Bible Commentator

Special Stories

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

Special Stories # 9, September 10, 2005 - Rebellion and Re-engagement –


 Rebellion and Re-engagement:


Can we reconcile our many religious, communal and ethnic identities with the more modern idea of statehood?



The settler rebels have declared a ‘state of war’ against the government of Israel. There symbols are orange ribbons; their opposition have blue and white ribbons – the symbol of the State. The result not unsurprisingly is more opposition to their position; 62% now (Sept 1) in favor of the disengagement. (Snarling traffic by burning tires and putting oil and metal stakes on major roads and inappropriately adopting the Shoah as a symbol also did not help.)


It was the political and religious mentors who were behind the massive infiltration into the Gaza Strip, which did not halt disengagement but made it more painful; behind the determination to make life for the soldiers and policemen involved in disengagement that much more difficult and distasteful; and in urging settlers caught in last-minute personal dilemmas to come down on the side of intransigence, to their eventual detriment. The pain caused by the settlers has failed to prevent the disengagement; have they lost more? They once had a considerable base of support; have they lost the respect of the majority of Israelis? If so have they made it easier rather than harder to close down other settlements?


Diaspora Orthodoxy may sympathize with the settlers, but they have rejected this state of war against the elected government of the Jewish State. Both the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America (representing perhaps 500,000 Orthodox Jews) have rejected resolutions against disengagement. 


The Expulsion:

The soldiers and police did most of their task with heart-rending gentleness; they have shown a tolerance in the face of resistance that is simply foreign to soldiering. With one hand a soldier grasps the leg of a settler being carried to the bus; a second hand is tenderly placed on the head to make sure his kippa doesn't fall off. When one fell the soldier stopped and picked it up and put it back on his head. Soldiers hug the extremists cursing them. Given the passive and active violence incurred the mental preparation given the evacuating forces was clearly very impressive. Despite the noise, trauma and violence they also accomplished the task planned for six weeks in one week.


Some of the residents make a ceremonial tear in their clothes and the stated the prayer to the eternal Judge, as if in mourning for a death, and left. Some on foot, others wish to be carried by the soldiers so as not to look submissive. “We will not forget, and we will not forgive."


Maj. Gen. Yiftah Ron Tal was the top officer Kfar Darom on Thursday when his soldiers were injured. His son, daughter-in-law and grandson were settlers sitting in Shirat Hayam that same morning. He said "I think the pain here is not just personal pain, it is general pain, I feel that everyone is my son. We are all from the same side in Israel." The settlers of Shirat Hayam used only psychological pressure and passive resistance against the soldiers and police.


For the religious Zionist community, this withdrawal is a theological disaster; it is an implosion of their mental universe. The national fabric of Israelism is being torn; how soon it will be repaired is difficult to know.


Some claim that the Settler movement chose to make the disengagement as ugly as possible to make further disengagement and a peace process impossible. Will they succeed? There will be further disengagements but of a smaller scale. It is unlikely that there would be other large settlements to be evacuated; the large settlements will remain in Israeli hands, they are behind the security fence. The smaller ones west of the security fence will either leave voluntarily or be evacuated. Israel is retreated towards the security fence. The attempt by the settlers to create an apocalyptic end failed; from their perspective it must have been God’s choice, for us democracy succeeded.


We have already seen settler violence against Palestinians, was it provoke Palestinian counter violence? (What is amazing is that the Palestinians did not react violently.) The disengagement tone unfortunately has been set by the extremists. Given that the Yesha Council knows Sharon and his ‘bulldozer’ tactics they must have known that could not stop him. Will Israel embark on a collision course with itself?


The rift between the upholders of a democratic Israel and the proponents of a land-based form of Jewish messianism has never been as apparent as it is today. All domestic issues - from poverty, inequality and corruption to education, domestic violence and personal status - have either been subjugated to the growing conceptual divide or relegated to the sidelines of public discourse.


Are the Yesha leaders trying to generate a messianic and more religious Israel? Will that strategy not backfire?


The Re-engagement:

Some begun even before the disengagement ended.


Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of one hesder yeshiva (students who study and accept Army service) of Petah Tikvah said we must ‘stop speaking in terms of absolute right and start seeking the widest possible national consensus on the important issues, including the Land of Israel, the Jewish people and Jewish identity.’ After the disengagement he stated the need to consider that perhaps the validity of the redemption narrative itself needs to be reassessed.  "We cannot allow ourselves to view reality as another `complication' in the process of redemption, as something that we didn't succeed in and that we'll surely succeed in the next time. We need to reexamine the basic assumptions."


Otniel Schneller, who served for four years as the secretary-general of Yesha said the national religious community must learn some lessons from disengagement. It must expand its agenda to include more than just the question of the Land of Israel. It must remember that Israel belongs to more than just the national religious community. Furthermore, it must enter into a dialogue with the non-Orthodox public. It forced the community to be more open to what was going on in the outside world.


A week after the disengagement Rabbi Haim Druckman, the head of the Bnei Akiva yeshivot and a major disengagement foe drew the conclusion that "a bad government of Israel is incomparably better than the best of exiles." He goes on to note: "Unlike the ultra-Orthodox, we have rejoiced in the state since its establishment, despite its defects. So what has changed now? Because now it involves harming the Land of Israel rather than desecrating the Sabbath we should change our principles?"


Aviezer Ravitzky, an Orthodox Professor of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University stated how he had begrudgingly served in the army reserves while the government was carrying out a policy which he had completely objected to namely the occupation. He now felt betrayed by a group of soldiers who had the audacity to refuse to evacuate settlements now that the tide has turned. 


Rabbi Rafi Peretz anti the disengagement from the settlement of Atzmona stated “My left hand doesn't fight my right". Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein recently stated "one has to obey every letter of the Bible, but also has to obey every letter of the law of the land" (quoted by Hirsch Goodman in Jerusalem Report Sept 5).


What the disengagement proved is that the State of Israel as hoped for by the original Zionists can be a normal state.