I’d like to explain once and for all what I feel about Rabbi Yigal Levinstein. I think a great many decent Israelis feel as I do, and I hope to be able to speak for them. I’d like to do this unbound by the strictures of political correctness; those strictures only ever apply to one side anyway.
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It’s nice that Levinstein’s insults and incitement have been roundly condemned, even on the right, and even if such condemnations have been tardy, hesitant and polite. Nice, but not enough. It’s not enough to declare that his statements are “unacceptable” (Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman) or that “it’s impossible to denigrate an entire community and hide behind Jewish law” (Education Minister Naftali Bennett).
The fact is, such statements are acceptable and such denigration is possible. If they were unacceptable, Levinstein wouldn’t still be holding his senior pedagogic position. If such denigration of an entire community – gay people – and hiding behind Jewish law weren’t possible, Levinstein and his ilk wouldn’t be preparing hundreds, even thousands of young Orthodox men to serve and command in the army.
It drives me crazy that everybody in the Orthodox community, including its critics and those it has disappointed, call him “Rabbi Yigal.” This suggests familiarity and reverence. I feel no familiarity with or reverence for this man. When I see and hear him repeat time after time, as cool as can be, with great intent and undisguised pleasure, the word “perverts,” I feel that this is a disturbed person.
If I had any empathy for him, I’d recommend that he undergo conversion therapy, but not against homosexuality as he prescribes. There’s no such thing. I’m talking about conversion therapy against homophobia, which, as has been proved scientifically, usually attests to questions about one’s sexual identity.
But I don’t have one whit of empathy for the man, nor do I believe a word that comes out of his mouth. And I’m certainly not willing to hear him preach about “morality,” “modesty” and “corruption.”
His personal character is of no interest to me. He’s a symbol. I regard him even as a kind of gift; after all, he’s too senior to be able to ignore.
His influence isn’t restricted to the acclaimed pre-army preparation course at the settlement of Eli. That’s not the only place he espouses his doctrines. It turns out he also enjoys an open door to the General Staff and meets with top brass like the chief of staff and the head of the Manpower Directorate. He scolds the Education Corps’ commander, is invited to lecture in the army and is a guest in pre-battle deployment areas.
His worldview is clear and comprehensive. It doesn’t only include gay people. He has a whole doctrine. His doctrine patently and knowingly upends the basic foundations of society and the army in a democratic country, and seeks to undermine it.
I consider him a direct threat to me and everything I hold dear. I have no dialogue with him, no bridge, no shared fate. What do I have in common with him? He’s a son of the Kingdom of Judah and I’m a citizen of the State of Israel.
When I see Levinstein, I understand for the umpteenth time that while I was growing up, going to school, serving in the army, traveling the world, attending university, making a living, paying taxes, establishing a home and raising children, a fundamentalist monster was growing in my backyard.
There’s only one thing I have trouble understanding. How is it that as the Western democracies struggle to improve the war on fundamentalism, we bow our heads to it, debase ourselves before it, bring it into the army, fund it and subsidize it? And on Independence Day we award it an Israel Prize for lifetime achievement.