Torah Sociology: Continuing the Solidarity

A challenge to the educational-religious leadership of the national religious community.

Dr. Chaim Charles Cohen

OpEds Chaim C. Cohen
Chaim C. Cohen

The last two months, encompassing the search for Naphtali, Eyal and Gilad and Operation Protective edge, have seen an unprecedented degree of national solidarity, and an equally unprecedented openness to, and identification with, our national, Jewish religious heritage.

These very positive developments pose a challenge to the educational-religious leadership of the national religious community. It is our responsibility that this bonding of a wide spectrum of the Israeli public with our religious heritage continues after the military crisis is over. We must work with the non-halakhically observant majority so that together our Torah heritage will flourish as an accessible, attractive and meaningful element in our public/civic life. 

This requires us to act in two spheres.

One, we must renovate the Central Rabbinate so that it is as responsive to the general public as today's army rabbinate is to the soldiers.

Second, we must make creative use of Torah wisdom so as to provide leadership in public sectors ranging from the army and the arts to academia and agriculture. 

I believe that the solidarity-civil togetherness that arose during the search for Gilad,Eyal, and Naphtali, and continued during Operation Protective Edge, is something new. This solidarity has extended from the prayers of the three mothers to the hassidic dancing of secular soldiers upon entering and leaving Gaza,and from the optimism and courage of our soldiers to the mass funerals for family-less soldiers. This solidarity is more than a common faith arising amongst 'soldiers in trenches and fox holes surrounded by a common threat."  

Under our noses, and below our social radar, there is evolving in Israel a social-cultural commonality-'consensus'.
It is more than a consensus- based, socio- political outlook. It is more than simple patriotism and nationalism spiced with a sabra Israeli flavor. And it is different than the solidarity of the Six Day and Yom Kippur War; not better, but different.

The clearest evidence for the distinctiveness of this solidarity is the media's newly found empathetic openness to the use of traditional, Jewish/religious motifs by individuals and the public when coping, over the last two months, with the pain, sadness, fear and losses of our seemingly endless struggle with the Arab world.

This solidarity is somehow different than that of the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War, because Israel civil society has significantly evolved, and 'matured' over the last forty years  (the last two generations). Most Israelis are now born in Israel, a generation or two removed from immigrant status. Ethnic, historical distinctions are less prominent and less deep. The political-social   leadership is no longer that of the atheistic, socialist ideology of Mapai. The numbers and  the voice of the ultra-orthodox community is more felt. The national religious community is more present in leadership positions, both in numbers, and in the implementation of nationalistic-religious inspired social values.

The average Israeli is feeling and living a more, secure, middle class life style. The shopping malls and communication and social network media have molded a broad based social culture. Under our noses, and below our social radar, there is evolving in Israel a social-cultural commonality-'consensus'.  The same generation that gave us the Rothschild, cost of living protest (somewhat materialistic and self centered in their demands) is now giving us a nationalistic solidarity (basically self-sacrificing in its outlook and behavior).

And this emerging, Israeli social consensus is one that very much wants to be in touch with, and enhanced by, its Jewish-spiritual heritage, and yet does not want to be (is not yet  ready  to be)  halakhically observant. This 'social consensus'  frequently realizes  the spiritual emptiness and loneliness of modern middle class life, both in crisis and in respite, and seeks  support in our Jewish religious heritage, however without commitment to rabbinic authority.

The solidarity of the last two months very much embodies the spiritual dilemmas of modernity, that accompany the Jewish People, Am Yisrael's return to build a state in the Land of Israel, Eretz Yisrael,as described in Rav Kook's classic essay 'The Generation - Maamar Ha Dor'.

Only the educational-religious leadership of the national religious movement can begin to develop measures that will meet the religious-spiritual needs of a secular majority in the Israeli public, civil sphere.    The ultra orthodox are interested only in guarding their own spiritual insularity, or in creating fully observant baalei  teshuva. The Ruth Calderon  ,secular 'traditionalists' can create substantive programs (for example, the open beit midrash) but lack the educational knowledge and infrastructure to provide authentic, commanding spiritual leadership to the non-observant community.

Only Religious Zionist leadership has the potential ability to create a much needed bonding between "a spiritual heritage" and halakhic observance.

To do this we need , one,  a Central Rabbinate that is staffed by rabbis, judges and administrators who share the national, Zionistic ideals of the general public, and who themselves and their families serve in army. The best example of this is the religious court in Tzfat. This court produced a controversial, but precedent setting decision allowing the remarrying of a woman whose husband was in a vegetative coma for over seven years. All three judges are Torah scholars who served in the army, and in Israeli's wars, and are graduates of the national religious kollel for dayanut in Psagot.

A national religious rabbinate will possess the social understanding to both guard the halakhic, and at the same time to make the shmitah, public Sabbath observance, kashrut, conversion and marriage, attractive, accessible and meaningful to a heritage oriented, non-observant Israel majority.          

Second, our national religious community must fill leadership positions in all sectors of public life, and cotinue to lay the foundations for bonding halakha with civil Israeli life in a creative manner. For example, we are already providing Torah oriented leadership in the army, arts, agriculture, social welfare, and academia. Garinim toraniyim (a movement of young religious Zionist couples who move in groups to areas in need of social welfare) are helping to rejuvenate community life in poorer communities. All of these Torah oriented, civil endeavors will reach full fruition in the next generation.

In summary, the solidarity of the last two months is the embodiment of a new generation that wants both less expensive cottage cheese, and a real, thriving bond with its spiritual, Torah heritage. It wants the Torah and religious leaders  to provide attractive, meaningful spiritual answers to the social emptiness and loneliness of shopping-mall, reality show middle class life, but is not ready  to accept the authority of the halakha.

G-d expects the national religious leadership to courageously and creatively cope with this dilemma.  There are no free, covenantal lunches. G-d has done his part. He has  brought us home and has given us a flourishing state.

Now we must learn how to create a public, civil sphere that encourages a non observant majority to bond with the Torah. This is one of the deeper, more permanent lessons to be learned from the endurance and solidarity of the Israeli Jewish public during Operation Protective Edge.