Thursday, April 20, 2017

The “Bayit Yehudi” Party is a Home without a Mezuzah

By HaRav Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

In my eyes, the month of Iyar which begins this week is the month of Zionism in general, and specifically religious Zionism. In this month political Zionism is represented by Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Independence Day), and the religious sector reached a new level with the advent of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Liberation Day). This sector, which was put to shame by a marginal scribe in the newspaper Ha’aretz (who was duly followed by the editor), is in fact alive and well, and can often be seen “kicking.” It evidently brings out such emotions as jealousy and even hatred. Religious Zionism is deeply entwined in all walks of life in Israel, except for its basic foundational issue, which is known as “religion and the state.” (Note that I prefer to use the term, “Judaism and the state.”)

Classic Religious Zionism

From my earliest memories, I was educated along the lines of organized religious Zionism, which was the soul of the now defunct Mafdal, a political party which fought to implant a Jewish face on the State of Israel . This was one of its banners, which inspired thousands of youths just like me, above and beyond such issues as nationalism, settlements, integration into all the sectors of the new nation, while taking on responsibility for the nation in terms of leadership, development, and its advancement. The religious youth movement Bnei Akiva was an integral part of the “mother party,” and within it grew ranks of members who were loyal to these ideals.

Personally, all my time has been spent aimed at these goals, ideologically and in a practical sense, in an effort to integrate Judaism and the country. This started with Hesder service in the IDF, in the very beginnings of this religious Zionist enterprise, and continued with my active participation in the Torah circles of the Mafdal, eventually serving on the central committee of the party and on the presidium. More than 40 years ago, I founded the Zomet Institute, which annually publishes “Techumin,” a collection of halachic discussions with the purpose of combining the concepts of “Torah, society, and the State.” (Every year, in the month of Iyar of course, a new volume is published. This year Volume 37 will appear, with G-d’s help.) This “curriculum vitae” is not a matter of personal nostalgia but rather an attempt to give a flavor of the public aspect of my life – “showing confidence in the correctness of the path,” and providing an overview of the religious Zionist outlook.

And now, on the ruins of the Mafdal Party, the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) has risen, and it has burst out of the previous boundaries. I have often expressed my support of the new “Home” and its policies in terms of nationalism, settlement policies, and politics. I also expressed my support for changing the name of the party from “religious” to “Jewish.” I am a member of the leadership committee of the new party and its presidium (I was chosen without any special support group, after I sent a single text message to the voting committee). I assume I was viewed as a representative of the issues of religion and state, or “Judaism and the state,” which could be expected to come up in the Bayit Yehudi Party.

Is this Purposeful Neglect or Indifference?

It is no secret that at present there is room for disappointment. The Bayit Yehudi has now locked its doors and shuttered the windows to block out any mention of such issues. It can be assumed that the reasons for this have to do with electoral considerations: in order not to be branded as a strictly religious party, and also a refusal to take any strong positions and an attempt to avoid discussions about issues pertaining to the Jewish character of the state. Well, it is true that no consensus has been reached on some of these issues, not even within the party itself. But in spite of this, in my opinion, it is unthinkable that a “Jewish Home” party will refuse to take a stand and will not get involved at all in questions which have recently come up, within the category of “religion and the state.” These include the public character of Shabbat, work performed by the government on the public day of rest, areas of prayer at the Western Wall, systems for managing kashrut through the Chief Rabbinate, dual-sex combat units in the IDF, and many, many more.

These issues have been “abandoned” by the masters of the “Bayit” and left to Chareidim on one hand, and to MK’s who are sons and daughters of traditional religious Zionism in other parties, who were chosen specifically to institute liberal innovations in matters of “religion and the state” (I do not say that we must continue everything as it was in the past, but I call for discussions from a modern viewpoint.) The Bayit Yehudi is facing challenges from both sides ... And the “Home” is solidly locked. (Note in passing that the achievements of the Minister of Justice in appointing new judges to the High Rabbinical Courts are by definition not a matter of “religion and the State”).

To summarize: Today there is no political haven for religious Zionism which can be involved in issues of “Judaism and the State” and cooperation between the sectors as a regular agenda. Everybody regularly pays lip service to the ideal of “a democratic and Jewish state,” but we are left with an unanswered question: What has the Bayit Yehudi done for the element of “Judaism?”

Let me finish this article with a postscript to the personal note I wrote near the beginning. On the first of Nissan, a few weeks ago, I sent a letter to a dozen or so ministers and MK’s from the Bayit Yehudi and a few other relevant people, with the following subject: “ Is the Bayit Yehudi Party the right place for me?” Three of the more “religious” people who received this letter responded (with a shrug of their shoulders, more or less). Nobody else felt any need to relate to my letter.

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