Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu
Rabbi Amichai EliyahuSelf

Intuitively, it seems that religious Zionism is closer to the traditional and secular public than to the haredi public.

In practice, however, even though there are many more daily interactions between those sectors and their values systems seem very similar, every time the general public goes in search of Judaism, the destination is the haredi sector. The rabbis whom the general public consults; the synagogues and the organizations to which it donates are by and large associated with the haredi public.

Moreover, even when a thoroughly secular person seeks to reconnect with his Jewish roots, consciously or unconsciously, he begins his search for Judaism with the haredi approach.

This should surprise us, because we, the religious Zionists, have taken it upon ourselves to serve as a bridge between the secular and religious worlds. It turns out, however, that this cross-cultural bridge has been an illusion.

At best, we've manage to merge with the other sectors, but in most cases we are not bridging or connecting others to Judaism. One could say in a gross generalization that in issues of religion and state, we are invisible. The haredim are the “priests of Judaism” and we are “priests of the Land of Israel.”

I see two main factors that have caused this disconnect.

One is our investment in the internal sectoral discourse focusing on the settlements. This focus was crucial and welcome in its time, but it cost us a double price.

Firstly, we've gained a reputation as being focused on national security, which has diminished our image as a 'Torani' or strongly religious movement.

Secondly, this has resulted in a Judaism that does not interact with the wider public – like a man who stands in the beit midrash and shouts to people passing in the street.

The second thing that caused us to disconnect from the secular public is a compromising discourse that has western cultural characteristics; a discourse that seems to question everything – the Talmudic sages, the attitude toward the Torah, the attitude toward the Jewish family, and even things that it would have been fitting to preserve a respectful attitude toward.

In order to connect, one has to be connected: connected to your Jewish identity, to your Torah, to your nation. You need to know how to speak the language. We switched to speaking about universal values and forgot to speak about the Torah, forgot to mention the Kadosh Baruch Hu, forgot how to speak simply, plainly and not over people’s heads. We left behind our pride in our Jewish culture, forgot to maximize the simple basics of warmth and affection, on the warmth and within it the reverence for the rabbis, the warmth and from within it the personal connection.

Jewish people are a nation of believers. They believe in Hashem; respect the Torah. They value the sages and want to hear the illuminating ideas in the Bible. When Jews seek to connect with Judaism they are not looking for some explanation that presents Aristotle on par with Rabbi Akiva or a “rabbi” whose lectures ridicule the sages. On the other hand, they are also not looking for a rabbi who will constantly rebuke them and explain to them why they are not okay, from the balcony of the yeshiva. The Jewish people believes in the Torah; wants faith and love.

It was by appealing to these needs that Shas 'defeated' the national religious sector and instilled in the Israeli consciousness – against all the odds – the idea that Shas is the Jewish home for the secular public.

In the last elections the national religious public lost about three Knesset seats (about 120,000 votes) that went from the traditional public to Shas, and just as many to Likud. This is a truly interesting fact, given that the differences between the principles of the Shas representatives and the traditional-secular public could not be clearer. Still, they know how to talk the talk and how to connect with people from other sectors.

The time has come for us to take responsibility and be partners in rectifying the situation through faith in the Jewish people and faith in the Torah. It is not right to be drawn toward the imaginary bridges that Rachel Azaria, Aharon Leibovitz and company are selling us. Today we are not a bridge, and are perhaps a barricade that has opened, but only to the elite. And if we do not figure out how to correct this, to connect to the secular public through Jewish identity and to be their Jewish home, we will continue to be a collection of roads and bridges that do not lead anywhere.