It's no secret that, as a movement and as a philosophy, Religious Zionism is in trouble. From one side, the other major part of the religious community, the Chareidim, are dissociated from the Dati Leumi and see them as little more than pseudo-religious, misguided Jews who's religious expression of support for the building of the land of Israel, is against the Torah. On the other side, the Zionists have morphed into self-hating post-Zionists and see them as fanatics obsessed with "the settlers" and standing as a stumbling block on the yellow brick road to peace.
Within the community, there are also fissures as evidenced by the various responses to the recent government assaults against the community, first in 'Aza and then in Amona. Some counsel restraint and remind their followers that the rule of law must be maintained. At the other extreme, there are rabbinic leaders calling for resistance and sedition. While the explusion from 'Aza was relatively orderly, the one from Amona was the opposite. The National Religious Party, one of the smaller in the Knesset, has split into two parts. There is even a group, Realistic Religious Zionsts, who counsel large scale surrender of the holiest portions of our Land in order to allow the movement to return to its original focus.
In the presence of all this pressure, it's no wonder some Dati Leumi leaders bemon the loss of a distinctive identity for the movement:
In a recently published book, Rabbi Yigal Ariel, chief rabbi of Moshav Nov in the Golan Heights, condemned harshly the Religious Zionist movement for its recent tendency to become excessively haredi in character.
“Sadly, we (religious Zionists) are gleefully making rapid strides towards the haredi world,” said the rabbi. “Today we hear Religious Zionists speaking out against science, against the academic world, and even against basic rule of law.”
The level of triumphalism within the Chareidi world is no secret. And who can blame them? They were the part of the Jewish community most damaged by the Holocaust but now have become the fastest growing and most influential portion of the Jewish community. Through their efforts, their books and their public relations, they have defined in an ever more narrow fashion the stereotype of the ideal Torah-observant Jew. Is it any wonder that those in the Dati Leumi community who are experiencing a crisis of faith and wondering what their movement stands for would gravitate towards the more definitive Chareidi model?
Ariel’s book, in essence, is a strong indictment of a recent trend in the Religious-Zionist world driving its members to become more and more haredi. In an interview to a local Golan Heights newspaper, Shishi Ba Golan, Rabbi Ariel, brother of one of the founders of Religious Zionism Yaakov Ariel, accuses religious Zionists of losing their way, detaching themselves from the Israeli public, and being swept away into a dark abyss of their own making.
“We have become delusional, irrational people,” said rabbi Ariel, referring especially to a trend towards extremism now evident on Religious Zionist education, as well as a growing focus on the struggle for preserving and defending West Bank territories.
The rabbi also said that he feels that Religious Zionism as a movement is now regressing rather than growing or moving forward. “It is turning haredi to such an extent that I felt that if my book was not published soon there would be nobody in the religious Zionist world left to address.”
The rabbi indicated that, in his opinion, “the haredi world is completely detached from reality, and Religious Zionism is gleefully headed in the same direction. Religious Zionists today speak out against science, the academic world and even against the basic rule of law. More and more things are becoming taboo.”
I would agree strongly with Rav Ariel's concerns. Looking at the movement, it has become obsessed with Yehudah, Shomron and 'Aza. Now, there may be good reasons for this but it has eclipsed the original founding purpose of the movement, which was to build a Torah state in Israel. By becoming identified with "settlers", the Dati Leumi are seen less as average Israelis who also are Torah observant and more as "those crazy fanatics" who attack soldiers and Arabs while generally disturbing the peace if they don't get their way. The response, however, which is to take on those characteristics of the Chareidi community that are irrational, is against Dati Leumi philosophy which is based on acceptance of reality and respect for society. As Rav Ariel notes:
Everyone says the same exact thing and spews the very same clichés,” he said. “We (religious Zionists) now want obedient followers that do as they are told and do not ask difficult questions.”
Our original focus was also on the State of Israel, but now we have forgotten the people of the land of Israel and have become completely isolated in our vision and thinking.
This is completely against the original Dati Leumi philosophy which holds that the return to Zion and its rebuilding are religious imperatives. In order to develop this philosophy, brilliant leaders like Rav Yaakov Reines and Rav Tzi Hirsch Kalischer, the Derishas Tzion, thought outside the box, using our holy sources to prove definitively that not only is a mass return to Israel not a sin but rather something the Jews must do given the prevailing historical trends. A Chareidi attitude of avoiding original thinking, shunning the secular world and towing "the party line" would have prevented the Dati Leumi philosophy from ever being born.
I would humbly disagree with Rav Ariel, whose feet I am probably not worthy to sit at, on one point:
Rabbi Ariel also spoke out against the growing detachment of Religious Zionism from the general Israeli public. Various synagogue newsletter, he noted, have created an entirely new lexicon which the entire Orthodox world now embraces as its own.
“While everyone else spoke of ‘disengagement’ we (Religious Zionists) spoke of ‘expulsion’. Instead of the ‘Amona evacuation’ we referred to the ‘Amona pogrom’….we are settling ourselves apart from the general public through this terminology, and are viewing the world through our own narrow and limited point of view. We are completely cutting ourselves off from the Israeli public.”
On the contrary, this lexicon is very important. Consider other successful groups and you quickly discover that it is their use of words and their coopting of terms that plays a big role in their success. One need look no further than the Arab world and their incessant use of words like "West Bank", "territories", "occupied Palestinian lands" to see the effect of controlling the vocabulary of the discourse. (I won't even go into how "gay" used to mean "happy")
Additionally, the risk of growing too close to the Chiloni community is just as great as that associated with the Chareidim. Those on the right will absorb ultra-Orthodox habits but will not abandon a general Torah lifestyle. The risk of that happening to those on the left is far, far greater as practical experience has shown.
As well, if the Dati Leumi wish to be in a leadership position, we must remember that leaders... well they lead. They don't strive to change themselves to accomodate other groups and trends but define their own and inspire people to follow.
Thus it is important to maintain the lexicon. What happened in 'Aza was an expulsion, not a disengagement (else why are rockets falling on Sderet every day?). Other terms as seen from the Dati Leumi perspective are just as legitimate, as long as they respect the Dati Leumi principles of respect for law and authority.
In the end, if the Dati Leumi wish to regain a leading position within the Torah world and Israeli society, it must stop worrying about the other groups on its flanks and concentrate on building itself up from within. Its children must be raised to realize that Israel's existence is a gift from God but one which we, as Torah-observant Jews, are obligated to work on perfecting as a modern halachic society so we can pave the way for the final redemption. Our view of the Torah and its Zionsitic obligations are compeltely legitimate and the definitive ones for this era. And those terms should be at the head of our lexicon.