Avi and Peter Abelow
Rachel Saperstein, now a resident of the Jerusalem Gold Hotel, is a friend of ours who lived in Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip for over twenty-five years before being expelled from her home. She recently returned from a fund-raising trip to the United States on behalf of the 10,000 refugees from Gush Katif and Northern Shomron. Her biggest disappointment was that many shuls refused to give her a forum because they did not want to take a stand on a political issue.
What a sad commentary on the state of the Orthodox community in America when the obligation to assist fellow Jews who are homeless, jobless and in desperate need of support, both financial and emotional, is twisted into an issue of politics. Their situation is as serious as that of the thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Yet the response to their needs has been very different.
This human disaster was not the result of a sudden, unanticipated act of nature but the consequence of a meticulously planned move by the Israeli government. In anticipation of the expulsion, police were thoroughly prepared—they were given detailed information about the Jews to be expelled including the number of people in each home, the ages of the children, the professions of the adults and their psychological profiles. But there seemed to have been far less concern and certainly far less planning for what would happen to the people the next day. The homes, livelihoods, schools, community centers and shuls of 10,000 Jews have been destroyed, and the victims have been cast out, for the most part, to fend for themselves. Even those who adhered to the government’s timetable and demands have not fared much better than those who did not. Should this not be the concern of every Jew everywhere?
One of the most tragic stories is that of the late Chezi Hazani, coincidentally of the destroyed community of Netzer Hazani. Chezi died suddenly of a heart attack one month after he and his family were expelled from their home. But there was no place to bury Chezi because he no longer had an official residence. Finally, after four hours of having the body lay in an ambulance on the road, the city of Rishon Letzion permitted Chezi to be buried in its cemetery, near the graves of his own parents. But he was not entitled to the free burial services granted to the residents of the city. His family had to pay an exorbitant 30,000 NIS (around $6,000) “non-resident” fee before the city’s chevrah kadishah (burial society) would proceed with the burial.
As of this writing, four months after the expulsion, more than half of the expellees are still living in hotels. Others are living in small, leaky caravans, a fraction of the size of the homes that they once lived in. According to a recent article in The Jerusalem Post, 78 percent are unemployed. Many have no access to their possessions that are locked away in storage containers. These are real people with real needs. They and their children have been scarred by the traumatic events of August 2005. The current plight of the refugees is a humanitarian, not a political, issue. Instead of being helped, people who built communities in which Torah study and observance flourished are harassed by the government institutions for their efforts to try to rebuild their lives and communities. Irrespective of whether or not one agrees with the disengagement, or whether or not a particular family left willingly or had to be carried out, we are obligated to assist these Jews in their time of need.
But the real issue that should be tugging at the conscience of American Orthodoxy is its response to the ongoing struggle to define the nature of the Jewish State. Shimon Peres has often asked if Israel is a Jewish or an Israeli state. When Peres was defeated by Binyamin Netanyahu in the 1996 elections, he was quoted as saying that “the Jews won and the Israelis lost.” Peres was Ariel Sharon’s chief political partner at the time of the disengagement. Although we cannot see into the minds of the architects of the disengagement, many Israelis believe that the evidence clearly points to an agenda to break up Religious Zionist communal life and undermine the movement’s idealistic spirit. This point is particularly critical to understand in light of the Road Map, which envisions the uprooting of many more religious, idealistic Torah-based communities, this time in the undisputed heart of Biblical Israel, throughout Judea and Samaria. Therefore, the question we must ask is this: Are we a nation that is guided by the principles of Jewish tradition and Jewish law, or a country, like every other country, run for and by people who happen to be Jewish?
The struggle over the identity of the Jewish State is nowhere more evident than in the political realm. The Shinui Party, whose platform called for Israel to be run as a secular state, was the third largest vote getter in the last elections. After the election, Orthodox politicians were outraged, accusing party leader Tommy Lapid of virtually declaring war on Judaism. Nevertheless, Sharon had no problem making Shinui a key member of his coalition. In the United States, a party with a Shinui agenda would most likely be labeled anti-Semitic and would probably never make it onto a ballot. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Civil Liberties Union would see to that. Moreover, every OU congregation would be up in arms. In Israel, a platform that espouses disdain for observant Jews and Jewish practice is given full credibility while right-wing religious parties that dare to dream of a Jewish state within what they understand to be the Divine mandates as expressed in the Torah, are ostracized, marginalized and even banned.
Unfortunately, the successful execution of the expulsion plan is a strong indication that many of the official institutions of the State of Israel are “anti-Jewish.” This is apparent, not because the State of Israel decided to expel Jews from areas that many believe to be within Biblical Israel or because it decided to give over parts of the Land to our enemies. Rather this is apparent in the ways the State of Israel dealt with those who disagreed with its decision to expel fellow Jews from their homes.
Israel, like America, cherishes the basic democratic rights of its citizens, including free speech and peaceful assembly. Yet, these democratic rights were trampled by the State of Israel when it dealt with the anti-expulsion protestors, or the “ketumim,” (literally, oranges—orange was the color worn by those protesting the disengagement) as we were called. Furthermore, the rules of proper judicial procedure and punishment were trampled on as well by the justice system when it came to dealing with the anti-expulsion protestors.
This is explained very clearly in a report issued by the Israel Policy Center and sponsored, in part, by the Orthodox Union, called Israeli Government Violations of Disengagement Opponents’ Civil Rights (for the full report, visit www.merkazmedini.org). The report reveals that Attorney General Menahem Mazuz made it clear to state prosecutors in public remarks that they were to treat non-violent protesters as if they were involved in a rebellion against State authorities with the purpose of destroying the State and its institutions. Not only was the protestors’ democratic right to non-violently demonstrate taken away from them but they were classified as rebels out to destroy the State of Israel. A very harsh judicial precedent indeed against the (mostly) teenagers of the religious/settler establishment.
The report states:
By choosing to reclassify nonviolent offenses such as blocking roads and passively resisting arrest—usually considered misdemeanors—as crimes against public security, and by invoking what the accused thought while performing them, Israeli courts justified draconian measures of pre-trial detention against adults and minors alike. In the case of three minors detained for lengthy periods of time, summarized below, the presumed ideological tendency of the minors’ parents was used as justification for refusing to return the minors to their parents’ custody. The conflation of the parents’ presumed ideology with their evident religious lifestyle is hard to miss.
The report cites a number of cases. In one, the prosecution wanted to arrest a group of girls prior to their trial in order to “prevent them from making their dangerous opinions heard, even inside their own homes”; it also argued that “reeducation could be an appropriate reason for restricting their freedom.”
The report clearly points out that the phrase “ideological crime” (“avaryanut ideologit”) pops up again and again in court decisions regarding opponents of the disengagement.
The picture that emerges from the report is that the government allowed its judicial arm to pass judgment against protestors based on their ideology and beliefs and not based on human rights and rule of law.
Gary Rosenblatt, editor of New York’s Jewish Week, wrote: “Reading the report on the government’s alleged violation of the disengagement opponents’ civil rights is a sad and painful exercise for anyone who values Israel’s reputation as an outstanding democracy.”1 Furthermore, in a second report, Dr. Avital Molad of the Israel Public Defender’s Office, wrote that she saw in the police and in the court system “a selective enforcement of the law based on political affiliation, trampled rights and a light trigger finger.”2 Dr. Molad also found that for the sake of the disengagement the State created “new rules,” under which hearings for minors were conducted collectively, rather than investigating evidence against each defendant separately.
Neither report received much publicity and so there was not much of a public reaction in Israel. (The role of the Israeli media in relation to the disengagement was the subject of an extensive article in the September/October issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.) Statements by high-ranking government officials often reflected this same attitude of intolerance. Yair Lapid, Tommy Lapid’s son, was quoted as saying that he is not afraid of a civil war in Israel because the settlers are not “our” brothers.3 And Knesset Member Ephraim Sneh, in an interview with the Israeli daily Maariv, called for a civil war against Religious Zionists. Using the American Civil War as a precedent, Sneh wrote:
Eighty-five years after its establishment, the United States of America was drawn into a cruel and destructive civil war, but the results of that war formed the democratic character of the giant country. The confrontation among [Israelis] is also unpreventable.4
A similar sentiment was expressed publicly by Ami Ayalon, a former head of Shabak, the Israeli counter-intelligence and internal security service, and until recently, a contender for the Labor Party leadership, when he said that “it is about time for Israel to have another Altalena.”
Caroline Glick, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, summed up the situation in the following way:
In the year and a half which preceded the implementation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal and expulsion plan from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, the leftist elites in Israel waged an unrelenting cultural war against the Israeli Right generally and against religious Zionists specifically. Religious Zionists were portrayed by the media, by entertainment icons, by Sharon’s advisers, and by his political allies on the Left as blood-crazed zealots, parasites, and the single largest danger to Israel’s well-being.5
As the months dragged on, the attacks against religious Israelis intensified. In July, Haaretz editorialized: “The disengagement of Israeli policy from its religious fuel is the real disengagement currently on the agenda. On the day after the disengagement, Religious Zionism’s status will be different.” The editorial went on to castigate Religious Zionists as “a Trojan horse that has infiltrated Zionism in order to destroy it from within.”
The Council of Jewish Settlements in Yehudah, Shomron and Gaza, which organized the campaign against the expulsion plan, was unable to find a public relations firm that was willing to take it on as a client. Its leaders were told time after time by public relations executives that working with “the settlers” would wreck their reputations.
