Reply to Moti Karpel – the full version

/Reply to Moti Karpel – the full version

Last Shabbat saw my response to an interview the Religious Zionist Newsletter conducted with Moti Karpel, who (as usual) criticized me and my direction.

This is an argument for insiders who have waited years for my response to his attacks. Reading is not recommended  who merely peruse.

Along with a photo of the article (which underwent significant shortening and editing), I’m publishing the original raw article here.


In the holiday eve issue with Moti Karpel, the author noted that Karpel is “one of the leading and influential thinkers of religious Zionism in our generation.” Indeed, it,s doubtful that anyone can attest to this more than the undersigned.

At some level of awareness, I realized by the time of “Zo Artzenu” (and the fight against the Oslo Accords) that the right has no alternative to the direction of the left. I wanted to stop the Rabin government, but I really had nothing to offer in its place. I remember how in a joint television panel held after the roadblocks with a young Likud MK – his name was Moshe Katsav – I explained that the Likud, following the withdrawal from Sinai and the destruction the Yamit Strip, had no answer to Oslo. Katzav got very angry.

So in the fall of 1995, after the great roadblocks of “Zo Artzenu”, when Karpel turned to me and laid out his teachings, he found in me an attentive ear and great openness. I rejected the calls of all the right-wing parties at the time (including the Likud) to take advantage of the great public credit that “Zo Artzenu” had accumulated. Instead, Moti and I then approached the construction of a faith-based alternative in the framework of a new movement that Moti suggested calling – “Manhigut Yehudit” (Jewish Leadership) – which actually evolved out of “Zo Artzenu.”

It is hard to imagine Israeli politics today in general, and the Israeli right in particular, without the influence of Manhigut Yehudit and its thinking. The Likud changed its appearance and went from being a the centrist party of of Hershenson and Meridor to the right-wing party of Yariv Levin and Tzippy Hotoveli. The religious Zionism that was forced to compete with the challenge of Manhigut Yehudit in the Likud adopted primaries, and in the 19th Knesset, transformed from the remnants of shards of the Mafdal shrapnel into a party with 12 seats. It’s true that the right hasn’t adopted the deeper ideas of “Manhigut Yehudit”, and it’s therefore still unable to put forward a real alternative to the left, but the political effects of Manhigut Yehudit were just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of articles, numerous books, countless interviews, lectures, media debates – and eventually – the emergence of the Zehut Party and its challenging and content-rich platform, exposed all of Israeli society to an alternative to the Right/Left dichotomy, and to the possibility of escaping the identity crisis it has fallen into.

It is worth remembering, though, that even when we have differences, Karpel has a foundational claim to all of these public achievements (I’ll take “credit” for the failures myself).

Where, then, is the controversy?

The weak point of his teaching is to be found precisely in what he’s done right.

Karpel is indeed “one of the leading and influential thinkers of religious Zionism in our generation.” Religious Zionism for him is a fundamental axiom within his “changing of the guard” theory – once it was the kibbutzniks, today the knitted kippah crowd. Karpel is “… of religious Zionism …” His world is only as wide as a knitted kippah. He doesn’t bother at all to try to deal with the growing gaps between his theories and the “knitted kippah” reality. Thus, from trailblazing thought, Karpel’s thought has become beholden, thought that is walled off by the borders of religious Zionism (and it’s not certain exactly what that is), a kind of thinking that continually marks off circles around the knitted kippah where the arrow is stuck. In fact, it would be accurate to say that from the leading thinker of religious Zionism, Karpel has became the thinker who is led by it. Karpel once thought that even a non-observant person can be a faith-based leader (in the end I convinced him that it is impossible) – today Karpel claims that I have abandoned the Torah from a political standpoint…

From the man of the Temple Mount (“Chai V’Kayam”), a student of Shabbtai Ben Dov, whose entire thinking was saturated in fierce and cruel criticism of Zionism and the state, from the man of the religious revolution, Karpel became a fan and servant of the establishment and the forces holding on to moderation. A devotee of the powers that be.

