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by Batya Medad


Last winter, trying to make sense of what the Sharon Government was forcing on the nation, I wrote my one-hundredth Musing. In it I mused and meandered, wondering if the concept of Religious Zionism and its attachment to the State of Israel wasn't just a foolish naïve mistake.

Religious Zionism is a life style, a commitment to be Orthodox Jews in Israel and full patriots. We're loyal to the State of Israel, and our sons not only serve in the army, but volunteer for the most difficult, dangerous elite units. Some of our daughters also serve in the army, but most do national service, volunteering in hospitals, orphanages and schools and communities all over the country. We are 100% Israelis, proudly waving our flags and doing everything for the state.

There are other Orthodox Jews here, known as the chareidim, who have a very different relationship to the state. As I wrote in Musing #100 last February,

"I'm no expert in Chareidi rationale and philosophy. From my understanding," -- and excluding the Chabad, who dress similarly to them -- "they look at the State of Israel as just another foreign government. They take what they can get from it and obey whatever laws they consider relevant. Considering how the government is treating us, maybe we should re-think our relationship with the state. That doesn't make us disloyal, just less "enthusiastic."

"This is really hard and traumatic to say, but could the Chareidim be right in their attitude towards Zionism and the State of Israel? It's starting to seem like Zionism is a lot like socialism, great in theory but horrific in practice."

Just yesterday someone who reads my 'musings' on a regular basis, wrote to me quoting from that hundredth one. Apparently not only am I not alone in this dilemma, but it is occupying the minds of many. The question of our place in the State of Israel has been bothering me more and more. My thinking has been going in another direction completely.

So much has been going on since Arik Sharon announced his Disengagement policy and then fired the Government Ministers who opposed him.

We've been reeling from shock. Just a short while ago we, the loyal patriotic religious public were so proud of our achievements in all aspects of the national institutions, especially the army. Never before have so many officers been from religious homes. And religious Israelis are seen in every profession. There is now even a "chareidi unit" in the army. The fact that it took over fifty years is the problem. In the pre-State days, chareidim took part in the Etzel and Lechi fighting for a state. Then for decades they withdrew, disengaged, leaving that important national institution to the non-religious and anti-religious Israeli public.

Now, I sense that the real cause of our problems is the fact that the chareidim didn't integrate into the state and army from day one. Ben Gurion was very happy to give them the opportunity of not serving in the army, because he didn't want them there. It would have been a very different army if chareidim had been included, or should I correct this grammatically and not use the passive. The chareidim should have included themselves and fully joined the country in all ways, rather than happily locking themselves in the ghettos and Batei Medrash, collecting their stipends and letting us, 'their inferiors,' endanger our children by sending them to work and war. The life style of chareidi men in Batei Medrash instead of working should not have been encouraged. It's not Jewish to have that sort of separation between kodesh and chol, holiness and the mundane.

That's right, it isn't Jewish to insist that religious scholars be exempt from the military. It's the norm in the United States, because the United States is a Christian country, and Christian values are included in its Constitution. Jewish tradition is different.

Also, historically it was never the norm that massive numbers of men were supposed to cloister themselves in Batei Medrash to learn full-time, removed from day-to-day responsibilities. Our great 'gedolim' worked. Judaism is a religion of the real world integrated with kodesh, holiness. Shabbat is supposed to be a break from the six days of work, and yes, there are supposed to be six days of work, 'melacha,' the specific Jewish concept of labor, craft and creation, which is expressly forbidden on Shabbat.

It is no secret that Ben Gurion and his labor Zionists were anti-religious. The stories of religious children being sent to non-religious educational frameworks and the kidnapped Yemenite children are numerous and not denied. When the state was first established and the chareidim asked for a totally separate education system and army exemptions for yeshiva students, they were granted for two reasons. The first was because their population was so small, that the ruling elite was certain that those tiny remnants of strict orthodoxy would never be a population to reckon with. And second, the ruling party didn't want to have to integrate the chareidim into the army and general society. Strict observance of kashrut and Shabbat were things from the hated 'shtetel,' not for the modern 'new Jew' Israeli.

Until the miraculous results of the 'Six Days War' in 1967, the religious Zionists worked hard to fit in with the non-religious, so they weren't a threat. Afterwards things began to change, and religious Zionism began to switch its ideal from the Mapai kibbutznik to the chareidi yeshiva bochur. The State Religious School Stream began to add hours to the school day for more religious studies, Yeshivot hesder with their five-year yeshiva and army program and the 'mechinot' pre-army yeshivot grew in popularity, influence and power. In addition, non-chareidi, crocheted kippot, full-time married yeshiva students became common. One no longer had to don a black hat to learn Torah full-time.

I don't think it bothered the Labor Zionists that YESHA settlement was dominated by the religious population. It was only when they saw what was happening in the army that they began to panic. A common 'joke' is that there are two types of officers, the religious ones in crocheted kippot and the ones who used to be religious. The more elite the unit, the more there were soldiers from religious homes. The 'old guard' was in a panic. They had less children, and their children weren't interested.

One of the aims of Disengagement was to 'shake up' the army, and the most pathetic site on TV was to see the soldiers crying as they forced people out of their homes. They knew they were doing wrong, but they didn't have the moral strength to oppose orders. And this includes good religious boys in addition to those who weren't raised with the ideal of 'yishuv ha'Aretz' settling the Land.

Do you blame a child suffering malnutrition if he has always eaten what his parents gave him? No, and it's hard for me to blame the state when the rabbis, the chareidi rabbis, could have fed it more Torah. The State of Israel is suffering from spiritual malnutrition, because it was deprived of the element that would have made it a strong Jewish State. Chareidi society has been disengaged from the state, and it is time to connect and join us.

The State of Israel is our only option. That's one of the lessons Disengagement has taught us. As imperfect as it is, it's the only game in town.

This is not the time for any of us to disengage from the State of Israel. We must get more and more involved and rebuild it into the Jewish state and society it should be.


Batya Medad lives in Shiloh and has written a series of "Musings" about life in Israel. This is a revision of Musing #137. She can be reached by email at or visit her website or go to


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