These reports allow us to see that a governmental, judicial and media war was waged against the mostly religious anti-expulsion protestors, as if they were the biggest threat to the stability of the State of Israel. The Religious Zionist public, which once viewed itself as the modern-day Israeli pioneers who claimed the idealistic activism that once belonged to Labor Zionism, now finds itself branded as the existential enemy of the State of Israel. Even while the Israeli political and judicial bodies have adopted the view that the conflict with the Arabs is between Israel and “terrorists” (and not the Palestinian people), they have made the religious Right an enemy of the state. The Palestinians are our “peace partners,” while the visionaries and idealists within the “settler” population are the “obstacles to peace.”
Israeli government institutions have a vested interest in preventing the truth of their anti-religious agenda from being revealed. There is clearly a plan for further massive expulsions that will make Gaza look like a drop in the bucket. But if the Israeli government couldn’t get it right for 10,000 people after eighteen months of planning, how can they expect to get it right for 50,000 or 100,000 expellees? So it covers-up or downplays the reality—after all, the expulsion went smoothly, soldiers and residents cried in each other’s arms, everything is fine! But it wasn’t fine and it still isn’t fine. Just ask the Jews whose vibrant communities were destroyed or those who are living in Ir Ha’emunah, or Yad Mordechai, or Nitzan or in hotels without any permanent housing solution in sight.
How is the committed Orthodox community supposed to act vis-à-vis the State of Israel now that we know the truth? Are we exempt from learning from what happened and from adopting a new action plan for our community vis-à-vis the State of Israel? A specific answer will not be found in this article, but these questions must be the basis of further introspection and soul searching for our community.
Relying on official government press releases and the media regarding the situation in Israel and the expulsion plan (and its outcomes) has left most of world Jewry believing half-truths and PR spin. Brothers who care must make sure they really understand the plight of their fellow brethren in order to then act accordingly.
The Land of Israel is our homeland, and the State of Israel is the official institution that allows us to fulfill the two-thousand-year-old dream of “vetechezenah eineinu beshuvcha leTzion berachamim” and “vehavienu leshalom mearba kanfot Ha’aretz.” In order to steer the State of Israel in the right direction, as part of the redemption process, we must fully understand the reality of what the State of Israel is today.
The ideal solution is that committed American Orthodox Jews should be making aliyah. Israel is the only place where you can truly make a difference! Until that time, it behooves the Orthodox world to seek the truth and strive in whatever ways it can to fulfill God’s promise to Avraham: “To you and your descendents I have given this Land … to be a light unto the nations.”
Avi Abelow is an organizational psychologist who lives in Efrat. He was a volunteer in Gush Katif at the time of the disengagement and was expelled with the residents of Netzer Hazani. His father, Peter, who writes a regular column for Jewish Action, also lives in Efrat.
- “A Sad Chapter for Israeli Justice,” 25 November 2005.
- See “Abusive Policemen, Biased Judges,” Haaretz, 24 November 24 2005.
- Quoted by Caroline Glick, “Avoiding Israel’s Self-Destruction,” Jewish World Review.
- Quoted by Caroline Glick, “The Scarlet Letter,” The Jerusalem Post, 5 November 2005.
- “The Scarlet Letter,” 5 November 2005.
What prompted the disengagement–security considerations, improving prospects for peace, diverting attention from possible corruption charges or the desire to break up Religious Zionist communal life and undermine the Religious Zionist spirit?
Clearly, the disengagement/expulsion plan was not prompted by security considerations. When the Labor Party candidate Amram Mitzna ran on a platform calling for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in the previous election, it was Likud candidate Ariel Sharon who attacked the plan, basing his opposition on valid security arguments. When Sharon, for his own purposes, suddenly made a 180-degree turnabout, his newly declared Gaza policy was openly opposed by those directly responsible for Israel’s security: the Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. General Moshe Ya’alon and director of Israel’s General Security Services Avi Dichter. Sharon subsequently fired both of these gentlemen prior to the expulsion despite their success in fighting the war against terror. Moreover, all those who opposed the “Sharon Plan” as being detrimental to Israel’s security have already been proven correct. While I am not addressing the security problems of the Gaza withdrawal, it is suffice to note that the Kassam rockets continue to rain down upon Israeli civilian towns and villages—from Netivot to Ashkelon—and suicide/homicide bombers continue to be sent from secure PA bases.
It was known initially, and has been subsequently documented by even leading left-leaning investigative journalists (see e.g., Boomerang: The Failure of Leadership in the Second Intifada by Ofer Shelah and Raviv Drucker [Jerusalem, 2005] in which three of the twenty-eight chapters are devoted to this topic), that the “Sharon Plan” was introduced to divert attention from corruption charges and in fact cause the attorney general to bury recommended indictments against Sharon and his sons. Tactically it worked. Everyone knows it’s true, but in the words of one top leftist Israeli investigative journalist, “The media must protect Sharon [read: cover up for Sharon] like a rabbi protects his etrog before Sukkot” so he will carry out the Left’s policy and expel the Jews from Gaza.
The ultra-secular left-wing parties that gave Sharon a political umbrella did so not because they agreed with his corruption but rather they were willing to overlook it to achieve their policy goals. One of these goals is to break the spirit of the Religious Zionist public who is, by definition, the ideological enemy. We are in a struggle for Israel’s Jewish soul, and the post-Zionist secularist left-wing minority is trying its best to stay in power and dominate the direction and character of the State of Israel—not as a Jewish state. This was the basis of their support for Sharon.
What will be the short- and long-term effects of the disengagement on Religious Zionism’s attitude towards the State? Towards the army?
Those who tried and continue to try to break the spirit of the Religious Zionist public failed and will continue to fail in their crusade to cause Religious Zionists to disassociate from the State and its organs, such as the army. Hence, despite the justified anger of many at the unwarranted and deliberate persecution by the Sharon regime, the overwhelming majority understands that to disassociate itself is to give the Left a victory.
After graduating high school this past year, my son and many others like him undertook grueling physical and psychological tests to gain acceptance into some of the IDF’s most elite combat units. After the tragedy in Gush Katif, my son, filled with justifiable anger, expressed reservations about his upcoming induction into an elite unit. I told him that his reaction was exactly what the post-Zionist secular Left wanted—for young religious men not to be part of such units, not to become officers, advance and ultimately change the military and give it a more Jewish mindset. If he didn’t go, they will win, I told him. He, like many of his friends, understands. They are still entering the most elite units with a Jewish mesirut nefesh—a sense of self-sacrifice. They won’t let the expellers win.
In the short term, we can expect this struggle for Israel’s soul to intensify. In the long term, we will win. We have a deep and unshakable faith in the Almighty and His promises. We have many more children (so ultimately we will be a majority), and we know that we will undergo difficult times in the pre-Redemption period, which we must withstand (see Sanhedrin 98a and b).
Has the long-standing alliance between secular and religious Jews in Israel been irreparably damaged as a result of the disengagement?
No, I don’t think so. Let’s not forget that Sharon was elected in the previous election by the greatest majority in Israel’s electoral history when he opposed the very policy he subsequently adopted. The majority of the country still perceives itself as being one nation. What has changed in my opinion is the fact that the younger Religious Zionists certainly, and many of their elders, have now switched mental gears and no longer see themselves as subordinate to the secular political leadership. These individuals view themselves as being no less, and perhaps more, suitable for national leadership. This is clearly a healthier and less galut-like mindset than the one that permeated the Religious Zionist political leadership for many decades.
Were ordinary Chareidi Jews much more sympathetic to the plight of the uprooted than were their political leaders? If so, what effect will this have on the relationship between Chareidi and Religious Zionist Jews?
I think the young to middle-aged Chareidim are far more Zionist-oriented than their elders, and they are more politically active than generally assumed. The number of Knesset seats for the Ashkenazic Chareidi parties has consistently stayed at the five-seat level. Yet the Chareidi population growth should have given them more than double that. This is not the case because many of the younger Chareidim vote for other parties such as National Union and even Likud. This is a political fact that preceded the expulsion. The Chareidi public came to political maturity as a result of the 1996 elections between Binyamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres.
Therefore, it is no surprise that there is an ongoing relationship between younger Chareidi elements and the Religious Zionist public, particularly the growing Chardal, or Chareidi–Leumi (nationalist Chareidi) public. Anyone who attended the mass prayer rally at the Kotel in the days prior to the expulsion, for example, saw the vast Chareidi cooperation with the Religious Zionist public.
Moreover, it is clear that the Ashkenazic Chareidi party’s joining of the Sharon government—which gave Sharon a political fig leaf at a time when he planned to forcibly expel Jews from their homes and destroy synagogues and yeshivot—was not a popular move on the Chareidi street. And then Sharon carried out his plan with their practical political acquiescence. This is going to cost the Chareidim in the upcoming election.
Can the current split within the Religious Zionist movement be bridged? Can those who will “not forget and not forgive” be reconciled with those who seem ready to adapt to the disengagement? Can the bitterness and trauma engendered by the disengagement ever be overcome?
