Religious Affairs: What would Rav Kook say?

7 settler girls' refusal to cooperate with police underscores a shift in religious-Zionist thinking.

rav kook 88 (photo credit:)
rav kook 88
(photo credit: )
Seven girls, aged 14-15, became the settler movement's new symbols of heroism this week, signaling a deepening of the rift between religious Zionism and the secular Zionist establishment. The girls were arrested on the outskirts of Beit El, a settlement in Samaria, for their part in helping to establish Givat Ha'or, another of the myriad unauthorized outpost scattered across the hills of Judea and Samaria. The establishment of these outposts, supported by a majority of religious-Zionist rabbis, is more a statement of purpose - a form of public demonstration against territorial compromise - than an honest attempt at creating a viable settlement. The ritual has repeated itself hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times. A makeshift tent, a hut, perhaps a prefab, is placed on a hilltop by a group of religious-Zionist youths convinced of their God-given right to live in all parts of Greater Israel. Police arrive and ask the youths to leave. There is a short confrontation. The police give the settlers the option of leaving or being packed on a bus to the police station. Most settler youths leave. Some of the more stubborn ones end up on the bus. At the police station, the youths identify themselves. An adult vouches for the bail. And the youths are released. But this time was different. The seven did not play by the rules. On the bus ride to the Binyamin police station, the girls, ninth- and 10th-graders from the politically radical and religiously fervent Ma'ale Levona Girls School, decided they would adopt a strategy of civil disobedience. They would not divulge their identity and would reject the legitimacy of the judicial system. Neither Henry David Thoreau nor Mohandas Gandhi nor Martin Luther King, Jr. was these girls' source of inspiration. Rather, this was a known tactic, used in recent years primarily by radical female settlement activists. According to Shmuel "Zangy" Meidad, head of "Chonenu," a legal advocacy group that specializes in representing right-wing activists, this type of protest has been adopted almost exclusively by women. "I know of about 30-40 cases in which arrested activists refused to recognize the judicial system's jurisdiction," said Meidad. "Women are involved in 90 percent of the cases. This proves that females are the stronger sex. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to the police and to the judges." AT COURT appearances the girls ignored the judges, reading scripture or rabbinic literature during the hearing. Or they made speeches chastising the judges for distorting the Torah's teachings and preventing Jews from settling the land that was promised to the Jewish people by God. Parents and teachers who were contacted by police also refused to reveal the girls' identity. Meanwhile, police and the state prosecutor refused to release the girls, arguing that doing so would set a dangerous precedent. "Identification of the suspect is essential for proper enforcement of the law," said a spokesman for the state prosecutor. But District Judge Noam Solberg disagreed. Solberg argued that the charges brought against the girls did not justify keeping them detained so long. He also criticized the police for taking so long to identify the girls, giving them a 48-hour deadline. The police quickly came forward with the identities of six of the girls. The seventh was released without her identity being known. The release of the girls was seen as a major victory by many in the settler movement. Neither the girls nor their parents caved in to the police's demand to divulge identity. The girls left the prison without budging from their rejection of the judicial system's legitimacy to adjudicate in their case. WHAT IS of particular significance in this case was the positive reaction registered among mainstream religious Zionists. The girls' antiestablishment act, which would most likely have been dismissed as extremist and anti-Zionist in the years before the withdrawal from Gaza, struck deep chords of empathy among the vast majority of post-disengagement religious Zionists. Traditionally, religious Zionists, in keeping with the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, saw cooperation with secular Zionists as essential to bringing about the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty which would lead to the ingathering of the exiles, the advent of the Messianic era and the eventual redemption. But some of Kook's more radically antiestablishment spiritual heirs say that, according to their masters' teachings, purely secular Zionism would eventually become corrupt and inimical to Judaism unless it incorporated religious faith. That time has come. Meanwhile, large swathes of the religious-Zionist public, while not buying into the idea that secular Zionism is the enemy, nevertheless perceive the judicial system as controlled by a rabidly left-wing, militantly secular cadre totally estranged from its Jewish identity. And they harbor an inchoate vision of a state run in accordance with the ideals of the Torah. Immanuel Shilo, Chief Editor of B'Sheva, a pro-settlement weekly, admitted that the girls of Ma'ale Levona were not representative of mainstream religious Zionism. Nevertheless, many identified with their struggle because they shared a general feeling that the justice system was prejudiced. "The Supreme Court trampled settlers' rights when it ruled almost unanimously in favor of the expulsion [evacuation of the settlements of Gush Katif and northern Samaria]]," said Shilo. "If Arabs were being expelled, the court would muster all the arguments in the world to protect their human rights. The courts act as if they have a vendetta against us. People who blocked roads in protest against disengagement are still being punished. All Jewish building in Judea and Samaria is strictly frozen, while illegal building by Arabs goes unpunished." Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, Chairman of Tzohar Rabbis, an organization of moderate religious-Zionist rabbis, said that the police's mistreatment of the seven girls' case was a victory for more extreme elements within the settler movement. "I personally do not feel that the judicial system discriminates against the settlers," said Feuerstein. "But after the police treated those girls in such a scandalously bad way, the extremists can come along as say 'we told you so'. That makes my job as an educator who tries to emphasize the common denominator in Israeli society so much harder." But an educator at Ma'ale Levona rejected Feuerstein's unifying approach, asking rhetorically, "How can I teach my girls to respect an institution, when it rules in direct contradiction to the Torah?"