In one of the lectures I offer regarding radical Islam and its pervasive
influence on the world around us, I demonstrate the differences between it and
Radical Islamic faith believes that it is necessary for all to
adopt the Shari’a (Islamic law) and it implements extreme and often dangerous
measures to enforce Shari’a upon its societies and the world at large, which is
ultimately its intended target.
These are all notions which a short while
ago I would have said contrast irrefutably with Judaism, yet based on the many
events which have been unfolding over the past few weeks I am no longer sure
this is the case.
As a religious Zionist, I have been taught and I have
always believed that the religious Zionist platform is one which purports to
embrace the Halacha
(Jewish law), not only for the sake of observance but to
facilitate one’s ability to venture into the society around him, sensitize
oneself, and enhance all facets of society through tolerance and understanding,
particularly those within the Jewish community and certainly including those
which do not identify with my religious beliefs.
One of the main venues
which provide religious Zionism with the opportunity to demonstrate constructive
adaptability and unobtrusive influence is the army.
Yet it is precisely
within this platform that the latest forms of extremism and intolerance have
Over the past few weeks, much has been made about
the obligation for observant soldiers to leave IDF ceremonies when its agenda
includes women singing, as Halacha dictates that it is a problem for a man to
hear a woman singing live.
Unfortunately, the rabbis in charge of the
Yeshivot Hesder – who account for the majority of halachic authority within the
religious Zionist world and who represent these young religious soldiers – have
not expressed their opinion regarding this matter.
This has been the case
with other halachic issues as well, such as when soldiers are unsure whether
they should refuse orders given them by the army regarding the evacuation of
This lack of response can be interpreted as weakness
both in terms of taking a stand to offer direction, and the inability to rally
around one voice. The same is true with regards to the IDF Rabbinate; although
official policy is that soldiers should not leave official ceremonies even if
women are singing, no rule has been expressed which would allow religious
soldiers to follow clear and decisive orders. This too is
However, what I have found most disturbing is that this entire
episode reflects poorly on religious Zionism and its leadership, as it reveals
that it is incapable to meet one of its essential duties; dealing with a secular
society at large in both a pragmatic and responsive fashion.
religious Zionist leadership saw that this was becoming an issue (perhaps a
mountain made out of a molehill), they should have seized this opportunity to
demonstrate that it is crucial to incorporate sensitivity toward the feelings of
those around us who, as members of a secular society, may not understand or may
not choose to understand what they would see as the nuances of our religious
conviction; the inability to do so could result in the disastrous effects of a
(desecration of God’s name).
It follows that when
unavoidably confronted with such circumstances (it would be best if a soldier
knew of the ceremony beforehand, allowing him time to arrange to be excused if
possible as has been the case in the past) observant soldiers should be
instructed not to walk out, but rather to cover their ears discreetly while
sitting in their seats and/or looking the other way; surely this is less
noticeable then getting up in the middle of a ceremony and leaving.
this explanation been made public, particularly regarding the importance of
respecting our peers and the emphasis that the Torah places on avoiding
insulting one’s feelings, I am quite confident that all of the brouhaha which
has ensued could have been avoided.
Instead, a slew of reactions emerged
both from non-observant Jews, including Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz and
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat; heck, even Hillary Clinton has gotten
involved, expressing discontent over what appears to them as sexual
discrimination, and from religious Zionist rabbis eager to disprove these
accusations but who, through their reactions, continue to demonstrate that they
have missed the point as they defend the written word of the Halacha without
acknowledging the spirit of Halacha, which says, “gadol kavod habriyot
“showing respect to God’s creations is the greatest priority.”
was not enough, two weeks ago parents of soldiers who recently completed an IDF
medics course were shocked to discover that in the invitation to the graduation
ceremony they were instructed to arrive “dressed modestly.”
The issue is
not whether or not the army or the unit can get away with such a request; the
issue is the negative effects these requests have on the people receiving them
and what we stand to lose by making them.
A graduation of army medics
should naturally promote unity and celebrate togetherness by way of serving
one’s country and learning to save people’s lives; yet again these fundamentals
were ambushed by a divisiveness, a holier than thou message including an
infringement on the democratic right to dress as one chooses. Once again
selfrighteousness prevailed over conscientious and constructive
When I travel to the Diaspora, I meet many Israelis who
explain to me that when they lived in Israel they were unaffiliated with the
religious community, but now, in the Diaspora, they are affiliated and actively
involved in their local synagogue. I have heard many explanations regarding this
phenomenon but the explanation is relatively simple.
In the Diaspora,
every number counts and every Jew is appreciated. Therefore the approach to
gaining a Jew’s interest is handled with care, it is nurtured with patience and
it is doctored to exhibit the joy and benefits of belonging.
We stand to
gain by cultivating an unthreatening environment. An observant Jew must
follow the written word of Halacha, but he should also adopt the social
sensitivities and nuances behind the written word to avoid seeming intrusive or
intolerant to people who do not subscribe in the same fashion, something which
unfortunately is forgotten by the religious world all too often and a platform
which the Religious Zionist world should pride itself in.
As a religious
Zionist, I not only anticipate but I try to facilitate bringing our great nation
closer to its redemption. I sincerely hope and pray that the ingredients which
bring what we anticipate should not be conveniently forgotten or mistakenly
The writer teaches at Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat Gat and serves as a
lecturer under the Harel Division for the IDF Rabbinate. He is also an author
and lecturer on Israel, religious Zionism and Jewish education.