Sign of the times: In its latest issue, a Habad magazine covers the recent flooding in Europe. In a long-forgotten analysis, it seems, the Rebbe Rayatz - the Lubavitcher Rebbe's father-in-law and predecessor - predicted the floods, according to the magazine editors. The rivers, wrote the Rayatz in a commentary on a Talmudic debate, would rage and overflow their banks, a clear sign that redemption was at hand. Because whatever the rivers understand, the entire world would soon understand, as well.
One can only envy the naive Hasidim who are capable of seeing portents of the messiah's arrival in every natural disaster. Most of the public has a more difficult time seeing the light, even when it is exposed. This also holds true for the national-religious public, whose party, the National Religious Party, seemed - at least till last week - to have lost its way. In its early days, the NRP waved the complicated flag of integration into mainstream society with the no-less-complicated integration of Torah and labor. The first upheaval hit when Gush Emunim, an extra-parliamentary movement, delivered Israeli politics a baffling lesson on ideological command-and-control of an organized political establishment from without. Gush Emunim made the Greater Land of Israel the party's exclusive area of concern.
Gush Emunim pulled the rug out from under the "Torah and Labor" representative, the allies of the Labor Party, quashing any possibility of diplomatic compromise. But it also gave the knitted skullcap crowd a new social standing. After years of attempts to be "like everyone else," notwithstanding the knitted kippa and efforts to resemble the rugged, suntanned sabra - the settlers had arrived. A little late, but arrived all the same. Senior army officers and heads of departments in the Shin Bet are the proof.
The Israeli public was captivated by the sandals and wavy hair of the charming young men of Gush Emunim, who looked so much like the boys from the Palmach and Nahal and spoke just like them (and also restored the lost honor of the sabra Ashkenazi world, which had been fractured by the rage of the Black Panthers, the post-1973 Sephardi social movement). Their eyes shone, true, with a messianic ardor, and after June 1967, all of Israeli society was bedazzled by the prattle. Only 30 years, two wars and one intifada later, when it seemed that most Israelis were anxious for peace, the veneration, briefly, dissipated.
In the mid-90s, a few NRP-affiliated rabbis announced that "the Land of Israel train had left the station." Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun's lament that, "We have not settled in [their] hearts" (which more recently turned into an ironic joke among religious youths), expressed genuine concern at the possibility of the national-religious public again fostering values that died years ago, and was liable to be pushed back to the eccentric margins of society and the political map. The Rabin assassination turned this fear into a nightmare.
When the luster of the Greater Land of Israel was tarnished, the rabbis of the NRP stood perplexed and worried in the face of the heated impulses of the youth, who had once unleashed their energies in the conquest of new settlements and struggles like the evacuation of Yamit, but were subjected to a certain slackening of religious norms. In an effort to prevent the breakdown of the whole package, and in the face of the strengthening of Haredi religious revivalism on the one side, and the upsurge of revolutionary feminism among educated women on the other, the rabbis fomented the second upheaval - they tightened the belt of religious practice. The national-Haredi school of thought - and of strict religious practice - assembled the young people into a rigid framework. New rabbis, graduates of Merkaz Harav and ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, usurped the moderate leaders. Twenty web sites fielding questions from the national-religious street reflected their uncertainty in the face of the new permissiveness. For their part, the rabbis continue to pull in the direction of Haredi conservatism. And that is where the third upheaval took place.
The failure of Oslo and the second intifada restored even the forgotten Daniella Weiss to center stage. The slogan "Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) is Here" was given new life, strengthened by every act of terror in Tel Aviv. The prime minister (of whom the settlers are suspicious, and who claims that for them, he is merely "the messiah's donkey" - doing the secular dirty work of reclaiming the territories) has ushered "settlement" back into the consensus. Once again, the young hormones can be channeled toward the settlement outposts. But at this point, the new, spiritual-mystical religiosity came into the picture: young people in the hilltop settlements are growing bushy, Breslov-style payis (earlocks); in Ramat Gan, they're singing Carlebach; and Hasidic music concerts draw crowds in which young men mix with young women, wearing clothes brought home from India, having not long beforehand completed a fervent reading of the ma'ariv (evening) prayers. Everything goes - the waves have lifted up their voice.
And who is the first to understand the process? Effi Eitam, of course, himself a newly observant Jew, and a messiah. Despite the turned-up noses in the NRP, he kissed the hand of Rabbi Kadourie, gained his support, and is evidently doing the groundwork for a linkup with Aryeh Deri, and then with Benjamin Netanyahu, all with the help of amulets and benedictions.
All of this organizing will take good advantage of the yearnings for redemption: colorful and ethnic, perhaps, but redemption all the same - and everything that flies in the face of a well-run state and a sane civil society. The people who should now be really worried are the rabbis of the NRP. Unless they can understand this New Age danger, there won't be anybody who can stop it.
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