Why is religious-Zionist Smotrich dreaming of a halachic state? - analysis

“Jewish law is something the ultra-Orthodox want to implement in their daily lives but it is not relevant to how a state should function.”

Bezalel Smotrich. (photo credit: Courtesy/Regavim)
Bezalel Smotrich.
(photo credit: Courtesy/Regavim)
For the second time in the course of the election campaign, senior Union of Right-Wing Parties MK and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich has talked openly about his desire for the State of Israel to be run by Jewish law.
In June, he said he wanted to “restore our judges as of old,” “restore” Torah law to the Jewish state and for the country to be governed “as it was governed in the days of King David and King Solomon – by Torah law.”
The general perception is that it is haredi (ultra-Orthodox) lawmakers who are more stringent on matters of religion and state issues and more willing to wield their political power on such issues.
So why is it that the most prominent politician speaking about a halachic state, a state of Jewish law, is actually from the religious-Zionist community and not the ultra-Orthodox?
“The haredi belief is that we are still in exile,” said Avrimi Kroizer, a haredi political strategist and former adviser to former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. “On the ideological level, they do not believe that it is the path of God to bring the redemption through a secular state.
“Any participation and recognition in the haredi world with the state and with its institutions is a post-facto, flawed recognition with no ideological basis,” said Kroizer.
Eli Paley, chairman of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs and publisher of Mishpacha Magazine, puts it even more starkly.
“The haredi community is dedicated to Jewish law but doesn’t see a state, in its modern concept, as the right vehicle for promoting Jewish law,” he said. “Jewish law is something the ultra-Orthodox want to implement in their daily lives, but it is not relevant to how a state should function.”
In short, the haredi community does not view the State of Israel differently from any other country where Jews might live, be in the US, Australia or anywhere in between, and see no religious significance in it or its establishment.
Therefore there is no grand vision of running the country in accordance with Jewish law.
The ultra-Orthodox parties do intervene on matters pertaining to the so-called “status quo” on religion and state, arrangements involving Jewish personal status issues such as marriage, Shabbat, independent education systems and kashrut.
But these issues were part of a set of guarantees made by David Ben-Gurion to the ultra-Orthodox community in pre-state Mandatory Palestine over such matters, and the haredi parties state, frequently, that they simply seek to preserve these arrangements.
THAT IS NOT the case when it comes to the religious-Zionist community, and specifically the hard-line wing of the sector.
Rabbi Ronen Lubich, president of the religious-Zionist activist organization, points out that the founding principles of the religious-Zionist movement hold the State of Israel as something holy, the “foundation of the throne of God in the world,” as Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, the founding father of religious Zionism, expressed it.
“The State of Israel isn’t just an ordinary state for Jews or a refuge to protect them from antisemitism for religious Zionism, it is meant to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” said Lubich.
Indeed, the religious-Zionist movement refers to Israel as the first sprouting of the redemption, an idea that is anathema to the ultra-Orthodox community.
The rabbi also observed that in the early years of the state, senior religious-Zionist rabbis, such as Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriah, a student of Kook, and former chief rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog openly talked of the application of Jewish law in the state because of the belief that the Jewish people needed to be redeemed not only physically through the establishment of a state but spiritually too.
These and other rabbis eventually stopped discussion of such ideas in the 1950s when it became clear that they could not be implemented and would also frighten the secular public.
But in recent years, the hardline wing of the religious-Zionist community has grown in numbers and influence, and now leads the traditional religious-Zionist parties, as well as many yeshivas and educational institutions in the sector.
This increased influence has apparently bolstered the confidence of these leaders to the extent that they are no longer concerned about creating anxiety among the general population about the ultimate aspirations of such politicians.