On religious Zionism, identity, and the answer to the question of why Zehut is making an honest effort to put together a technical block with Bennett and/or Shaked, but is not interested in making one with Rabbi Peretz and MK Smotrich.
“When we reach a period in which it will be possible to have a single party, which will include religious as religious, and secular as secular, it will be the beginning of hope…”
(‘Eulogy for the Messiah’, p. 67) – Shiurim by Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi – Manito – ztz”l, on Rabbi Kook’s eulogy for Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl – edited by Rabbi Uri Sharki).
Both Religious Zionism and Haredism are a reaction to Zionism. An attempt to reconcile the inherent contradiction between the Torah of Israel and Zionism. After all, Zionism has “nothing to do with religion” (as the First Zionist Congress determined). Zionism had made it its goal to nationalize the Jewish people and turn it into a modern and sovereign nation, a nation that has no God but only a parliament.
In response, Haredism developed an ideology that views Zionism as a new type of non-Jewish government, sophisticated, and in a sense even more dangerous. Their conclusion was to put up walls and have separate and segregated communities. This is how Haredism was born.
In contrast to Haredism, Religious Zionism identified a spot of holiness in Zionism and tried to join arms with it. Rav Kook went so far as to formulate the necessary synergy within the framework of a very broad and complex coherent ideology.
In practice, however, Religious Zionism failed to bring the Kookian ideology to the ground level of reality and create that synthesis. Zionism, which had nothing to do with religion, and religion (unlike the Torah), that had nothing to do with national sovereignty, remained in contradiction, and Religious Zionism is therefore an oxymoron.
Generations of “knitted kippah wearers” grew up within this contradiction between their Zionism and their religiosity. This created an ideological split personality: “Be religious at home and Zionist when you go outside”… Instead of settling the contradiction by developing the ideological foundations formulated by Rav Kook and assuming responsibility for leading Zionism, the knitted kippah wearers developed a naive belief that the process of redemption is deterministic. Secular Zionism is the “donkey of the Messiah” that unwittingly leads us to salvation. Since no ideology had been developed that connected the Torah of Israel to modern sovereign national existence, it was inconceivable to try to challenge Israeli reality with that kind of leadership. Issues such as the proper economic regime, the level of state involvement in the life of the citizen, liberty versus equality, etc. – were of no interest, and weren’t ironed out.
The Six-Day War and its miracles “proved” that there was no need for such a leadership. The Creator took the reins, and in total contradiction to the will of the Zionist leaders – including the leaders of Religious Zionism – threw the biblical districts into their arms. The “donkey of the Messiah” found itself stuck, against its will, with the stones of the Kotel…
It was only natural that Religious Zionism was devoid of the relevant ideology. It wouldn’t try to take national responsibility and challenge the Israeli reality with an alternative leadership at this point, but instead would make do with safeguarding the existing situation so that there would be no “malfunction” in the process of redemption. That’s how the settlement enterprise began (without which, it’s doubtful if the State of Israel could have continued to exist).
The knitted kippah “split personality” was proven to be effective. It was enough to make do with the settlements, and leave the responsibility for leading the modern return to Zion to the (blind) leaders of Zionism, and rely on the God of history, who would lead them in the right direction. In the end, somehow, everyone would repent and everything would work out according to our dreams…
The Yom Kippur War exposed the loss of Zionist momentum. The frailty of Israeli existence created a deep crisis and once more raised questions of substance. What’s the mission that makes it worth living here under constant existential danger?
Zionist writers and poets (Moshe Shamir, Ephraim Kishon, Naomi Shemer) identified the religious enthusiasm of the new settler generation and saw Sebastia as the continuation of the success of Degania. For them, it was natural that along with the enthusiastic Zionist activity, the responsibility for filling the ranks of a national leadership that had lost its vision would also come. Just as graduates of kibbutzim had taken over most national leadership positions at the time, it was only natural that along with the Zionist enthusiasm for settling the liberated parts of the country, the responsibility and aspiration to lead the country would come as well.
When this didn’t happen, when the settlers ran to the hills but left the responsibility for the results and daily existence to the old leadership (which would clean up after them…), the expectation turned into disappointment. The settlers became a nuisance, and to the left, even the object of hatred.
When the “donkey of the Messiah” refused to march in line with the “process of redemption”, the settlers became disgruntled. The image of the angry settler with the Uzi and the winter coat became a stereotype. The processes fed on each other and the polarization deepened.
The Oslo accords brought by the left, and the disengagement brought by the right, threw Religious Zionism’s irrelevance in its face. It hadn’t succeeded in ensuring, through settlement alone, the deterministic existence of the process of redemption. The grip on the lands of the Bible had become fragile and bulldozers destroying neighborhoods and whole communities has become a daily reality.
But instead of drawing the necessary conclusion and developing an ideology that would create the synergy that would bridge between the religious and the secular – an ideology that effectively cancels these archaic concepts – a reverse process was created in Religious Zionism. Some of them turned to secularism – ex-religious or religious-lite, and others turned to knitted kippah, or Nationalist, Haredism (the unification of the right-wing parties, in fact, represents this stream only).
Religious Zionism has many merits. It’s hard to imagine the State of Israel without it. But it’s clear that the Religious Zionist branches of National Haredism and Religious Zionism “lite” failed to understand the challenge and thus, they are also miss the solution.
Nationalist Haredi politics is seen as more sectoral politics at the expense of the public, and Religious Zionist “lite” politics is seen as nothing more than the knitted kippah tail of the Likud.
However, the advantage of Religious Zionist “lite” politics (the New Right) is its openness to the secular public. It doesn’t relate to them with redemption-minded paternalism while shirking responsibility for daily life. Unlike the Nationalist Haredim, the New Right has cast off sectororalism. It turns to the entire nation, and if as long as you aren’t a staunch leftist, it doesn’t have any antagonism with you.
Zehut doesn’t consider itself part of Religious Zionism or any other sector. Within Zehut, the necessary synergy has already been created. The terms “secular” and “religious” – and to a certain extent, the dichotomous division of the right and left – are no longer relevant in the Zehut arena. At Zehut conferences, you could see a Tel Aviv woman in a tank top standing next to a Haredi man wrapped in his coat, where the question of who belongs to whom, who is here with whom, who is here at whose expense – this question doesn’t exist at all. From a social perspective, it was possible at Zehut conferences to begin to smell the fragrance of redemption from within the malignant polarization and an identity that has nothing to lean on but its negation of the other.
Because everyone in Zehut has the same spot on their forehead that says – I see you directly; not through the state. I want a state that will protect us, not a state that will separate us, take from us, and divide us.
A connection between Zehut and Nationalist Haredism invalidates Zehut’s message and will quite rightly drive its voters away. The Nationalist Haredim, by their nature, want a lot of state to enforce their dreams. It can’t accept that part of the future picture – part of the Torah – lies with the secular.
I have great respect for the Nationalist Haredim and their rabbis, but a combination of Zehut and them would be a combination of opposites, and the harm would outweigh the benefit.
With or without political connections, Zehut is running with all its might and enthusiasm, and it has already been proven that a large audience desires its message. A combination of the vision and content of Zehut with a young and diverse right-wing public that is fed up with the Likud’s family politics is likely over time to produce a new ruling party for the right. A party of liberty that eliminates old divisions and creates a new Israeliness that unites the conceptions of the religious and the secular…
…the Israeli and the Jewish.