Fight on the Right?

The shooting was seen as an attack on religious Zionism. Now, some say that the ideology is under fire from the media.

merkaz pigua funeral 224 (photo credit: )
merkaz pigua funeral 224
(photo credit: )
At the end of their condolence visit Tuesday to the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, the flagship institution of the religious Zionist movement, a delegation of MKs from the National Union-National Religious party released a statement that "the massacre in the yeshiva opened people's hearts and caused an unprecedented identification with the world of Torah." And indeed, not all of the tens of thousands of mourners who attended a ceremony Friday morning outside the yeshiva for the eight students killed on Thursday evening by a resident of Jebl Mukaber were Mercaz Harav graduates or even religious Zionists. Despite this turnout, some in the religious Zionist community have pointed to a lack of public sympathy for the terror attack, and for their sacrifices for the country in general. "I heard there were some who said that if the eight boys had been killed at the university, it would have conjured more sympathy than it did with Mercaz Harav," says Uri Orbach, a journalist and well-known figure from the religious Zionist world. "This is absolutely not true. There was an attack at the [Hebrew] University in 2002. I can tell you it didn't evoke as warm and hearty a sympathy as this attack." Still, many in the religious Zionist sector point to an article by senior Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy, published after the attack, as a defining example of the general public's absence of support for the community. "Some of the praise of the yeshiva is certainly well deserved, and nothing, of course, can justify the horrible killing of young boys in a library," Levy wrote. "Still, it would be appropriate to recall, even at this difficult hour, what this yeshiva has brought forth. Without the settlement enterprise, peace might have reigned here already; without the Gush Emunim movement, supported by successive Israeli governments, there would be no settlements; and without the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, there would be no Gush Emunim. This institution, then, was the cradle of the settlement enterprise and its driving force. Most of the students killed in the terrorist attack were second-generation settlers." "It's not that any of us has had any illusion regarding people like Gideon Levy, but it hurts," says Itamar Mor, a graduate of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva and a member of the Tzohar Zionist rabbis association. "Perhaps the right word would be to say that these are the things that create some despair - like there are things that nothing will ever change." Many of the victims of the Mercaz Harav attack, who ranged in age from 15 to 26, were from settlements, including Efrat, Shilo, Kochav Hashahar and Neveh Daniel. "It's a tremendously sad day," said Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who is originally from a religious Zionist community, upon arriving at the yeshiva shortly after the attack. "There are many dead, and right in the heart of Jerusalem." The heart of Jerusalem is what concerns Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, also a member of Tzohar, and himself a graduate of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. "I am one of those people who believes that we should above all protect the kind of coexistence that still prevails in Jerusalem," he says. "I know that this coexistence is also what enabled the terrorist to easily enter the yeshiva and do what he did. But I believe that all of us who do not wish to see a wall separating this city, have to understand that some kind of coexistence between Jews and Arabs has to be made possible." The Mercaz Harav attack was carried out by east Jerusalem resident Ala Abu Dhaim, but it is still unclear whether he acted on his own or he was sent by an organization. Both Hamas and a previously unknown group announced by Hizbullah TV, the Martyrs Imad Mughniyeh, have claimed responsibility for the attack. Dhaim, who held a blue Israeli ID card, easily entered the yeshiva, and according to sources there, was even employed by the school as a driver for a while. "The facility with which this terrorist - or any other one - could reach the yeshiva, the heart of the city, is unbearable," teachers at the yeshiva told the local media. At the ceremony for the victims on Friday, Mercaz Harav director Rabbi Ya'acov Shapira in his eulogy accused the government of failing to deliver the strong and necessary leadership urgently needed to face such a deadly enemy. He called for a "stronger and more believing leadership" instead of the present "hollow leadership." And indeed, though Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that "the attacker didn't come to Mercaz Harav Yeshiva by chance. It was not a place the killer just found on his way," Olmert is still considered an enemy or at least persona non grata by many religious Zionists for his support of prime minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Olmert, who planned to pay a visit to the yeshiva after the attack, was politely - yet firmly - asked to refrain from coming. Education Minister Yuli Tamir (Labor), who came on Sunday, was harshly received by a group of students who called her names and even hit her in the back. Tamir later on described the students' behavior