Op-Ed: Holding High the "Flag of Jerusalem"
Rabbi Yosef MendelevichThe author, former Soviet refusenik and Prisoner of Zion, a leader of Soviet Jewry, was imprisoned for 11 years in the Gulag for attempting to hijack a plane to reach Israel. His autobiography, Operation Wedding, describes the story and his release in 1981.
It can be argued that the Religious Zionist Movement has succeeded in achieving its goals. After all, the Mizrachi, as it was called in the early days of Zionism, aspired to be the bridge between the secular and the religious from its inception.
It did build that bridge, but it turned out that the traffic on it was only one-way and that graduates of Religious Zionist institutions began to cross it to join the secular public. That's what gave rise to the half-cynical saying that the Likud has more knitted kippot (crocheted skullcaps, a symbol of religious Zionism, ed.) than any other Religious Zionist movement.
The first to cross over the bridge was Moshe Feiglin. Perhaps less idealistic reasons brought other kippah wearing MK's to Likud headquarters. When I asked some of them why they did so, they answered: "What’s the difference between the Likud and the NRP? Both are for the Land of Israel and Jewish 'tradition'."
MK Shai Piron of the secular Yesh Atid party, who studied at Merkaz Harav Yeshiva for a while, seems to have reached the same conclusion. Except that as education minister, he is carrying out the educational philosophy of Yair Lapid, who is seen as anti-religious. MK Elazar Stern, who is a graduate of a famed religious Zionist yeshiva is a star in Tzipi Livni's Hatnua party, hardly a pro-religious setting.
The Religious Zionist constituency is bereft of a party that stands for its original, founding principles.
Of course, the Bayit Yehudi (inheritor of the National Religious Party, the NRP) party did garner 12 seats, but anyone who reads about the current budget difficulties in the hesder yeshivas understands the comment being bandied about, that "we have 12 Knesset seats and yeshivas are suffering", is an apt description of the situation.
Just before the last elections, a young Bayit Yehudi activist called to ask me if I would add my signature to a letter signed by 100 rabbis in support of its head, Naphtali Bennett. I replied that I would expect that something that serious would not be organized from a telephone call center. "So you won't sign?", she asked, and hung up the phone. To tell the truth, who needs a Mendelevich, when yeshiva deans were willing to stand on line for the chance to sign that letter.
Why did they sign? Because "something new is beginning!" as Bennett's campaign slogan said. Who cares that our Talmudic Sages said "New, but not entirely new" – it doesn't matter, the main thing is that we have an energetic fellow at the helm who will surely fight for us, they said.
Those Rosh Yeshivas who signed the Bayit Yehudi letter supported a non-sectorial party which raised the flag of "equal burden for all" (expression meaning army service for all, ed.). What connection does this slogan have to Torah and keeping the commandments? There is some kind of connection, of course, but it is the same as the Likud, Yesh Atid and Labor Parties' connection.
It's no surprise that "our" [Zionist] yeshivas ended up shortchanged. What could one expect – that they would only reduce budgets for hareidi yeshivas? What about 'equal burden'?
What has really resulted is that the Religious Zionist constituency is bereft of a party that stands for its original, founding principles – basics such as "studying Torah is the most important [mitzvah, ed.]", as it says in the daily prayers.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook (Israel's first chief rabbi, ed.) called for forming a "Flag of Jerusalem Movement" besides the secular Zionist one. He wrote a famous article in which he said that the two groups could unite once the secular Zionists discovered that the whole purpose of returning to the Land of Israel was "to renew our ancient holy way of life there". The movements would work in parallel "until the true character of the return is revealed, the truth that makes up the real strength of the whole life of the Jewish nation."
Since the truth behind the existence of our national life has not yet been accepted by the secular Zionist movement, said the rabbi, join the "Flag of Jerusalem", a spiritual movement borne forward by the greater power of those who follow true Judaism, a force that can lead what he, who loved all Jews, termed "the entire holy camp of Israel".
Rabbi Kook's cry was not understood at the time. Many had hopes that the Mizrachi, which also talked about being a spiritual center for the Jews of Israel in the Land of Israel, would fulfill that role.
Now that almost nothing is left of the spiritual center idea and its graduates do not even understand why one is necessary - and prefer to be non-sectorial - perhaps the time has come to raise the great flag of the Torah-true Zionist world in Israel - Zion is simply another name for Jerusalem - and carry it with pride before the nation.
Translated from the Hebrew
For the first twenty years following his imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag, the writer, a student of the Merkaz Harav Yeshva, was a member of the NRP central committee. He received 25% of the vote when, with the blessing of Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, he ran for the post of party head in the nineties.