I don’t accept that there is an actual split, per se. I don’t believe there is anyone from the Religious Zionist camp who is sanguine about the disengagement and its ramifications. I think that most people realize the issue is not over. I can’t imagine anyone can forget what happened and is still happening. Thus, there are differing approaches to the question of whether or not to cooperate with the organs of the State, and on what level. Continuing to serve in the IDF and in reserves and enlisting in elite combat units, for example, are in dispute to some degree. Not a few people, particularly the youth who were in the forefront of mesirut nefesh activity to save Gush Katif and the refugee children of Gush Katif, still look at the army and the police with justifiable suspicion and concern. This leads to a certain stepping away to reevaluate the relationship between these State organs and the very youth that was, and is, considered the cream of the crop. Nonetheless, most of our youth understand the ramifications of not serving in the army. It gives those who oppose us a victory. This is exactly what they want.
Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the people who, while neither forgetting, nor forgiving those directly responsible for this self-inflicted national tragedy, make a clear distinction between the State of Israel and its inherent sanctity, and a government that acted in a deliberately evil manner and clearly has no sanctity. To disassociate would serve no purpose to those who don’t forget and don’t forgive. No one really wants to forgive, especially since it’s not over. Those who continue to cooperate with the government authorities on various levels are not necessarily thrilled with the government’s behavior, but rather are simply not making an issue of their differences so as not to give the authorities an excuse to not cooperate with them.
As to the ill feelings towards certain Religious Zionist figures for their behavior and statements that contributed in one way or the other to the success of the Sharon government’s expulsion policy, this will, for the most part, be forgiven in time. Few really believe that any Religious Zionist figure who took a foolish position did so out of malice. Naiveté is an unfortunate malady of many well-meaning people.
However, the incapability of many of these leading figures, including prominent rabbis, to grasp the evil of some of our political leadership—even today after the fact, and during the ongoing persecution of both the Gaza and Northern Shomron refugees and those who actively opposed the expulsion—still boggles the mind. It was excusable prior to the fact, when it was still difficult to comprehend to what lengths Sharon and his cohorts would go to carry out their evil and undemocratic decree. But today, when their method of operation is clear, when their future plans are openly declared, this incapability cannot be explained by naiveté. It appears to be more a case of blindness, a fear perhaps, of facing reality and acting accordingly. But one result is that these public figures will have significantly less weight with the Religious Zionist public. So while I don’t dismiss the differences, I wouldn’t take the so-called “split” between elements of the Religious Zionist public all that seriously in the long term.
The real split taking place is between the Religious Zionist, Chareidi and traditional Zionist public on the one hand—who are in fact the majority of the country—and the hard-core ultra-secular, post-Zionist leftist minority. This doctrinaire minority uses its power to cow its ideological opposition with utter ruthlessness and impose its will upon a quasi-helpless majority. I say quasi-helpless because ultimately the majority will win.
Unquestionably, we have suffered a setback that requires us to be more committed and more active, to work harder in the many areas in which we did not invest sufficient resources and energies. It requires us to learn from our mistakes—and we made them—and to go on to fight for what we believe in. We, like Rabbi Akiva who laughed when his compatriots cried at the sight of the Second Temple’s destruction (Makkot 24b), must believe that even if we don’t understand, we must accept difficulties with love for God and have faith that ultimately the Prophecy will be fulfilled. Then, in the framework of the rules of This World, we try our best to do the right thing and overcome the challenges we face, in accordance with our emunah in Hashem and in the derech HaTorah.
Rabbi Atlas is a senior correspondent and commentator for Arutz 7 Israel National News. He is a major in the IDF reserves, serving as an army rabbi in a combat brigade. A resident of Beit El, he is married and has seven children and one grandchild.
Translated from the Hebrew by David Louvish
If I had to teach the meaning of postmodernism—in particular, to explain the meaning of a subjective narrative—perhaps there would be no better illustration of the entire theory than the events of the disengagement. In Israel today we hear two utterly different narratives of the destruction of Gush Katif. The facts behind the two narratives are essentially the same, and that is precisely why the discrepancy is so striking. The difference is already evident in the name: We Religious Zionists call what happened “destruction,” “expulsion,” “uprooting” and “racist transfer”; an absolute majority of the secular public, however, refer to it as “disengagement.” We regard the expulsion as a traumatic event, whose reverberations will never be forgotten or forgiven, while for the other sector, it was an insignificant event, no longer on the agenda. We see it as an act of dictatorship, tantamount to usurpation of government by corrupt, underhand means, but an entire sector of the public sees it as a legal, democratic act—perhaps rather crooked, but such are the ways of democracy. We feel that our disproportionate contribution to the army and elsewhere has gone unrecognized and has earned us no gratitude, whereas the “others” feel that we have trampled everything that they value and hold sacred. They accuse us of having rejected the legislative and executive authority of the State and of refusing to obey its orders; of dismissing the authority of the judiciary and considering the justices of the Supreme Court as unfair; of spurning the holy of holies—the army—and calling for insubordination and, in general of rejecting the rule of law. We, for our part, have seen the life work of hundreds of families, in fact, of an entire community, destroyed, but the “others” see us as the destructive party—we have destroyed two generations of Israelis, for it was our fault that Israel became involved in settling Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and has ruled over the Palestinians for thirty-five allegedly superfluous years.
These two narratives are the real threat to the State of Israel. That each side is immersed in its own narrative, without understanding that of the other side, clearly heralds an imminent rupture. That being said, let me begin with an attempt to understand the narrative of the Israeli public as I understand it. Unfortunately, an absolute majority of the Israeli people are sick and tired of the question of Judea and Samaria. If elections in Israel were personal, and one of the candidates were to announce a platform of secure and recognized international boundaries with a firm Jewish majority, he or she would win an absolute majority. If, as part of a package deal, a constitution were proposed that defined Israel as a democratic Jewish state but gave relatively little practical weight to the term “Jew,” it would receive almost all of the secular votes.
Accordingly, it cannot be argued that public support for the disengagement was dishonestly procured by the government, with the sole purpose of diverting public attention from corruption, or that the government is bent on destroying Religious Zionism. Of course, the plan undoubtedly had some hidden motives and was not unrelated to government corruption; but the truth, I am sorry to say, is simpler: A large part of the public would like to remove the subject of security from the agenda. Public opinion in Israel, having no confidence in the Arabs and in agreements with them, has accepted a unilateral plan with its own logic. A majority of people believe that the plan meets all of the criteria of legal government. It was approved by the government, the courts and the Knesset, with the unfortunate result that the plan was well received by the general public. As far as they are concerned, the various hitches in the process—violation of the treaty between voter and candidate, dismissal of government ministers, refusal to hold a referendum, et cetera—were simply part and parcel of the political game; our opponents have in fact argued that the settlements themselves were originally established by the very same methods, and we expressed no opposition at the time. The same man, Ariel Sharon, has thus worked in exactly the same way to destroy the settlements as he did to build them.
We tried to fight this position in a variety of ways. We first tried the ideological path, citing rulings that prohibited the surrender of parts of Eretz Yisrael to non-Jews, and publicly condemning the plan as the collapse of Zionism. We went on—too late—with an attempt to describe the ratification of the plan as seriously flawed from a democratic standpoint; our arguments had little credibility, however, because we had refused from the start to accept a democratic decision, on the grounds that halachic authority overrules democracy, and so our “democratic” arguments did not sound very sincere. Subsequently, we committed an unforgivable sin in the eyes of most Israelis: We directed the anti-disengagement campaign against the army—whether by trying to undermine it from within by calling for soldiers to refuse to obey orders, or by trying to prevent implementation of the plan by dispatching tens of thousands of people to Gush Katif. This dreadful plan finally went through without anyone being physically harmed—largely thanks to the efforts of the rabbinical and spiritual leadership—but at the cost of a great deal of psychological harm. As I write, hundreds of families are still in limbo, unemployed and humiliated; the State of Israel, which planned the destruction so perfectly, failed to prepare what was necessary to rebuild, and has abandoned these people to their fate.
I have already said that our view of what has happened is utterly different from that of the majority of secular Jews in Israel. We describe the disengagement as the collapse of Zionism, continuing with further collapse, namely, the abandonment of the Land of Israel and the destruction of the settlement endeavor. The disengagement and its outcome are morally disgraceful, both because of the destruction of Gush Katif and Northern Shomron and the eviction of people from their homes, and because of the State’s failure to care for the needs of the evacuees. In terms of national security the disengagement was enormously dangerous. In terms of democracy it was a failure, signaling a loss of confidence in the rule of law; and it had many other flaws. Some of us have leveled very serious accusations against the army and refer to it from now on as an “army of eviction”; a few of us are even preaching refusal to serve in its ranks.
I have much to say about the restitution that the State of Israel must make and about the terrible failure of the legal and social systems represented by the disengagement plan. The plan has uncovered a great deal of hypocrisy on the part of many self-styled champions of democracy who—since the corruption of the democratic process was in line with their leftist political outlook—were silent and made no protest. Those who have called for Religious Zionism to engage in soul-searching refuse to practice what they preach, to take a hard look at their shameful behavior in the context of the disengagement. My purpose in this article, however, is to examine how Religious Zionism should conduct itself within the maelstrom; I will therefore concentrate on that aspect.
