Inside Out: A community in flux

The national-religious sector in Israel is often represented in local media reports as holding monolithic views on any number of issues that pertain to state, religion.

Israeli flags 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Israeli flags 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The national-religious sector in Israel is often represented in local media reports as holding monolithic views on any number of issues that pertain to state and religion.
Obviously, such an approach is misguided, to say the least. Like every other sector in Israeli society that is comprised of tens of thousands of people, the national-religious sector can hardly be described as possessing a uniform opinion about any issue.
Nevertheless, this sector is a distinct community in many senses, and a plurality of views exist about the direction it ought to take as it finds itself pulled between what might best be described as ultra-Orthodox- like influences, on the one hand, and more liberal attitudes, on the other.
A recent example occurred this week when Bnei Akiva, the national-religious youth movement, called on girls to attend a demonstration against the prayer services held at the Western Wall by Women of the Wall. While many parents, rabbis and community leaders supported the youth movement’s stance, others found it unsettling on a substantive level.
For many years, Bnei Akiva has been toeing an increasingly haredi (ultra-Orthodox) line on issues of modesty and the separation of boys from girls, and the current decision to hold the demonstration was perceived by many as (among its other flaws) yet another incremental step toward that haredi line – this time on the issue of opposition to Women of the Wall and its activity.
There are numerous other examples from recent years of the gradual gravitation toward a more haredi stance within the national-religious community, such as mounting intolerance for women singing at public events and increasingly strict rulings about the codes of modesty for girls as young as the age of three.
This trend toward radicalization in some parts of the national-religious sector is not limited to issues of modesty and a restricted role for women. Many of the same religious leaders who have been a powerful force promoting a more haredi approach toward modesty and women’s issues have also spearheaded the trend of religious radicalization on national issues as well.
Rabbi Zalman Melamed and Rabbi Dov Lior, two prominent rabbis from the national-religious sector, have both spoken out in the past in support of soldiers refusing to obey orders to evict Jews from their homes. Rabbi Lior was quoted by the Walla news site as saying, “One needs to know unequivocally that the Torah of Israel is above any human power and, therefore, when there is coercion over religion, and it doesn’t matter if by means of a referendum or an order, the Torah of Israel is divine and above the human mind.
“And that is why one needs to know unequivocally that the Torah of Israel is above any human law, and that is true with respect to the destruction of a community in the Land of Israel.”
NA TURALLY , NOT all members of the diverse national-religious sector agree with the direction being taken. One of the more outspoken critics of this trend lately has been MK Elazar Stern from Hatnua.
Stern publicly condemned Rabbi Lior from the Knesset podium for his stance on Ethiopian Jewry, and separately told Israel Hayom that Rabbi Lior “doesn’t represent religious Zionism,” because he is the “extreme of the extreme” on a variety of issues and, no less significantly, because of a derogatory comment Lior allegedly made about US President Barack Obama.
Stern went on to criticize the Bayit Yehudi party for thinking that “they’re more Jewish than anyone else – than me, than Ruth Calderon or than Rabbi Shai Piron. As if it were their monopoly.”
MK Stern, a retired IDF general who is a self-declared member of the national-religious camp, is right, of course. Neither Bayit Yehudi nor Rabbi Dov Lior have a monopoly on the national-religious community and where it stands on a plethora of issues.
Many of those issues are likely to come to the fore in the course of the next few months. For example, three bills have been introduced to establish some form or another of civil marriage in Israel, legislation that has been codenamed “partnership union” bills.
The haredi parties have been and remain vehemently opposed to allowing any form of marriage in Israel for Jews that does not go through the rabbinate.
Some members of the Jewish Home have toed that haredi line as well.
For example, Housing Minister Uri Ariel was quoted by Haaretz as saying that Yesh Atid’s bill on this issue “undermines the basic Jewish values of the State of Israel.”
Ariel went on to say that he intended to “act with all my strength so that the bill, as introduced, is toppled immediately.”
Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron of Yesh Atid, who by all measures is no less a member of the national-religious camp than Minister Uri Ariel, clearly disagrees with Ariel’s analysis. Otherwise he wouldn’t have supported the bill. Piron, like MK Stern, is not alone in his dissenting opinion, and represents a legitimate alternate view that is held by many national-religious Israelis.
Another issue that will come back to the foreground sooner or later, and perhaps even in the next few months, is a possible Israeli withdrawal from territory in the West Bank.
The nine months allotted for Israeli- Palestinian negotiations will end in early 2014. According to some reports this week, the parties are at odds over whether the basis of negotiations ought to be the 1967 lines, as the Palestinians have demanded, or the route of the separation barrier, as the Israelis demanded, according to a report in Yediot Aharonot and Israel Radio.
But even if nothing comes of the negotiations, the members of the national-religious community are still going to have to grapple with the presumed sanctity of settlements, finding their place between Rabbi Dov Lior and Rabbi Zalman Melamed, on the one hand, and Rabbi Shai Piron and MK Elazar Stern on the other.
The national-religious community is divided on all of these issues between the pro-haredim and liberals. Sooner or later, it is going to have to take a stand on each one.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.