Inertia and Introspection (Ideas #77)

Perhaps more than any other time in the history of the State of Israel, there is an overwhelming sense of alienation in the religious community from the current Israeli government.



The largely anti-religious Shinui party has broken up because its constituency has been attracted to the prosperity-above-all approach of the new Kadima party now running the country. As with Shinui, Kadima attracts the large secular middle class interested in having a life of peace and prosperity, unburdened by the sacrifices that up to now have been the required by orthodox conceptions of Judaism as well as Zionism. To be sure, the supporters of Kadima remain largely connected to Zionist history and culture and continue proudly to send their children to defend the state in its armed forces. For these Israelis, however, the future of Zionism is to create a country with as few sacrifices as possible, so that they can have as nice a life in Tel Aviv as Americans have in New York. Since they are pragmatists, they have emerged as the sworn enemies of the idealism that requires us to pay in blood for our principles.



Certainly, there has always been a great divide concerning the role of religion in society and state between the religious and non-religious sectors of Israeli society. Still, the idealism of the country's founders towards the ultimately Jewish values of land, people and language created common ground with almost all religious Jews. If not expressed by all sectors, the religious community realized that Zionism was built out of the Jewish culture of which self-sacrifice was a major component. This attitude was reciprocated by secular Israelis who, by and large, looked with a certain amount of respect to religion and especially to the dedication of the religious Zionists. Now that the state is run by anti-idealists, however, religious Jews of all stripes will have greater difficulty finding common cause with the state.



In Israel, the bread and butter of many is to show how the evils of society are all the fault of one's opponents. Lauded by their appreciative publics, writers have become popular by showing just how stupid and evil are those who disagree with them. Besides building these writers' bank accounts, I am not sure what has been accomplished by such rantings and ravings (see Ideas 29). In fact, Jewish tradition indicates that much more is to be gained by looking at our own failings than those of others.



In our situation in particular, the religious community seems blind to the fact that there is much we can do to change the most unfortunate situation in which we find ourselves.



In recent months a very small and obviously uninfluential group put out some very interesting literature. They pointed out that, according to recent polls of the Smith Institute, if all the religious parties were to join together, they would actually be the largest single faction in the Knesset. For those who don't know the Israeli political system, the largest party is the one usually given the first chance at forming a government. To spell it out, this would mean that the next government would be a largely religious government. Given the current state of affairs, such a government would be nothing less than a complete turnaround of events.



But it appears that none of the three major religious blocs decided that such an option was even worth consideration. It appears that there is too wide a chasm separating the religious Zionists from the Charedim and likewise no possibility for the Ashkenazim to run together with the Sephardim. I can think of no greater accusation against the religious community than the above. While all of these groups will point fingers at the others, since none of them have seriously pursued such an option, it is clearly the fault of all of them, which really means all of us. Do we not share one Torah? Is what separates us really so much greater than what unites us? And if the answer to the last question is yes, then we should understand that the answer to the first question is ultimately no. That being the case, the next time we want to complain about the government, we should realize that it is the natural consequence of our own perversion.



Lest my religious readers in the Diaspora believe they are off the hook on this one and so have no recourse but to complain about the state of affairs here in Israel – as they more and more bitterly do –  let me remind them that they also could do much more about the current state of affairs. 



There are more than one million Orthodox Jews who continue to live in the Diaspora. Most of them Jews pray on a daily basis that G-d should bring us all back to Israel. At the same time that they do this, they also continue to find reasons why they themselves are not yet able to come and live in the Holy Land. I am not saying that none of them have justification, but I cannot accept the integrity of a community whose aliyah rate amounts to no more than a trickle at the same time as it supposedly holds living in Israel to be a priority. It is absurd that a multi-million-dollar organization that has been set up to give all sorts of financial and other assistance to American Jews to make aliyah is still only able to attract approximately 3,000 Jews a year, not all of whom are even Orthodox.



If even a quarter of the Diaspora Orthodox were to move to Israel, it would also completely alter the political landscape of this country. I imagine it would be too Utopian both to envision such an aliyah and to create a united religious bloc. If we are allowed to dream, such a Utopian possibility would result in an absolute religious majority in the Knesset in a few years' time. 



I imagine that it is easier to complain than to live up to our ideals. Still, the next time we want to complain about what we see happening to the Israeli government and society, we need to realize that we have no one to blame but ourselves.



As explained most clearly by Rambam, the Jewish response to calamity is introspection.[1] A Jew must ask himself, “What might I have done to bring this upon myself?” We are certainly allowed to defend ourselves against others, but dwelling on their misdeeds is counterproductive. Indeed, it is far more productive to analyze our own mistakes and try to understand what we can do to improve ourselves. Just as protecting ourselves against others is a way to preserve our bodies, introspection is a way to preserve our souls, which in the final analysis is of much greater consequence.


[1] Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ta'anit 1:1-3.