Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hitnatkut II

Continued from Part I

Within the Dati Leumi, or national religious movement, of which I am a part, the fabric of society is still seriously tattered. Unlike other Jewish religious groups who rejected secular Zionism due to the sneering anti-religious attitudes of its early leaders, the Dati Leumi community embraced certain truly Jewish concepts within the Zionist movement, including the mitzvot (Torah commandments) for social harmony and the settling of the land, while leaving the secularism, which they regarded as nonsense, in the garbage. Dati Leumi Jews, who comprise by some estimates around 7% of Israel’s population serve in the army and fill the ranks of the best combat units comprise over half of the officer corps. But since the Hitnatkut, attitudes towards the state are changing, as Sasha and Yitzchak tried to explain on my recent visit to Harsina.
"Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu," Sasha says, referring to the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and present spiritual leader of the Dati Leumi community, "instructed religious soldiers that if they followed these orders they would be committing a serious aveirah (violating a commandment.) The army told us that if we disobeyed orders we would be sent to prison. You must understand how conflicted we felt. It's a mitzvah to serve in the army and protect the nation. But the army was now being used to destroy the settlements."
"Well, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner," Yitzchak counters, referring to the respected Head of the Ateret Cohanim Yeshivah in the old city of Jerusalem, "said that we must obey orders, even if we are crying while we do it. It's similar to observing Shabbat (sabbath.) Ideally, the entire Jewish people would keep Shabbat, but we would never force them to. Once the nation made the decision to commit this aveirah, we couldn't force them not to, we could only do everything in our power to convince them of their mistake."
"If I see a Jew who isn't keeping Shabbat," Sasha answers, "I try to convince him of his mistake, but I don't force him. But if the government tells me to violate Shabbat, then I must refuse, no matter what. They were forcing us to violate the commandment to settle the land."
"But," Yitzhak counters, "if we tell them that we refuse to follow orders because we don't agree with them, then suppose a leftist soldier who is opposed to the settlements refuses to protect them? Can soldiers choose their missions? The army would fall apart."
In the end, only a few soldiers disobeyed orders. It's still a source of bitterness between the rabbis who advocated for and against refusal, as well as between the soldiers and their religious leaders.
The most deeply felt sense of betrayal, however, is directed towards greater Israeli society. Sure, there were the sniveling few sniveling surrender-monkey elites who got all the media attention, but most of the nation should have been on board. Conservative and religious newspapers predicted massive protests, refusals, strikes, and virtual civil war to prevent the Hitnatkut. When the time came to take to the streets, there certainly were the protests, roadblocks, and piles of burning tires across the country, but they were carried out by the same activists who show up to all the other demonstrations. The strongest stance most Israelis took was to curse at the images on their television screens. The massive cities in the center with idealistic names like “Rishon Letzion” (first in Zion), and “Petach Tikvah” (Opening of Hope,) founded a century ago by small bands of idealistic pioneers just like those in Gaza, had long since extinguished their Zionist flame. The values inculcated in the settlements; raising large families, building the land, and forging a connection to history, values once held by most Israelis, were now outdated. The settlers who thought themselves the locomotive pulling the rest of the Zionist train up the mountain realized that they had disengaged from the train, which was sliding back down the hill.
Many had to rethink the relationship a religious Jew should have to the state. As my neighbor Tzvi put it, "My son trained for years in high school to go into an elite unit as soon as he graduated. Now that he's graduated, he decided to delay enlistment for a year and learn in yeshivah. After all, what's the point of trying to be the best when you're just going to be dragging people out of their homes?"

To Be Continued...

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