From its very beginnings, Religious Zionism adopted a policy of cooperation with the Jewish collective as a whole in the foundation of a Jewish state, out of the conviction that it would ultimately lead to the complete realization of the Torah’s vision of “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Accordingly, an absolute majority of Religious Zionists maintain a connection with the State of Israel and its institutions. We continue to serve in the army, both because of the personal religious duty to protect our fellow Jews from danger (pikuach nefesh) and because of our belief that the army serves an important, ideal purpose—the security of the State of Israel. An absolute majority of Religious Zionists continue to pray for the welfare of the State, to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut and to participate in all the State institutions. This connection has indeed suffered a severe blow, leaving no few scars, but the overall power of the Religious Zionist vision has not been destroyed. On the contrary, an absolute majority of Religious Zionists are convinced that now is the time to invest more in the various spheres of public activity and imbue them with the message of Religious Zionism. The relatively high birthrate of the religious sector justifies the optimistic hope that the State of Israel may be shaped in what we consider its rightful image—not by fighting it, but from within.
Our attitude toward the army warrants particular attention. On the periphery of the camp we hear of dozens of isolated phenomena, admittedly minor but nevertheless worrisome: a petition of Torah scholars against military service; refusal to give soldiers who took part in the eviction a lift or to count them as part of a minyan in Me’arat Hamachpelah; settlers coming home on leave who take off their uniforms before entering their settlements; refusal to date soldiers who participated in the disengagement and so on. The problem is not these particular incidents in themselves, but the fact that they derive from two general phenomena. First, a great many people no longer refer to the army as Tzahal, “the Israel Defense Forces,” but call it, as mentioned earlier, “the army of eviction,” “The Sharon family army” or the like. This is not an isolated phenomenon, but quite the norm. Second, the official calendar of Moetzet Yesha (the Yesha Council) features the declaration “We shall neither forgive nor forget,” referring, among other things, to the army. All this reveals continued internalization of hostility toward the army. We seem to be persisting in the worst mistake of the anti-disengagement campaign: directing the struggle specifically against the army.
It is now clear that Religious Zionism needs to establish stronger ties with additional sectors in the nation. Surely it seems most natural to foster a stronger bond with the Chareidi world. Such a bond seems to be vital, and it might be thought easier to achieve since the Chareidi public, somewhat unlike its leaders, has always evinced strong support for the settlers of Gush Katif and Northern Shomron. Nevertheless, the matter is not so simple, and I doubt whether it will be possible at all, for two reasons. The first is Chareidi anger at Religious Zionism. Religious Zionism stood on the sidelines and was in fact part of a coalition government—Likud, Shinui, National Religious Party and National Union—whose economic policies severely injured the Chareidi community by drastically reducing child allowances and by abolishing the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The second reason, however, is paramount: A large part of the Chareidi world does not recognize Religious Zionism at all as a legitimate denomination. Shamefully, many Chareidim ignore the entire Religious Zionist Torah world, even omitting the name of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, z”l, from books that should include it; on that basis, a renewed bond between Religious Zionists and Chareidim will be very hard to achieve.
Another issue concerns the secular sector of Israeli society as a whole. The disengagement clearly revealed the yawning gap in ideological outlook between the secular elite and Religious Zionists, due to their utterly different cultural understandings of life, mission, the importance of nationalism, sanctity and ideals. The gap may be unbridgeable. Nevertheless, despite the differences, most of the public would like somehow to preserve a Jewish identity and to strengthen Zionism. Real connections may, I believe, be forged with the public at large. To that end, Religious Zionism will of course have to extend its fields of activity in several directions and to devote itself fully to social questions; such a course of action, if successful, would be beneficial to both sectors.
All of these admittedly important tasks find Religious Zionism in the throes of a profound crisis. The crisis began before the disengagement, as a result of a great number of new questions that have come up about feminism, rabbinical authority, the relationship between the Torah and the academic world and methods of Torah study. Indeed, the disengagement intensified the crisis and brought it to new peaks. Today, moreover, the Religious Zionist world recognizes no single focus of Torah and spiritual leadership. Religious Zionism has never acknowledged a binding rabbinical authority. It is deeply committed to the rabbinical world, but has never been committed to one single authority. Attempts to do so have repeatedly met with failure, and the disengagement merely proved once again that Religious Zionism has never considered itself obligated to obey the rabbis. For that reason, attempts by various parties to issue binding halachic directives—instructing soldiers to obey or disobey orders, advising the settlers of Gush Katif to pack up their belongings or not to do so or elaborating on the halachic permissibility of handing over parts of Eretz Israel to the Arabs—were doomed from the start. The only effective rabbinical leadership was provided by those rabbis who were physically present in Gush Katif and Northern Shomron. While those leaders were fortunately in contact with the greatest rabbis, their activities were not governed by any absolute commitment to them; their authority derived from their actual presence “on the spot.” The divisions in the rabbinical world only served to emphasize the unique attitude of Religious Zionism to that world: Religious Zionists consider us, the rabbis, as just one source of leadership and advice; rabbinical authority exercises considerable, but not decisive, influence.
Rabbinical differences and divisions not only reflect the enormous diversity of Religious Zionism, which in a sense constitutes a threat to its existence as a movement, but they concern all levels of life: the personal lifestyle of Israelis—their attitudes toward culture, academic studies, mixed society, women’s status in general and much more. Rabbinical differences concern the appropriate political language—does the political have to reflect the ideological? Or is politics a question of “fair arrangements,” implying that political language requires a fair compromise in the interest of national unity? They concern the field of Torah—how should the status of the rabbi in Israel be structured? To what degree should the Torah inform political positions? To what degree does it dictate a definite position on such questions? And so on. The divisions have also infiltrated sociological issues: There are three different Religious Zionist youth movements and a host of educational systems; nuances of religious observance are a significant factor in dating and matchmaking; there are different periodicals, parties, et cetera, referring in different terms to the State of Israel. On the other hand, there is a basic ethos, which in principle relates favorably to the idea of the State of Israel, and an absolute majority still join the army and serve in it.
Beyond ideological positions, Religious Zionism possesses a central positive feature, which is a major source of optimism. The struggle against the disengagement revealed the tremendous energies at the command of Religious Zionism—a powerhouse of strength, faith, determination, devotion and other qualities, attesting to the spiritual resilience of Religious Zionists. Even most of Religious Zionism’s opponents in Israeli society could not hide their profound admiration for its conduct, ranging from the exemplary behavior at Kfar Maimon [the community right outside of Gush Katif where several thousands of Jews gathered to peacefully protest the disengagement] to the fact that, in the end, there were no Jewish casualties (we should by no means ignore the two murderous acts perpetrated against Arabs). These energies are the main guarantee of our ability to face the future. Everyone agrees that the disengagement was merely the first step, and that we shall probably have to face no less difficult challenges in the future. At this point, it is difficult to predict the course of those future struggles, whether our actions will be guided by our truth in every possible way or whether we will bow to the dictates of democracy, provided only that its own rules are obeyed. There is a great danger that some adherents of Religious Zionism, looking at the failure of the anti-disengagement campaign, will conclude that nothing can be accomplished by peaceful means, that active violence will be necessary. This is the great danger at our doorstep, but I would like to argue that this is not the main issue at stake; there is a more important issue to be debated.
The principal existential question facing Religious Zionism today is where to direct its enormous stores of energy, which could well flow into destructive channels. Anger and frustration may invite a constant erosion of the positive connections forged with Israeli society. Such calls for deliberate “disengagement” on our part have already been heard—disengagement from the State of Israel, from Israeli society and from general culture. Advocates of such a course base their reasoning on two main arguments. First, secular society has been exposed in all its bankruptcy and callousness; it is collapsing, and so it is pointless to seek any cooperation; secular society deserves the bleak future that it has brought upon itself. The second reason is the positive side of this evaluation: It is the task of Religious Zionism to seize power, to sweep away decadent culture, corruption, and evil; this will be achieved by withdrawing into ourselves to build up an absolute alternative to Israeli democracy. Such an alternative will be based on the authority of the Torah—not on an authority operating along secular lines—on the cultural values of the Torah and not of world culture, and on absolute loyalty to Eretz Israel. This course of action places its hopes in the Religious Zionist/Chareidi womb, since these sectors are in favor of large families—far in excess of the Israeli average; within twenty years, the religious community is expected to constitute a majority of the Jewish population of Israel, and it will then be able to assume power and completely transform the State of Israel.
Many, however, are very much opposed to this position. It has been condemned as being utterly unrealistic, and the very possibility of gaining control by segregating oneself from society has been discounted; in addition, its basic assumptions concerning the numerical strength of Religious Zionism and Chareidi Judaism have been branded as unscientific. Moreover, the argument that we possess the requisite knowledge and ability to lead the nation is nothing but childish arrogance and repulsive pride. But the principal opposition to the plan is ideologically motivated. Religious Zionism believes in principle in the need to connect with Klal Yisrael, to act together with, not against or in confrontation with, the nation as a whole. The energies of which we spoke should be directed, therefore, into quite different channels. They should be exploited in the interests of greater involvement in Israeli society, public life and the army, and in deeper penetration into the worlds of communications and culture; and, of course, they should be utilized to find additional ways of serving God and expressing one’s devotion to Him. These are all worthy goals for the strengths that Zionism has demonstrated.
