Entry only for the elite

Their value scale also looks very similar. The general public, whenever it seeks Judaism, chooses to do so with the ultra-Orthodox public.

By AMIHAI ELIAHU
September 7, 2019 20:19
4 minute read.
Entry only for the elite

Ultra Orthodox men in Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Intuitively, it seems that religious Zionism is closer to the traditional and secular public than to the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) public.

In practice, however, even though there are many more daily interactions between those sectors, and while their value systems seem very similar, every time the general public goes in search of Judaism, the destination is the haredi public. The rabbis whom the general public consults, and the synagogues and the organizations to which it donates are by and large associated with the haredi public.

Their value scale also looks very similar. The general public, whenever it seeks Judaism, chooses to do so with the ultra-Orthodox public.

Moreover, even when the “secular secularist” sought his connection to Torah, Jewish studies and teachers, consciously or unconsciously, he began or sought Judaism within the ultra-Orthodox approach.

This should surprise us, because we have adopted the desire to serve as a bridge between various publics. We took upon ourselves a task to connect with the secular public in Israel. It turns out, however, that this is not a bridge or a connection, but is rather only imagined. At best, we manage to merge with the other publics, but in most cases we are not bridging or connecting others to Judaism. One could say in a gross generalization that in all things connected to the Judaism of the state, we are transparent. The haredim are “priests of Judaism” and we are “priests of the Land of Israel.”

I see two main factors that have caused this disconnect.

One is our investment in the internal sectoral discourse within the settlements. This investment was crucial and welcome in its time, but it cost us a double price. The first is a greater “political-security” image and a lesser “Torani” image; the second is a Judaism that is not interacting with the public – like a man who stands in a synagogue and shouts to people passing in the street.

The second thing that caused us to disconnect is a compromising discourse that has Western cultural characteristics; a discourse that seems to question everything – the Talmudic sages, the attitude toward the Torah, the attitude toward the Jewish family, and even things to which it would have been fitting to preserve a respectful attitude.

In order to connect, one has to be connected – connected to your Jewish identity, to your Torah, to your nation. You need to know how to speak the language. We switched to speaking about universal values and forgot to speak about the Torah, forgot to mention God, forgot how to speak simply, plainly and not over people’s heads. We left behind our pride in our Jewish culture, forgot to maximize the simple basics of warmth and affection, and within it the reverence for the rabbis, and from within it the personal connection.


JEWS ARE a nation of believers. They believe in God and respect the Torah. They value the sages and want to hear the illuminating ideas in the Bible. When Jews seek to connect with Judaism, they are not looking for some explanation that presents Aristotle on par with Rabbi Akiva or a “rabbi” whose lectures ridicule the sages. On the other hand, they are also not looking for a rabbi who will constantly rebuke them from the balcony of the yeshiva and explain to them why they are not OK. The Jewish People believes in the Torah. It wants faith and love.

It was natural speech that helped the Shas Party defeat the National-Religious sector and instill in the Israeli consciousness – against all the odds – that Shas is the Jewish home for the secular!

In the last elections the national religious public lost about three Knesset seats (about 120,000 votes) that went from the traditional public to Shas and no less so to Likud. This is a truly interesting fact, given that the differences between the principles of the Shas representatives and the traditional-secular public could not be clearer. Still, they know how to talk the talk, use the right approach and how to maintain the connection between the different publics. The reality in Israeli society that the Oslo Accords were made with the total absence of haredi representation, proved to us that we do not have the privilege of disconnecting these two publics; that shared ideology can be greater than the disconnect; and that we need to work on building a genuine bridge.

The time has come for us to take responsibility and be partners in rectifying the situation through faith in the Jewish People and faith in the Torah. It is not right to be drawn toward the imaginary bridges that Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, Yerushalmim Party Jerusalem City Council Member Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz and company are selling us. Today we are not a bridge, but instead perhaps a barricade that has opened, however, only to the elite. And if we do not figure out how to correct this, to connect to the secular public through Jewish identity and to be their Jewish home, we will continue to be a collection of roads and bridges that do not lead anywhere.

The writer is chair of the Union of Community Rabbis.


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