Rejecting an invitation for Jewish unity
Israelis are desperately searching for outstanding leaders who can develop our economy, build a just society and make peace with our neighbors.
Graffiti reads: Price Tag Migron Photo: Reuters
Jewish unity is one of our most highly prized values.
needed in the State of Israel, so there was great celebration when the leader of
Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home Party) invited all the other religious-Zionist
parties, from Meimad on the left to Kahanists on the right, to join them on a
single ticket for the Knesset elections.
“How good and how pleasant it is
when brothers dwell together!” (Psalms 133:1) However, their warm embrace was
immediately and emphatically shunned by Rabbi Michael Melchior, the leader of
Meimad. He declared that while he had not yet determined whether to throw his
hat in the ring and with whom, one thing was for sure: He would not accept this
Why such a churlish response? I decided to
A rally to mark the 18th yahrzeit of Rabbi Meir Kahane was
advertised on the Web. (The cheery song accompanying the ad – “Kahane Was
Correct!” – was so catchy that I found myself humming it all week. I was happily
singing it to myself as I drove into the gas station until I found myself
eyeball to eyeball with the petrol attendant, Muhammad.) On the appointed day, I
made my way to the rally.
Brightly colored clothes hung on a rail in the
entrance to the hall. For just a few shekels, one could buy a T-shirt inscribed
with the words “Price Tag” – a celebration of the brutal attacks carried out on
innocent Palestinians, their farms, cars, churches and mosques.
looking for something more cerebral, there was a bookstall that included books
about the country’s minorities, such as Meir Kahane’s They Must Go. There were
also more exclusive items available, such as Baruch Hagever – a literary tribute
to Baruch Goldstein, the doctor who massacred 29 innocent Palestinians at prayer
in the Cave of Machpela.
Our gracious hosts welcomed us into the packed
hall; they apologized for the seedy setting, explaining its special significance
as the venue where Kahane had held his rallies and a place of particular purity
– the only hall in Jerusalem where no Arab sets foot.
Then the teenage
Kahanists came forward for a presentation. If their numbers seemed
disappointing, we were told that this was not the whole picture.
were plenty more, but regrettably they could not be with us that evening because
they were being held in Israeli prisons.
When Kahane’s right-hand man,
Baruch Marzel, took the stage, he modestly hushed the audience’s
“I don’t deserve this,” he said. “Don’t applaud me until we have
expelled every last Arab from Hebron.”
Similar statements were made about
removing Arabs from the center of Jerusalem. And so the evening dragged on, with
a succession of speeches in which refugees were lampooned, Arabs threatened and
Israeli politicians mocked.
When ultra-nationalist parties hold rallies
across Britain, the British public reacts angrily. Their demonstrations are met
with counter-demonstrations in which with protesters chant, “Racist scum off our
streets!” When racism entered Britain’s soccer stadiums, footballers of all
teams united to create the “Kick racism out of football” campaign. Sadly, when
such racists come to Jerusalem, we celebrate them as part of the
religious-Zionist consensus, and barely a whimper of protest is
ALL OF us are influenced by the company we keep, and so the Rambam
warns that we should choose our friends carefully, making sure they are wise and
gentle people. We should avoid the wicked, so as not to learn from their ways.
If we cannot keep them at bay, then we must flee to caves, thickets and deserts
rather than join their path (Rambam, Hilchot De’ot, Chapter 6).
or not National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari and his Kahanist friends team up with
the nationalist religious parties, Melchior is correct to stay far away from any
party that even entertains the idea of forging alliances with shoddy, racist
platforms, and so should the rest of us.
The country’s national religious
movement may appear similar to modern Orthodoxy in its modern appearance and its
commitment to Jewish law and the State of Israel, but there are significant
Whereas modern Orthodoxy combines total commitment to
Halacha with a liberal outlook, the national religious community’s leadership
has developed an obsession with militant preservation of the Land of Israel to
the exclusion of many other core religious values.
Take a look at any one
of the many halachic guides for soldiers. While you will find many valuable
chapters dedicated to ritual observance in the military, there is barely a word
about the religious and moral aspects of military patrols and warfare. Likewise,
the fact that refugees literally freeze to death on the cold winter nights in
Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park is a matter of total indifference to most of our
national religious leadership. When did you last hear a rabbi call on the
community to help? ISRAEL NEEDS to maintain a strong and resolute army to defend
our borders against implacable enemies, and there are legitimate discussions to
be had about the policies it should follow. This is not our issue here. Our
concern is the huge difference between a responsible defense policy carefully
constructed by our democratically elected government, and vicious, random acts
of racism committed by Jewish terrorists.
Deputy Prime Minister Dan
Meridor recently pointed out that traditionally Jews have fought against racist
ideologies and policies. The question is whether that was just the self-interest
of persecuted Diaspora communities, or a principled stand in line with Jewish
Now that Israel is a nuclear power with a Jewish majority and
a strong economy, the test has come.
It’s not good enough to show how
well we are doing in comparison to some of the vilest rogue regimes in the
Middle East. We cannot content ourselves with making inspiring speeches about
the righteousness and compassion of the Jewish people or by pointing to the
extraordinary growth of beautiful and charitable Jewish communities. I, too,
take pride in Israel’s achievements, but if we want to measure the moral climate
of any society, we cannot be satisfied with seeing how it treats its own; we
have to examine how it treats “the other” – its minorities and its weakest
When I worked as an adviser to deputy minister Melchior in the
Prime Minister’s Office, we regularly discussed the future of the State of
Israel and the policies of our department. As a new immigrant who had just
served as an Orthodox rabbi in London, I was brimming with zeal for the
religious Zionist community. I viewed myself as a liberal, but I was also
convinced that support for religious Zionist ideals and their communities should
form the backbone of government policy.
The secular Jews and the Arab
advisers who worked in the department had radically different ideas, which they
would express at departmental meetings. I would sit there bursting to argue with
them, but mercifully my Hebrew was too weak, so perforce, I kept quiet. My
silence lasted long enough for me to realize that running a country is very
different from leading my own synagogue community. A synagogue is a voluntary
association whose members opt in and accept the religious path of the community
and its rabbi. Israel is a nation-state that must care for all its inhabitants,
including the 20 percent of its citizens who are Arabs.
Otherwise it is a
RELIGIOUS JEWS who are sensitive to these issues feel
disillusioned and isolated in the national religious community. Sensing the lack
of a compelling moral mission, many abandon their religious beliefs altogether,
dropping their observance at the portals of the Left, which has by default
become the moral conscience of the nation. This is the failure of the leadership
of the national religious movement.
Israelis are desperately searching
for outstanding leaders who can develop our economy, build a just society and
make peace with our neighbors. Religious politicians must lead the way in
protecting the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, campaigning for better
education and demanding honest and transparent government. These values cannot
be promoted by those who forge alliances with far-left-wing parties that deny
Israel’s legitimacy, nor by those who ally with extreme right-wing parties
advocating racist policies.
When my rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Yehuda Amital,
the founder of Meimad, stood for election in 1988, he was asked in a television
interview which ministry he would ideally like to lead. Everyone expected that
he would opt for the Religious Affairs Ministry. Instead, he suggested the
Health Ministry, because there he could improve the welfare of Israelis and show
that health, too, is a Jewish issue.
When religious Jews show ethical and
moral leadership, we bring credit to the name of the Jewish people, admiration
for our faith, holiness to the world and security to our homeland. If religious
parties have any role in our times, this is surely their raison
The writer is the British United Synagogue’s rabbi in Israel and
directs the education program for the Jerusalem branch of the Rene Cassin
Fellowship Program in Judaism and Human Rights.