Moreover, there is no doubt that the weight attached to socio-economic problems in Israel is now on the rise, transforming the public agenda in this country. Questions of security and settlement are gradually giving way to such issues as social justice, government integrity, a just distribution of capital, et cetera. The considerable energies of Religious Zionism need to be directed toward these issues—not only because they are the most pressing questions (it is our duty, after all, to ensure the relevance of our Torah message), but also because they are in fact the central issues dealt with by the Torah. Since the time of Avraham Avinu, we have been taught that his mission was to “keep the way of God by doing what is just and right…” (Bereishit 18:19). An essential part of the commandments of the Torah is concerned with “repairing” society, perfecting the world through social action and matters pertaining to interpersonal conduct (bein adam lechaveiro). Moreover, the prophets taught that the central issue of serving God was such social action, frequently preaching the precedence of social justice and the repairing of society over the sacrificial rites and other commandments governing the relationship between human beings and God—without, of course, exempting us from the obligation to observe such commandments. Our tremendous energies should therefore be channeled into that vast field of activity, thereby also bringing the State of Israel closer to its proper image as a Jewish state. This will enable us to reconnect with wider circles of Zionist society and advance within our own camp, constantly enhancing our devotion to God’s command by walking in His ways.
I believe that Religious Zionism is already embarking on a course of reconstruction and creativity; that it well understands its great mission in the world, the covenant of ideals that it had entered into with Israeli society. I believe that the current storm raging around us will be an inexhaustible source of renewed creativity, of influence upon the Jewish people as a whole. I believe we will be able to make a virtue of necessity, to bring our message to all of Israeli society—the message of tikkun olam, repairing the world through the Kingdom of the Almighty.
Rabbi Cherlow is rosh yeshivah of Yeshivat Petach Tikva.
At the train station, they put us all into the railway wagon and ordered us to lie down on the floor, since Arab rioters had arrived behind us and were stoning the carriage…. The train began to move, and after a few kilometers the Jews of Gaza arose from the floor and then sat down on the benches, accompanied on the train by policemen … until they reached the Lod Junction, and from there they continued until Tel Aviv.1
The account above may sound chillingly familiar to anyone who witnessed the expulsion from Gush Katif in August 2005, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and compelled the area’s Jews to leave their homes.
In fact, though, it is an eyewitness description of a previous calamity, dating back to 1929, when rioting Arabs led British Mandatory authorities to evacuate the entire Jewish community from Gaza, bringing to an end yet another attempt to rebuild Jewish life in the area.
The speaker is Moshe Elkayam, a member of a prominent family that had played a leading role in reviving Gaza’s Jewish presence. Over the years, the Elkayams had developed close friendships with many of their Arab neighbors, and often provided them with assistance, advice and support.
Indeed, Chacham Nissim Elkayam, the head of the family, was a respected religious figure, looked up to by Jew and non-Jew alike, with stories of miracles and wonders that he had performed popular among both communities.
But in 1929, as Moshe and his family were led away by British troops, years of coexistence quickly dissolved as he and his loved ones came under a barrage of stones hurled by gleeful Arabs. Adding insult to injury, they taunted Moshe by shouting “Ya Musa, we burned down your store!”
Later, Moshe’s family members recalled how attempts to soothe his shock and pain proved fruitless, and the entire incident disturbed him greatly for many years afterward.
It is worth recalling the events of 1929, however briefly, because doing so will help, at least in part, to confront the seminal questions now being debated regarding the impact of the Gaza withdrawal on the future of Religious Zionism.
One thing is clear: The trauma of this past summer’s retreat from Gush Katif has left deep scars on Israeli society, and as we try to come to grips with its meaning and significance, it is difficult to contain the emotions stirring beneath the surface.
There can be no denying the fact that in the short term, the withdrawal from Gaza was a painful blow to Religious Zionism. To see the Israel Defense Forces deployed against the citizens of their own state, with the express purpose not of defending the Jewish people but of exiling them from parts of their homeland, was a shocking and unthinkable sight.
“Is this the state that we prayed for?” many began to ask, recoiling in disbelief that Jews would banish their own brothers from their homes.
And, some wondered, how can we say that the Final Redemption is near, when photographs broadcast around the world showed Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar leading an Islamic prayer service in the abandoned synagogue of Kfar Darom?2
Stories abound about a crisis of faith among many who were certain the withdrawal would not—or could not—come to pass. A friend of mine who was in Kfar Darom in the weeks leading up to the withdrawal said that not one family in the entire community had taken down a single picture or packed a bag in anticipation of the retreat, so strong was their faith that a miracle would occur.
But, as we know, that miracle did not occur, and many are now left to grapple with questions and uncertainty.
That, however, is precisely where 1929 comes into play. Because then, as now, the dream of building a Jewish community among the sand dunes of Gaza was ended prematurely. But just as those pioneers did not give up hope, neither can we.
After all, as the events of 1929 demonstrate, the withdrawal from Gush Katif is hardly the first setback that the Jewish people have suffered in our long and sometimes torturous return to Zion, and it is almost certainly not the last. Every ideological movement inevitably encounters stumbling blocks and impediments on the road to reaching its goals, and in this respect Religious Zionism is no exception. The real test of a movement’s strength lies not in whether it can avoid such difficulties, but in its ability to get up after a fall and continue marching forward.
Those who cast doubt on the future of Religious Zionism in the wake of the Gaza retreat are overlooking a simple yet salient point: Whoever said that the road to redemption would be one without obstacles?
As Rabbi Yehoshuah ben Levi explains in the Talmud,3 redemption can indeed come speedily and via supernatural means, but only if the Jewish people are worthy. In such a case, God will act to “hasten it.” If, however, we are not worthy, then redemption will come “in its time,” meaning slowly and through natural means.
The uprooting of Gaza’s Jews in no way casts into question the validity of Religious Zionism or its worldview. Israel’s previous redemptions, from Egyptian bondage and later from the Babylonian Exile, were both replete with setbacks, hindrances and delays, but that did not diminish or take away from the redemptive vision guiding the Jewish people to their inevitable deliverance.
Take, for example, the Exodus from Egypt. When God sent Moshe for his initial encounter with Paroh to demand Israel’s liberation from slavery, the immediate result was actually a worsening of their situation. The Egyptian monarch increased the Jewish people’s burden, requiring them to obtain their own straw in addition to producing their daily quota of bricks.4
After being set free, the Jews spent three days traveling away from Egypt, but then God instructed them to turn around and head back toward Egypt.5 Several verses later, the Jewish people are being chased by the advancing Egyptian army, only to reach the Red Sea, with seemingly nowhere to go.
The redemption from the Babylonian Exile was no different, as the book of Ezra makes clear. Though Cyrus granted the Jews permission to ascend to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple, few chose to answer the call. Then, after construction work on the Temple had finally begun, the Samaritans and others succeeded in convincing Cyrus to halt the project, which he did.6 It was only resumed some two decades later.
Each move backward, then, however inscrutable to our human comprehension, was nonetheless part of God’s ultimate plan, and far be it from us to assume otherwise. The road to our past redemptions was often a bumpy one, and so too is the path we are presently on. And, quite frankly, that is exactly what our Sages foresaw.
As the Vilna Gaon pointed out over two centuries ago, “During the period of the ingathering of the exiles, the sitra achra [the forces of evil] will become stronger,” and they will exert themselves more forcefully in an effort to combat Israel’s progress toward redemption.7 But, warns the Vilna Gaon, we need to bear this in mind ahead of time, and be aware, in effect, that our efforts to bring about Israel’s redemption will meet with resistance and attempts at obstruction. By doing so, “we will know how to deal with it practically … for truth will give us the strength as we proceed step by step,” and God will aid us in our efforts.
This message—that Israel’s Final Redemption will not be pain-free—is also subtly reinforced throughout a Jew’s daily existence, as a simple glance at the Birkat Hamazon reveals. In thanking God for our sustenance, we ask Him to “send us Eliyahu HaNavi who is remembered for good, and may he bring us good tidings of salvation and comfort.”
According to tradition,8 Eliyahu will come to inform us of the momentous news of Mashiach’s imminent arrival, so one wonders why he would need to bring us “comfort” as well. Clearly, the answer is that events preceding his arrival will be such that the Jewish people will need comforting for all they have suffered on the road to redemption.
The fact that all this was foreseen should serve to strengthen our belief and our conviction that Religious Zionism is on the right path. It is only if we wrongly assume that all will go smoothly and effortlessly that we run the risk of falling prey to despondency and anguish.
In this respect, the case of Gaza is particularly instructive. There is no question that Gaza is part of the Land of Israel and that it belongs to the Jewish people by Divine right.9 Nonetheless, Jews have been expelled from the area seven times in the past two millennia. The Roman governor Gabinius threw out Gaza’s Jews in 61 ce. Subsequently, they were exiled by the Crusaders, Napoleon, the Ottoman Turks, Arab rioters in 1929, the Egyptian army in 1948 and now, most recently, by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Each of these expulsions was certainly a crisis unto itself, leading many to question the future of a Jewish presence in the area. Nonetheless, the Jews returned, guided each time by their resilient faith. They rebuilt Jewish Gaza, the land of their ancestors, and we should have no doubt they will do so again in the future, when the situation permits.10
It is certainly true that the withdrawal from Gush Katif revealed a number of fissures among Religious Zionists over various ideological and even theological issues, ranging from whether soldiers should follow orders to expel Jews from their homes to disputes over inserting alterations into the prayer for the State of Israel.
In addition, political discord erupted too, as the National Religious Party came apart at the seams, with former party leaders Effie Eitam and Rabbi Yitzhak Levy opting to break away from the movement. But it is precisely because of all this ferment within Religious Zionism that we should have reason to be so optimistic about its future.
