Of Bottlecaps & the Golan (Ideas #16)


One of the benefits of living and working in mixed (i.e. haredi and dati leumi) religious neighborhoods is that it allows me to keep my hand on the pulse of both major groups.


I couldn't help recently noticing two slogans plastered around these neighborhoods: one speaks about the superiority of new Shabbat-proof bottle caps being produced by Pepsi, the other voicing support for (retension of) the Golan.


While they reflect vastly different phenomena, one of which is devoid of commercial interest, they may, in fact, have a great deal more in common than meets the eye. After all, well-funded commercial campaigns use what is clearly of interest to the consumer in order to hook them into their particular product. For better or worse, I think these two slogans are grossly indicative of what is occupying people's minds in the religious world these days: halachic minutiae on the one hand and territorial grandeur on the other. I don't mean to minimize the importance of either, but I do wonder if these are the things wherein we are to invest so much of our emotional energy.


One of the central issues confronting us today is the ever-widening divide between Orthodox and general Jewish culture. Instead of working twice as hard to get the central messages of the Torah into the general society, frustration has bred insularity and insularity has led to small-mindedness. If it is more obvious about the haredi world, I believe to be just as true about the dati leumi world.


I have noticed the perplexed curiosity with which non-religious bystanders look at demonstrations against the peace process peopled almost exclusively by religious participants. The message these demonstrations have taken to the streets does not make sense to the average Israeli. The debate between Likud and Labor is basically a pragmatic one - how much, if any, territorial compromise is in the national interest. This does make sense and it is also why these two parties have sometimes considered working together in the same government. Underlying the religious opposition, however, is a view of territory as an intrinsic value. The more this becomes clear (and it must), the more the dati leumi camp will find itself isolated.


Even more disconcerting is the nature of this intrinsic value. While its roots may be be in R. Tzvi Yehuda Kuk's vision of his father's teachings, it seems to have ignited dubious motivations. Perforce, when the discussion is of the Golan (as was the case with the Sinai), the religious issue of kedushat haaretz becomes more muted than when speaking about the territories now being referred to as "lev haaretz". That being the case, one wonders why there is no difference in the degree of enthusiasm for retension of these territories. Equally revealing is the sympathy for territorial irrendentism among rank and file haredim.


If we thus see plain old chauvinism and xenophobia, one has to wonder why it has become so ubiquitious in the national religious camp. As with the Pepsi bottles, we have allowed an intellectual and emotional vacuum to exist in our millieu. It would seem that our inability to rediscover greatness has brought inferior channels for our religious energy.


It is not only a question of what we are broadcasting to the outside world but a question of what we are broadcasting to ourselves. If the issues above are more and more irrelevant in post-Zionist Israel, could it not be that they reflect very tangential components of a Torah that is classicly understood to be timeless. Judaism has always carried a powerful message that could not be ignored. In every age, leaders arose to translate that message into the contemporary idiom. If that message is not being felt today, we had best look in the mirror and think twice about our true religious priorities.