from Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, 1999.
Almost every moderately sophisticated Israeli Jew knows the facts about Israeli Jewish society that are described in this book. These facts, however, are unknown to most interested Jews and non-Jews outside Israel who do not know Hebrew and thus cannot read most of what Israeli Jews write about themselves in Hebrew. These facts are rarely mentioned or are described inaccurately in the enormous media coverage of Israel in the United States and elsewhere. The major purpose of this book is to provide those persons who do not read Hebrew with more understanding of one important aspect of Israeli Jewish society.
This book pinpoints the political importance of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, a powerful state in and beyond the Middle East that wields great influence in the United States. Jewish fundamentalism is here briefly defined as the belief that Jewish Orthodoxy, which is based upon the Babylonian Talmud, the rest of talmudic literature and halachic literature, is still valid and will eternally remain valid. Jewish fundamentalists believe that the Bible itself is not authoritative unless interpreted correctly by talmudic literature. Jewish fundamentalism exists not only in Israel but in every country that has a sizeable Jewish community. In countries other than Israel, wherein Jews constitute a small minority of the total population, the general importance of Jewish fundamentalism is limited mainly to acquiring funding and garnering political support for fundamentalist adherents in Israel. Its importance in Israel is far greater, because its adherents can and do influence the state in various ways. The variety of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel is striking. Many fundamentalists, for instance, want the temple rebuilt on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or at least want to keep the site, which is now a holy Muslim praying place, empty of visitors. In the United States most Christians would not identify with such a purpose, but in Israel a significant number of Israeli Jews who are not fundamentalists identify with and support this and similar demands. Some varieties of Jewish fundamentalism are clearly more dangerous than others. Jewish fundamentalism is not only capable of influencing conventional Israeli policies but could also substantially affect Israeli nuclear policies. The same possible consequences of fundamentalism feared by many persons for other countries could occur in Israel.
The significance of fundamentalism in Israel can only be understood within the context of Israeli Jewish society and as part of the contribution of the Jewish religion to societal internal divisions. Our consideration of this broad topic begins by focusing upon the ways sophisticated observers divide Israeli Jewish society politically and religiously. We then proceed to the explanation of why Jewish fundamentalism influences in varying degrees other Israeli Jews, thereby allowing fundamentalist Jews to wield much greater political power in Israel than their percentage of the population might appear to warrant.
The customary two-way division of Israeli Jewish society rests upon the cornerstone recognition that as a group Israeli Jews are highly ideological. This is best evidenced by their high percentage of voting, which usually exceeds 80 per cent. In the May 1996 elections, over 95 per cent of the better educated, richer, secular Jews and the religious Jews in all categories of education and income voted. After discounting the large number of Israeli Jews who live outside Israel (over 400,000), most of whom did not vote, it can be safely assumed that almost every eligible voter in these two crucial segments of the population voted. Most Israeli political observers by now assume that Israeli Jews are divided into two categories: Israel A and Israel B. Israel A, often referred to as the "left," is politically represented by the Labor and Meretz Parties; Israel B, referred to as the "right" or the "right and religious parties," is comprised of all the other Jewish parties. Almost all of Israel A and a great majority of Israel B (the exception being some of the fundamentalist Jews) strongly adhere to Zionist ideology, which in brief, holds that all or at least the majority of Jews should emigrate to Palestine, which as the Land of Israel, belongs to all Jews and should be a Jewish state. A strong and increasing enmity between these two segments of Israeli society nevertheless exists. There are many reasons for this enmity. The reason relevant to this study is that Israel B, including its secular members, is sympathetic to Jewish fundamentalism while Israel A is not. It is apparent from studies of election results over a long period of time that Israel B has consistently obtained a numerical edge over Israel A. This is an indication that the number of Jews influenced by Jewish fundamentalism is consistently increasing.
In his article "Religion, Nationalism and Democracy in Israel," published in the Autumn 1994 issue of the periodical, Z'Manim (no. 50-51), Professor Baruch Kimmerling, a faculty member of Hebrew University's sociology department, presented data pertaining to the religious division of Israeli Jewish society. Citing numerous research studies, Kimmerling showed conclusively that Israeli Jewish society is far more divided on religious issues than is generally assumed outside of Israel, where belief in generalizations, such as "common to all Jews," is challenged less than in Israel. Quoting the data of a survey taken by the prestigious Gutman Institute of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Kimmerling pointed out that whereas 19 per cent of Israeli Jews said they prayed daily, another 19 per cent declared that they would not enter a synagogue under any circumstances.1 Influenced by the Gutman Institute analysis and similar studies, Kimmerling and other scholars have concluded that Israel A and Israel B contain hard-core believers who hold diametrically opposed views of the Jewish religion. This conclusion is almost certainly correct.
More generally, the attitude towards religion in Israeli Jewish society can be divided into three parts. The religious Jews observe the commandments of the Jewish religion, as defined by Orthodox rabbis, many of whom emphasize observance more than belief. (The number of Reform and/or Conservative Jewish in Israel is small.) The traditional Jews keep some of the more important commandments while violating the more inconvenient ones; they do honor the rabbis and the religion. The secularists may occasionally enter a synagogue but respect neither the rabbis nor the religious institutions. The line between traditional and secular Jews is often vague, but the available studies indicate that 25 to 30 per cent of Israeli Jews are secular, 50 to 55 per cent are traditional and about 20 per cent are religious. Traditional Jews obviously belong to both the Israel A and Israel B categories.
