The head of the gay community at Ariel University approached Rabbi Yigal Levenstein at the end of his lecture and said candidly: "I want to say thank you."
This incident won't make the headlines, certainly not to the intensity with which Rabbi Levenstein, head of the pre-military academy in Eli, has been mentioned in other contexts. But Rabbi Levenstein isn't concerned. On the contrary, he initiated his community campaign project, which has been underway for several weeks, for the opposite goal. He wants to bypass the media and speak to people directly.
The lecture at Ariel University, which was held a week and a half ago, was organized by a student. After Rabbi Levenstein agreed to lecture at the university, the student realized the difficulties ahead of him. There was strong opposition to the lecture from the gay community at the university, and from external sources, including media outlets like Ynet and Army Radio. However, the university's student union wasn't overly perturbed.
Or Azoulay, chairman of the Ariel student union, stood firm in the face of the opposition on the principle that the student union is open to hearing and expressing all opinions: "This is a framework of a Torah lecture on behalf of the union, which is delivered every week by another rabbi. It was suggested that Rabbi Yigal deliver a lecture, not as a step against the gay community, but as part of a framework of hearing a variety of opinions. Therefore we didn't agree to cancel the meeting, because that would be silencing someone. It's legitimate to hear him, like any other opinion. At the same time, a week ago, we held a week of tolerance at which representatives of the gay community were heard." Azoulay said that despite the pressure, the lecture took place as planned, "and was amazing."
A protest demonstration was held opposite the lecture room, which in actuality was comprised of isolated demonstrators from the gay club. When the lecture began, the demonstrators decided to accept the invitation of the organizers to enter themselves and listen. They sat in the upper gallery and some filmed the lecture. Others also participated in the discussion itself, including asking penetrating questions. Two of them remained until after the question-and-answer period, which ended after midnight. They approached Rabbi Levenstein and, as described above, thanked him for the lesson.
Despite this unexpected turn, Rabbi Levenstein wasn't surprised as he has already experienced similar scenarios. "On the contrary, the stronger the opposition before I speak at a particular place, the more people come," he said in an interview with Arutz Sheva.
This was also the case at a speech he delivered in Be'er Sheva, where LGBT members demonstrated against him. "There was a demonstration outside, with signs and so on. I went inside and they followed me. The audience included psychologists and professionals. They asked me tough questions and I answered. In the end, they said that they understood the great responsibility that was placed on them in this matter - that empathy for an individual cannot come at the expense of the Jewish people's stability and its future. We don't intrude on people's private lives but the family model is a father and mother. The Jewish people cannot legitimize another family model. Every intelligent person immediately understands this."
His schedule is full until September
Rabbi Levenstein has been traveling for a month and a half every evening, including Saturday nights, among religious communities around the country. His schedule is full until September.
He is scheduled to deliver lectures "from Dan to Eilat" - from Israel's center until its southernmost city - including in Ramla, Kiryat Gat, Acre, Meitar, Beit Rimon, Sde Ya'akov and Petah Tikva, as well as in communities in Judea and Samaria. "I thought there would be a lecture here, a lecture there but it grew completely out of proportion to what I thought," says Rabbi Levenstein. More than 40 applications were received by the project organizer in the first 24 hours that the offer to invite Rabbi Levenstein to lecture went online.
Following his lectures, Rabbi Levenstein's evenings are occupied far into the night with hours of questions and answers by the participants. "There hasn't been one evening where I finished before midnight," he says.
Rabbi Levenstein's decision to dedicate his time and energy to this subject stems from the understanding that his talks touch on the existential core of the Jewish people in its land at this time. "I came to the conclusion that a deep cultural struggle is being waged here over the identity of the State of Israel. The issue over the lLand of Israel and our existence here has already been established - there is security at this point and it can be set aside. The next question is the identity of the state - Jewish or Western liberal."
"There is a great deal of tension in our community about cultural changes and their implications. There is a great deal of confusion. I want to meet the Religious Zionist public on the most crucial questions. Religious Zionism has a historical role in shaping the Jewish state for decades to come. We have much to offer on the issue of Jewish identity thanks to Torah and mitzvot (commandments - ed.), which is the soul of Religious Zionism."
Yes to empathy, no to legitimacy
Any attempt to question Rabbi Levenstein about his statements which have been widely spread by the media, was met with a firm rejection on his part. This is exactly what he wants to avoid. He explains that the people attending his lectures don't raise the subject at all after they hear his overall message. "The issue is not Rabbi Levenstein's statements, but the future of the State of Israel, and these people really care about it. They understand that a cultural war is taking place. They are happy to understand who is against whom and what their role is in it. They want to understand it because each one has a neighbor or a cousin [who is part of the gay community] and want to understand how to manage the tension between showing empathy but not legitimizing it and I try to provide an answer in this area as well."
In the opinion of Rabbi Levenstein, the most significant achievement of his lectures is the ability of the participants to acquire confidence in these issues and to respond to those struggling with it. "People are waking up, they're beginning to speak about it with friends at work. After listening to my lecture, they have the courage to start responding. Until today, they themselves were confused about these topics. Now they know that they have what to answer and are confident themselves. They have the tools to respond."