Op-Ed: Election Lessons
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
Translated from the Hebrew "Besheva" weekly
The election results were disappointing, and left a feeling of a missed opportunity. The polls infused optimism that the ‘Bayit HaYehudi’ (Jewish Home) party would be larger, and we hoped that the ‘Likud-Beiteinu’ party would not lose as many seats. It is widely accepted that generally speaking, the majority of Israeli’s are right-wing. But once again, because of internal difficulties within the right-wing bloc, a new party, ‘Yesh Atid’ championing a broad idea, successfully drew votes from the right-wing parties, towards the left. Yitzchak Rabin was elected Prime Minister because he was viewed as being strong on security issues, clearly promising he would not conduct any negotiations with the P.L.O., and subsequently, he negotiated with them and brought upon us the cursed Oslo agreements. In his campaign advertisements in a previous election, Ehud Barak cynically exploited an elderly, sick woman waiting for treatment in a hospital corridor, claiming the government was funding the building of settlements instead of taking care of its citizens, and after being elected, announced to the world that Israel was ready to give up most of Judea and Samaria.
With Ariel Sharon, the problem was more difficult. He was elected as the leader of the Likud party, while stating that ‘din Netzarim, k’din Tel Aviv’ (the destiny of the Gush Katif community Netzarim, is the same as that of Tel Aviv), but in the end, betrayed his voters, expelled the residents of Gush Katif and northern Samaria, and destroyed their communities.
In the recent elections as well, half of the people who voted for Yair Lapid’s ‘Yesh Atid’ party, defined themselves as being right-wing, as confirmed in the survey conducted by respected pollster, Dr. Mina Tzemach. True, up until now, Lapid has not declared that he is a leftist. On the contrary; he firmly fixed himself as being a centrist, and chose to present his political platform at the University of Ariel, while stating his support for strengthening the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria. But there is concern that with increased international pressure, the ‘Yesh Atid’ party will stand united with the left against us.
The Positive Side
On the other hand, from the results of the elections it is also apparent that profound and positive processes are occurring in Israeli society in regards to Jewish heritage, and also in relation to the settlement movement, and the residents of Judea and Samaria. The Left-wing makes a point to call themselves the ‘left-center bloc’, because most of their constituents long ago came to the conclusion that even with the support of all the Arabs, they cannot presently mobilize a majority in support of hostile attitudes towards Judaism and the settlers. Almost all of the parties boast respect for Jewish heritage, and include religious members. Even the great achievement of Yair Lapid is largely due to his sympathetic attitude towards religion and Jewish unity, and to some extent, even the settlers. The Labor party also recognized it was wrong to personally attack the settlers. Even Tzippy Livni boasted that she would successfully safeguard the settlement blocs, and perhaps even build there.
The Chronic Issue: Equal Sharing of the National Burden
We must be aware of the main problem leading to early elections and the weakening of the Likud and the right-wing bloc – the equal sharing in the burden of military service. This issue has been on the public agenda for over twenty years, and every year it becomes more painful. This problem has also recently widened into equal sharing of the economic burden. Already in 1992, Raphael “Raful” Eitan’s ‘Tzomet’ party declared that it would ensure recruitment for all, and as a result, gained tremendous success. Years later, Tommy Lapid’s ‘Shinui’ party continued this policy, and in 1999, won six seats in the Knesset. In 2003, they won fifteen seats.
In the previous elections, even Avigdor Lieberman’s ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’ party succeeded to win fifteen seats, due in large to its’ firm demand for equal sharing of the national burden, and recruitment for all. The difference between the right and the left-wing party’s was that the right talked about recruitment for all, while the left focused on enlisting the Haredim.
Now, after the merger of ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’ into the Likud party, and given that it was a senior partner in the previous government – which failed to reach an agreement solving this difficult problem – a large section of the population, many of whom are unmistakably right-wing, switched over to the ‘Yesh Atid’ and ‘Kadima’ parties, hoping they would fulfill their promises to their voters, and ensure that the Haredim also contribute to the security burden of the country.
Previous Government’s Missed Opportunity
Undoubtedly, the present situation cannot remain this way for very long. Many people within the Haredi community recognize this fact, but until now, the public leaders have failed to pilot a solution highlighting the value of Torah study, in conjunction with bearing of the security and economic burden.
With the cancellation of the ‘Tal Law’ (which authorized a continuation of military exemption to yeshiva students) under the previous government, a golden opportunity was provided to lead a process of compromise convenient to all parties. But the previous government, with all its factions – including the Haredi parties and Kadima, which joined the government specifically for this purpose – failed to rise beyond narrow interests, and find a reasonable solution to the problem. As a result of this crisis, the elections were moved forward.
The Likud party paid heavily for this at the polling station and perhaps, ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’ even more so. Apparently, had they campaigned on this issue independent of the Likud, at the very least, they would have maintained their fifteen Knesset seats. ‘Kadima’ was also punished severely because of this issue, and after the soldiers’ votes are counted, they might be wiped-off the political map completely. The Haredi parties also failed, because as more time passes, the problem gets worse, and the consequences of change are likely to be more painful.
A satisfactory solution to this problem must be found as soon as possible. If not, internal tensions will increase, and as we have seen, such tensions endanger our national security, and harm our ability to safeguard the inheritance of our forefathers – the Land of Israel.
