Bible Commentator

Special Stories

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

The Moderate Rabbis: Religious and National Zionism:

In both this Special Story, the previous and future ones (on the same subject) I am trying to inform different views of the disengagement. There is a two-fold problem; intra-Jewish and between Jews and Palestinians.  I am concerned about the enormous problem of the torn fabric of Israeli-Jewish life and about the weeks and months after the disengagement. On Thursday night Eden Natan Zada created the first disengagement fatalities – Arabs – and combined the two problems. I pray that we can reconcile our opposing views or at least live peacefully with them. Shalom as we all know is critical to a tikkun olam.

The Moderate Rabbis:

Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun of Gush Etzion stated that "The disengagement plan is a scandal. It is insane. The absolutely certain result will be the burial of the prospect for peace. From the point of view of anyone who wants peace and believes in peace, this plan is suicide. . . It will persuade the Palestinian street that every concession to Israel is stupidity, idiocy and folly. Thus, it will thwart every chance of reaching peace in this generation. As Oslo shattered the dream of Greater Israel, the disengagement will shatter the dream of peace. That is its true meaning."

Rabbi Menacham Fruman of Tekoa has recently stated “I suggest that to those in Gush Katif who are so inclined to remain where they are under Palestinian rule.  . . . I personally am ready to move to Gush Katif and to take advantage of the relations I have forged over 20 years with the Palestinian leadership, including some of those who remain relevant today, so that the settlements will become a bridge to peace. [I believe in] not the dawn of redemption, but the dawn of peace."

(Rabbi Bin Nun and MK Avraham Ravitz (Degel Hatorah) have made the same suggestion.)

Rabbi Yaakov Meidan (Gush Etzion) advocates `gray disobedience’. He does not advocate refusing to obey orders, but essentially asks the IDF not to request Modern Orthodox soldiers to evacuate settlers. "We are trying to execute a democratic preemption. To force the Knesset and the government to think again. After all, this is a move that contradicts Zionism. It involves the razing of an entire bloc of settlements. A decision like this could have been made in a referendum. Responsibility rests with whoever decided not to let the decision be made by a referendum. It is he [Sharon] who brought the dispute into the IDF, who created the rift in the nation. And he did it for malicious reasons, out of malicious intent. . . I have never recognized the supremacy of the law. Justice and morality are far more important to me than the supremacy of the law.”

Who decides on Justice and Morality? He and his associates? The rule of law is based on Democracy. Do he and his associates believe in Democracy?

Religious and National Zionism:

From the above it would appear that Zionism is religious. Zionism began over one hundred years ago as a nationalist movement; it was opposed by the religious community do to the Three Oaths (see below).  The religious community understood the difference between Jewish nationalism and the Jewish religion. Israel was created as a place for Jews who wished to live in a majority Jewish state and for Jews discriminated against and in danger to have a home. Over the decades some of the religious community became Zionists.

After the 1967 war and the Yom Kippur war religious Zionism took a turn toward Messianism. These messianic Zionists developed the Greater Israel Thesis; all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea belonged to the Jews by God’s edict. This was held despite two messianic disasters in ancient times – the Roman war in 68-72 CE and the Bar Kochba war. The Sages of the Talmud understood this and forbad trying to force God to bring the messiah before its time. This is referred to as the Three Oaths (BT Ketuboth 111a). Maimonides uses the Three Oaths in referring to Yemen’s false messianic madness in his Iggeret Teiman – Letter to the Yemenis. In the seventeenth century another messianic disaster befell the Jews, the false messiahship of Sabbatai  Tzvi.

Now we face another messianic problem. The Rabbis tell their believers that God demands the land to be in the hand of the Jews. How will young people react when the Rabbis interpretation of God’s turns out to be wrong? Like the newly religious Jewish terrorist Eden Natan Zada in his kippa and army uniform and army gun murdering four Israeli Arab civilians? Others have stated they will commit suicide.  Additional violence is almost a certainty. Whose responsibility is this madness?

Their land based, self-righteous and supercessionist Judaism is not mine. This is exemplified by the motto ‘Jews don’t expel Jews’; presumably we do to expel the ‘other’. We seem to have forgotten that for centuries we were the ‘other’. Some of the right-wing Rabbis are as Chairman of the Talmud Department at Bar Ilan University Chaim Milikowsky noted ‘attempt[ing] to hijack the system of halakha for political purposes’ (Haaretz Aug. 5).

The issue is becoming a crisis in Jewish identity: messianic Zionism versus Jewish nation/statehood. Do we want a religious theocracy or a democratic state – the two cannot coexist! Who will define the theocratic or halakhic rules – Modern Orthodoxy or Ultra Orthodoxy? It is clear that Modern Orthodoxy is in the throes of Haradization including having Rabbis make non-halakhic decisions. How will the majority of Jewish Israelis, not Orthodox and not even religious, react? Democracy is not an ideal of fundamentalists – even nonviolent ones.