It may sound trite, or even clichéd, but the fact is that the impassioned debates taking place within Religious Zionism today is a sign of its potency and strength. The heat of the arguments show that people do care, and quite deeply at that, about the issues at hand. How many other movements can still generate a similar level of intellectual zeal and rhetorical enthusiasm?
Even disagreements among leading Religious Zionist rabbis, such as that between Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner over the question of a soldier’s refusing orders,11 are no cause for shame. Whatever one may think regarding the issue itself, no one can dispute that both Rabbi Shapira and Rabbi Aviner represent legitimate Torah viewpoints.
Many people seem to forget that the process of debate and deliberation is an essential part of man’s quest for truth, and a key component of Jewish tradition. For better or worse, Judaism does not have the equivalent of a pope who lays down the final word on doctrinal issues.
The days leading up to the Gaza retreat also provided firm evidence regarding the bright future that lies ahead for Religious Zionism. Countless rallies and protests were held across Israel against the impending withdrawal, and anyone taking a close look at the faces of those taking part would surely have seen that many of the participants were young people, primarily in their teens and early twenties.
In most Western countries, these youth’s peers gather en masse for far less lofty purposes, such as sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. But Religious Zionists were able to look on proudly and see that they had raised thousands of young men and women willing to forego their free time in order to stand up and speak out for their fellow Jews.
The commitment that these young people have to the cause and the idealism and fervor that they generate are exceptional and unique. They, more than anything else, are the surest indicators that Religious Zionism has a future, and a bright one at that.
And that is why I am convinced that people who say the Gaza withdrawal marks the end of Religious Zionism are merely narrow and shortsighted, ignoring the long sweep of Jewish history.
Even in the darkest and most foreboding periods of the Exile, Jews never doubted that we would one day return. Massacres and pogroms, Inquisitions and expulsions never broke our collective spirit, and neither will the Gaza withdrawal.
Sharon and his comrades may have been able to withdraw from Jewish history, but they cannot withdraw from Jewish destiny. They can bend and twist and stretch traditional Zionist and Jewish beliefs, but they cannot break them.
If there is a danger to the future of Religious Zionism, it lies in the fact that so many Orthodox Jews continue to prefer living in the Diaspora to making aliyah. Some are so busy creating new stringencies that they appear to have overlooked the Torah’s basic requirement to live in Israel.
But even in the face of all these challenges and uncertainties, the dream of our national return lives on. It might take years or even decades to achieve, but of one thing we can all be sure: The Jewish people will eventually bounce back from the Gaza fiasco, just as we have throughout the millennia.
And there to lead the charge, at the head of the movement, will be a robust and resilient Religious Zionism.
Mr. Freund, a native of New York, served as deputy director of policy planning and communications under former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He is now chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based group that assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people.
- The account of Moshe Elkayam, who was evacuated, together with his family, from Gaza in 1929, appears in Mordechai Elkayam, 40 Shenot Yishuv Yehudi BeAza, Be’er Sheva Vehakamat Havat Ruchamah (Hebrew), (Gaza, 1994), 386.
- Agence France-Presse, 12 September 2005.
- Sanhedrin 98a.
- Shemot 5:6-9.
- Shemot 14:1-2, “God spoke to Moshe, saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel, and let them turn back and encamp before Pi Hachirot.…”
- Ezra 4:24, “The work of the Temple of God in Jerusalem was halted, and remained halted until the second year of the reign of Daryavesh, king of Persia.”
- See Kol Hator by Rabbi Hillel of Shklov, disciple of the Vilna Gaon, chap. 5. (Jerusalem, 5754).
- Malachi 3:23, “Behold, I send you Eliyahu HaNavi before the coming of the great and awesome day of God.” See Eruvin 43b.
- See, for example, the commentary of the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh and Ramban on Bereishit 26:3.
- A particularly prescient view can be found in the commentary of Radak to Bereishit 26:23, where he discusses the various accounts of the Patriarchs’ digging of wells and the conflict that this led to with the Philistines. In all of these accounts, Radak notes, we see that no disputes arose between the Patriarchs and the Philistines about wells located in areas captured and held centuries later by Joshua and the Israelites. This, says Radak, was intended as a sign to the Patriarchs that these areas of the Land of Israel would unquestionably belong to their descendants. But, as for the wells dug by Avraham and Yitzchak in the land of the Philistines (i.e., Gaza), disputes arose regarding them, in order to inform the Patriarchs that even though Gaza was part of the Land of Israel, their descendants would not hold on to it without controversy and strife. Radak adds that Israel will only succeed in controlling all of Gaza when Mashiach comes.
- A former chief rabbi of Israel and the current head of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem, Rabbi Avraham Shapira came out forcefully against the idea that soldiers should follow orders and take part in the expulsion from Gush Katif. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Beit El, head of Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim in the Old City of Jerusalem, expressed strong disapproval of the expulsion itself, but nonetheless rejected the notion that soldiers should refuse orders.
Translated from the Hebrew by Yocheved Lavon
It’s astonishing to think that as I sit down to write this piece, three months have passed since the Jews of Gush Katif were expelled from their homes, and yet no profound upheaval has occurred in Israel. Among the general public, the whole affair has practically been forgotten. Even the suffering of the expelled settlers, many of whom are still leading a nomadic existence with no permanent home in sight, has not rated a prominent place in the headlines of late. This ought to teach us something about what is happening to Israeli society. In the following paragraphs we shall try to examine what has happened and what repercussions the uprooting of Jewish Gush Katif will have on the future of the State, on the stability of Israeli society in general and on the lives of the expellees in particular.
There are still those among the Israeli public who are trying to comprehend what drove a right-wing prime minister to destroy Gush Katif. For many years Ariel Sharon had been an enthusiastic supporter of this region of pioneer settlements. The simplistic claim that protecting the Gush from terrorist attacks demanded huge expenditures on the part of the national security system now appears groundless, because it is assumed by the people of Israel that had Sharon been able to win the coming elections by a large majority, he would have repeated his Gush Katif experiment on Yehudah and Shomron as well. This he never declared out loud; it was more in the nature of a whispered rumor.
Similarly, it is difficult to accept the notion that Sharon believed for a moment in his own declarations that the withdrawal from Gush Katif would induce the Palestinians to adopt a peaceful stance toward Israel. Both he himself and his spokesmen repeatedly claimed that relative calmness would descend upon the Gaza Strip once the Palestinians of the area had been granted partial independence. In the meantime, of course, the reality has proven to be quite different. The destruction of Gush Katif did not result in calmness, and anyone who understands anything about Arabs—and Sharon is well acquainted with their character—must have known from the start that they would interpret any show of generosity as weakness, that it would only whet their appetite to continue the struggle against Israel. The mortar shells and Kassam rockets flying into Israeli territory provide more tangible proof that nothing has changed as far as security is concerned. Opponents of the disengagement voiced a warning that after the withdrawal, Ashkelon would be the next target of the Kassam rockets. Their prediction has already come true.
It is indeed quite possible, as many have claimed, that Sharon’s personal entanglements with the law played a part in his dramatic decision. According to this theory, the disengagement was devised to deter investigations against him. But it is becoming increasingly clear that such calculations were only marginal. An analysis of the current social climate in Israel reveals two much deeper reasons behind the decision to evacuate Gush Katif. The more the facts are revealed, the clearer it becomes that two main social factors combined to cause Sharon’s dramatic turnabout: deeply-rooted hatred towards the settlers on the part of secular Israeli society and the Jewish identity crisis suffered by that sector.
The psychological background for settler-hatred is deeply embedded in the secular mentality. The settlers are a group that disturbs the tranquility of Israeli society, especially the left-wing elite that wields so much influence over the public’s thinking. The settler holds up a mirror to the secular Israeli, showing him an image of how he might look had he remained faithful to his Zionist ideals. The average secular Zionist has cast off the yoke he took upon himself a century ago—the task of conquering, settling and building up Eretz Yisrael. It is clear beyond any doubt that at some point on his way up the mountain, he wearied of the climb. When the Rabin government decided to go along with the Oslo Accords, the Gerrer rebbe, the Pnei Menachem, remarked, “It looks as though the Zionists are giving up on their dream.” Yitzhak Rabin had always been known as a leader who made security a top priority; I heard at that time from sources close to him that the change in his stance had come as a result of the mass exodus from Tel Aviv under the Iraqi missile attacks during the Gulf War. Witnessing that, he concluded that the nation was no longer willing to fight. Indeed, that disillusionment with the Zionist vision has brought European decadence in its wake, the hedonistic culture of the West that is eating away at everything of value in Eretz Yisrael. Thus the settler, by his very existence, by his sacrifice for an ideal and by his willingness to suffer for it, is a reminder to the average Israeli that he himself has betrayed the ideals of his youth. And this reminder elicits ever-increasing resentment that has gradually turned to animosity. In order to justify this animosity, the average Israeli has internalized the idea that it is the settlers who are preventing the achievement of peace with the Arabs. The animosity has gradually turned into full-fledged hatred. Only recently, I encountered the shocking fact that in numerous recent Hebrew works, it is not uncommon for the settler to be depicted as following in the footsteps of the Nazis. Considerations of space prevent me from quoting some of these “flattering” descriptions of settlers, but this is how far things have gone.