The Torah Position
In truth, this is the correct Torah perspective, for it is a great mitzvah to enlist in the army in order to protect the people, and the Land of Israel. In regard to someone who saves the life of a single person, our Sages said it is as if he saved an entire world (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5). How much more is this true with regards to someone who protects the Jewish nation, seeing as he is fighting the wars of God. The mitzvah of serving in the army also enables us to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘yishuv ha’aretz’ (settling the Land), about which our Sages said it is equivalent to all the mitzvoth (Sifrei, Re’eh 53). True, serving in the army is liable to endanger the religious level of a soldier, but this is exactly what the dedicated representatives of the Haredi community must contend with: to ensure that army procedures are suitable to the religious and Haredi soldier, and by so doing, they will bring great blessing upon the entire Jewish nation.
It is also a mitzvah for a person to make an honest living, and not live off allowances. And in the well-known and incisive words of Rambam (Maimonides): “Anyone who decides to be engaged in Torah [study] and not to work, and will be supported by ‘tzedakka’ (charity) - this person desecrates God's name, degrades the Torah, extinguishes the light of our faith, brings evil upon himself and forfeits life in ‘Olam ha’Ba’ (the World to Come); since it is forbidden to derive benefit from the words of Torah in this world. The Rabbis said (Avot 4:5): Anyone who derives benefit from the words of Torah in this world forfeits his life in ‘Olam ha’Ba’. They further commanded, and said: (Avot 4:5) Do not make them [the words of Torah] a crown to magnify yourself, or a spade to dig. They further commanded, saying: (Avot 1:10) Love work, and scorn the holding of public office. Also: (Avot 2:2) Any Torah which is not accompanied by work will eventually be nullified and will lead to sin. Ultimately, such a person will steal from others” (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:10). Time and again, generation after generation, Rambam’s words are true, and on the mark.
Another noteworthy fact from the elections: The demographic processes resulting from the blessing of natural growth are beginning to come into play. ‘Agudat Yisrael’ has now risen to seven members of Knesset, despite the increase in the percentage of voters among the secular public; the ‘Shas’ party has also gradually built a hard and steady core of supporters. And the rise of the ‘Bayit HaYehudi’ party as well, is also largely based on this blessed increase of larger families.
Part of the lack of success of the Likud party stems from their ignoring the central problem – equal sharing of the national burden, and unity of the nation. They were captives to the perception – prevalent in the media – that the entire problem is of a political nature, and the Likud, so they say, are to blame for the lack of progress in the peace process, when in reality, the public is much more right-wing and traditional than they want to believe. Other Likud members were mainly worried about the social protest that was blown out of proportion by the media, when in fact, the majority of the public appreciated their work in the economy, and also believed they could handle reducing housing prices. Thus, instead of the Likud party dealing with the chronic problem of equal sharing of the national burden, and realizing that its main rival, the ‘Yesh Atid’ party, was emphasizing these messages, they chose to butt heads with the ‘Bayit HaYehudi’ party – an altercation which brought absolutely no votes, but, at best, shifted votes from the ‘Bayit HaYehudi’ party, to Lapid.
The ‘Bayit HaYehudi’ Party
After everything, the ‘Bayit HaYehudi’ party managed to rise considerably, and for this, we should be happy. But in order not to sink once more into trivial matters, they need to be extremely careful not to be drawn into dealing with narrow, sectarian issues, such as being overly-concerned about obtaining financial assistance for our costly educational institutions, while at the same time, confining them inside the narrow framework of the national-religious community – whose members, by and large, are quite financially established.
reduce the cost of education in religious institutions, in order to open them to a wider public who is interested in a Jewish, religious, moral, and national education for their children. Such a thirst exists both in the Haredi community, and amongst the traditional public.
In order to maintain the achievements and continue moving forward, it is essential that all sectors within the ‘Bayit HaYehudi’ party, stop trying to impose their position on others. Everything must be done to ensure that all parents can educate their children according to what is good and agreeable from their point of view – whether it is emphasizing education towards the sciences, or towards devotion to military service, or contributing in the field of economics and enterprise, or religious study and the sprouting of Torah scholars.
In the present situation, someone who does not loyally belong to the mainstream of the national-religious community finds it difficult to send their children to national-religious educational institutions – either because they are too expensive, or because they are not religious enough, and so, parents prefer to send their children ‘bediavad’ (after the fact), to schools run by ‘Agudat Yisrael’ or ‘Shas’. Consequently, nearly forty percent of the parents who have children learning in the Haredi school system, attended national-religious schools themselves.
It is also necessary to expand and update the opportunities of integrating military service with yeshiva Torah study, in a way that could offer a solution both for the Haredi community, and also for the religiously inclined, traditional public.
To My Brothers, the Settlers
Our work is not yet completed. We must continue clinging to the Holy Land bravely, fighting for every ‘dunam’ (acre), and every home; to bring an additional family, and afterwards, yet another one; to enhance Torah life and culture, and continue creating an improved model of Jewish society.
It will not be easy. The task is large and complex. But in national terms, it is the only suitable task intended for the realization of Israel’s redemption in its land, according to the Torah.
With all the difficulties, we must remember that we are extremely fortunate. Many generations suffered the yoke of exile, humiliation, robbery and murder – and all the while, believed that one day their children would return to the hills of Judea and Samaria, as God said. And here, we have merited to be counted amongst these pioneers. With humility and reverence, we will attempt to meet this amazing task.