'Price tag' vandalism not product of Bnei Akiva education

Bnei Akiva yeshivot and ulpanot educate youth to understand complexity of our modern reality and participate fully in every aspect of Israeli society.

price tag graffiti mosque 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini)
price tag graffiti mosque 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini)
In his Op-Ed article, "'Price tag' - the product of our educational failures," (September 19) Rabbi Yosef Blau does not explicitly mention the Bnei Akiva yeshivot and ulpanot, but relates to religious Zionist education in Israel in general. Merkaz Yeshivot Bnei Akiva (YBA) is proud to be the spearhead of the religious Zionist education movement in Israel.
As a veteran educator at YBA schools both in Israel and abroad, and as the current director of education at Merkaz YBA, I can say with complete confidence that our educational path is one of love and respect. Hatred of others is contrary to the educational values we teach our students and we oppose it on all levels: educationally, ethically and philosophically.
Rabbi Blau admits that religious Zionist educators do not openly advocate in favor of the “price tag” acts, but cites other educational faults that in his opinion ultimately lead a minority of students to joining the 'price tag' vigilantes. I want to remove any doubt regarding YBA's position on this matter: anyone who desecrates mosques or harms an Israeli soldier is a criminal and should be treated accordingly.
Our educational institutions educate our students to respect every person as a human being, as well as his right to private property. Anyone who knowingly takes and uses the property of others, including the private land of an Arab, is a thief. I have personally heard many times the chairman of YBA, Rabbi Haim Drukman, address this issue at various conferences for the principals, faculty and students of our network's 68 schools.
Each time, Rabbi Drukman spoke strongly against those who may think that it is permissible to seize the private property of others or to harass a stranger, be it an Israeli Arab, Palestinian or anyone else.
Similarly, we teach our students to accept government and Knesset decisions even if they appear to them to be wrong.
However, democracy seeks to ensure the right of democratic protest. As such, our youth were well entitled to demonstrate against the evacuation of Gush Katif. The very fact that the evacuation/expulsion, as horrible as it was, was carried out without massive violent protests proves that the boundaries of legitimate civil disobedience are understood by the vast majority of our students.
As to the factual inaccuracies in Rabbi Blau's accusations: In our educational network we emphasize the ruling of Maimonides and other authorities that one cannot identify Amalek in today's reality, because, in the words of the Sages: "they mingled among the nations and cannot be found." Furthermore, I do not know of a single institution in our network that teaches that the duty to settle the Land of Israel is among the three commandments of which it is said "suffer death rather than transgress." Certainly no teacher has ever claimed that one should kill rather than transgress! On the contrary, we constantly emphasize that during legitimate protests it is forbidden to use physical violence or even verbal violence.
It is a well known fact that we teach love of the Land of Israel and its settlement, and that we indeed hold that it is a foremost commandment, right alongside and equal to love of the entire Jewish people and the Torah. But Bnei Akiva yeshivot and ulpanot also educate youth to understand the complexity of our modern reality and to participate fully in every aspect of Israeli society. This is what separates the path of religious Zionism from the path of the ultra-Orthodox.
Religious Zionist education is not the root cause of hilltop youth, marginal youth or the “price tag” phenomena – one must look deeper for the underlying psycho-social causes of fanaticism. The reality is that our youth are brought up to respect the sovereignty of the state, and to contribute everywhere and in every significant way to the building of the Jewish state. Our graduates can be found in every industrial, academic and professional sector of Israeli society, and include many leading artists, scientists, industrialists, IDF generals, mayors, Supreme Court justices, Members of Knesset and Israel Prize winners. We do not have to testify to this reality; our country's leaders are well aware of it, and we are certainly proud of it.
Any educator can make a mistake and say something that might be construed by a student to justify his personal tendency toward extremism. There is no righteous man on earth who does only good and never sins. But the point of our education is to instill righteousness, which includes recognizing the rights of the Arab minority in our state, because all human beings are created in God's image. As Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook wrote: "The truly righteous do not complain about evil, but add justice; do not complain about heresy, but add faith; do not complain about ignorance, but add wisdom." This is the essence of religious Zionist education that we give our students.
The writer is the director of education for Merkaz Yeshivot Bnei Akiva in Israel.