This is reason enough for the secular public’s wish to see the destruction of the settlements, the constant reminders of their own failing. One thing is clear: The hatred toward the settlers prevalent among the Israeli public, and especially among those in control of the media, made Sharon’s job much easier to carry out when the time came. However, when all the statements on the subject made by Sharon and his close associates are summed up, what emerges is that a certain very basic problem led him to take such a drastic step, specifically the problem of Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. This is a problem that has greatly troubled parts of the Israeli establishment in recent years, especially those on the right-wing end of the political spectrum. While many on the Left have already given up viewing Israel as a Jewish state and are even striving to make it “a state of all its citizens,” nationalist circles are seeking a way to preserve the Jewish character of the State. As they witness what is happening to Israeli society, they are gripped by increasing fear that the Jewish State, according to their definition of what is Jewish, is slipping through their fingers. Secular young people today are totally cut off from any connection, even an emotional connection, to Jewish tradition and to Eretz Yisrael. In both their outlook and behavior they have strayed deep into foreign pastures. And as if the loss of spiritual identity weren’t enough, there is the creeping threat of natural increase on the part of the Arabs. The Arab population living within the borders of Israel is rapidly closing the gap with the Jewish majority and could easily outnumber it in the near future.
In view of this dilemma, the only feasible option for guaranteeing that the State retains its Jewish majority, at least from a biological point of view, is total disengagement from areas of the country where large Arab populations are concentrated. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a close associate of Sharon, has expressed this intention almost explicitly. In a more closed setting, at a forum held by The Foundation for a Constitutional Democracy in Israel, at which this writer was in attendance, one could sense the distress of the justice minister and the other speakers as they addressed this topic. The possibility of increasing the Jewish birthrate in Israel and rekindling interest in Judaism among the youth does not even occur to those who set the policies of the State of Israel. In any case, the problem of the Jewish majority is the mantra being chanted by leaders of the State today. In their eyes, the liquidation of Gush Katif serves as the only successful model for preserving this majority, assuming that it were also to be applied to Yehudah and Shomron. This is not the place for analyzing how shortsighted and narrow this approach is; like it or not, this is the thinking that prevails among the disengagement supporters.
During the period leading up to the expulsion, the Sharon camp certainly made use of the widespread hatred towards the settlers to delegitimize them in the public eye. This delegitimization greatly weakened the settlers in their struggle against the decree that had been sealed against them. They weren’t accustomed to being hated by the ruling establishment. And as if that weren’t enough, this deeply rooted hatred also led to the crime of abandoning the expellees to their fate. After all the grandiose promises given before the expulsion, after the fact many of them were abandoned in the most shameful manner. The government is ignoring its obligation to restore these people to normal life as quickly as possible. This hardheartedness, too, is sure to have repercussions on Israel’s internal social relations. It has been months since these people were thrown out of their homes, and, as of this writing, around eighty percent of them are still unemployed, and many are not living in suitable homes. The tension generated by this situation has broken up families. According to newspaper reports, a number of the displaced have had to receive psychological care, and the fact that many of the children have still not been placed in proper educational frameworks is undoubtedly causing serious damage to their development. The astonishing thing is how little people care. Disgraceful as it is, certain groups have even displayed joy over their fellow man’s misfortune. This is the power of hatred. All of these goings-on have stained the image of the State that calls itself Jewish, and the stain will not be quickly washed away.
The disengagement was a historical moment of truth for Israeli society, especially for the National Religious camp. At such times of crisis, when society is put to the test, things that are ordinarily rather vague and foggy suddenly become clear. Ideas that had been held as truths for many years suddenly collapsed. Relationships that had lasted for generations were undermined, and basic beliefs were reforged in the fires of those critical events. It was especially hard for those with National Religious inclinations who had linked the principle of settling the territories liberated in the Six-Day War with various stages in the Final Redemption. For them, the disengagement posed a crisis of massive proportions, of significance far beyond the loss of one’s home. During the pre-disengagement period, many raised the concern that the expulsion was likely to trigger an acute crisis of faith among youth who identified the settlement of the Land with reishit tzemichat geulateinu, the initial stage of our redemption. We can be thankful that in fact, this crisis of faith occurred only in the hearts of a few individuals, as far as we can see.
In any case, however, National Religious society is indeed suffering an acute crisis. It has not yet developed a clear position platform, but it is full of pain as it calls for disengagement from old beliefs and for an reevaluation of its relationship to the general society. The feeling of many in these circles is that the State, to which they were so loyal, has betrayed them. All of a sudden, their partners of yesterday in the task of building Israel as a state and a society, the partners to whom they were faithful heart and soul, became unrecognizable. All of a sudden, the realization dawned upon them that for all these years, they had glossed over the fundamental differences between them and their fellow Zionists, and that in fact, the two groups had been pulling the cart of Eretz Yisrael in different directions all along. The contrast became obvious when the secular side of the partnership decided to turn its ideas concerning the borders of Eretz Yisrael into reality. As an initial response, the stunned settlers and their supporters angrily declared that they were divorcing themselves from the State. This extreme reaction shed light on where they actually stood: on the ruins of a philosophy that they had nurtured for decades. But of course, such declarations were not easily accepted and have triggered much debate among many of the best thinkers in that camp. Judging by articles that have appeared in the right-wing press and by what we’ve heard in countless discussions, a lively and incisive ideological dialogue is taking place on how Religious Zionists ought to respond to the ringing slap in the face they’ve received from their secular counterparts. Even those who oppose the notion that separation from the State is the only answer don’t know how they can go on living within the State.
It’s only been a few months since the disengagement, and it is still too early to tell whether a historical turnabout has really taken place in the National Religious public’s attitude towards secular Zionism, or whether those stormy responses were, on the whole, merely outbursts of rage that will be forgotten once the dust has settled, and relations between the two groups will resume as they were before the expulsion.
Meanwhile, the breakup between the National Religious camp and secular Israeli society has sharpened the positions and the identities of both sides. Despite the pain involved, the new reality could bring about something positive. It cannot be denied that the Religious Zionism’s longstanding association with secular society, often to the point of actually identifying with it, has blurred the religious identity of many members within that camp. Enough ink has been spilled over this issue. The breakup, then, could potentially yield abundant fruits in the form of religious growth and a renewed Jewish outlook. The buds have already appeared in right-wing religious newspapers such as B’Sheva and Makor Rishon.
Another point of contention and confusion for the National Religious public is the matter of refusing to comply with a military order. It seems that the number of soldiers who refused to take part in the expulsion was actually very small. This would seem to indicate that the extent of the authority of the great rabbanim over that camp, such as the geonim Rav Avraham Shapira and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, is actually quite minimal as their call for refusal went unanswered. No doubt this sector will deal at great length with the weighty question of how much influence those who bring the word of Torah to the people really have on the National Religious public. It is too early to tell what will be the repercussions of the tension that has been generated between the people and their spiritual leaders.
If the voices in favor of separating from the State should prevail, even if the belief in the State as the initial phase of the Redemption were to be dropped, it would not necessarily bring about a rapprochement between non-Zionist Orthodoxy and the National Religious. These two movements are separated by a deep ideological chasm. Even when certain portions of Chareidi Jewry demonstrated their solidarity with the people of Gush Katif, this was simply out of a sense of empathy; none of us wants to see Jews thrown out of their homes and dragged off their land, especially not at the hands of other Jews. But there was no shared ideology behind those gestures of sympathy. These two sectors of Jewry are fundamentally divided, and it doesn’t look as though recent events will bring about any real cooperation between them. They might join together in certain struggles on an ad hoc basis, but nothing more.
The disengagement was also a moment of truth for the Chareidi public, which could have extended more aid after the expulsion. The National Religious sector is deeply disappointed at the failure of the Chareidi public and its leaders to rally publicly to their aid in their time of trouble. This lack of support did not stem from an absence of sensitivity to the pain of Jews about to be forcibly expelled from their homes. Joining forces with the Religious Zionists to try and prevent the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif would have been interpreted as acquiescence to the Religious Zionist view that the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael stands above all else. To have participated in those forceful struggles would have been seen not only as a show of sympathy for fellow Jews in distress, but as an affirmation of an ideology that the Chareidi sector does not believe in at all. Eretz Yisrael is no less beloved by the Chareidim than by the National Religious, but the Chareidim view the mitzvah of yishuv HaAretz as one mitzvah among the rest, not as a mitzvah exalted above all others. This is a broad topic, and this is not the place to elaborate on it.
When the complaint was voiced before a Chareidi rabbi that the youth of his camp had not shown up at the mass demonstration in Kfar Maimon, his answer gave expression to the wall that divides the two factions: “I don’t think,” he said, “that you expected me to instruct bnei yeshivah and Beis Yaakov girls to take part in a demonstration and in activities that were not conducted according to the standards of modesty accepted by the Chareidi public, which views modesty as the crucial key to maintaining our position in Eretz Yisrael. I’m not trying to hint,” he added, “that anything happened in Kfar Maimon that was prohibited, God forbid. But our students, who were raised on different standards of modesty, cannot come to such places.” In other words, even if ideological differences were put aside, the Chareidi public would not have been able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the National Religious camp in the struggle against the expulsion. This, too, is a topic that requires incisive analysis and a broader treatment, and this is not the place to discuss it at length.
