Dozens of youths signed a “religious youth charter” relating to the State of Israel last week, following a Sabbath during which they discussed in depth the complexities of their many-faceted relationship with it, facing them squarely.
The Sabbath and the signing event took place at the Yeshivat Hesder in Ohr Etzion, headed by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, head of the Bnei Akiva Yeshivot movement. A similar event for girls is scheduled to take place, in the same location, in the coming weeks, and the charter will then be disseminated throughout the country’s religious-Zionist yeshiva community.
Torah and commitment to the State of Israel are interwoven in the charter. “We commit ourselves to be involved in the pioneering jobs and roles in the army and in the country,” it states. “The foundation of the state is the Torah, and we can therefore not break this link and do anything that stands in opposition to the Torah – and certainly regarding the commandment to settle and build the Land of Israel.”
One of the rabbis involved in formulating the charter explained afterwards that the commandment to settle the Land was singled out only because it is the most “relevant” issue to the subject at hand.
The background for the charter and the deep Sabbath discussions is, of course, the increasing clashes between the demands of the Torah and the country upon religious youth, particularly in the army. Specific issues such as the demolition of Jewish homes and the eviction of Jews, women in the army, and the like increasingly demand difficult decisions by religious soldiers – which sometimes cost them prison time, feelings of guilt, and more.
Many religious-Zionist rabbis have ruled that involvement in demolishing Jewish houses and communities is forbidden. Some have added that soldiers must refuse outright to participate, others say that they must attempt to “get out of it,” and still others say that ultimately, refusal of such orders is not permitted. The Ohr Etzion charter straddles the first two approaches.
Yisrael Porat, a student at the Susia Yeshiva High School in the South Hevron region, had this to say after taking part in the Sabbath debates: “Our objective is, first of all to strengthen the bonds between religious youth and the State. It is important for us to declare publicly that despite all, our links are stronger than any crisis. We want to rehabilitate the ties in light of the current crisis and give the religious youth a forum to express themselves, bring up various dilemmas that they face, and exchange views and ideas.”
The charter is ultimately to be presented to the national political leadership, “in order that they see clearly where we stand.” The steering committee that is being formed for the youth also plans to respond to relevant issues in the media, “giving youth a channel via which to express themselves publicly and influence events.”