I recall how Karpel was so enthusiastic about the rising star of religious Zionism – Naftali Bennett – and cast his eyes upon the successful man who supposedly adopted the path of “Manhigut Yehudit in the Likud” – only implemented from within the knitted kippah establishment…

It was puzzling to me, but I chose to watch Bennett from the rear benches of the Likud faction in the Knesset and examine whether I had missed something. In retrospect, it can be said that there wasn’t a single crossroads where Bennett and Shaked were required to choose between a principled/national choice and a pragmatic/personal choice, no crossroads that wasn’t ultimately decided in favor of the second option. Meanwhile, I went on and gave credit to Bennett (thanks to) Karpel. When Bennett (and Shaked) chose to overlook the false torture of young people from the national religious sector, I was certain that now, Karpel would understand his mistake and renounce it – after all, Karpel was a thinker, the space in which he operates is one of philosophical truth, not that of political considerations, but Karpel chose to walk between the raindrops, responding in the end with weak language, and certainly didn’t stand in the moment of truth against the one he’d fostered. In this failure, the great thinker of religious Zionism and Bennett’s intellectual patron became a major partner in the crime. From Bennett and Shaked, it was hard to expect any other behavior – they don’t even understand their crime – but from Moti Karpel (and major rabbis) I certainly did. The concept of “intellectual betrayal” might have been created for just this case. Sharpness of intellect has never been a guarantee of proper moral choice; the greatest of intellectuals have been blinded by the greatest of tyrants. And “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs…” When religious Zionism’s leading thinker advocates a kind of faith-based Bolshevism – how can we complain about its politicians?

The betrayal of the knitted kippah intellectuals obscured the moral clarity of religious Zionism and preserved Bennett’s legitimacy within the sector. This is how I found myself – in my political hat – forced to negotiate with him in an attempt to pool together the public he had accumulated and which considered him their leader, but was open to Zehut’s message.

Even when Bennett and Shaked finally betrayed the whole of religious Zionism, abandoned the public that had chosen them to lead, and jumped into what seemed to be a much more promising trajectory, Karpel refrained from really reevaluating things. Now Bennett is “the one who goes down to the people”, and Smotrich – his new star – is the “lighthouse”…

For 20 years, we have built religious Zionism a political instrument for state leadership. We signed up approximately 20,000 members of the sector to the Likud in a Sisyphean effort by the Manhigut Yehudit faction to open for the faith-based public the door to national leadership. It was the largest and most organized political force that has ever arisen in the Likud, a force which would have brought any other group to the leadership of the ruling party and the state. This didn’t happen with the knitted kippah crowd, not because the Likud didn’t want to (they eventually got used to us) but because religious Zionism didn’t want it. This wasn’t a temporary mishap, or a lack of talent. It was a huge, decades-long effort, with the participation of the best of political and intellectual talents. It turns out that religious Zionism isn’t interested, and therefore isn’t ready for leadership. (The book “The End of Normality” describes in detail the political expression of this reluctance). This is a painful conclusion – because the knitted kippah potential is wonderful. But ignoring this point of truth isn’t an intellectual solution to pain. How can we get away from dealing intellectually with such a basic question? How can we suffice with a technical accusation against Feiglin (yes Likud, no Likud) and continue to draw circles around the same cow we brought to the trough, which never stopped insisting on kicking it with all its might?

It doesn’t want to drink, Moti, it doesn’t want to … and you have to understand why.

Bennett and Shaked – by the way – are striving for national leadership, and that’s why they’re moving to the Likud (!). Paradoxically Bennett and Shaked – Karpel’s intellectual fosterlings – are the eternal proof of his mistake.

So why doesn’t religious Zionism want to lead?

Why does it insist on remaining sectoral and running away from its responsibilities?

Karpel explains, and rightly, that religious Zionism has no relevant ideology.

But is it because it hasn’t formulated an ideology that it isn’t a leader? Or, on the contrary, is it that it doesn’t want to lead and so it will never develop such an ideology!

It is doubtful that the State of Israel could have existed without religious Zionism, but the destruction of Gush Katif led me to conclude that as a relevant national political movement, religious Zionism no longer exists. Anyone who has no boundaries of his own doesn’t really exist, and is therefore unable to set boundaries for his neighbor – and certainly not to lead them.

Can the army now order its soldiers to deport and destroy an Arab village in Samaria? Or to cancel the order requiring men and women to serve together? – of course not. Because it’s clear that refusing such an order would be backed up by the legitimacy of the left’s intellectual leadership, and such an order would therefore not be given. Had the spiritual/intellectual leadership of the knitted kippot crowd also been “conditionally” obedient (Shabtai Ben Tzvi) and given clear and sweeping support to refusing the expulsion order, that order wouldn’t have been given, Gush Katif would have continued to flourish, and Israel wouldn’t have become a hostage to Hamas.

“We know them” – Omri Sharon then kindly broke my heart as we tried to threaten from within the Likud with our empty gun – “they’ll carry it out.”

The knitted kippah ideology became confused. It had fallen in love with the process. The tool and the goal had switched places. The eternal nation started to be afraid of the short path…. it had fallen in love with an endless one… “The beginning of the flowering” had replaced “our redemption”… The Western Wall had replaced the Temple Mount – at one extreme of the knitted kippah crowd, the right wing had replaced the Messiah, and at the other extreme, some of those who had been servants of God became servants of the State…

The State of Israel is our child, not our father. Parents who are unable to set boundaries for their children lose their status, don’t really exist anymore – and this is what happened to religious Zionism at Gush Katif.