Israeli religious Jews are divided into two distinctly different groups. The members of the religiously more extreme group are called Haredim. (The singular word is Haredi or Hared.) The members of the religiously more moderate group are called religious-national Jews. The religious-national Jews are sometimes called "knitted skullcaps" because of their head covering. Haredim usually wear black skullcaps that are never knitted, or hats. The religious-national Jews otherwise usually dress in the more usual Israeli fashion, while the Haredim almost always wear black clothes.
The Haredim are themselves divided into two parties. The first, Yahadut Ha'Torah (Judaism of the Law) is the party of the Ashkenazi Haredim who are of East European origin. Yahadut Ha'Torah itself is a coalition of two factions. The second is Shas, the party of the Oriental Haredim who are of Middle Eastern origin. (The differences between the two types of Haredim will be more specifically discussed in Chapter 3.) The religious-national Jews are organized in the National Religious Party (NRP). By analyzing the 1996 electoral vote and making some necessary adjustments, we can estimate the population percentages of these two groups of religious Jews. In the 1996 election the Haredi parties together won 14 of the 120 total Knesset seats. Shas won ten seats; Yahadut Ha' Torah won four. The NRP won nine seats. Some Israeli Jews admittedly voted for Shas because of talismans and amulets distributed by Shas that were supposedly valid only after a "correct" vote. Some NRP members and sympathizers, moreover, admittedly voted for secular right-wing parties. Everything considered, the Haredim probably constitute 11 per cent of the Israeli population and 13.4 per cent of the Israeli Jews; the NRP adherents probably constitute 9 per cent of the Israeli population and 11 per cent of the Israeli Jews.
The basic tenets of the two groups of religious Jews need some introductory explanation. The word "hared" is a common Hebrew word meaning "fearful." During early Jewish history, it meant "God-fearing" or exceptionally devout. In the mid-nineteenth century it was adopted, first in Germany and Hungary and later in other parts of the diaspora, as the name of the party of religious Jews that opposed any modern innovation. The Ashkenazi Haredim emerged as a backlash group opposed to the Jewish enlightenment in general and especially to those Jews who refused to accept the total authority of the rabbis and who introduced innovations into the Jewish worship and life style. Seeing that almost all Jews accepted these innovations, the Haredim reacted even more extremely and banned every innovation. The Haredim to date have insisted upon the strictest observance of the Halacha. An illustrative example of opposition to innovation is the previously mentioned and still current black dress of the Haredim; this was the dress fashion of Jews in Eastern Europe when the Haredim formed themselves into a party. Before that time Jews dressed in many different styles and were often indistinguishable in dress from their neighbors. After a brief time, almost all Jews except for the Haredim again dressed differently. The Halacha, moreover, does not enjoin Jews to dress in black and/or to wear thick black coats and heavy fur caps during the hot summer or at any other time. Yet, Haredim in Israel continue to do so in opposition to innovation; they insist that dress be kept as it was in Europe around 1850. All other considerations, including climatic ones, are overridden.
In contrast to the Haredim, the religious-nationalist Jews of the NRP made their compromises with modernity at the beginning of the 1920s when the split between the two large groupings in religious Judaism first appeared in Palestine. This can be immediately observed in their dress, which, with the exception of a small skullcap, is conventional. Even more importantly, this is evident in their selective observance of the Halacha, for example, in their rejection of many commandments regarding women. NRP members do not hesitate to admit women to positions of authority in many of their organizations and in the political party itself. Before both the 1992 and 1996 elections the NRP published and distributed an advertisement, containing photographs of various public figures including some women supporting the party, and boasted more broadly on television of female support. Haredim did not and would not do this. Even when Haredim, who ban television watching for themselves, decided to present some television election programs directed to other Jews, they insisted that all participants be male. During the 1992 campaign the editors of a Haredi weekly consulted the rabbinical censor about whether or not to publish the above-mentioned NRP advertisement. The rabbinical censor ordered the paper to publish the advertisement with all photographs of the NRP women blotted out. The editors did what the censor ordered. Outraged, the NRP sued the newspaper for libel and sought damages in Israeli secular courts, disregarding the rulings of Haredi rabbis prohibiting using secular courts to settle disputes among Jews.
