Religious Zionist rabbis: The awakening
Reflecting upon the Jerusalem Day that was and the Shavuot that will
be should begin with disseminating a message of unity to the Jewish
people in Israel.
Rabbi Haim Druckman Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
A few weeks ago I received an invitation in the mail to attend an assembly of
Religious Zionist rabbis in commemoration of Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day.
Surprisingly, the name of an organization did not appear on the invitation,
there was no mention of the names of any of the rabbis who may have been behind
the initiative, and it did not delineate a proposed initiative or even a program
schedule. It simply provided a time, locale and an RSVP.
decided to attend.
When I arrived at the assembly last Thursday night I
was pleasantly surprised to find that 700 rabbis shared both my curiosity and
apparent desire to identify with and belong to an ideology. Senior, influential
rabbis such as Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Rabbi Haim Druckman, Rabbi Yakov Ariel
and Chief Rabbi of the IDF Rafi Peretz offered their blessings.
rabbis, serving a variety of functions, whose institutions represent Religious
Zionism, briefly explained the purpose and nature of their work. Most
impressively, both the event’s sponsors and organizers were purposely kept
anonymous in a conscious effort to avoid personal agendas or power struggles
and, it was said more then once, with the explicit intent to promote unity among
all Religious Zionist rabbis, regardless of their differences of
This initiative was particularly appropriate as Jerusalem Day
approached; a day commemorating the liberation of Jerusalem which was successful
only after all the initial forces in Israel amalgamated to establish a highly
effective and ideologically driven Jewish army known today as TZAHAL – Israel’s
Yet with all of the anonymous good intentions, I could
not help but wonder why this effort to unite took so long. Since the
disengagement from Gaza seven years ago, the Religious Zionist camp has been
splintered, trying to reestablish its purpose and identity. This type of
convention was way overdue. Yet even more important is the rabbinic leadership’s
goals for the future; it is incumbent upon all the rabbis in attendance to help
establish the relevance and accessibility of Religious Zionist ideology to the
broader Israeli public.
Twenty-some years ago the slogan of Religious
Zionism was “Eretz Yisrael Hashleima – keeping the land of Israel intact.” Now
the mantra must become “Am Yisrael Hashalem – keeping the people of Israel whole
and undivided.” We must find a way to reach our secular Israeli brethren, not
through what may be perceived as religious coercion or persuasion but by
demonstrating the ideals we share in common such as serving in the army with
pride, ensuring the security of the land, and promoting Zionist education as a
means of preserving and perpetuating the Jewish people in the Jewish
While this gathering in Jerusalem was commendable for having
united the rabbinic leadership, future events should include an itinerary with
practical ways to infuse such aspirations via tolerance and
All this begins by helping people to realize that Judaism is
friendly and beneficial, not intrusive and intolerant as it is often perceived
in this country.
A FEW weeks ago I attended a Friday night Shabbat dinner
at a rabbi’s home in Toronto together with six other families. The invite,
similar to the one I described above, did not express an agenda, nor did it
include a proposed program; it was simply a cordial gathering, an opportunity to
spend some time with the rabbi’s family and enjoy some delightful cuisine which
happened to be around the Shabbat table.
Four of the six couples were
secular Israelis who had left Israel and were currently residing in Canada. As I
engaged in friendly conversation with the young man sitting next to me I learned
that he had served as an officer for the paratroopers division in the IDF, grew
up in a secular kibbutz in Israel and had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of
He explained to me that since he left Israel he had
attended a number of Friday night dinners with the rabbi, something which he had
never done or even entertained doing when he was living in Israel.
asked him what made him change his mind as I braced myself for a theological
response regarding the validity of the Sabbath day, but I was surprised to hear
him explain that in Israel the opportunity to grace a Shabbat table never
presented itself because no rabbi had ever invited him.
This rabbi, he
explained, took a personal interest in him and had no apparent ulterior motive.
I listened to this young man’s story wondering why this seemingly simple
non-coercive approach could not be implemented in Israel, particularly by
Religious Zionist rabbis who adopt a broader vision and lend themselves to an
I am not foolish; I realize that many Israelis living
in the country are less interested in Jewish tradition simply because they find
residing in Israel to be sufficient. Nonetheless, I sincerely believe that there
are secular Israelis who would welcome a friendly, unobtrusive invitation from a
rabbi or an observant neighbor to a Shabbat meal.
At the very least, such
efforts could promote tolerance and understanding, and at most it could provide
an opportunity to engage in sociable dialogue and validate that indeed the
Jewish people are capable of uniting in some form and fashion.
As one of
the rabbis at last week’s convention put it: “We may have our differences of
opinion, but our being here together affirms that ultimately we are all trying
to get to the same place.”
In a few days we will celebrate Shavuot, which
is a commemoration of the Jewish people uniting for the sake of receiving the
Torah at Mount Sinai. Reflecting upon the Jerusalem Day that was and the Shavuot
that will be should begin with disseminating a message of unity to the Jewish
people in Israel.
The writer, a rabbi, teaches at Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat
Gat and serves as a lecturer under the Harel Division for the IDF. He is also an
author and lecturer on Israel, Religious Zionism and Jewish education.