After months of bitter infighting, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner and Rabbi Zalman Melamed set aside their differences to call Monday for the National Religious Party and the National Union to unite into a single political party.
The call for unity also brought together religious Zionist rabbis with radically different political opinions, such as the left-leaning Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, head of the Gush Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut, and the right-wing Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba.
â€œWe have no intention of blurring the special qualities [of each stream within religious Zionism],â€ wrote a group of 12 rabbis. â€œRather, our intention is to emphasize what all share in common, thus creating a mosaic of nuances which can only strengthen religious Zionism as a whole and enhance its impact on the nationâ€™s spirit.â€ Although he did not sign this document, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu also strongly supported a unified religious Zionist front, he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview two months ago.
One of the signatories, Rabbi Eitan Eisenman, head of the Noam school system, said the document was also a call to [Likud faction] Manhigut Yehudit to halt attempts to transform the Likud from within and join a united religious Zionist party.
â€œWe do not have the luxury of allowing every two or three politicians to create their own political party,â€ said Eisenman. â€œWe are fighting battles on too many fronts.â€ Eisenman said he hoped that additional parties such as Shas, Agudah Yisrael and Degel Hatorah would consider joining as well.
It is still early to gauge the documentâ€™s political ramifications. The idea of uniting NRP and the National Union is not new and negotiations have not made much headway so far. The bad relations between the NRP and the National Union were apparent from the announcement made by NRP Chairman Zevulun Orlev in response to the rabbisâ€™ call.
Orlev welcomed the rabbisâ€™ recommendation and called on the National Union to adopt the rabbisâ€™ vision of a united religious Zionism. However, he also attacked the National Union. â€œThe National Unionâ€™s MKs [must] put an end to their intransigence,â€ said Orlev in a written statement. The National Union â€œappears to be trying to survive at any cost and provide work for the partyâ€™s MKs in the next Knesset.â€ Judging from Orlevâ€™s statement, the NRP and the National Union still have a lot to negotiate.
However, notwithstanding the political import of the rabbisâ€™ document, it was nothing short of revolutionary that rabbis with diverse political views and personal disputes managed to come together. Aviner and Melamed, both residents of Beit El, have been quarreling over two major issues for many months. Melamed attacked Aviner for his opposition to insubordination. Melamed and other right-wing rabbis who called on soldiers to refuse to carry out evacuation orders during disengagement said Aviner lacked the rabbinical seniority needed to buck the opinion of Rabbi Avraham Shapira, one of the most respected Zionist rabbis, who supported insubordination.
Other rabbis who signed include Haim Druckman, Yehoshua Weizman, Tzfania Drori, Nahum Rabinovitch, Yaâ€™acov Ariel, Shlomo Riskin and David Chai Hacohen.