The religious-nationalist Jewish compromises with modernity regarding women are exceedingly complicated in many ways. The Halacha forbids Jewish males to listen to women singing whether in a choir or solo regardless of what is sung. This is stated directly in the halachic ruling that a voice of a woman is adultery. This is interpreted by later halachic rulings stipulating that the word "voice" here means a woman's singing not speaking. This rule, originating in the Talmud, occurs in all codes of law. A Jewish male who willingly listens to a woman's singing commits a sin equivalent either to adultery or fornication. The great majority of NRP faithful members, nevertheless, listen to women singing and thus commit "adultery" routinely. Some of the most strict NRP members, especially among the religious settlers in the West Bank, have not only puzzled over this problem but at times have tried to solve the problem of how to adjust by developing creative approaches. In the early 1990s some of the settlers founded a new radio station, Arutz, or Channel, 7. For their station to become successful and to appeal as broadly as possible to Israeli Jews, the settlers understood that the songs of the fashionable singers of the day, some of whom were women, would have to be broadcast. The rabbinical censor, however, has refused to allow a breach of the Halacha whereby male listeners would hear female singers and thus commit "adultery." After further consultation with the censor, the settlers devised an acceptable solution that is still being employed. Men sing the songs, made popular by women; the male voices are then electronically changed to the female pitch and are broadcast accordingly over Arutz 7. A part of the traditional public is satisfied by this expedient, and the learned NRP rabbis insist that no adultery is committed when men listen to the songs being sung. The Haredim obviously have rejected and condemned this accommodation and to date have refused to listen to Arutz 7. Even more importantly, the Haredim, after increasing somewhat their political power in the 1988 elections, were able to impose their position in this regard upon the whole state by forcing a change in the opening of the new Knesset session. The opening ceremony previously began with the singing of "Hatikva," the Israeli national anthem, by a mixed male-female choir. After the 1988 election, in deference to Haredi sensitivities, a male singer replaced the mixed choir. After the 1992 election, won by Labor, an all-male choir of the Military Rabbinate sang "Hatikva."
How can the Haredim, who altogether constitute only a small percentage of Israel's Jewish population, at times, either alone or even with the help of the NRP, impose their will upon the rest of society? The facile explanation is that both the Labor and Likud parties kowtow to the Haredim for political support. This explanation is insufficient. The kowtowing continued between 1984 and 1990 during the time that Labor and Likud had formed a coalition. Currying favor from the Haredim for alignment purposes was then politically unnecessary. The offered explanation, furthermore, does not adequately take into account the special affinity of all the religious parties, perceived since 1980 as fundamentalist, to Likud and other secular right-wing parties. This affinity, especially between Likud and the Haredi religious parties, based upon a shared world outlook, is at the crux of Israeli politics. (This affinity is analogous to that existing between Christian and Muslim fundamentalists and their secular right parties.) The relatively simple case of the NRP illustrates this well. The NRP recognizes, although does not always follow, the same halachic authorities as do the Haredi parties. The NRP also adheres to the same ideals relating to the Jewish past and, more importantly, to the future when Israel's triumph over the non-Jews will allegedly be secure. The differences between the NRP and the Haredim stem from the NRP's belief that redemption has begun and will soon be completed by the imminent coming of the Messiah. The Haredim do not share this belief. The NRP believes that special circumstances at the beginning of redemption justify temporary departures from the ideal that could help advance the process of redemption. NRP support in some situations for military service for talmudic scholars is a relevant example here. These deviant NRP ideas have been undermined since the 1970s by the expanding Haredi influence upon increasing numbers of NRP followers who have resisted departures from strict talmudic norms and have favored Haredi positions. This process has been counter-balanced to some extent by the growth in prestige of the NRP settlers who are esteemed as pioneers of messianism even though the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a messianist may have momentarily increased Haredi prestige.
The religious influence upon the Israeli right-wing of Israel B is attributable both to its militaristic character and its widely shared world outlook. Secular and militaristic right-wing, Israeli Jews hold political views and engage in rhetoric similar to that of religious Jews. For most Likud followers, "Jewish blood" is the reason why Jews are in a different category than non-Jews, including, of course, even those non-Jews who are Israeli citizens and who serve in the Israeli army. For religious Jews, the blood of non-Jews has no intrinsic value; for Likud, it has limited value. Menachem Begin's masterful use of such rhetoric about Gentiles brought him votes and popularity and thus constitutes a case in point. The difference in this respect between Labor and Likud is rhetorical but is nevertheless important in that it reveals part of a world outlook. In 1982, for example, when the Israeli army occupied Beirut, Rabin representing Labor, although advocating the same policies as favored by Sharon and Likud, did not explain the Sabra and Shatila Camp massacres by stating, as did Begin: "Gentiles kill Gentiles and blame the Jews." Even if Rabin had himself been capable of saying this, he knew that most of his secular supporters in Labor, who distinguish between Gentiles who hate Jews and those who do not, would not have tolerated such a statement. They would have repudiated such rhetoric as being both untrue and harmful.
Religious influence is evident in the right's general reverence for the Jewish past and its insistence that Jews have an historic right to an expanded Israel extending beyond its present borders. More than other secular Israelis, members of the Israeli right insist upon Jewish uniqueness. During many centuries of their existence, the great majority of Jews were similar in some ways to the present-day Haredim. Thus, those Jews who today revere the Jewish past as evidence of Jewish uniqueness respect to some extent religious Jews as perpetuators of that past. An essential part of the right's emphasis upon uniqueness is its hatred of the concept of "normality," that is, that Jews are similar to other people and have the same desire for stability as do other nations. Some cultural affinities between secular and religious Jews of the Israeli right are not primarily ideological. Many Likud supporters, whether Sephardic or Ashkenazi in origin, are traditionalists; they view rabbis as glamorous figures and are affected by childhood memories of the patriarchal family in which education was dominated by the grandfather and the women "knew their place." Although most pronounced in those of the religious vanguard, such considerations also affect secular Jews of the right. The right often exaggerates the beauty and superiority of the Jewish past, especially when arguing for the preservation of Jewish uniqueness.
