Left-wing firebrand via haredi seminary

Meretz's God-fearing candidate: "The big question is how to be a God-fearing Jew and remain liberal."

Tzvia Greenfield 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tzvia Greenfield 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the fall of 1968, Tzvia Greenfield, an intense 19-yearold philosophy student, stood on the lawn of the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus warning her peers that it would be a big mistake to keep the newly conquered territories. Most, intoxicated by the miraculous victory and dreaming of the fulfillment of ancient biblical promises, resisted Greenfield's passionate arguments, which seemed incongruous with her appearance. Greenfield wore a long, dark skirt, modest, loose-fitting blouse and shoulder-length hair. She looked like what she was: a left-wing firebrand straight out of the haredi Beit Ya'acov seminary. "I told whoever would listen that God gave us that victory so we could reach a final peace agreement with our Palestinian neighbors," recounts Greenfield, this week, 37 years later. Not much has changed. Greenfield arrived at her meeting with The Jerusalem Post, which took place just a kilometer from her house in Jerusalem's haredi Har Nof neighborhood, with the same political agenda. She wore a mouse-colored wig that made no attempt to look real, preferred by the more conservative haredi circles. She spoke compassionately of a two-state solution along the pre-1967 border with "minor adjustments." Greenfield is a serious contender on the Meretz list for the 17th Knesset. She is running for the first time after deciding to devote time to a parliamentary career. In a recent internal vote by 700 of Meretz's 1,000 central committee members, Greenfield was ranked sixth after Chairman Yossi Beilin, Ran Cohen, Mossi Raz, Zehava Gal-On and Haim Oron. Recent polls give Meretz five mandates. "She definitely has a good chance of making it into the Knesset," said a Meretz spokesman. The final vote for the Meretz list takes place on Monday. When asked by The Jerusalem Post what a "nice Haredi woman" was doing in Meretz, Greenfield said, "For years Meretz has been saying what I believe in. Literally everything on Meretz's platform is in line with my opinions. I believe in the individual's rights. I believe in citizens' rights. I believe in rights for everyone, including Arabs. I believe in peace. And I also believe in working toward an agreement with the Palestinians. "I believe in the right to protection for both rich and poor. Society has an obligation to all citizens to foster solidarity, to make sure people are not thrown out on the street because they cannot support themselves. "I am a social democrat," she continued. "I support a strong welfare state. It is our obligation. I believe this is why there is a state. History has taught us that we have to. That is why we are people." Why, then, are there so few left-wing religious? "There are always exceptions like myself," she says. "But nevertheless, it is something that has always bothered me. I wrote my doctorate [in political philosophy] on the subject." Greenfield has come to the conclusion that "there is a myriad of causes. None of them have anything to do with the Torah. We see similar behavior with fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims. That does not put us in good company. The big question is how to be a God-fearing Jew and remain liberal. "Religious people believe that if something obligates them it must obligate others," she says. "I do not believe that. I believe the other is autonomous, free to make his or her own decisions. At the most I would like to convince them of my opinion or at least make them understand my perspective, to reach a shared agreement that allows us both to live together." Greenfield attributes her independent thought to the liberal education she received at the Hebrew University. But she admits that already at a very young age she was university-bound, despite the opposition of her parents and her educators at Beit Ya'acov. Her secular uncle owned Jerusalem's Edison Movie Theater and her aunt worked the ticket counter. She enjoyed freebees: Rita Hayward, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Katherine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall, Betty Davis, Ingrid Bergman, movie versions of Shakespeare and The Trial, a movie about a blood libel against Hungarian Jews, are all vivid memories. Rabbis have no sway over Greenfield. "I do not think there are rabbis living today that I have to follow. My test is whether the rabbis are advancing the interests of their followers. I do not think they are looking out for their communities. They are doing the exact opposite. They are damaging their communities. "They made a colossal and unforgivable mistake before the Holocaust. Instead of directing their followers to Palestine before the war, they said it was prohibited. All those people died. "The failure with the disengagement was also colossal. They did not prepare the people. They created a crisis. They did everything possible so that it would be even more traumatic." Greenfield sent her five children to religious Zionist schools. She could not accept haredi education, she says, because it over emphasizes adhering to the letter of the law at the expense of good deeds. But she is proud to report that all her children are leftists like their mother. Asked why she remains Orthodox, rather than choosing a Reform or Conservative path, she answered, "I believe in continuity. I feel close to Jewish tradition and history. I am committed to Halacha. It is a big honor for me to belong to the chain of generations of Jewry. But in any place where I see that the Halacha hurts people, does things that are not right in my eyes, I do not accept it. I know that Halacha was decided by people in other times and situations and contexts." Finally, regarding the settlements, she still hasn't changed her mind since those Givat Ram days 37 years ago. "There will be many difficult years ahead, but I do think that rationally speaking [a two-state solution] is a step in the right direction," she says, adding: "And I know that we have to get out of the settlements. God willing."