Israel versus Judaism



Differences of Approach

Thus, the attitude towards the State could only be a frankly negative one, as has been explained. However, as has also been explained, it is not an easy thing to find a way for the practical expression of this negative, hence the difference in approach. It is not our intention here to go into these differences, and certainly not to take sides in this respect. However, failure to point out at least the major trends crystallized during recent years in the Torah-true camp, would involve leaving too unsatisfactory a picture of the situation. Before we try to describe the existing trends, it is worth while dwelling a minute upon a trend that does not exist. It might well have been assumed that the anti-Torah structure of the State, with brutal outbreaks occurring periodically, would generate a trend in favour of mass-emigration from Israel. Interesting enough, such a trend does not exist. To be sure, there is a substantial wave of emigration from Israel, and among the numerous emigrants there is also a certain percentage of observant Jews although they are very far from constituting even a large percentage let alone a majority of emigrants. Even of those, however, only a very small part is affiliated with so-called "extremist" circles, and, even among that very small group, practically no one has ascribed his motive for emigration to spiritual or religious causes but rather to economic or family reasons.(This writer happens to have first-hand acquaintances with these matters through his professional work in translating documents.) There is no indication of a religious movement in favour of emigration. This is in itself quite an interesting fact, and therefore worth mentioning here. Its explanation is doubtless to be found in the Jew's inherent love for the Holy Land, which cannot be quenched by opposition to the State.

Before going on to discuss the various existing trends within orthodox Jewry, another introductory remark, which equally applies to all other parts of this work, should be made. There is a basic rule in the Law of the Torah, or, more exactly, two rules that combine into one: in the language of the Talmud, "we are not concerned with the wicked" and "we are not concerned with the fools". This means that all rules set up, all cases dealt with, etc., are based on the assumption that the persons concerned are morally and mentally sound. Consequently, we are not discussing here words, statements, proclamations and slogans that are motivated by calculations of personal gain, clandestine intrigues or party-politics and solely guided by such interests, regardless of whether those who utter them are strong or weak at the moment of this writing. Neither are we concerned here with persons lacking intellectual maturity, who cling to outworn bombastic phrases. We are concerned here only with serious trends held by persons with a sense of responsibility and of full mental and intellectual maturity. Within such quarters, two major trends may be discerned in spite of various minor divergencies in regard to details. One trend advocates complete abstention by Torah true Jews from everything directly or indirectly connected with the State, including even (at least theoretically) the use of vital services supplied by the State, such as post, currency, ration-books, etc. Consequently, this trend also demands non-participation in elections to Parliament or even municipalities. From a purely theoretical viewpoint, this trend is largely justified. From a practical point of view, however, the majority of Torah true Jews cannot act on this principle. The second trend favours a policy which was once ably defined by the late Dr. Breuer (during the debate on the Peel-Partition Plan in Marienbad, see above) in the following terms: "Any recognition which we may give such a State" he then said, "could be only 'de facto' but never 'de jure'". According to the followers of this trend, whereas a complete boycott of all services of the State cannot be implemented in practice by most people and whereas the vast majority of the country's inhabitants are in any event forced to use these services by paying taxes, registering for military service (even Yeshiva-students and Rabbis who are exempted have to appear at state offices in order to receive exemption) etc., etc., there can be no objection to their using the opportunity given them by the right to vote in order to elect such representatives to the legislative institutions as would protect the rights of Torah wherever possible, and would, at least, be able to voice a more effective protest from the rostrum of the Knesset, provided, of course, that they take no step involving participation in “collective responsibility” for the regime as a whole (e.g. by joining a coalition-cabinet). Whether or not, throughout the various elections held by the State of Israel, Knesset deputies who have lived up to this criterion, have been elected, is another question . . . .

In any event, even such "de facto" recognition, whatever one's opinion concerning its political wisdom might be, does not affect in any way the question of "de jure" non-recognition. The followers of both trends maintain a completely negative attitude towards the State. The differences centre solely around the practical steps to be taken.

Although this point seems quite simple and logical, yet a vast amount of confusion on the subject prevails on various sides; and I shall therefore try to illustrate this matter further through an example taken from the everyday-life of contemporary American Jewry.

There are no differences of opinion in Orthodox quarters regarding their appraisal of Conservative or Reform Judaism. Let us now assume that a certain orthodox young man is offered a position as a teacher at a Hebrew school affiliated to a Conservative congregation in the mid-West. (Such cases, incidentally, happen every day). Our young man will now be faced with the following problem. If he accepts the position, he can do a great deal for the spiritual salvation of the children both in his own class and in the entire school. Others who have done so, have succeeded in sending children to Yeshivos, etc. Moreover, he is assured full freedom of personal religious practice. On the other hand, he would not only personally endanger himself by mingling with a Conservative or Reform environment, but would create the erroneous impression that the standards of that environment are acceptable to orthodox Jews. He will consult a reliable Rabbi. The Rabbi's answer will, of course, depend upon the circumstances of the individual case, local conditions, persons involved, etc. There is at least the theoretical possibility that, under certain circumstances, the answer might be in the affirmative. This writer knows of cases where this has actually happened. Other Rabbis, of course, may hold other views; but the fact that the Rabbi in question permitted his young questioner to accept the position, can in no way be interpreted to mean that his attitude towards the movements of Reform or Conservativism as such is less resolutely negative than that of his colleagues.

This might also be the right opportunity to dwell at some length on the slogan frequently voiced in various religious quarters: "We are against the Government but for the State". This slogan is not the view of Torah-Jewry nor does it belong to either of the two afore-mentioned trends. It belongs rather to "religious Zionism", (to which our next chapter will be dedicated), or to the two abovementioned categories "with which the Law is not concerned". For, in the view of Torah Jewry which has already been explained at length (hence, also in the view of the second trend), the exact opposite is the case: It is the attitude towards the STATE that is outspokenly "contra", while the attitude towards its Government, though it is certainly not "pro", displays awareness that the Government remains an existing fact with which one has to "get along" one way or another willy-nilly. Sometimes it becomes necessary to fight against the Government; yet negotiations have to take place with the governing bodies, or with X or Y who hold one post or another, and, even more so, with major or minor officials in the different departments. In some area of practical detail an agreement may even be reached; but, as far as the "State" is concerned, the attitude can never be other than negative.

In terms of the above slogan, the differences of approach between the two trends exist only with regard to the “Government”; in their objection to the “State” both trends are equally resolute.

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