The religious and secular members of the right share fears as well as beliefs. In an October 6, 1993, article, published in Haaretz, Israel's most prestigious daily Hebrew-Ianguage newspaper, Doron Rosenblum, relying upon varied sources, illustrated this by quoting pronouncements of Likud leaders that were designed to show Israelis the grave nature and risks of the peace process and at the same time to continue the boasting that Likud had initiated the process.
Rosenblum quoted the following statement by Likud Member of the Knesset (MK) Uzi Landau, who after the 1996 elections was appointed chairperson of the Knesset Committee for Defense and Foreign Affairs:
If Rabin's policies toward Syria are followed, one morning they [Israeli Jews] will awaken to see columns of Syrian tanks descending from the Golan Heights like herds of sheep ... The settlements of the Galilee will then be attacked by fire-power stronger than that used in [the war of] 1973 ... Since the idea of extermination of Israelis remains a topic in the Syrian consciousness ... any [Israeli] withdrawal from the Golan Heights will only precipitate the moment that the Syrian knife will approach the throat of every inhabitant of the Galilee ... Syrian policies are fixed by a genetic code not subject to rapid changes.
Apparently keeping to its double-standard approach, the Western media, which would almost certainly have blasted any non-Jewish politician for attributing Israeli policies to a Jewish genetic code not subject to rapid changes, avoided commenting upon the Landau statement.
Rosenblum also quoted MK Benny Begin, a major Likud leader, who expressed the fear that Syria would make a frontal attack upon Israel. This fear is commonly expressed by members of most Israeli political parties. What is characteristic of Israel B, however, is that, as Benny Begin specifically declared, the aims of a Syrian invasion will be the same as "the aims of Pogromists of Kishinev to cut Jewish throats."2 Begin added that this time nuclear scientists would help in the Syrian venture. Comparing the unarmed Jewish community, a small minority in the Russian Empire, with Israel and its army illustrates a common attitude to the Jewish past held by the secular right-wing Israeli parties and the religious Jews. This attitude takes no cognizance of historical development. Jews in whatever condition are always the real or potential victims of Gentiles.
Rosenblum, who is a member of Israel A, perceived all such imagery as incongruous. Observing that Landau regarded the Syrians as sheep, he asked: "Can it be that he [Landau] means to say that we are wolves?" Rosenblum then offered his analysis of why this rhetoric has nevertheless been so persuasive:
The suspicion is long-standing that members of the national camps [that is, the secular right] use power-mad rhetoric to cover their subliminal existential fear of the entire world. This fear was not dispelled in the slightest when the state of Israel was founded. Labor, in spite of all its faults, has succeeded by whatever means to cast aside such fear and replace it with a constructive and pragmatic world outlook. Likud, which resumed its historical note with ease, has not.
Those chauvinistic Jews who speak with utmost confidence about Israel's power and ability to impose its will upon the Middle East are most susceptible to such fears. The same people who predict that a second Holocaust will almost immediately occur if Israel makes any concession to the Arabs also often state categorically that the Israeli army, if not restrained by politicians, by Americans, or by leftist Jews, could conquer Baghdad within one week. (Ariel Sharon actually made this claim a few months before the outbreak of the October 1973 war.) The fear and the self-confidence co-exist harmoniously. The belief in Jewish uniqueness enhances this co-existence. Most foreign observers do not realize that a sizeable segment of the Israeli Jewish public holds these chauvinistic views. The schizophrenic blend of inordinate fears and exaggerated self-confidence, common to the Israeli secular right and religious Jews, resembles ideas held by anti-Semites who usually view Jews as being at the same time both powerful and easy to defeat. This is one of the reasons why attitudes of Israeli right-wing individuals toward the Gentiles, especially toward the Arabs, resemble so closely the attitudes of anti-Semites toward the Jews.
The secular right and the religious Jews also share other fears. They fear the West and its public opinion. They fear and condemn Jewish leftists, a term sufficiently broad to include most Labor followers, for not being sufficiently Jewish, for preferring Arabs to Jews and for living lives of delusion. They view the left as dangerous because of its ability to attract new recruits, especially from the ranks of the country's intellectual elite.
The issue of normalcy most divides the Israeli right from the left. The left longs for normalcy and wants Jews to be a nation like all other nations. The entire Israeli right, on the other hand, is united in its resentment of the idea of normalcy and its belief, along the lines of the Jewish religion, that Jews are exceptional--different from other people and nations. Reverence for the national past allegedly solidifies this uniqueness. Religious Jews believe that God made the Jews unique; many of the secular right believe that Jews are doomed to be unique by their past and have no free choice in this matter.
