PEOPLE HOLD a discussion at the office of Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a religious-Zionist lobbying group working to combine ‘Torah and science’ in education.
(photo credit: COURTESY NE’EMANEI TORAH VA’AVODAH)
Around the Shabbat table, in thousands of Religious-Zionist homes, there are vehement arguments each week. The best of our youth return home from the army, yeshivot, pre-army preparation programs, seminaries and National Service. Though these children grew up in the same home, they no longer speak a common language.
Some of these young men and women find themselves in frameworks that teaches them, alongside a love of Torah and a love of Israel, that the world is a complex place, that there are tensions, challenges and a need for balance. They are taught that women are able to succeed in whatever endeavor they choose. They are educated toward openness and willingness to accept the “other.”
Seated next to them at the Shabbat table are their siblings who have, unfortunately, been taught to see the world in black and white.
These children have been taught that all the truth lies with their rabbis, that the “other” threatens all that is good and pure in the world. They are taught that a woman’s role in society comes down to taking care of her husband and children.
The clash between these two worldviews is fraught. How this clash is resolved will determine the future of Religious Zionism and, possibly, the future of the State of Israel. How did this happen?
Over the last few years, a group of educational institutions known as Yeshivot Hakav have attracted thousands of some of the best young religious-Zionist men and women from the heart of Israel’s largest cities. These institutions have tried no less to revolutionize the consciousness of Religious Zionism. They constitute a decisive rejection of the moderate position that has dominated the Religious Zionism for generations.
For some time, parents were not able to differentiate between one type of yeshiva and another. All of these institutions directed young men to the army; they all championed the combination of Torah and service. However, in time it became clear that they do not all share the same outlook.
Students attending Yeshivot Hakav returned home with a worldview they heard in the Beit Midrash (study hall), which unnerved the other members of the household. They were taught bleak views including a condescending attitude toward women, a less than positive attitude of secular Israelis and non-Jews, a patronizing stance toward the bourgeois National Religious society, and criticism toward anyone who does not share the same worldview, including members of their own families. These attitudes are more akin to those of haredim in Israel than to the classic National Religious public.
Recently, these positions have become widely publicized. Prominent representatives of Yeshivot Hakav have defended themselves by saying that words quoted were taken out of context. They claimed that even if some of their rabbis express themselves in an extreme fashion, these are unrepresentative. They claim that since their institutions contribute so much good to the State of Israel and to Israeli society, the public should be forgiving if, here or there, they trip up.
But then, after the publication of more and more examples of offensive and sexist comments, it became clear to all that these unacceptable attitudes constitute the prevailing opinion among the rabbis of Yeshivot Hakav. This is not just a slip of the tongue or a fringe phenomenon, sadly this is the norm.
This has left some of these rabbis in an uncomfortable position. For years they presented themselves as part of the mainstream of Religious Zionism. In this way they were able to attract to their institutions some of the best young men and women from the mainstream. However, in many ways this was a false representation, as the general public now sees. Now, when everyone knows the truth, the only thing that their leaders can do is complain that they are being hounded and that everyone is deliberately trying to sabotage them.
This clash of worldviews within Religious Zionism has significant implications to the wider Israeli society. The National Religious sector plays a significant role within society as a whole. Members of the National Religious public hold key leadership positions in the government, the media, the army, the legal world and in business. Do we want these unacceptable views to gain a creeping foothold in spheres of influence? And if they do, what will be the price paid by the various minorities in Israel as well as society at large?
As with many religious issues, the attitude toward women is the dividing line between moderate and extremist worldviews. Therefore, as a religious woman, I feel compelled to stand up and warn of the dangers lurking in these offensive attitudes. Those who consider independent women as “disabled” and deem feminism as “sterilizing” and “castrating” are unfit to teach our children.Attorney Yael Rockman is the executive director of Kolech, the Orthodox Feminist movement.
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