I would have said contrast irrefutably with Judaism, yet based on the many events which have been unfolding over the past few weeks I am no longer sure this is the case.

As a Religious Zionist, I have been taught and I have always believed that the Religious Zionist platform is one which purports embracing the halacha (Jewish law) not only for the sake of observance but to facilitate one’s ability to venture into the society around him, sensitize oneself, and enhance all facets of society through tolerance and understanding, particularly those within the Jewish community and certainly including those which do not identify with my religious beliefs. One of the main venues which provide Religious Zionism with the opportunity to demonstrate constructive adaptability and unobtrusive influence is the army; yet it is precisely within this platform that the latest forms of extremism and intolerance have exhibited themselves. Over the past few weeks much has been made about the obligation for observant soldiers to leave IDF ceremonies when its agenda includes women singing as halacha dictates that it is a problem for a man to hear a woman singing live. Unfortunately the Rabbis in charge of the Yeshivot Hesder who account for the majority of halachic authority within the Religious Zionist world and who represent these young religious soldiers have not expressed their opinion regarding this matter. This has been the case in other halachic issues as well, such as when soldiers are unsure whether they should refuse orders given them by the army regarding evacuation of certain settlements. Unfortunately this lack of response can be interpreted as weakness both in terms of taking a stand to offer direction, and an inability to rally around one voice. The same is true with regards to the Rabbinate of the IDF; although official policy is that soldiers should not leave official ceremonies even if women are singing, no diktat has been expressed which would allow religious soldiers to follow clear and decisive orders; this too is troubling. However what I have found most disturbing is that this entire episode reflects poorly on Religious Zionism and its leadership as it reveals that it is incapable to meet one of its essential requirements; to deal with a secular society at large in both a pragmatic and responsive fashion. Once the Religious Zionist leadership saw that this was becoming an issue (perhaps a mountain made out of a molehill), they should have seized this opportunity to demonstrate that it is crucial to incorporate sensitivity towards the feelings of those around us who, as members of a secular society may not understand or may not choose to understand what they would see as the nuances of our religious conscription; the inability to do so could result in the disastrous effects of a hilul Hashem – desecration of Gods name. It follows that when unavoidably confronted with such circumstances (it would be best if a soldier knew of the planned ceremony beforehand allotting him time to arrange for an excusal if possible as has been the case in the past) observant soldiers should be instructed not to walk out and leave but rather to cover their ears discreetly while sitting in their seats and/or look the other way; surely less noticeable then getting up in the middle of a ceremony and leaving. Had this explanation been made public particularly regarding the importance of respecting our peers and the emphasis that the Torah places on avoiding insulting one’s feelings, I am quite confident that all of the brouhaha which has ensued could have been avoided. Instead a slew of reactions have emerged both from non observant Jews, including the Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and the Minister of Culture Limor Livnat, heck even Hillary Clinton has gotten involved, expressing discontent over what appears to them as sexual discrimination, and from religious Zionist rabbis eager to disprove these accusations but who, through their reactions, continue to demonstrate that they have missed the point as they defend the written word of the halacha without acknowledging the spirit of halacha which says,

“gadol kavod habriyot – showing respect to God’s creations is the greatest priority”.

If this was not enough, about two weeks ago parents of soldiers who recently completed an IDF medic’s course were shocked to discover that in the invitation to the graduation ceremony they were instructed to arrive “dressed modestly”. The issue is not whether or not the army or the unit can get away with such a request; the issue is the negative effects these requests have on the people receiving them and what we stand to lose by making them. A graduation of army medics should naturally promote unity and celebrate togetherness by way of serving one’s country and learning to save people’s lives; yet again these fundamentals were ambushed by a divisiveness, a “holier then though” message including an infringement on one’s democratic right to dress as one chooses. Once again self righteousness prevailed over conscientious and constructive inspiration.

When I travel to the Diaspora I meet many Israelis who explain to me that when they lived in Israel they were unaffiliated with the religious community, but now, in the Diaspora they are affiliated and actively involved in their local synagogue. I have heard many explanations regarding this phenomenon but the explanation is relatively simple. In the Diaspora, every number counts and every Jew is appreciated, therefore the approach to gaining a Jew’s interest is handled with care, it is nurtured with patience and it is doctored to exhibit the joy and benefits of belonging. We stand to gain by cultivating an unthreatening environment. An observant Jew must follow the written word of halacha but he should also adopt the social sensitivities and nuances behind the written word in order to avoid seeming intrusive or intolerant to people who do not subscribe in the same fashion, something which unfortunately is forgotten by the religious world all to often and a platform which the Religious Zionist world should pride itself in.

As a religious Zionist I not only anticipate but I attempt to facilitate bringing our great nation closer to its redemption. I sincerely hope and pray that the ingredients which activate what we anticipate should not be conveniently forgotten or mistakenly ignored.

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