Religious Zionism or radical extremism?

I've always believed that the religious Zionist platform is one which purports to embrace Halacha... to facilitate one’s ability to venture into society.

Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat Gat 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Rabbi Hammer)
Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat Gat 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Rabbi Hammer)
In one of the lectures I offer regarding radical Islam and its pervasive influence on the world around us, I demonstrate the differences between it and Judaism.
Radical Islamic faith believes that it is necessary for all to adopt the Shari’a (Islamic law) and it implements extreme and often dangerous measures to enforce Shari’a upon its societies and the world at large, which is ultimately its intended target.
These are all notions which a short while ago I would have said contrast irrefutably with Judaism, yet based on the many events which have been unfolding over the past few weeks I am no longer sure this is the case.
As a religious Zionist, I have been taught and I have always believed that the religious Zionist platform is one which purports to embrace the Halacha (Jewish law), not only for the sake of observance but to facilitate one’s ability to venture into the society around him, sensitize oneself, and enhance all facets of society through tolerance and understanding, particularly those within the Jewish community and certainly including those which do not identify with my religious beliefs.
One of the main venues which provide religious Zionism with the opportunity to demonstrate constructive adaptability and unobtrusive influence is the army.
Yet it is precisely within this platform that the latest forms of extremism and intolerance have exhibited themselves.
Over the past few weeks, much has been made about the obligation for observant soldiers to leave IDF ceremonies when its agenda includes women singing, as Halacha dictates that it is a problem for a man to hear a woman singing live.
Unfortunately, the rabbis in charge of the Yeshivot Hesder – who account for the majority of halachic authority within the religious Zionist world and who represent these young religious soldiers – have not expressed their opinion regarding this matter.
This has been the case with other halachic issues as well, such as when soldiers are unsure whether they should refuse orders given them by the army regarding the evacuation of certain settlements.
This lack of response can be interpreted as weakness both in terms of taking a stand to offer direction, and the inability to rally around one voice. The same is true with regards to the IDF Rabbinate; although official policy is that soldiers should not leave official ceremonies even if women are singing, no rule has been expressed which would allow religious soldiers to follow clear and decisive orders. This too is troubling.
However, what I have found most disturbing is that this entire episode reflects poorly on religious Zionism and its leadership, as it reveals that it is incapable to meet one of its essential duties; dealing with a secular society at large in both a pragmatic and responsive fashion.
Once the religious Zionist leadership saw that this was becoming an issue (perhaps a mountain made out of a molehill), they should have seized this opportunity to demonstrate that it is crucial to incorporate sensitivity toward the feelings of those around us who, as members of a secular society, may not understand or may not choose to understand what they would see as the nuances of our religious conviction; the inability to do so could result in the disastrous effects of a hilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name).
It follows that when unavoidably confronted with such circumstances (it would be best if a soldier knew of the ceremony beforehand, allowing him time to arrange to be excused if possible as has been the case in the past) observant soldiers should be instructed not to walk out, but rather to cover their ears discreetly while sitting in their seats and/or looking the other way; surely this is less noticeable then getting up in the middle of a ceremony and leaving.
Had this explanation been made public, particularly regarding the importance of respecting our peers and the emphasis that the Torah places on avoiding insulting one’s feelings, I am quite confident that all of the brouhaha which has ensued could have been avoided.
Instead, a slew of reactions emerged both from non-observant Jews, including Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz and Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat; heck, even Hillary Clinton has gotten involved, expressing discontent over what appears to them as sexual discrimination, and from religious Zionist rabbis eager to disprove these accusations but who, through their reactions, continue to demonstrate that they have missed the point as they defend the written word of the Halacha without acknowledging the spirit of Halacha, which says, “gadol kavod habriyot” – “showing respect to God’s creations is the greatest priority.”
If this was not enough, two weeks ago parents of soldiers who recently completed an IDF medics course were shocked to discover that in the invitation to the graduation ceremony they were instructed to arrive “dressed modestly.”
The issue is not whether or not the army or the unit can get away with such a request; the issue is the negative effects these requests have on the people receiving them and what we stand to lose by making them.
A graduation of army medics should naturally promote unity and celebrate togetherness by way of serving one’s country and learning to save people’s lives; yet again these fundamentals were ambushed by a divisiveness, a holier than thou message including an infringement on the democratic right to dress as one chooses. Once again selfrighteousness prevailed over conscientious and constructive inspiration.
When I travel to the Diaspora, I meet many Israelis who explain to me that when they lived in Israel they were unaffiliated with the religious community, but now, in the Diaspora, they are affiliated and actively involved in their local synagogue. I have heard many explanations regarding this phenomenon but the explanation is relatively simple.
In the Diaspora, every number counts and every Jew is appreciated. Therefore the approach to gaining a Jew’s interest is handled with care, it is nurtured with patience and it is doctored to exhibit the joy and benefits of belonging.
We stand to gain by cultivating an unthreatening environment. An observant Jew must follow the written word of Halacha, but he should also adopt the social sensitivities and nuances behind the written word to avoid seeming intrusive or intolerant to people who do not subscribe in the same fashion, something which unfortunately is forgotten by the religious world all too often and a platform which the Religious Zionist world should pride itself in.
As a religious Zionist, I not only anticipate but I try to facilitate bringing our great nation closer to its redemption. I sincerely hope and pray that the ingredients which bring what we anticipate should not be conveniently forgotten or mistakenly ignored.

The writer teaches at Yeshivat Hesder Kiryat Gat and serves as a lecturer under the Harel Division for the IDF Rabbinate. He is also an author and lecturer on Israel, religious Zionism and Jewish education.