Following a question on Facebook, I think it is necessary to explain the motivation behind my articles and the theology/personal history that shapes them.
For me, as for most people, what the secular blandly call ‘religion’ is a lifelong journey revolving around a developing relationship with God. After being sidetracked for several years, my journey took off when, at the age of 30, I moved to Israel in 1991. My first yeshiva was Machon Meir, a strongly Dati Leumi (national religious) yeshiva. I distinctly remember being asked to leave the yeshiva in order to learn Hasidut. Hasidut and Dati Leumi were thought to be incompatible. At the same time, secular Zionism was praised, even idolized, as being the incarnation of Moshiach ben Yosef*. Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) were seen as holding Judaism back by holding onto the soil of Poland and the Galut (exile). It was asserted that real Jews do not wear black. Real Jews wear a green IDF uniform.
At first, Dati Leumi was not only a bridge to connect with the secular but as a movement and even more strongly on the individual level, it identified with the secular. Connecting with the secular was dressed up in the Rav Kook theology of Herzl and secular Zionism being Moshiach ben Yosef but what it meant on a practical level was a strong anti-Haredi sentiment among the Dati Leumi. They would rather sit with the secular while they ate treif (non-kosher) than sit with the Haredim who ate Mehadrin (a more stringent level of kashrut).
But this all changed drastically in 2005 with the expulsion from Gush Katif. The government’s decision to uproot over 10,000 mostly Dati Leumi Jews was not a move towards peace with the Arabs. The decision-making process did not involve any dialogue with Arabs inside Israel and it was a serious blow to Israel’s relations with Egypt who objected to the IDF withdrawal. The expulsion was a horrible decision and the thousands of rockets and two IDF incursions into Gaza came as no surprise even to the supporters of the expulsion. The expulsion from Gush Katif was a political move by the left-wing intended to break the Dati Leumi who were quickly becoming a political threat to the secular left-wing. Yair Lapid openly admits this. Through naivete built on theologically based good intentions, the Dati Leumi believed that the secular Zionists who served with them in the army would never betray them. The expulsion from Gush Katif was an unmistakeable stab in the face.
The fact is that even though the Dati Leumi idolized the secular Zionists, the love was never reciprocal. Israel had arrived at the stage where the Dati Leumi Zionism was burdensome to the secular left. The secular left had always had a hidden agenda of elitist capitalism and the ideals of Zionism were holding them back from their laissez-faire aspirations to a materialist lifestyle unburdened with nationalist obligations. The Zionists wanted to be free from their ideals but could not walk away while the Dati Leumi waited for them in the army and in the “settlements”. The ideal of a bare-chested kibbutznik jumping from tractor to tank was replaced with a high-tech coffee house-dwelling wunderkind. To make this change, the weapons of war were put aside and the former Zionists took up the cause of Palestinian nationhood with greater fervor than for Israel’s survival. The Israeli ideal of hityashvut (settling the land, a word that had positive connotations) changed in the vernacular to hitnachalut (butting in, the term commonly used in Israel to describe Jews who live in Judea and Samaria). Living in the Biblical heartland was evil and the true capital of Israel was, like the Arabs insisted, Tel Aviv. The IDF transformed from Israel’s savior into an “occupying force” and by winning the war for Israel’s survival, we had actually lost.
For the Dati Leumi, this break with the secular had deep theological implications. Rav Kook, the founder of the Dati Leumi movement, learned Hasidut but the subject was taboo in Rav Kook yeshivot (learning institutions). That contradiction may be due to the people in the Dati Leumi being from the Mitnagid (anti-Hasidut) movement.
After Gush Katif, the Chardal (Haredi Dati Leumi) movement which barely existed before then got much stronger. In Gush Etzion, we started to see what was called Hasidut Eretz Yisrael which was basically a strange mix of Breslov Hasidut and Rav Kook. Not only had the two philosophies been conceptually divided but their adherents typically came from two disparate demographics. “Settlers” living in Judea and Samaria studied Rav Kook while Hasidut, the bastion of black-clad Haredim whose spiritual icons were buried in Eastern Europe, lived in a modern-day urban shtetl (ghetto). One wore dusty hiking boots or sandals while the other wore black slippers.
