Reclaiming the world of Torah
We religiously serious and seriously Zionist Jews want to see Israeli society infused with Torah values and traditional morals.
Settlers hold special prayer at Ulpana outpost Photo: TOVAH LAZAROFF
Ultra-Orthodox leaders are in an uproar because religious Zionists got the upper
hand in the recent elections, and will probably be part of the next government
while haredi representatives won’t. They’re yelling about the destruction of the
“world of Torah” that will result from the societal reforms that Bayit Yehudi
So here’s a news flash for my haredi brethren: You do not
possess exclusivity on “the world of Torah,” and in historic perspective, you
may yet come to thank Bayit Yehudi for nudging you to a better place.
less than you do religious Zionist Jews, represented by Naftali Bennett’s
resurgent national-religious party, want to strengthen the “world of Torah” – by
keeping mitzvot, studying Torah and expanding yeshiva institutions, and by
serving in the military, advancing Israel’s technological and industrial prowess
and contributing to its economy.
All of the above strengthen the “world
Religious Zionists believe that Orthodoxy and the building of
a modern State of Israel after two thousand years of exile do not contradict one
another, and we express this belief by carrying our fair share of the national
economic and military burden, and by contributing to the worlds of Israeli arts,
literature, music, academia and religion. All this is part of building the
“world of Torah.” And guess what, we’re pretty successful at this.
religiously serious and seriously Zionist Jews want to see Israeli society
infused with Torah values and traditional morals, and know that the way to do
this is by blending tradition and modernity, and by synthesizing science and
spirituality. We see religious beauty and a sacred imperative in being Orthodox
physicists, psychiatrists, biochemists, brain scientists, archeologists,
architects, musicologists and philosophers.
It’s all part of “the world
In religious Zionist yeshivas and universities, we’ve achieved
a breadth of Torah learning that is rigorous, committed, deep, creative and
intellectually powerful across Halacha, Midrash, Talmud, Hassidut, Kabbala and
every other area of traditional study. We’ve produced an encyclopedic,
real-world halachic literature that relates with profundity to modern questions
of society and state, and have generated exciting and profound advances in Bible
Unfortunately, you don’t even know these “worlds” of Torah at
We believe that Orthodoxy and religious lifestyle doesn’t have to
mean permanent enslavement to poverty. We don’t accept that the only way to
remain true to tradition is by barricading yourself behind walls of separation
that prevent a modern education, gainful employment and moderate openness to
academic disciplines. Such narrowness is a historic mutation of Jewish
tradition, and therefore we insist on teaching our youngsters math, science,
English, history and even literature not found in religious canon. It’s all part
of “the world of Torah.”
Frankly, your narrow “world of Torah” will not
survive if the large haredi public is allowed to wallow in religious
backwardness and poverty. So, with regrets – and excuse the condescension, for
your own good – we’re going to have to wean you off the national
Because of the way we differ in building a “world of Torah,” there
is a very big difference in the way our respective politicians do their job. We
religious Zionist Orthodox Jews want our elected representatives to act for the
benefit of all parts of the population; not just take care of narrow, sectarian
needs. Bennett and his colleagues, for example, intend to build cheaper housing
for all young couples in the country, not just haredi couples.
religious Zionists also want a userfriendly and open-minded rabbinate in this
country, one that will bring about sanctification, not desecration, of God’s
name in the general public and that will draw non-religious Israelis back toward
tradition, not turn them away from it. I’m sorry that this means that we have to
– we just have to! – take the Chief Rabbinate and all its local affiliates out
of haredi hands, and place it back in the trust of moderate, Zionist rabbis who
come with a Klal Yisrael approach to the job.
Obviously, you’re upset
that we are making common cause with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party to nudge you
into the army and the workforce and out of some entitlements you’ve gotten
all-too-much used to. Believe me, it’s a somewhat uncomfortable
It’s unlikely that I can eat everything in Lapid’s home,
and I know that we Orthodox Jews need each other to promote our shared halachic
viewpoint over the long term.
But the vile and violent name-calling some
haredi leaders have taken to – labeling Yesh Atid’s leadership, including the
impressive rabbis Shai Piron and Dov Lipman, as “haters and enemies of the
Jewish People,” and branding us religious Zionists as “goyim” – only calls into
question your morals, religious standards and wisdom, not ours.
me wonder how well you know the strictures against speaking with an evil and
libelous tongue laid out in the “world of Torah’s” codes of Jewish
Part of the “world of Torah” is settling the land of Israel and
strengthening the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, not tearing them
down. And here is the moment I have to remind you that we religious Zionist
settlersupporting types were right about the dangers of the Oslo Accords (which
haredi political representatives notoriously voted for), and about the perils of
the Gaza disengagement and expulsion (which wasn’t opposed by haredi leadership
It’s shocking and repulsive that haredi politicians, speaking on
behalf of the “world of Torah” that you improperly claim for yourselves, are now
spitefully threatening to wreak revenge against Bayit Yehudi by voting to
withdraw lock-stock-and-barrel from the West Bank and destroy religious Zionist,
Torah-true, settlement communities.
I find it hard to believe that true
haredi rabbinical giants have reached the conclusion that this is the “way of
Torah.” Do they really believe that rewarding Mahmoud Abbas as a righteousness
gentile and making terrible diplomatic and security mistakes is justified just
because Arye Deri and Ya’acov Litzman aren’t getting seats at the cabinet table?
Or because some yeshiva boys at the margins of haredi society, who aren’t truly
learning Torah anyway, will have to do national service and go to work? So my
dear haredi brethren, stop screaming bloody murder, calling names, and issuing
threats, and take a good, hard look at yourselves. Instead consider this: Might
you have, after all, what to learn from the religious Zionist world of Torah?