It should be stressed that Chareidi chesed organizations were among those who offered a helping and supportive hand to the expellees. The Chareidi public as a whole, however, did not volunteer as much aid as could have been expected of them. The ideological gap caused a corresponding psychological gap, which not every individual knew how to overcome. It should be pointed out, however, that some Chareidi yeshivos that customarily organize “camps,” vacation trips of several days, for their students every summer, announced that there would be no camp in 2005. We cannot indulge ourselves, they said, while other Jews are suffering. That would be morally corrupt; let us at least bear their pain with them.
Only a few months have passed since the disengagement. Although it appears on the surface that the people have already forgotten what happened, at a deeper level those memories continue to simmer, and it will be a long time before they fade away, for the problems and tensions generated by those events are with us, whether we recognize them or not.
Rabbi Grylak is editor-in-chief of Mishpacha magazine. He is the author of four volumes of essays on the parashah and also writes novels under the name Chaim Eliav. His most famous novel is In the Spider’s Web.
This past summer Medinat Yisrael experienced one of the major traumas in its fifty-seven-year-old history. The disengagement, a policy pursued by the Sharon government to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four other West Bank settlements, became a reality. As a result, some 10,000 Israelis were uprooted from their homes, and the land was “returned” to the Palestinian Authority. Many of these Jews are still not resettled.
The public debate on the disengagement was vigorous, heated and tense. In fact, the extreme positions, pro and con, were articulated in voices that were too shrill for comfort. Intense opponents of the disengagement did not hesitate to invoke memories of the Shoah. Government personnel, such as army officers responsible for carrying out the orders of the government and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon himself, were compared to Nazis.
Supporters, on the other hand, demonized the settlers, most of whom belong to the Religious Zionist community. The very term “settler” became one of derision and contempt. Some equated “settlers” with “occupiers.” Settlers were no longer considered Israelis and were accused of being disloyal to the State. The situation was so tense that there was a real fear of civil war and violence.
However, despite this incendiary atmosphere, the civil peace held; there was no civil war. Why? Perhaps because, contrary to the hype on both sides and to the usual portrayal of Israelis as cynical, most Israelis did not view the disengagement as a ploy by the Sharon government to divert attention from its own domestic problems. Neither was the disengagement seen, even by many Religious Zionists, as an anti-religious campaign directed at an overwhelmingly religious settler population to advance some long-term secular agenda. Rather, it was seen as one way of dealing with the major problem facing Israel, that of war and peace, of sheer physical security.
Even proponents of the disengagement plan recognized its flaws. For one, it was unilateral. Israel received nothing in return. The Palestinians did not commit to reciprocate in any meaningful way. Even so, the status quo also has its own dangers. An unstable situation is always prone to violent eruptions. Israel before the disengagement was viewed as a “pariah” state by most of the international community. The demographic problem of Jews becoming a minority in their own country is, according to all, a problem that needed a solution. And, the people are tired of a fifty-seven-year-old war, and sickened by the experience of the last two intifadas. Such a people saw the disengagement as a chance, albeit a very slim one, for peace. They saw it as a gamble that may move the country from military confrontation to political negotiation. The Israeli government felt this was a risk worth taking, and, apparently, most Israelis agreed with that assessment.
At the premise of questions 2 and 3 raised by Jewish Action (What will be the short- and long-term effect of the disengagement on Religious Zionism’s attitude towards the State? Towards the army? Has the alliance between secular and religious Jews in Israel been irreparably damaged as a result of the disengagement?), which pertain to the serious issues that resulted from the disengagement, is that there was a long-standing alliance between secular and religious Jews. The premise is correct, but it is my contention that the Religious Zionist alliance with the secular communities broke down well before the disengagement.
When political Zionism appeared on the scene, the religious community was divided on the very legitimacy of the Zionist effort to establish a state. The basic difference in opinion revolved around central ideas that, in reality, still divide the religious community. The first issue is that of activism versus passivity. The religious anti-Zionist position was that Klal Yisrael cannot have a sovereign state before the Messianic advent. Any attempt to “hasten” the Redemption, they argued, is both theologically and halachically beyond the pale. So much so that any attempt to create a state invites, and is worthy of, Divine retribution. Obviously, Religious Zionists rejected this approach completely. To them, activism as regards binyan HaAretz, developing Eretz Yisrael and establishing sovereignty there, is the highest expression of the Biblical precept of yishuv Eretz Yisrael.
The second issue, also still not really resolved, concerned relating to non-observant Jews. The religious anti-Zionists argued that cooperation with the non-observant—hitchabrut lareshaim—even for good causes, is prohibited. Hence cooperation with secular Zionists is out of the question. Religious Zionists argued, with equal fervor and conviction, that cooperation with the non-observant does not imply recognition of their secular ideology.
The establishment of the State did not end this debate. It is true that for a short—very short—period most segments of religious Jewry saw in the establishment of the State some form of Divine blessing. Rabbi Menachem Kasher published a letter, written in 1949, addressed to the religious community in Israel regarding the importance of voting in the upcoming elections. In that letter, Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, rosh yeshivah of the Slabodka yeshivah in Hebron; Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, chief rabbi of Yerushalayim; Rabbi Yaakov Sinkiewic, rosh yeshivah of Gur, and a host of other Chareidi and Religious Zionist rabbis and roshei yeshivah called the establishment of the State of Israel atchalta deGeulah [the beginning of the Redemption] (Kol Hator , p.374). But this unity in outlook was short-lived.
In fact, initially both the Religious Zionists and the religious anti-Zionists participated in the government. But their rationales for doing so diverged. While the justification given by the religious anti-Zionists for joining the government was complex, the Religious Zionist position was simple. By joining the government and creating an alliance with the secular community, Religious Zionists were simply implementing, in a Jewish state, their long-held historic view of contributing and working with all segments of the Jewish community. In the early days of the State when so much had to be done, they shared a common social, economic and political agenda with the larger secular community. In fact, out of that early cooperation on all kinds of issues, there emerged the “historic alliance” between the secular (Labor) parties and the religious (National Religious Party) that lasted for a long time. When the late Dr. Yosef Burg, one of the leaders of the NRP, was asked which is the more important component of the NRP, the “national” or the “religious,” he answered: “the hyphen.” That was not just a clever retort; it reflected the profound reality of the Religious Zionist commitment to uniting with the broader Jewish community.
Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 had a profound impact on the Religious Zionist self-image. It now saw itself in a new and triumphant light. The Religious Zionists could now, after the miraculous victory, speak to their allies in state building on the Left of God’s intervention without apologia. Indeed, with the religious moment acknowledged even by the secularists, Religious Zionists were no longer junior partners in the broader national-religious alliance. To their religious adversaries on the Right, they could now point to God’s intervention as nothing less than bestowing Divine legitimacy to Israel’s existence. Indeed, reishit tzemichat geulateinu was no empty phrase; what it meant exactly was a matter of debate, but the element of Divine “blessing” of the State was acknowledged by all.
This new triumphalism had practical consequences, specifically in relation to settlements. When successive Israeli governments encouraged its citizens to settle in the newly conquered territories of Eretz Yisrael, the religious communities responded with enthusiasm. They were now in the forefront of building Eretz Yisrael. And for a long time the Religious Zionist community—with its idealism, its policy of involvement in the State and in the army, via hesder yeshivot, and in all areas of public life—became a model for the entire community.
But Israel was also a country at war. Above all other problems, there loomed the specter of political instability and insecurity. Terrorism, intifadas and suicide bombs all brought home, on a daily basis, the message that our very existence was not taken for granted. And there was Oslo—the hope for peace, the disappointments, the trauma of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The country became torn by the issue of land for peace.
In this new divide over land for peace, there were three discernible political groups. The general secular community associated with the Labor party, who were the erstwhile allies of the Religious Zionists and favored negotiation and the “giving up” of land. The right-wing nationalistic groups, who, from the early rise of Zionism, viewed the State in maximalist terms, obviously opposed the giving up of land. As this debate over land continued and sharpened, the third constituency, the Religious Zionists, slowly but surely began to move away from consensus-building political alliances that focused on negotiations and compromise. They began to increasingly ally themselves with the extreme right positions that eschewed compromise.
In this process, however, Religious Zionism lost sight of the other critical issues facing society. In its exclusive focus on the issue of land, it became transformed into a one-issue party. The consequence was the loss of a political base, loss of political power and loss of influence. Nothing marginalizes a party more than being addicted only to a single issue. The isolation of the settlers during the whole disengagement period was only the most painful example of how far this marginalization affected the Religious Zionists.
Is the rift irreparable? I am confident that the break can be healed. Israeli society faces many problems; the gap, not only between the rich and the poor but also between the satiated and the hungry, is growing. The integrity of governmental institutions is in question. The public educational system needs overhaul. Not to speak of the broader issues such as the Jewish character of Medinat Yisrael and the role of Jewish tradition in the State.
The Religious Zionist community has the human resources, the enthusiasm, the idealism and the ideology that can get the country moving in the right direction. Its message that what we do here and now can be stamped with the breath of eternity is one that the majority of Israelis can accept. But first Religious Zionism must move out of its self-imposed isolation and restore the “hyphen” to its central position.
Rabbi Krauss is rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Hillcrest, in New York, and immediate past president of the Religious Zionists of America. He and his wife recently made aliyah. He is on the Talmud faculty of Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Yerushalayim.