Analysis: Mercaz Harav's dilemma: Land or unity

One could not help but be struck by hatred towards Tamir at Mercaz Harav.

ben gvir and cops 63 (photo credit: )
ben gvir and cops 63
(photo credit: )
One could not help but be struck by the shrill force of the screaming, pushing and torrent of unbridled hatred that expelled Education Minister Yuli Tamir from Jerusalem's Mercaz Harav Yeshiva on Sunday. There were hotheaded young men, obviously close friends of those murdered or seriously wounded in Thursday's horrific terrorist attack. But there were also older, more responsible-looking men involved in the shouting of epithets such as "murderer" and "spiller of Jewish blood." "You come here to dance on the blood of our beloved dead. Shame on you," shouted a 30-something educator, as younger men tried to prevent cameramen from filming Tamir being accosted. Admittedly, Tamir, who perhaps wagered that there was no real threat, seemed to purposely hover outside her car to give the photographers a chance to capture the "extremist elements" as they attacked her. Blows were traded as one of the photographers, fed up with having his camera shoved around, pushed back. Police, who managed to remain remarkably cool, were also the target of the yeshiva students' wrath. The flood of hatred directed against Tamir, a member of Peace Now and adamantly in favor of dismantling the entire settlement endeavor in Judea and Samaria, might be interpreted as a fleeting outpouring of bundled-up emotions. As Rabbi Yehoshua Magnus, one of the senior educators at the yeshiva, put it, "We are presently in the very emotional mourning stage. We are not yet thinking in philosophical or theological terms." Magnus was referring, perhaps, to the Jewish tradition that the first three days of mourning are the most somber. The emotional response to Tamir's visit was a sort of irrational lashing out at the nearest target - a politician perceived as weak on the fight against terror. One rabbi present at the outburst mentioned the education minister's recent cuts to national religious education. These cuts are seen by many religious Zionists as an ideologically motivated move designed to weaken the Jewish identity of Israel's next generation of leaders. This might have been an additional factor that stoked the yeshiva men's rage. But one cannot help but ponder the possibility that Mercaz Harav has been irreversibly changed by the massacre. What was once the flagship of an ideology of unity between religious and secular Jews may be slowly moving toward bitter separatism. Probably the very first yeshiva in Israel to embrace Zionism, Mercaz Harav under the leadership of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook took the secular variety of Zionism, transformed it into a theology and incorporated it into Orthodoxy. The end result was called religious Zionism. Unlike the vast majority of his haredi counterparts, Kook, who died a full 13 years before the creation of the state, saw secular Zionism's radical break with Jewish tradition as a phase in the process of messianic redemption. He viewed the secular pioneers of the Land of Israel as being unwittingly tasked with playing a central role in the very process of salvation. According to Kook, secular Israelis would be instrumental in laying the earthly foundations of spiritual rebirth. Kook's radically novel theology made it possible for fervently religious Jews to cooperate with their secular brethren in the building of the state. Kook's son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, took his father's abstract theology and turned it into a political program. Kook the son endowed the established state with messianic holiness and declared sacred all its concrete actions. The state became "the pedestal of God's throne in this world." Cooperation with non-religious Jews in the development of the state was a holy task. And after Israel's miraculous victory in the Six Day War, the settling of Judea and Samaria, with all its sacred sites - Hebron, Shilo, Nablus - inundated with historical and religious meaning, set in motion a new phase of tenuous cooperation between religious Zionists and the secular leadership: the settlement enterprise. Kook did not live to see the first signs of cracks in the ideal of Greater Israel. His death on Purim 1982 preceded the evacuation of Yamit by a few months. The settlement movement that he fathered was left on its own to make sense of the painful territorial reversals. After Yamit came Oslo. And after Oslo came perhaps the biggest blow, the Gaza disengagement. The attack on Tamir can be seen as a symptom of a fundamental change in religious Zionism. For the sake of pursuing Greater Israel, religious Zionism's leadership has decided to abandon the unity and togetherness fostered by cooperating with diverse elements of the Jewish people in the building of the Jewish state.