Another, but somewhat less important, reason for the affinity between the secular right and religious Jews is that the latter are capable of providing "convincing" arguments for perpetual Jewish rule over the land of Israel and for the denial of certain basic rights to the Palestinians. These arguments are not only put in terms of national security but more importantly in terms of the God-given right to these territories. The secular Likud scholars and politicians are often far too alienated from the Jewish past and Jewish values to talk competently, or indeed even to understand properly, such matters. Only the religious can provide an in-depth rationale for Likud's policies, which are grounded not in short-term strategic considerations but rather in the long history of the special relationship between God and his chosen people.
Although far more intense among members of Israel B, these same sentiments can be discerned among members of Israel A. This fact provides the explanation for the political concessions made to the religious parties. (Foreign observers have too often incorrectly attributed these concessions merely to the size and/or the lobbying power of the religious parties.) These sentiments have also affected Jewish historiography and education. Since the late 1950s, and especially after the 1967 war, Israeli Jewish historians, scholars in allied fields and popularizers, although generally less dishonest in their writings than most of their diaspora colleagues, have too often unduly beautified and romanticized past Jewish societies and have carefully avoided normal criticism. This type of apologia constituted a new trend. From the late nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century, early Zionists and others in modern Jewish movements were severely critical of many aspects of their own religious cultural tradition and tried to change, in many cases even to destroy, parts of that tradition. Since the late 1980s, some younger Israeli historians, perhaps prompted by a growing polarization of Israeli Jewish society, have written and published some critical works that have shaken to some extent the still current apologetic trend.
The comparison of the world outlook and fears of the secular right with those of the Haredim requires more explanation. Standard Haredic perceptions of the world can only be understood as relics of pre-modern times. Menachem Friedman, a Westernized observant Jew, a highly regarded authority on the Haredim in both mandatory Palestine and the state of Israel and a professor at the religious Bar-Ilan University, provided an excellent description of these Haredic perceptions in a Davar article published on November 4, 1988. Friedman wrote this article to explain the electoral fiasco that developed from the unsuccessful attempt of some candidates on the religious list of 1988 to advocate some moderation regarding the treatment of Palestinians. Friedman explained:
The Haredi world is Judeocentric. The essence of Haredi thought is the notion of an abyss separating the Jews from the Gentiles. This is why any coalition between Labor and Haredi doves is impossible. There actually is no such thing as a Haredi dove. People who speak about the Haredi world usually do not know how to read its signs. They do not understand that world nor its prominent personalities. The distance between Haredi doves and hawks is not great. Haredi doves and hawks share a common point of departure. Both see the relationship between non-Jews and Jews as they had seen them before Israel was established. They assume that non-Jews and Jews are poles apart. Non-Jews want to kill and destroy the Jews; the rightful differences between Jews should only be about how they should react to the ever-present non-Jewish desire. Currently, these are two alternative Haredi reactions to that common assumption. Rabbi Shach [the spiritual leader of one of the two Haredi factions] says that since the non-Jews hate us we need to keep quiet and refrain from provoking them by not reminding them of our existence. The Lubovitcher Rebbe says that we should be strong. [The Lubovitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, died in 1992.] Those are two alternative answers, both arising from the common concept that a gap separates Jews from non-Jews. Rabbi Shach is not a dove in the same sense as Shulamit Aloni [a former Meretz Party leader] is a dove. Aloni is a dove, because she believes in a humanism that emphasizes the fundamental equality of all human beings and nations and the capability of different human beings and nations to communicate. Rabbi Shach believes that communicating with non-Jews is not possible and that they may only be able to forget that Jews exist. The Lubovitcher Rebbe states that we should be strong in order to defend ourselves against the non-Jews who always want to destroy us. [The difference between the two leaders] can be illustrated by their respective attitudes toward the peace [treaty] with Egypt. They both say that there is no peace and there can never be one, because the Egyptians want to exterminate us. Rabbi Shach, however, adds that we should try to minimize Jewish casualties] by keeping quiet. The Lubovitcher Rebbe says that, because the peace does not exist in any case, we should refuse to make any concessions. The Haredi dove does not believe in any kind of peace, and, therefore, all the talk about a narrow coalition, headed by Labor [and including Haredim] is completely baseless.
Subsequent political developments in Israel, including the election of Netanyahu in May 1996, have confirmed the truth of Professor Friedman's analysis. From another Haredi perspective Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph, the spiritual authority of the Shas Party, corroborated this article. Rabbi Yoseph argued in a September 18, 1989 article in Yated Ne'eman that since Israel is too weak to demolish all Christian churches in the Holy Land it is also too weak to retain all the conquered territories. Using this reasoning, Rabbi Yoseph advocated that Israel make territorial concessions in order to avert a war in which Jewish lives will be lost. Rabbi Yoseph did not mention Palestinians nor even their most rudimentary rights. The Haredi world view is similar to the view held by the Israeli secular right. The world view of Likud politicians, enthusiastically supported by followers, is basically the classic world view of religious Jews; it has undergone significant secularization but has kept its essential qualities.
The alliance between the religious and secular parties of the right produced the Netanyahu victory in the 1996 election. This alliance was forged in spite of two deep political differences between the parties. The first difference concerns democracy, especially as illustrated by the structure of Israeli parties; the second difference revolves around Zionism.
