The NRP – from Golda Meir to Ayelet Shaked

Now we are facing a new stage in the whitewashing of women in public positions.

August 4, 2019 21:49
4 minute read.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at Kohelet Conference in Jerusalem, October 9, 2018

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at Kohelet Conference in Jerusalem, October 9, 2018. (photo credit: Courtesy)

In June 1946, during Operation Agatha – known as Black Sabbath, when the Zionist leaders were arrested by the British authorities in Mandatory Palestine – Golda Meir (then Meirson) was appointed to replace Moshe Sharett (then Shertok) as head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department, a position she held until the establishment of the State of Israel.

This is what the daily publication of the Mizrachi movement, Hatzofeh, wrote: “It is hard to conceive that in a nation that coined the phrase ‘All glorious is the princess in her chamber’; whose Torah imposed commandments on the man and not on the woman and denied her the privilege to serve as judge, leader or witness; a nation that fixed her respectable position inside the tent – a woman would be placed at the head of a political department.”

“With all due respect to the bright and diligent woman,” added the editorial, “one cannot place her on top of a central institution of the Jewish public.”

Seven years later, when Golda Meir ran for the office of mayor of Tel Aviv, she was boycotted by the National Religious Party – Mapai’s traditional partner, now combining both the Mizrachi and Hapoel Hamizrachi movements – which stated: “Never! Can a woman be a head?! ‘You should appoint a king – a king, not a queen’!”

Indeed, NRP members of the city council transferred their support to the General Zionists, and Haim Levanon became mayor.

As a matter of fact, at the end of the ’50s, president of the state Itzhak Ben-Zvi went abroad. At the same time the speaker of the Knesset, Kadish Luz, also planned an overseas trip. MK Beba Idelson served as deputy speaker and as such was supposed to replace both the speaker and the president. In order to prevent such an occurrence, the religious factions did not approve Luz’s trip, so that a woman would not head the state.

The position of the religious parties is well grounded in Halacha.

We’ve been commanded in the Bible: “When you reach the land... possess it and settle it. Should you say ‘I shall appoint me a king like all the nations around me,’ you must appoint a king over you that God chooses.” The Sifré, an ancient exegetical Midrash to the Bible, inferred from this phrase: “‘You must appoint a king over you’ – ‘a king’ and not a queen.” Maimonides went much further and declared that this is not limited to the head of the state, but rather, “whatever the office to which appointment is made, only a man is qualified to hold it.”

This choice of imposing the halachic prohibition, however, would be the beginning of the erosion of submitting to halachic rule.

On July 1, 2007, Moshe Katsav resigned from his position as president of the state. Speaker of the Knesset Dalia Itzik served as acting president until Shimon Peres assumed the position. After the end of Peres’s term, Itzik competed for the presidency.

These were not hot news items, save for the fact that she was supported by members of the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties. Ya’acov Margi, the former religious services minister, was her first endorser and vowed to vote “only for Dalia Itzik” and for whomever she would recommend, should she fail to pass the first round.

Now we are facing a new stage in the whitewashing of women in public positions. Ayelet Shaked of the New Right Party was selected to head the United Right, which includes the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) Party, heir of the NRP.

Rabbi Rafi Peretz, leader of Bayit Yehudi, gave up the leadership of the united party in favor of Shaked. He did so in spite of a public statement by more than 40 religious-Zionist rabbis that anyone heading the list must be a “God-fearing and Torah-observant” individual and should be “someone who flies the banner of Torah.” It should be noted that the objection to Shaked was not because of her gender, but rather because of her being a secularist.

Moreover, two of the most prominent among the movement’s rabbis – of Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and Rabbi Eli Sadan, head of the Bnei David pre-military academy – were quoted as giving their backing to Shaked to head the joint list. Sadan issued a statement denying the quotation. Instead, he declared that “he is convinced that politicians will act in the best way possible to maximize the electoral potential for their electorate,” which practically means choosing Shaked to lead the list.

Indeed, the NRP has come a long way, from objecting to Golda Meir to supporting Ayelet Shaked.

The writer, a professor, is the dean of the Peres Academic Center Law School and honorary vice president of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty.

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