I wish to report a double-hijacking: The Religious Zionist Party (RZP) is misusing God’s lofty words for prosaic political matters – and besmirching religious Zionism’s reputation. Last Thursday, journalists speculated how long Benjamin Netanyahu’s contentious coalition might survive. Leftists predicted that Israeli democracy wouldn’t survive. I wondered: with the Religious Zionist Party claiming to define it, can religious Zionism survive?
I write as a loving outsider. I lack most religious Zionists’ intimate faith and Jewish fluency. I did not graduate from those impressive yeshivas, seminaries and youth movements sharpening young minds – and stretching Jewish souls. Still, some of my best friends – and most of my children – are religious Zionists, making me religious Zionist-adjacent. And I am moved by the cascading kindness, charity, familial devotion, community-building, idealism, and heroic nationalism I see day-to-day from religious Zionists, making me religious Zionist-positive. But color me Religious-Zionist-Party-repelled.
As a boring, long-married, father of four, I don’t understand how gay-bashing reinforces my family values. In fact, autocrats preening about “our” way of life while othering others looks insecure. As a Jew who grew up as a minority in America, I don’t want to live in a society where anyone might be denied medical treatment or hotel lodging based on how they look, what they believe, or with whom they partner.
Similarly, I don’t understand how demonizing Arabs or undermining the military chain of command protects me. We need politicians strengthening our society and reinforcing our soldier-heroes, not inflaming tensions.
I join Avi Maoz in rejecting the postmodernist assault on family, on tradition. But I want to win the argument with respect and constructive role-modeling, not insults and repressive legislation.
Such bullying is not countenanced by the Torah, by the Judaism I cherish – or by the history of religious Zionism.
At first glance, religious Zionism offers the most natural, least-neurotic, Zionism. Religious Zionists effortlessly integrate their love of God, Judaism, the Jewish people, the Jewish state, and humanity. Rav Kook’s “Four-fold Song” harmonizes the songs of self, nation, humanity and the universe. Kook honored early Zionism’s seemingly-rebellious pioneers for making the Holy Land bloom again. Today, my kids see religious Zionism as the “glue” uniting Israel – not the grenade launcher for fragmentation bombs pulling Israel apart.
The late Bambi Sheleg considered the Yom Kippur War as religious Zionism’s great inflection point. The 1973 war demoralized labor Zionism but boosted religious Zionism. After fighting heroically, religious Zionists focused on building their own communities, improving their social standing, and settling the territories. But, Sheleg lamented in 2005, “Embarrassing as it is to admit, we fell in love with ourselves.... On the way to redeeming the land of our forefathers, we forgot our people.”