All Israeli political parties except for the Haredi were and remain structured along the lines of parties in Western countries, especially those in the United States. Most of the Israeli parties, for example, introduced primaries in order to choose their candidates for the Knesset elections. The Haredi party structure, however, is different and peculiar, perhaps analogous only to what has happened in Iran. All the Haredi parties have a two-tier structure. The tier that is lower in importance includes the acting politicians, who, even if they are ministers or Knesset members, humbly profess in public that they are merely serving the party's rabbinical sage councils whom they consult for directions before making any decisions. None of the Haredi politicians of any one party accept direction from rabbinical councils of other Haredi parties. The councils' deliberations are kept secret; their decisions are not subject to any appeal since they are regarded as divinely inspired. The council members are not elected either by rabbis or lay people. If a council member dies, his successor is appointed by the remaining members. The rabbinical members of Haredi party councils, usually referred to by their followers as sages, make all decisions and view with suspicion the usual party structure, because it is viewed as innovative and modern. The modern political party structure, including membership, branches, internal elections and a host of other items that exist in the NRP, is totally absent in the Haredi parties. The disagreement and sometimes even hatreds of one another by Haredi parties stem from recognition of different rabbinical "sages" as final authorities. The Haredi political structure has preserved a male monopoly. To date, there have been no female Haredi politicians. Haredi disunity has prevented more rapid Haredization of parts of Israeli society. Structure similar to the Haredi was common in Jewish commmunities from the second century of the common era until the abolition of Jewish communal autonomy in modern nation states. The aim of Haredi practices has been and still is to preserve the Jewish way of life as it existed prior to modern times. Haredi parties, in their attempt to preserve an ancient Jewish regime, have to date constituted a political backlash directed against the tide of modernity that engulfed the NRP. The Haredi reaction, like many others, is often disguised as a romantic desire to return to a past that was allegedly happier and more emotionally secure for Jews than the modern life with its doubts and uncertainties. The Haredi-indoctrinated community strives to suppress all doubts of members and believes that happiness is thus achieved.
The disagreement between Haredim and most other Israeli Jews over Zionism is complex. The Haredim and the Zionists agree about the centrally important Zionist principle that anti-Semitism is an eternal quality common to all non-Jews and is different from xenophobia and/or any hatred of other minorities. This view is, of course, similar to that held of Jews by anti-Semites. (This similarity probably accounts for the political contact between some Zionists, beginning with Herzl, and "moderate" anti-Semites, who only wanted to rid their societies of Jews or limit the numbers of Jews in their societies without killing them.) The views concerning and the fears of anti-Semitism shared by the secular right and the Haredim accord with this central principle of Zionism better than do the views currently held by the left Labor and Meretz parties, which are frequently accused by Likud of not being sufficiently Zionist.
Haredi ideology nevertheless clashes with Zionism on certain other principles. Two major examples are the Zionist aims to concentrate all Jews, or as many as possible, in and to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. These aims or dogmas contradict the Haredi interpretations of the Talmud and talmudic commentaries. Because of the perceived contradiction, Haredim have consistently proclaimed, and still proclaim, their strong opposition to Zionism; they claim that the state of Israel is merely another diaspora for Jews, and they avoid using Zionist symbols. Every Israeli political party other than the Haredi, including the NRP, end or begin their conventions with the singing of "Hatikva," the Israeli national and the world Zionist movement anthem; the Haredi parties and organizations do not do this but instead recite Jewish prayers. The media often condemns the Haredim for not singing "Hatikva" on official occasions. At all international Zionist conventions held in Israel only the Israeli flag is displayed. At Haredi conventions held in Israel all flags of the nation states from which delegates came, including Israel, are displayed in alphabetical order.
The Haredi objection to Zionism is based upon the contradiction between classical Judaism, of which the Haredim are the continuators, and Zionism. Numerous Zionist historians have unfortunately obfuscated the issues here. Some detailed explanation is therefore necessary. In a famous talmudic passage in Tractate Ketubot, page 111, which is echoed in other parts of the Talmud, God is said to have imposed three oaths on the Jews. Two of these oaths that clearly contradict Zionist tenets are: 1) Jews should not rebel against non-Jews, and 2) as a group should not massively emigrate to Palestine before the coming of the Messiah. (The third oath, not discussed here, enjoins the Jews not to pray too strongly for the coming of the Messiah, so as not to bring him before his appointed time.) During the course of post-talmudic Jewish history, rabbis extensively discussed the three oaths. Of major concern in this discussion was the question of whether or not specific Jewish emigration to Palestine was part of the forbidden massive emigration. During the past 1,500 years, the great majority of traditional Judaism's most important rabbis interpreted the three oaths and the continued existence of the Jews in exile as religious obligations intended to expiate the Jewish sins that caused God to exile them.