There have been glimmers of Haredi and the “settler movement” coming closer. Eli Yishai’s party in the 2015 election was certainly that, bringing together dusty hilltop youth with black-clad yeshiva bochers (full-time students). I see this happening more and more, socially and politically. Most significantly, this election was the first time that the Haredi parties, at the behest of Rav Kanievsky, announced they would not support forfeiting land to the Arabs. The Haredi parties historically have politically sold out to the highest bidder, more often the seculars who also align with the Arab parties. The reasons for Rav Kanievsky’s change of mind are unclear. It could be that they were practically motivated. The Haredi birth-rate has created a demand for housing that pushed the younger generations out into the unsettled areas of Judea and Samaria. This is in sharp contrast to the center of the country which is become gentrified and obscenely over-priced. This leaves the ideologically anti-settlement younger secular Israelis without a solution. But there are fewer of them so they are left to make do. Tel Aviv is no longer the collection of eclectic neighborhoods that smelled of falafel. It has become the decidedly un-Israeli jewel of the Mediterranean.
As a former “settler”, I feel that I became so more as a spiritual statement than a political one. Walking the land of Israel necessarily includes a belief in the geula (redemption) process and taking practical steps towards this, i.e. Temple Mount activism, Sanhedrin, strengthening mitzvoth that are connected to the land of Israel and bringing back mitzvoth that haven’t been seen for thousands of years. We need a Sanhedrin to replace the Chief Rabbinate which has no Biblical precedent. We need a Sanhedrin since it is explicitly forbidden for Jews to establish a court system that is not Torah-based (like the current Israeli system of justice). Yet the Dati Leumi supported these anti-Torah establishments in the government because they were the result of the vaunted secular Zionist government.
Being a Torah observant Jew in Israel means to me that we must reject this unhealthy marriage with the secular. Judaism must necessarily develop, evolve (or more accurately, devolve) into its true incarnation that can only take hold in the Land of Israel, a truer form of Zionism that is decidedly unsecular.
I should comment that I believe that the Torah clearly describes Israel as a pluralistic society and I would like modern Israel to remain so. That being said, my vision of a more Torah-based Israel requires the anti-Torah elements of the secular Zionist state to be weeded out. But that seems to be happening already in a gradual (perhaps too gradual) manner. The more difficult change will be to change Orthodox Judaism from its exile incarnation to its truer form that it takes in the land of Israel. This may come about when the Dati Leumi leave secular Zionism behind and merge spiritually with the Haredim. This would be the culmination of Rav Kook’s vision of secular Zionism as Moshiach ben Yosef being a temporary step towards a greater Israel and Moshiach ben David which includes the Davidic Dynasty, the Third Temple, and a war against Amalek.
I think this is already happening. Chardal seems to be an incarnation of this. Every time I ascend to the Temple Mount, I see more Haredim walking the site in direct contravention of the pseudo-Halachic (Torah law) proclamations of their religious leaders. Haredi politicians will no longer be able to support giving up land on the “other side of the green line” simply because the majority of their constituents live there. At the same time, I am hoping that the Dati Leumi will find a new brother in the Haredim, one that is far more loyal than the secular Zionist.
I think we are on the verge of a new era, a cusp where the deciding factor is the support of Israel. Jews who do not support Israel, including those who live in Israel as well as those who have chosen the exile, will be on one side. Jews who live in Israel and the non-Jews who believe in our covenantal requirement to dwell in the land will be on the other. This is not because Jews are so good or so important. This is simply because, as a nation, we represent the Bible and our presence in the land means that God still has an interest in the world. There is a judge. People who do not like this reject Israel. People who want more of this look to Israel with hope.
*-According to Jewish tradition, the Messianic era is a two-stage process beginning with Moshiach (Messiah) from the house of Joseph, a practical process that includes building up the land of Israel and the ingathering of the exiles. Moshiach from the house of David is a miraculous process culminating in the completion of the Third Temple and the resurrection of the dead.