The Making of Religious Zionist Extremists

In the religious community itself, there should be a central moral criterion for judging words of Torah.

Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg
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Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg

Two central points were missed during the public debate about the Rabbi Dov Lior affair, which focused on the secondary question of whether it is appropriate to investigate a rabbi for remarks he made condoning "words of Torah." My response is no, it is not. If there is room for a criminal proceeding it must concentrate on the writers of the book Torat Hamelech. Nevertheless it is annoying that all those who are railing against the "crossing of lines" in the arrest of the rabbi, did not bother to protest at all, at least with the same fervor, the contents of those above mentioned "words of Torah." Ultimately we are referring to enthusiastic agreement with a book that draws a fine line between the value of the life of a Jew and the value of the life of a "gentile" - a book which expresses points of view according to which, during a war, it is possible to kill even babies in situations in which it is "clear that they will grow up to harm us."

The time has come when, in the religious community itself, there should be a central moral criterion for judging words of Torah. A person can be familiar with the casuistry of halakha (Jewish law ) more than anyone else, but if his conclusion leads to a racist position, and how much more so to halakhic instructions that permit the shedding of the blood of gentiles, his theory must be rejected out of hand. After all, when Muslim clerics base a call to kill Jews on their religion, and Christian clerics base a call to continue to humiliate the Jewish people on principles of Christianity, it would be inconceivable for a religious Jew to defend their "freedom of religion."

On the other hand, the wrath that secular public figures have displayed toward the religious Zionist movement's outspoken criticism of the state and its laws, from the days of the "Jewish underground" until the present, also misses a deep and central aspect of the issue. The relations between the religious Zionists and the secular elite of Israel are a complicated saga which apparently can be correctly described only by a writer who has psychological insight. This is a clear case of a love-hate relationship between father and son, or between teacher and pupil.

The labor movement had no admirers as loyal as those of the religious Zionist movement. They studied its history eagerly, sang its songs and even wore the same clothes. There is a minority group among the: the students of the Merkaz Harav yeshiva and their successors, which has imparted a significant addition: a dialectical continuation of the labor movement. The secular pioneers were good for the first stage of the redemption, but with the advent of the crisis of the Yom Kippur War it was "proven" that their might had faltered and that it was necessary to advance to the religious stage of the vision.

The tragedy is that the majority of the religious Zionists, even the majority of the religious settlers, were not moved to action by this concept of redemption. What motivated them were the national values they had absorbed in their studies of the labor movement. Moreover, since this nationalism was basically humanistic, they too had humanistic outlooks, and certainly not the kind that makes a moral distinction between murdering a gentile and murdering a Jew.

However, the all-embracing way in which the secular elite identified members of the religious Zionist movement with the messianic-redemptive minority created the tragedy of a self-fulfilling prophesy. When the knitted skullcap-wearers encountered hostility, for example, in the aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, or when they had to contend with widespread suspicions when they wanted to obtain senior positions in the establishment because they were identified with that minority in their sector, this began eroding their emotional readiness to confront their brethren. With time, and particularly with the next generation, they began gradually identifying more and more with the hated minority. So members of the secular minority can say: We told you that they were all dark extremists - without taking into account to what extent their own positions contributed toward this identification.



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