Gush Katif was destroyed, because loyalty to the State came before loyalty to the Torah. It didn’t happen because the knitted kippah crowd didn’t fear God (God forbid), it happened because the knitted kippah ideology began to rely entirely on the State and therefore lost the ability to set boundaries and dialectically, to maintain its political relevance.

In Gush Katif, religious Zionism exploded into a thousand shards and scattered stardust that is fertilizing Israeli society as a whole, but as a movement it turned out to be non-existent. On the one hand, the Datlash (formerly religious), and on the other, the Hardal (the knitted kippah Haredim). No vision and national message for Israeli society can break through this kind of setup, aside from knitted kippah wheeling and dealing in the Likud, on the one hand, and the pseudo-Haredi struggle against women’s singing in the military, on the other.

The prisoner doesn’t free himself from prison. That’s why religious Zionism hasn’t developed a relevant ideology for state leadership, and never will. It doesn’t stand in a place of independent consciousness from which you can reach out and say – follow me!

But like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, in Harry Potter, there is a movement that actually has formulated such an ideology, and not just formulated, but formulated as a platform for a party running for Knesset, and published as a book in all bookstores, and this book became a bestseller among all the young people of Israel – not just the knit kippah crowd – a bestseller that drove the country crazy and threatened to launch the movement and its message up to the place where, at the time of this writing – we find Avigdor Lieberman…

Rather than stifling the country, it seems that we could start aiming for the next stage of Israel’s redemption, the synergy between Jewishness and Israelness. Except that then all the foundations, led by religious Zionist institutions (and Karpel), came together to shatter this unflattering mirror – and I’m not saying this to minimize my mistakes and my personal responsibility for the failure.

“Feiglin has abandoned the Torah from a political standpoint” – Karpel dismissed himself from the most significant attempt of our time to formulate a relevant faith-based ideology whose lack he continues to emphasize.

But in reality, “my sin” was that I took Rav Kook too seriously…

The Zehut platform is the only political platform that is really connected to the Torah. Some parties may be attached to religion, but the Torah is only attached to the Zehut platform.

Even worse – Karpel’s new teachings that embraced the most extreme “Mamlachti” foundations have completely abandoned what he learned and taught of the teachings of Shabtai Ben Dov – “We are loyal to the state in order to revolutionize it.” In other words, the solution to the crisis of a state “like all the nations” in the process of Israel’s redemption is conditional fidelity. Fidelity that draws credit from the future faith-based revolution. The kind of fidelity that only from it is ig possible to say Hallel here and now, with a bracha. Without the state itself becoming the subject of idolatry.

Anyone who justifies torturing youths, deporting Jews, and neglecting all the Torah, because this crawling thing was immersed in the state’s purifying mikveh – is not God’s servant, but a servant of the State…

Karpel is correct in saying that that conservatism isn’t the answer. Conservatism isn’t the jewel in the Zehut’s platform – but rather liberty. Liberty to worship God alone.

The whole point of the Zehut platform is to create an ideology that builds this liberty. This is an ideology that liberates the citizen economically and spiritually, an ideology that removes the state divisions that divide and rule its citizens, an ideology that removes the fear of one another, and therefore arouses interest and curiosity in one another, thereby opening the gateway to dialectic and cross-fertilization for all Jews, and the rise of the Torah of the Land of Israel.

This is an ideology that allows us to dream of Temple, an ideology that makes it possible to develop and advance Jewish law, an ideology that shows how to apply sovereignty and possess our land, an ideology that shows how to develop Jerusalem towards the redemption of Israel.

Someone here took Rabbi Kook seriously, and brought it directly to all the varieties of Israeliness.

Someone here believes and isn’t afraid.

The document is a far cry from perfection. One can disagree with it, but at least here was the kind of daring and political intellectual effort we’ve never seen before. Karpel prefers to simply bury his head in the sand.

Politically, Zehut failed. The need to quickly produce an alternative avant-garde for religious Zionism must be mended in the rough tears that were revealed in the first crisis. Maybe if the thinkers of religious Zionism are able to admit their failure as well, a gateway to inter-sectoral synergy will open from this humbleness – a gateway to the same alternative that will free us from the impasse to which Zionism has led us, including religious Zionism.

The political expression of this synergy is less interesting, but it’s certain that if it comes true, then this political expression will come – and it will lead.

2019-11-27T18:07:48+00:00November 27th, 2019|