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Judaism: Confessions of a Confused Religious Zionist

[W]hen you accuse your government of abuse and refuse to serve in its armed forces, how can you at the same time look at that same government with pride and refer to it as the beginning of the final redemption?
Published: Tuesday, February 15, 2005 2:53 PM


I am a religious Zionist. I was taught to believe that we are living in the atchalta d'geula, the dawning of our redemption. Every Shabbos, I continue to lead my shul in the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel. I consider the State of Israel a gift that the Almighty gave to the Jewish people. I daven for the members of the Israel Defense Forces. I consider it a religious imperative to say Hallel on Yom Ha'atzmaut in gratitude to Hashem for the modern State of Israel.

And I am very frustrated, and honestly confused. Two news articles that recently appeared on Arutz 7 will help illustrate why.

One of the articles appeared on November 25th. It is the story of a woman whose husband was murdered by Arab terrorists during their Sabbath meal. The family lived alone in a caravan, outside Kiryat Arba. When the week-long mourning period ended, the widow and her five children returned to live on the hilltop in her caravan. Two months later, without prior warning, IDF forces surprised the family in the middle of the night and forcibly evicted them from their home.

The woman later said that the soldiers broke down the door, did not speak or produce a warrant, and began searching: "[The police] told me that I had to enter the car immediately. I told them that I could not leave the children alone in the house. They forcibly pushed me into the police car. And then the soldiers went to bring the children from their beds...."

The other article, which appeared a few weeks earlier, told of Dr. David Matar, a resident of Efrat. He'd been called for reserve duty, as he'd been many times in the past fifteen years, but this time he would not be showing up.

"I'm willing to stand trial, and I can no longer serve in the IDF due to the government policy of disengagement," he said. "The word 'disengagement' is simply a euphemism for the forced expulsion of some 8,000 Jews from their homes in Gush Katif and northern Shomron. The army has received an order to declare war on a group of innocent and loyal citizens, to define them as a target and an enemy, and to break into their homes in order to expel men, women and children.

"This is combat in every sense, with planned violence by the security forces against Jewish citizens. It will easily deteriorate into catastrophes such as occurred in [the case of] the Altalena. These are blatantly illegal orders, and it is forbidden to carry them out. The Israel Defense Force is designed to protect the People of Israel and the Land of Israel, and to fight the Arab enemy ­ and not our Jewish brothers."

Dr. Matar also explained that, as a religious man, he could not accept orders that would force him to choose between his fundamental religious beliefs regarding the Torah commandments to settle the Land of Israel and his loyalty to the state and the army.

How are religious Zionists supposed to react to these new stories? What conclusions should we reach? The people mentioned in the above stories undoubtedly would call themselves religious Zionists. But when you accuse your government of abuse and refuse to serve in its armed forces, how can you at the same time look at that same government with pride and refer to it as the beginning of the final redemption?

What happens if your officer in the army tells you to expel Jews from their homes? Answers Rabbi Avraham Shapira, the former chief rabbi of Israel and elder statesman and rabbi of religious Zionism today: "G-d-fearing policemen and soldiers should make it clear to their commanders already now that just as they would not fulfill orders to desecrate the Sabbath and eat non-kosher, they similarly will not uproot Jews from their homes. ...It's a sin [to uproot], and therefore it's forbidden to everyone."

The attitudes of kipah-wearing Jews vary. Some will follow Rabbi Shapira's ruling. Others will not. But all will pray for the welfare of the government and refer to it as the harbinger of the Messianic redemption.

"Honestly," a close friend of mine in Israel said to me, "I think soldiers must obey orders no matter what!"

"My dear friend," I told him, "if we are religious Zionists, shouldn't we be listening to our rabbis?"

It would appear that religious Zionists must come to grips with this basic idea. We cannot just turn to our Torah leaders with questions regarding the laws of kashrut and Shabbat. This, I believe, is the beginning of a breakdown of the entire mesorah. At the same time, how can discipline be maintained in an army when a rabbi can give orders for soldiers not to listen to their officers? It undoubtedly spells disaster.

My friend continued with one caveat of his own: "What should I do if I am instructed to train the Palestinian Authority security services, knowing full well that they will turn their guns on Jews someday?"

I await a clear understanding from the Torah leaders of the religious Zionist world. Are we still living in the atchalta d'geula, the beginning of our redemption? Is Dr. Matar correct? At what point should the religious Zionist community refuse to join in the defense of the country? Or is everything we see happening part of the process of our redemption?

Yes, I will continue to pray for the welfare of the state and to thank God for all he has given us. My reason? A simple one: we need not look that far back in our history to realize that our problems are infinitesimally less than we could have imagined sixty years ago. For that alone, we must thank the Almighty.

In the final analysis, though, I remain confused and frustrated.

[Originally appeared in the Jewish Press; reprinted by request of the author.]