In recent years, a number of Israeli Jewish scholars, who in general have developed a more honest Jewish historiography, have focused upon the essence of rabbinical interpretations of the three oaths. In his highly regarded scholarly book, Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism (published in Hebrew in Israel in 1993), Aviezer Ravitzky, for example, provided a good summary of rabbinical interpretations of the three oaths from the fifth century AD (or CE--Common Era). In his analysis Ravitzky noted that in the ninth century Rabbi Shmuel, son of Hosha'ana, an important leader of Palestinian Jewry, in a poetic prayer quoted the following as God's words. "I took the oath of my people not to rebel against Christians and Muslims, told them to be silent until I myself will overturn them as I did in Sodom." In the thirteenth century during the time that some rabbis and poets emigrated to Palestine for religious reasons,3 Ravitzky continued, other rabbis in many parts of the world quoted the three oaths theory to warn against the spread of this potentially dangerous phenomenon. Rabbi Eliezer, son of Moshe, the spiritual leader of a Jewish congregation in Wurtzburg, Germany, in the thirteenth century warned Jews who wrongly emigrated to Palestine that God would punish them with death. At about the same time, Rabbi Ezra of Gerona, Spain, a famous cabbalist, wrote that a Jew emigrating to Palestine forsakes God who is only present in the diaspora, where a majority of Jews live, and not in Palestine. In his book Ravitzky stressed that similar and even more extreme views continued to be expressed until the nineteenth century. The celebrated German rabbi, Yehonathan Eibshutz, wrote in the mid-eighteenth century that massive immigration of Jews to Palestine, even with the consent of all the nations of the world, was prohibited before the coming of the Messiah. In the early nineteenth century, Moses Mendelsohn and other supporters of the Jewish Enlightenment, as well as their opponents such as Rabbi Rafael Hirsch, the father of modern orthodoxy in Germany, agreed and continued to derive this prohibition from the three oaths. Hirsch wrote in 1837 that God had commanded Jews "never to establish a state of their own by their own efforts." Rabbis in Central Europe were even more extreme. In 1837, the same year that Hirsch prohibited Jews from declaring a Jewish state, an earthquake in northern Palestine killed a majority of the inhabitants of Safad, of which many were Jews, some of whom had recently immigrated. Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, a leading Hungarian rabbi, attributed the earthquake to God's displeasure with excessive Jewish emigration to Palestine. Teitelbaum stated: "It is not God's will that we should go to the land of Israel by our own efforts and will." Rabbi Moshe Nachmanides, who died in 1270, was the one exceptional Jewish leader who opined that Jews should not only emigrate to but should also conquer the land of Israel. Other important rabbis of that time and for many centuries thereafter ignored or strongly disagreed with the view of Nachmanides.
In the 1970s, seven centuries after his death, Nachmanides became the patron saint of the NRP and the Gush Emunim settlers. NRP rabbis also have claimed that the three oaths do not apply in messianic times and that, although the Messiah has not yet appeared, a cosmic process called the beginning of redemption has begun. During this period some of the previous religious laws should allegedly be disregarded; others should be changed. Thus, the dispute between the NRP and the Haredim has centered upon the issue of whether Jews are living in normal times or in the period of the beginning of redemption. Having made some political gains and becoming more self-confident after the 1988 national election, the Haredim strengthened their principled opposition to Zionism and to the NRP. In 1989, the two most important Haredi rabbis, Rabbi Shach and Rabbi Yoseph, held an anti-Zionist convention in Bnei Brak, Israel. Their speeches, devoted to expressions of principled opposition to Zionism and the beginning of redemption doctrine, were published in the Haredi newspaper, Yated Ne'eman, on September 18, 1989. The two rabbis from an halachic perspective also addressed the vital Israeli political issue of whether some areas of the land of Israel should be given to non-Jews, that is, to Palestinians. They refuted the NRP and Gush Emunim view that in accordance with the beginning of redemption no land of Israel should be given to non-Jews. Rabbi Yoseph and Shach argued that Jews still live in normal times when visible help of God cannot always be expected to save Jewish lives.
Rabbi Yoseph, renowned for his halachic erudition, presented in-depth analysis and correctly noted that Rabbi Shach here agreed fully with him. Rabbi Yoseph began by disagreeing with the NRP and Gush Emunim rabbis who argued that the beginning of redemptit1n and God's commandment to conquer the land of Israel were more important than the saving of Jewish lives that would be lost in the war of conquest. Rabbi Yoseph acknowledged that in messianic times Jews would be more powerful than non-Jews and would then be obligated to conquer the land of Israel, to expel all non-Jews and to destroy the idolatrous Christian churches. Rabbi Yoseph, however, asserted that the messianic time of redemption had not yet arrived. He wrote:
The Jews are not in fact more powerful than the non-Jews and are unable to expel the non-Jews from the land of Israel because the Jews fear the non-Jews ... God's commandment is then not valid ... Even non-Jews who are idolaters live among us with no possibility of their being expelled or even moved. The Israeli government is obligated by international law to guard the Christian churches in the land of Israel, even though those churches are definitely places of idolatry and cult practice. This is so in spite of the fact that we are commanded by our [religious] law to destroy all idolatry and its servants until we uproot it from all parts of our land and any areas that we are able to conquer ... Surely, this fact continues to weaken the religious meaning of the Israeli army's conquests [in 1967].
