Religious Values Are Not Superior

Religious Zionism has strayed from its path and now adopts the religious public's frame of reference.

The Talmud scholar Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz, known as the Hazon Ish (visionary), compared the spiritual world of secular Zionism to an empty cart, which must make way for the full cart of Jewish literature. Since then, this concept has passed through several way stations until it was embraced by the settler leaders, who now presume to speak in the name of a lofty set of values. They claim that these values defeat the worldview and way of life of the public supporting the disengagement from the territories.

Religious Zionism, which in the early days of the state fitted in with David Ben-Gurion's perception of statehood, has strayed from its path and now adopts the religious public's frame of reference. It is claiming, in the name of moral and halakhic superiority, a monopoly on justice, reason and envisioning the future, and it despises those who disagree.

It's ironic that, while the Hazon Ish's main interest 55 years ago was to ensure the autonomy of the ultra-Orthodox community, the settler leadership is now clutching on to his arguments and applying them to the affairs of the entire state.

In the name of the full cart, the settlers' speakers claim they are conducting an exemplary lifestyle, while their ideological rivals educate their children to live a life of debauchery. The children of the kibbutzim and North Tel Aviv are evaders, revelers and drug users, while the children of Ofra and Beit El are volunteers, moral, willing to risk their lives and perfect patriots. The secular Israeli's self-indulgent, complacent way of life leads to rape and murder, while life according to the halakha leads to community service and the Israel Defense Forces' choice units.

The basic assumption of the settler spokespeople is groundless. Now that the Zionist vision has been realized, and the State of Israel has been established and is developing, is hanging on to the West Bank and Gaza Strip more important than the sanctity of life? Is there a moral advantage to those who idolize the land above man? Is it beyond all doubt that the educational doctrine of obeying orders (in this case, from rabbis) is preferable to the view that instills skepticism, curiosity and the search for truth? Is it self-evident that a narrow nationalistic approach is more desirable that a universal, humane view, which considers the viewpoints of others, as well? One may also ponder: Has Judaism's message to humanity not left a little room for the moral and spiritual contribution of other religions and cultures?

The exclusivity that the settlers' speakers claim in the realm of morality and justice does not withstand the test of reality. There have been incidents of violence and lawlessness among the settlers no smaller in scope and severity than within the Green Line. Their leaders have been partner to financial manipulations and procedural shenanigans that are no cleaner than those prevalent in the Likud Central Committee. They are responsible to a considerable degree for the brutish behavior of radical settlers, who abuse the Palestinian population in the style of the Wild West. They defy the state's authority and are raising generations of law breakers to do the same. They exalt the service in the IDF, but also preach to clash with it at the moment of evacuation. They see juvenile delinquency as a result of a self-indulgent lifestyle, ignoring the fact that it derives mainly from economic distress and the social and psychological crisis of an immigrant community. They decry the violence rampant in Israeli society, and do not ask themselves to what extent it is inspired by their own children's wanton conduct in the territories.

There is a great deal of gall and audacity in their argument that the moral and spiritual world of David Grossman and Dalia Rabikovitch is any narrower than that of the rabbis Avraham Shapira and Zalman Melamed. Preferring the halakha (in a certain interpretation) over a secular, Zionist and humane world of values does not necessarily indicate moral superiority. The perception that the state would be advanced by means of developing its scientific and spiritual resources is not necessarily inferior to the approach that sees the be-all and end-all in expanding its territory, while subjugating the Palestinian population living in it.