as "an atmosphere that reminded me of the days before [prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin's assassination." "THOSE WHO did that [attacked Tamir] caused harm to the religious Zionist community," says Orbach. "There are people who think it is their job to mention the Rabin assassination and the atmosphere that preceded it at every opportunity. I think that Yuli Tamir was considered there [at Mercaz Harav] as one of the founders of the Peace Now movement, and as such, was not welcomed by some of those present there. "Although we should be very careful to mention that Tamir was respectfully received by the [yeshiva's] principals, and the incident happened afterward and outside. But in any case, I wouldn't exaggerate the importance of this incident, and I have a strong feeling that those who do that are what we call mehartetim [rabble rousers]. "Yes, there is a feeling of anger, but I would nevertheless keep things in perspective. What I felt sorry about was the fact that people like the principal of the yeshiva for high school students, Rabbi Yerahmiel Weiss, was unknown to the general public before this tragic event, and many more continue to be totally ignored. "In his [Weiss's] interview with Ilana Dayan on Channel 2, spectators had a rare occasion to meet one of those impressive characters of the religious Zionist world, who for a short while lifted the curtain and allowed a glance into his particular world." "There is a feeling of hurt among the religious Zionists today, and it exists on three levels," says Feuerstein. "First, inside this society, which, although it is by no means small, is very close - everybody knows everybody, and it makes it into a kind of a large family. This makes the burden of the mourning heavier in some ways; every drama touches everyone." Second, "hurting Mercaz [Harav] also hurt the heart of the community. All the people who come from this world and hold the highest positions in society - whether in the army, academia, the yeshiva or the political world - they all started there. "On a third level, I would say that the attack at Mercaz [Harav] has reminded us of the dangers of living in Jerusalem. It has brought us back to the terrible days of the second intifada. It hurt the entire Jerusalemite community, religious and secular alike, and has brought us all back to the days of uncertainty, of fear, of tragedies," he says. "Also, you should not forget that for this part of Israeli society, with so many of them living in the settlements, this attack comes after a long and painful path of countless terror attacks, on the roads of Judea and Samaria, inside the settlements and the yeshivot there," Feuerstein continues. "These people, more than anyone else, have already had their share of deaths and pain. So it not surprising that many of them have a very heavy heart. "All that said, I can tell you that as a Jerusalemite myself, I am very concerned that the residents here might become more intolerant, and lose their faith in a possible and much-needed coexistence with the Arabs of the city." THE MERCAZ Harav Yeshiva was founded in 1924 by Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, Israel's first chief rabbi. Kook was among the first to link Zionism and Judaism, in contrast with the haredi world. Yet many say that today, Mercaz Harav is nearing the haredi world at the expense of modernity. Rabbi Yigal Ariel, a Mercaz Harav graduate who today serves as the rabbi of a town in the Golan Heights, says that his alma mater is becoming less relevant to the religious Zionist movement because of this path. Many Mercaz Harav students and graduates, he explains, unlike their parents, who combined academic studies and Talmud, today confine themselves to the Talmudic world only. Indeed, earlier this week, Mercaz Harav graduate and journalist Yair Sheleg declared on TV that the yeshiva was drifting toward "hardalim" (Hebrew slang for "haredi/religious Zionists"). Still, for others such commentary seems alarmist and exaggerated. Ofer Toyber, the principal of Horev yeshiva high school and a Mercaz Harav graduate, whose son Binyamin, 16, presently studies at the yeshiva, says that "Mercaz [Harav] was always a hardali yeshiva, there is nothing new about it. "Once it was the only yeshiva for this sector [religious Zionist] and today, we have a large number of yeshivot, scattered all over the country, inside the Green Line and in the settlements, which are all part of the religious Zionist system, but are nevertheless, very different each one from another," he says. Academia was always out of the question at Mercaz Harav and similar institutions, Toyber adds. "The only thing besides studying at the yeshiva was going to the army," he says. "You have to understand what is at stake for this sector. We are not even close to losing our faith. For us, the words of the Rav Kook, who said that we are approaching the last chapter [before the coming of the messiah], are still relevant," Toyber explains. "It may take longer than we thought, and in any case we don't know how long before we reach that last chapter of our history, but it will come," he says. "So in the meantime, we have to face hard times - a terrorist attack, an expulsion and the weakness of some governments - but all of us, adults and youth alike, are sure that it will come, so we look at the reality around us in this perspective, not in a merely narrow political attitude, despite the political statements here and there."