The quotation cited above illustrates well a part of Israel's realpolitik. Before the 1996 election, both Peres and Netanyahu regarded Rabbi Yoseph as an important political figure and often courted him openly. This was done in spite of Yoseph's publicly declared doctrine that Jews, when sufficiently powerful, have a religious obligation to expel all non-Jews from the country and destroy all Christian churches. Leftists and most peace advocates in Israel lauded Yoseph and Shach for agreeing to withdrawal from the occupied territories but neglected to mention and actually suppressed the major thrust of the Yoseph and Shach position. For the most part the Western media avoided reporting the most essential points of the Yoseph speech. The reality here is that the Yoseph-Shach view constitutes one part of the hawkish heart of Israeli politics.
In his speech Rabbi Yoseph also acknowledged the halachic prohibition of selling real estate to non-Jews in the land of Israel, but he limited this prohibition to a time when doing so would not cause the loss of Jewish life. In the same manner he dealt with the issue of whether Jews should trust only in the hope of God's help or should take their own precautions against danger or war. Yoseph contended that this issue is analogous to the question of whether a Jew who is ill on Yom Kippur should be given food to save his or her life. In the latter case, according to Rabbi Yoseph, the Jew who is ill should be given food even if the medical experts disagree with one another about the danger to life that would exist if the fast were observed. Following this line of reasoning, Rabbi Yoseph opined that, even if the military experts disagreed with one another as to whether withdrawal from the territories would avert war, the government should order withdrawal. Rabbi Yoseph, not influenced by the trusting-in-God argument, pointed out that Jews had been killed in previous wars and that the miraculous coming of the Messiah establishing God's rule over the world would occur without the loss of a single Jewish life. Rabbi Yoseph also noted that the state of Israel is filled with Jewish sinners who provoke God. He quoted numerous rabbinical authorities who agreed with him that the three oaths were still valid.
Rabbi Yoseph's view did not interest Rabin, Peres or Netanyahu. His dazzling display of erudition, occupying three large pages of small print, moreover, did not convince a single NRP rabbi. Rabbis Yoseph and Shach, who a bit later became enemies, continued to oppose Zionism and the beginning of redemption doctrine; they continued to advocate their variety of Jewish fundamentalism and to command the allegiance in 1996 of fourteen members of the 120-member Knesset. Rabbi Shach, who is more extreme in his opposition to Zionism than is Rabbi Yoseph, prohibited the Knesset members of his political party, Yahadut Ha'Torah, from becoming ministers in Netanyahu's Zionist government. Shach, however, ordered his party's Knesset members to support the Netanyahu government. Netanyahu rewarded Yahadut Ha'Torah by creatively giving it control of the ministry of housing. Netanyahu made himself the housing minister and signed almost blindly anything submitted by Deputy Minister Ravitz of the Yahadut Ha'Torah Party. This procedure was obviously employed to obviate the necessity of Yahadut Ha'Torah's formally joining a Zionist government while nevertheless enjoying its benefits. Contrary to Rabbi Shach, Rabbi Yoseph ordered members of his party to become ministers in the Netanyahu government. These facts illustrated the political importance of Rabbis Yoseph's and Shach's views.
Rabbi Yoseph's clearly expressed views on the territories not only reflect the Haredi view but also clearly resemble a great part of the actual foreign policy of the state of Israel. Rabbi Yoseph has argued that Jews have a religious duty to expel all Christians from the state of Israel only if doing so would not endanger Jewish life. Rabbi Yoseph has postulated that any Jewish concessions to non-Jews in the state of Israel has to be based solely upon the consideration of whether denial thereof could prove harmful for Jews. Rabbi Yoseph would almost certainly have favored a permanent occupation of all the territories if he were convinced that this would not provoke Arabs to harm Jews. Israeli governmental leaders with almost full support of Israeli Jews believed after the June 1967 war that the Arabs were incapable of harming Israel and therefore refused to make any concessions. Only after suffering grievous losses in the October 1973 war, and fearing another war, did the government of the state of Israel, again with almost the full support of Israeli Jews, agreed to return the Sinai to Egypt. In 1983, even after the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, the Israeli leaders contemplated permanent occupation of one-third of Lebanon and domination of the remaining two-thirds. Sharon concluded a peace treaty, based upon those terms, with the then puppet Lebanese government. The guerilla warfare, conducted by the Lebanese in 1984 and 1985, which resulted in consistent Israeli casualties, caused the Israeli leaders to abandon those plans and to retreat. Israeli foreign policy, although usually conceived and conducted by secular Jews, has to date displayed an essence derived in part from the Jewish religious past. Indeed, the Zionist movement, which underwent a partial secularization, also kept many basic Jewish religious principles. Rabbi Yoseph, Ben-Gurion, Sharon and all major Israeli politicians share a common ground in policy advocacy.
1. Some Israeli Jews refuse to enter a synagogue as a principled protest against the Jewish religion; this phenomenon is rarely found in non-Israeli Jewish communities but can be compared to the attitude of some radicals to Christianity, for example, in France.
2. The Kishinev pogrom in 1903 in the Ukraine section of the Russian Empire was the first major pogrom in eastern Europe after a lapse of many years. Kishinev became the symbolic term of and for murders of Jews everywhere.
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