What are they Crying About?
By Moshe Feiglin
Translated from the Makor Rishon newspaper
It is difficult for us to understand the ultra-Orthodox reaction to its exclusion from the government coalition. After all, that’s how it goes in politics: Sometimes you are in, sometimes you are out. For many long years, the ultra-Orthodox were in the coalition and the Religious Zionists were out. Now they have changed places. So what? Why all the lamenting, cries of despair and threats of destruction of the settlements, G-d forbid?
Everybody who boasts some common sense knows that nobody is going to send the yeshiva boys to prison camps and nobody seriously learning Torah is going to have to stop. What is causing such an exaggerated ultra-Orthodox reaction? It doesn’t make them look very good, so why throw years of friendly cooperation into the trashcan? Why incite baseless hatred in their constituency? What is going on here?
To understand the ultra-Orthodox, Religious Zionists must remember how they felt and reacted after the Expulsion from Gush Katif. “How can you possibly compare the two?” you may want to ask. “Entire communities were razed in Gush Katif and with the ultra-Orthodox, it is simply a questions of politics.”
That is true. The destruction experienced by the Religious Zionists was entirely real and the pain of the expelled – unbearable. But the intensity of the grief and the Religious Zionist reaction to the Expulsion were much more than simple sharing in the pain of those driven from their homes. Settlements were destroyed before Gush Katif and subsequently, as well.
In Gush Katif something much bigger than houses was destroyed. It seemed that what was destroyed there was ideology. That was the source of the deep pain and grief. That was what motivated the lamentation and the heartbreaking images; images like the picture of the Netzarim expellees carrying the menorah from their synagogue, creating an immediate association with the image of the menorah from the Beit Hamikdash being carried by the Jews exiled from Jerusalem.
That same destruction of ideology is what is being experienced now by the ultra Orthodox. Interestingly, the reaction of the Religious Zionists then and the ultra-Orthodox now are amazingly similar.
Until the expulsion from Gush Katif, the Religious Zionists still believed that the redemption process was on “automatic pilot.” True, there were some malfunctions here and there – some of them major- but they could be explained away or ignored. In Yamit, Israel succumbed to the enticement of ‘peace’ and Oslo could be blamed on the Left. But when the Expulsion took place, Yair Lapid explained that “We had to teach you a lesson.” In other words, we drove you from your homes and destroyed your communities because we – the mainstream of the return to Zion – are simply unwilling to accept your interpretation, your ideology and your Rabbi Kook. So please get out of our sight and let us live our daily lives without your unbearable messianism.
That is why we cried. We cried bitterly. Not only about Gush Katif. We cried because they threw us out, threw out our belongings after us and slammed the door shut – and life in Israel continued as if nothing had happened. It was much more than Gush Katif: It was the ideological breaking point and humiliation. The tears were meant to make our mainstream “father and mother” open the door for us once again.
Now that we understand what happened to the Religious Zionists, we can understand what the ultra-Orthodox are experiencing. Certainly not with the same intensity, for to them, Zionism is much less a father and mother than to the Religious Zionists. But it is the same insult, based on the ultra-Orthodox feeling of belonging to the State. The Neturai Karta sect, for example, vociferously opposed to the State, was not insulted at all.
In other words, the more insulted the ultra-Orthodox are, the more they show how much they belong to the collective. And that is good news.
The ultra-Orthodox were also on a sort of automatic pilot. Their society did not talk about the redemptive process and all sorts of glorious concepts. They simply waited for Mashiach. They learned Torah, fulfilled the directive to settle the Land of Israel in their own way and protected their communities from the winds of heresy with all their might. The irreverent Zionists who suddenly decided to play at state-making reshuffled all their cards. After all, it cannot be that the Mashiach wears an Israeli farmer’s hat. For the ultra-Orthodox, a serene prayer at the Western Wall under the enlightened flag of her majesty is ten times better than the unnecessary wars that the ‘shgotzim’ brought upon us.
But somehow, their logic continues, the ‘shgotzim’ actually established a successful state. And to prove how serious they were, they even asked us to join in on the democratic game. Now that you have engaged us against our will in a state that we do not want, we will try to salvage as much as possible for our communities.
At first, it seemed that the competing religious ideology that viewed Zionism as a positive development was flourishing. The National Religious Party had 12 Knesset seats; they controlled the religious institutions; they were the source for Israel’s Chief Rabbis and engaged in dialogue with the State. The ultra Orthodox approach seemed to have reached its end.
But then everything changed. The Religious Zionists began to sink, their rabbis looked to the ultra Orthodox rabbis for approval, their political institutions became increasingly less influential, the State scorned them and their leaders paid homage to the rabbis in ultra Orthodox Bnei Brak – and not to the rabbis in Religious Zionist Kiryat Moshe.
For an entire generation, it seemed that the ultra Orthodox ideology was more realistic. The proof of that was Aryeh Deri’s consistent observation that no government could be formed without Shas – true, until the past elections. And then it turned out that a government could be formed without Shas –with those very same Religious Zionists whose influence had almost dissipated.
That is how the ultra-Orthodox ideological self-confidence evaporated –to be replaced by cries of pain and insult. It is always easiest to blame the rest of the world and not to make an accounting of your own ideology. That’s fine. The Religious Zionists did the same thing. But ultimately, reality prevails.
Because in truth, the Religious Zionist ideology was not destroyed. Its foundations were genuine. Those foundations also exist in ultra-Orthodox ideology.
The Religious Zionists correctly understand the redemptive process. But their abundance of love caused them to relate to the State as a means and not as an end. Danger! From this point, it is very easy to descend into ‘soft fascism.” It is a type of idol worship, as the halachic decisions made by some Religious Zionist rabbis obligating soldiers to obey orders to drive Jews from their homes testify. When the individual belongs to the State and not vice versa; when the State is both father and mother to its citizens, the resulting crisis is just a matter of time.
For their part, the ultra-Orthodox correctly understand the danger of the state – any state. But they completely miss the redemptive process, leaving themselves outside of history and even outside of society.
Just as the Gush Katif crisis opened the Religious Zionists up to their surrounding Israelis, creating diversity and new options, the same will happen now to the ultra-Orthodox. Everybody will gain from this process – first and foremost, the State of Israel and Israeli society.
The State of Israel is stuck: Not only does it not have an answer for the missiles from Gaza. Bereft of its faith, it is incapable of dealing with all the deep-level challenges of our era. That faith exists among believers of all stripes and all ideologies who will rise out of the crises to create a faith-based Israeli culture – a new type of vision.