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The decision by MKs Effi Eitam and Yitzhak Levy to resign from the National Religious Party (NRP) and join the National Union Party, headed by Rabbi Binyamin Elon and Zvi Hendel, does a good job of illustrating the crisis religious Zionism is undergoing: At synagogues, social gatherings, sometimes even family gatherings, a dividing line is springing up. On one side of it stand those who support the disengagement plan, or at any rate have made their peace with it, and on the other side are those who oppose it to such an extent that they are prepared to block its implementation by illegal means.

People who are experiencing the rift among the knitted skullcap-wearing public tell of a bitter atmosphere and a sense of frustration at the estrangement developing within their midst. Friends in close communities are finding themselves on opposite sides of the divide. The issues arising from the debate over the disengagement plan - obeying the law, refusing orders, halakhic (Jewish law) rulings versus decrees of the realm - are dominating the conversation in the Zionist-religious public and redefining the place of its members.

The result is not pleasant: Some are finding themselves in a minority within communities that until now as were a sort of extended family; others feel banished. Religious Zionism is now undergoing the harrowing journey that was the plight of the Kibbutz movement some 50 years ago. In view of ideological disputes within the Kibbutz Meuhad (United Kibbutz movement), which were also reflected politically, the Mapai-oriented kibbutzim quit and joined the United Groups and Kibbutzim movement (Ihud Hakvuzot Vehakibbutzim) - a process that entailed a split within kibbutzim and families, uprooting people from their homes and violent arguments. Thirty years elapsed before the rift was healed under the Takam (United Kibbutz Movement), under completely different circumstances than at the time of the rupture.

The rift within religious Zionism is deeper than the one that dismembered the kibbutz movement because it grows out of its attitude toward the state, on one hand, and the status of halakha, on the other. If Yitzhak Tabenkin, Shlomo Lavi and Yaakov Hazan fought with David Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson over political issues - the partition plan, the attitude toward the Revisionist Movement - and their colleagues and successors (Yitzhak Ben-Aharon, Yisrael Galili, Moshe Carmel, on one side; Arye Bahir and Haim Gevati, on the other) argued over the state's approach to the Soviet Union or the nature of cooperation within kibbutzim, then Zevulun Orlev and Effi Eitam disagree on the source of authority in the state.

The way Orlev represents follows a path carved by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Hacohen Maimon (Fishman) and Zerach Warhaftig, among the NRP's founding fathers and signatories to the Declaration of Independence. The line Effi Eitam espouses was laid down by Hanan Porat and Rabbi Moshe Levinger - the founders of Gush Emunim. In other words, while religious Zionism perceived itself as an organ of the body politic and positioned its activity within the rules of the game established by Israeli democracy, Gush Emunim saw itself from the outset as an extra-parliamentary movement motivated by a faith-based vision in which the divine decree has complete supremacy over the state's authority.

That is the meaning of the current split in the NRP. Even as Effi Eitam and Yitzhak Levy declare their objection to refusing orders, they join a political force that represents the stance striving to undercut the will of the majority even by means of rebelling against the government's authority. They become part of a school of thought that prefers the rabbis' ruling over decisions by the government and Knesset. They attach themselves to an educational stream that propounds, in practice if not explicitly, disengagement from the central avenue of Israeli society and the civic values that guide it. They wield an ax over the worldview that saw religious Zionism as an obvious part of the legitimate leadership in the State of Israel.