In The Jerusalem Post there's a feature on the replacement party for the National Religious Party (Mafdal) that was recently created. I've recently commented on this blog about my disappointment with this turn of events but the article now serves to reinforce my cynicism fotr the future of the National Religious Movement.
Put simply, the problem with the Mafdal is that it doesn't function as an organ of the movement because the movement itself is dysfunctional. As the article details:
NRP MEMBERS from the religious Right and Left have clashed over a variety of issues over the years from the permissibility of electing female MKs to the intervention of rabbis in political matters.
A recent example was a Knesset vote on an amendment that changes the way rabbinical courts decide divorces. The bill was aimed at aiding agunot, women who cannot remarry because their recalcitrant husbands refuse to give them a writ of divorce. It received strong backing from women's rights groups, including the religious Zionist Emunah. And it was aggressively opposed by the haredi rabbinic and political establishment.
The NRP was split. Party chairman Zevulun Orlev, who is identified with the more moderate stream, supported the bill. So did liberal rabbis such as Cherlow and Shlomo Riskin. However, most NRP MKs opposed it, voting like the haredi MKs.
The left-right religious rupture is not the only divisive element within religious Zionism. There is also an ethnic, socio-economic split. Historically, the NRP has drawn electoral strength from various strata from predominately Sephardi development town residents to middle- to upper-class, predominately Ashkenazi professionals and businessmen.
What unites each of the Chareidi parties is a commitment to greater goals: more money for their institutions, exemption from the draft, control of religious affairs. A simple platform, perhaps, but one that most Chareidim seem to be able to agree on. In contrast, the Mafdal in recent years, as a reflection of Religious Zionism is general, doesn't seem to know what it stands for, other than a doggedly persistent support of the pioneers of Yesha.
The problem is that there is a major difference between the National Religious and Chareidi communities. The latter are insular and demand a high degree of unity amongst their members. The former are far more integrated into the surrounding society and therefore have a wide range on opinions on all matters from economics to politics to religion. There is no official National Religious position on the settlements, as the group Realistic Religious Zionists, is happy to point out. There are the Chardal on the right, Meimad on the left and everything in-between. As a result, one party cannot possibly hope to represent more than a small sample of the Religious Zionist community:
POLITICAL SCIENTIST Menachem Friedman, an expert in religious political parties and himself a religious Zionist, argues that the NRP has lost its political justification. "Today there is no need for the NRP," he said. "If you are right-wing in your political views, there is the Likud. If you are haredi in your religious outlook, there is Shas or United Torah Judaism. The NRP never offered an alternative theology that could seriously compete with the haredim. There was always a feeling that religious Zionists were subordinate to the more authentic version of Judaism practiced by the haredim.
It is the last sentence that is the most damning. With the creation of the State of Israel, Religious Zionism should have established itself as the dominant form of Torah observance in the country. Instead, distracted by infighting and conflict with the government over the future of the country, the Chareidim have reasserted themselves as the definitive form of Judaism.
Unfortunately the current leadership of the Mafdal seems more interested in their political survival than acknowledging the deep trouble the movement they represent is in. It is time for Religious Zionism to go back to its first principles and decide on a uniform package of values to represent the movement. Only then can it expect to energize its supporters and reassert itself as a dominant form of Torah observance.