Why G-d Made Rabbis and Referendums

The great referendum debate is heating-up and my stand is clearly one of yes and no.

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Ellen W. Horowitz

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The great referendum debate is heating-up and my stand is clearly one of yes and no.

Yes, I would like a national referendum to take place over Ariel Sharon's plans to uproot Jewish communities in Gaza; and no, I would not adhere to its results if the national camp were to (G-d forbid) lose. I reserve my right to protest. I see this stance as obligatory rather than subversive. I confess that I am not a great adherent to democracy when it comes to existential issues. And when it comes to the lives of my children and the future of my people, I go with my guts.

For the most part, I'm willing to let democratically elected politicians and bureaucrats haggle over and decide policy with regards to economics, employment, labor unions, health care, education, welfare, social security, tax reform, energy and environmental concerns. I also have a healthy degree of confidence in the capability of our defense forces to effectively carry out operations against our enemies.

But, as a Jewish mother who has borne witness to the tragedies of Oslo and the corrupt actions and blunders of our government and leaders, I cannot allow a referendum, regardless of how democratic it may be, to take precedence over what I know in my heart to be wrong and dangerous.

But still, there are advantages to a referendum, and I would certainly participate if one were to be held. Voting is one of the most direct, legal and tangible means for the public to express their will and effect change. I also believe it is the only way we have of gauging actual public sentiment, as public opinion polls in Israel are notoriously off the mark.

The apathy demonstrated by certain segments of the Israeli public may help to explain some of the discrepancy in polling statistics. Picking up a phone and answering a pollster is a far cry from rearranging one's schedule and taking the time and effort to vote with one's feet. (Off the record, I'm sure my husband isn't the only one who likes to have a bit of fun with the tele-pollsters.) I believe what Ariel Sharon is most afraid of is that the people who really care and who have a stake in this country will flock to the polling stations, while others won't bother. And that would spell another humiliating defeat, and possibly the final blow for Sharon.

A referendum on the issue of a Gaza pullout and evacuation would certainly give all of the "experts" what to work with, and the wealth of information we can garner from such an exercise may be well worth the effort and expense. If we were all a bit more reflective, everyone from government officials, to journalist, to educators, to historians, to the military would take time out and study the results. An honest look at ourselves and the choices we make could go a long way towards understanding what makes this nation tick and towards healing national wounds. (Dream on, Ellen - our experts are not so introspective or wise.)

It's more than possible that the citizens of this country will soundly defeat Sharon and his plans, at which point we could then thank G-d, but where would we go from there? It's also likely that final poll results would indicate a severe rift in the country. And based on those results, any responsible political leader would see the obvious ethical dilemmas inherent in trying to push through this type of decisive agenda. (Who am I kidding? There are no responsible, ethical politicians or leaders left.)

It appears that the democratic process has come to the end of the road in Israel, and there is no room for compromise - at least not over certain eternal issues. We're a people who are clearly forbidden to surrender any portions of our eternal inheritance to our enemies. We're a people who desperately want to live and have our children continue to live and thrive in Eretz Yisrael. We're a people who don't want to lift a finger against our fellow Jews. We're a people who want to fulfill our obligations and see those who are trying to kill us destroyed.

All things considered, I believe that we people have held our ground and handled ourselves quite well through these several leaderless years. But now, we've come to a crossroads. We're not sure where to turn, but we're fairly sure that salvation is not going to emanate from the direction of the Knesset building. We're also aware that we have a responsibility to prevent public discourse from deteriorating further, and that we cannot fall into the "incitement" trap that the government has set-up for us. We need leaders who can form a unified front, consistently speak the truth for us and understand the consequences.

And that's why G-d created rabbis, and why the rabbis created the Union of Rabbis for the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. This group, led by Rabbi Avraham Shapira, represents over 1,000 rabbis from Israel and the Diaspora, both Ashkenazim and Sepharadim. Among them are many of Israel's most outstanding halachic scholars and spiritual leaders. The group was formed several years ago in response to the tragedies unfolding as the result of the Oslo Accords. They took a stand back then and they have remained consistent ever since - which is more than I can say of most of our current political leaders.

In July 1995, I had a letter to the editor published in the Jerusalem Post that defended the rabbis' halachic ruling on relinquishing land and I still hold by those words today:

Sir - I support the recent halachic ruling by the Rabbinic Forum for Israel. Governments come and go, whether they be left- wing, right-wing, totalitarian or democratic. They dictate policy, only to be replaced by the winds of history.

Rabbis represent an eternal truth, one on which the values of justice and sanctity of life are built. Rabbinic authorities have an obligation to object when they feel the Torah, people and land of Israel are endangered. When a moral dilemma exists, many turn to spiritual leaders for guidance.

History condemns religious leaders for their silence before and during the Holocaust, and history judges kindly those clergymen who participated in anti-government activities during the Vietnam war. The Israeli left is certainly no stranger to the term "conscientious objector." If the Oslo DOP fails and brings tragedy with it, then these rabbis will be seen as heroic figures with tremendous insight.

But until history takes its course, we must reserve judgment and remember that, while our politicians are being wined and dined in diplomatic circles, our rabbis attend the funerals of our fallen and comfort bereaved families. Who truly represents the people?


When the man-made facade and infrastructure of our world starts to crumble and fail us, then we need to get back to our source and rediscover our true foundations. We need to seek guidance from those leaders who neither receive Knesset perks nor have conflicts of interest, but from those who care deeply about the land, people and Torah of Israel. People who love Zion and Zionism, and who have a healthy fear of G d and understand the importance of and strength in unity.

What should our next move be? I defer to the rabbis.


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