Around 110 years ago or so something should have happened to the Torah-observant community. Zionism was spreading its wings, a return to Israel by our nation was no longer a far-flung dream but an emerging reality. Judaism was poised to evolve from a diaspora-based religion back into the national faith it has once been.
And then it didn't. The leadership of the part of the community that couldn't handle change fought a pitched battle to keep the ghetto walls high and strong and more the most part they won. Secular Zionism marched off to build a country and, with only a small exception, Torah Jewry stayed behind in Europe awaiting the personal intervention of God on its terms and understanding.
Around 70 years ago something should have happened to theTorah-observant community. The leaders that had announced their intention to remain in Europe come hell or high water got both and most of the followers they had kept around perished from their decision. Suddenly the Religious Zionist component of the Torah world was the dominant one and poised for success. However, history had other plans. The remnants of the Chareidi community, unwittingly aided by the Secular Zionist leadership which thought they would remain an obscure museum piece for display, reorganized, manipulated and grew until it again became the dominant part of the Torah community.
This is the situation that has persisted until today. Two opportunities for Religious Zionism to take its place as the defining form of Torah Judaism. Two misses. And now comes the third try.
At this point the situation in Israel seems to be like this: Bibi Netanyahu, along with Tzipi Livni and Avigdor Leiberman, will bring Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi into the government. For the first time in a long time there will be no Chareidim sitting around the cabinet table. There will, however, be plenty of non-Chareidi Torah observant Jews. This is where things get interesting.
It is well understood that for a long time Chareidism has worked to define itself as the authentic highest form of Torah observant Judaism. Everything else has come to be seen as a lower level or less frum variation on a theme. To this end history has been revised, publishing houses have churned out propaganda pieces and extensive kiruv work has been done to cement this impression in the general Jewish public's mind.
Think about it: if someone says frum Jew what do you see in your mind's eye? A soldier or businessman wearing a knitted kippah or a Chareidi with a shtreiml?
Now without the Chareidim in the government Bayit Yehudi has a chance to remake this image. Without Chareidi interference the Rabbanut can start shifting back towards a more nationalistic position. Without Chareidim in the government more rational policies can be developed in terms of universal army service and enforcing basic education standards in all schools that receive government money. Progress that has been held back in the name of narrow-minded parochialism for decades can finally occur.
Ironically it seems that the Chareidi leadership might actually encourage this trend as well. It is no secret that the chumra-of-the-week attitude that has exemplified Chareidi society over the last several decades has not endeared Judaism to the masses. It has instead served to alienate them from it. It's hard enough for a secular Israeli to feel some connection with people dressed like 15th century Polish nobles. It's impossible to empathize with folks who think the Taliban were on to something when they made the burka a mainstream garment in Afghanistan.
If the recent trends in Israel have shown anything it is that the general population is getting more nationalistic. They are tired of always being told that Israel has to make sacrifices for peace and that whatever those sacrifices are they will always be preludes to more demands without any concessions from the other side. There may be a few idealistic dreamers left but most Israelis now realize there is no interest in a final peace agreement with the Arab leadership in Yesha and have gotten on with their lives. A Chareidi call to boycott settlements and show sympathy for the Arab enemy over the Green Line in retaliation for being left out of government will not gain much traction with the general public, nor will it be as successful even within the Chareidi community considering how many of them live in Yehuda and Shomron now.
And how exactly does the Chareidi leadership justify aligning itself with the Labour party, one of the leading influences in the diminishing movement to make Israel a Judaism-free secular "state of all its citizens"? Labour has spent 70 years working actively against what most Chareidim consider priorities for Israel and suddenly they're natural allies?
Finally the public calls for revenge, the claims that the Religion Zionists are treasonous for not capitulating to the natural "leadership" position of the Chareidim, will only strengthen Religious Zionism as a valid Torah-observant alternative. People are already sick and tired of the cry-baby tactics of the Chareidi PR machine. Chareidim can claim many things but when they say they are discriminated against and don't receive a fair share of the national revenue, well pause for canned laughter.
This is, as I noted, Religious Zionism's third opportunity. Played right, the religious leadership of the Dati Leumi community could retake the Rabbanut and make it more relevant for average Israelis. It could position Religious Zionism back in the heart of Israeli religious life.
Or it could, pardon the baseball reference, be strike three and out.
Let us hope that the Dati Leumi leadership has wisdom granted to them by the Ribono shel Olam to make the right decisions for now and the future of our nation.