Despite popular belief to the contrary, the National Religious community in Israel is not the Israeli version of Modern Orthodoxy. Modern Orthodox folks in Israel form quite a separate crowd from the bonafide Dati Leumi. Unfortunately for folks on the outside, which in this case means both the secular and Chareidi crowds, this difference is not often appreciated.
While Modern Orthodoxy is defined by... well not really defined by anything other than a vague commitment to Judaism and modernity, the National Religious community is, in its origins, a religious movement that emphasizes the firm application of halacha with an emphasis on those rules that call for our national return to Israel. As a result, while Modern Orthodoxy's difference from the Chareidim might be summarized as "they're less religious", the real difference between the Dati Leumi and the Chareidim is "we're more Zionist".
To be sure, over time that message has been lost. Being commited to the building of the State has meant developing a high level of interaction with the secular population. Just as Modern Orthodoxy has, to a large extent, become diluted by non-Jewish values, so to the chiloni culture has affected the intensity of observance in parts of the Dati Leumi community. As a result, there is a real split within the movement, both along political and religious lines.
As this article from The Jerusalem Post notes, the coexistence between the different groups is starting to come to an end:
In the latest salvo in the ongoing war between two vying camps over the future of religious Zionism, haredi-leaning rabbis this week torpedoed the appointment of a liberal-minded professor as president of a popular teachers college. To protest the move, hundreds of more liberal-minded rabbis - many affiliated with the religious kibbutz movement - as well as religious Zionist youths and educators held a collective learning session/demonstration across the street from the Ramat Gan Hesder Yeshiva Wednesday night.
The venue was chosen as protest against the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, who recently labeled some more liberal-minded religious Zionist leaders as "neo-reformers." The liberals earned the name, said Shapira, because they favored coed education in the Bnei Akiva youth movement and supported a greater role for women in religious leadership, including as rabbis. Shapira also lamented the willingness of some religious Zionist rabbis to allow older single women, whose biological clock for baby bearing was running down, to use artificial insemination.
Prof. Shmuel Glick, who might fall under the category of a neo-reformer from the point of view of the haredi-leaning religious Zionist rabbis, heads the Schocken Institute for Jewish Research of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS). He was labeled as unfit to serve as head of the Lifshitz College, which trains dozens of hesder yeshiva graduates to teach in elementary and high schools, due to his ties with the Conservative Movement.
The battle over Glick's appointment is just one of several push-button issues that have divided religious Zionism's left and right in recent months. Perhaps the most salient example of the rift within religious Zionism was the failed unification of two political parties that represent the rival camps - Habayit Hayehudi (HH) on the left and the National Union (NU) on the rightThe two parties - and the two camps - are split on many central issues from rabbinic intervention in politics (NU, like haredi parties, is subject to the authority of a council of rabbinic sages; HH is not), to the centrality of Greater Israel as a religious priority that overrides other considerations such as obeying IDF orders (NU-affiliated rabbis support insubordination if a soldier is ordered to evacuate Jewish settlements; HH affiliated rabbis do not).
Haredi-leaning religious Zionist rabbis tend to be more suspicious of academic freedom in the fields of humanities and social sciences, while more liberal rabbis are more open-minded, even to ideas such as Bible criticism which seem to undermine faith in a God-given Torah.
Should this be happening? Is there enough room within the Dati Leumi label for difference approaches as long as the underlying assumption- that halacha supports the building of a modern State as a prelude to bi'as go'el tzidkeinu - is honoured?
I would suggest that the answer is: no. The Dati Leumi movement, once an important part of Jewish religious society in Israel, has been on the wane over the last three decades because of an obsession over the pioneers of Yesha. Everything in the movement seemed to focus on that. While it certainly was an important thing to support, the new result was that the Dati Leumi ceded religious control in the rest of the State to the Chareidim with the current bothersome results. In short, Religious Zionism forgot what it was about.
It is therefore time to remember its core values. Religious Zionism is not, as noted above, the Israeli version of American Modern Orthodoxy. Rav Shlomo Riskin is not a Dati Leumi rav just because he lives in Israel and wears a large knitted kippah. It isn't just about the uniform, it's also about the attitude.
And the attitude that will allow the Dati Leumi community to reinvigorate itself and endure is to separate itself from the imitators while taking a firm standing in Torah in both thought and practice. As distasteful as this may sound to those on the left of the movement, it is necessary lest what is left of the community continue to stumble into oblivion.