With all due sympathy for the sympathetic Tzohar organization, Merav Michaeli was right when she pointed out that they do not present an alternative to Orthodoxy ("The Tzohar fairy tale," November 14). Tzohar rabbis help alleviate the disgust secular Jews feel upon encountering the rabbinical establishment. But secular Jews do not realize that Tzohar was trying to salvage the rabbi's status, which had been undermined and demeaned due to the callousness and greed of those who hold the keys to marital relations. In fact, the Tzohar rabbis are far more religious than the Rabbinate wheeler-dealers who persecute them.

Never mind. It is a person's or organization's right to safeguard the symbols that are dear to his heart, and in any case it turns out that secular people are willing to do anything to stay on the establishment's good side. The problem lies in the place of these likable rabbis within the broader context of religion's relations with the state, and more precisely, in Israeli society's wanton decision to place the definition of Judaism in the hands of the religious.

The founders of the Tzohar organization like to see themselves as the clear-cut disciples of Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines, father of the Mizrahi religious Zionist movement, who wholeheartedly supported Herzl's Zionism but waged a persistent campaign for the supremacy of religious education. In this battle, which ended in a compromise, the secular enlightened Jews (the "maskilim") had the upper hand, as evident by the revival of the Hebrew language, the thriving Israeli culture, Hebrew literature, academia, and magnificent institutions topped by the judicial system.

But while the cultural battle between Mizrahi and the maskilim took place in an Orthodox Jewish society and in a pre-state reality, the battle that is taking place in Israel today is between representatives of religiosity and the state's citizens. It is a retrograde move, the crux of which is a reaction by the religious-Messianic base to Israeli sovereignty. This is a new and dangerous wave of the Jewish Diaspora sea, which is forever disconnected from place and time, and it is threatening to overflow and drown Zionism and its accomplishments. The roots of its family tree are in Rabbis Kook, Sr. and Jr.; its stem is Gush Emunim; and its questionable fruit is the "price tag" campaign.

This reactionary element may call itself Religious Zionism, but it is the rack and ruin of the Herzlian Zionism. It is entirely a new breed of Judaism: ultra-Orthodox-zealous in its religiosity more so than all of the Lithuanian Hasidim put together (and therefore denies, of course, the sovereignty of the state and its secular and overly free institutions). It is nationalist-racist in its outlook more than the most fanatical of secular right-wingers. The spearhead of the new breed is no longer preoccupied with matters of land and territories. This battle was already won by the settlers to the detriment of the State of Israel. What interests this element is "Judaizing" Israeli society.

It quit the settlements in favor of "social" activism in the mixed cities; spreading "the light of teshuva" in the heart of secularism; writing dark pamphlets against the "religious-lite" at Bnei Akiva; terrorizing women in general and "lefty" feminists in particular; operating a lobby to demolish the judicial system, and more. The few who tried to challenge this trend were excoriated. The majority squirms and keeps quiet.

Last week emotional speeches were delivered in the Knesset against "the radical fringes." This is pathetic lip service. We are not talking about fringes, but rather about a renewed and powerful show of the Jewish Diaspora, which abhors sovereignty and responsibility and prefers seclusion and separatism. In contrast to the historic Haredi model, the nationalist extremism of Hardaliyut [Hebrew acronym for national ultra-Orthodoxy] draws its inspiration from Western fascist movements, despite their anti-Semitic indoctrination. Its strict adherence to Jewish law, its hatred of free speech, and its phobia of sexuality drink from the same dark postmodern sources of inspiration as its beloved American evangelism and its detested radical Islam.

The national-religious public was long ago swept out to this sea and swallowed up. The only ones who are fighting are the direct victims of the undertow, the women. While putting themselves and their families at real risk, they are attempting to stop it. But the general public, religious and secular, is not adding its voice to theirs. Abandoning them to fight this battle alone means consciously committing mass suicide in the sea of the twisted new Judaism.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: לבדן במערכה מול ההקצנה הדתית