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Since 1967, religious Zionism had been coopted by Greater Israel ideology. Those who followed that ideology virtually made support of settlements a religious duty. It wasn't always like that. Many readers would be surprised to know that National Religious Party (Mafdal) cabinet ministers in Levi Eshkol's government were quite persistent in their attempts to avert war in 1967. Avraham Burg, son of the late NRP minister Yosef Burg, continues in this older tradition of religious Zionism. Burg reviews a small book about the evacuaton of Gaza, "Yamim Ketumim" - Orange Days.

The evacuation of the Gaza settlements produced a great crisis in that part of the religious Zionist movement that had totally confounded religion, Zionism and settlements. They refused to admit that it is possible to be a Zionist and yet oppose settlements. They represented themselves as the majority of religious Zionists, which might be true. especially in the USA, though perhaps less so in Israel. More than that, they represented their brand of religious Zionism as the only real Zionism, which is patently false. Israel was not built by these fanatics. Herzl and Ben Gurion were not religious to say the least, and religious Zionist leaders such as Yoseph Burg and Zerah Warhaftig were not chauvinists and advocates of a Jewish "one state solution." They also implied that they are the only 'real Jews' by labeling oponents as "Helenizers' and 'self-hating Jews.'



Many firmly believed that the almighty himself would intervene to prevent the evacuation. Many still believe that anyone who does not support settlements and uprooting of olive tress and oppose removal of illegal outposts is an anti-Zionist, or even an anti-Semite and a "self-hating Jew" and they are not afraid to say so.

The cooptation of Zionism by extremists helped to generate a lot of confusion about what Zionism is, especially abroad, as well as a lot of gratuitous anti-Zionists. People were asked to sign on the dotted line in uncritical support of settler Zionism or be numbered among the "self-hating Jews." Many chose the latter alternative. Others chose to claim they "support Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state," while studiously ignoring the words "Zionist" and "Zionism." "Zionism" and "Judaism" as Greater Israel advocacy presented an easy target for hate mongers and racists. The rigid insistence of religious Zionists that their brands of "Zionism" and "Judaism" were the only legitimate ones helped to fan the fires of a new anti-Semitism that were being stoked so skillfully from the other side as well.

The evacuation of the Gaza settlements and the political struggle it spawned within the Likud and the Israeli right were a turning point. Moshe Feiglin laid down a manifesto according to which his brand of religious Judaism would take over the Israeli state and turn it more or less into the Jewish Republic of Israel, in imitation of the Islamic republic of Iran. This plan was rejected not only by the vast majority of Israeli Jews, but also by the right wing of the Likud party that was left after the defection of Sharon. There will, hopefully, be no Jewish ayatollahs, and no Jewish Marj al Taqlid.

The evacuation came and went. The almighty did not intervene to save the settlements. Unless public opinion polls are very wrong, the representatives of the Greater Israel movement - the Likud, NRP and National Union parties -- are not going to form the next government.

In his review, Burg focuses on the writings of childhood friend Motti Zisser and Ha'aretz editor David Landau. Zisser wrote:

"Over the past 15 years, religious Zionism has gone over to black-and-white," he says. "Most of us have parents who survived the Holocaust and brought with them both good and bad in the wake of their wartime experiences ... In those days, the rabbis busied themselves with Torah, not politics ... Their job was to teach us Torah ... and how to be good Jews."

And us? "We placed our children in the hands of rabbis whom we believed were doing their job and teaching them Torah, but our children came back from yeshiva schooled in politics."


And Landau presented his positions as follows:

"I don't know who came up with the Shabtai Zvi analogy first, but until proven otherwise, I lay claim to it," says Landau. "For the past year, I've been living with the sense that the moment Gush Katif falls, it will be clear to one and all that we are talking about false messianism."

Landau speaks from the same emotional place as Zisser, in his anger over the politicization of education. "These people [Gush Emunim and the followers of Rabbi Kook - A.B.] have really gone overboard in dragging down the religion," he seethes. "Those who set the tone in religious Zionism are the fundamentalists, who are prostituting Judaism's religious and nationalist messages."


Burg, Landau and Zisser give hope that the majority of religious Zionists are not identified with the Greater Israel adventure, even in its more rational manifestations. While that might be so, we cannot ignore the fact that the National Religious Party chose to combine forces with the extreme right National Union party. Zionists who are religious and have Burg's moderate views do not seem to have much influence as a political group. Perhaps this is the logical and inevitable result of the wish to separate politics from religion.

Burg writes:

Zisser and Landau articulate, loudly and clearly, the cry of the Jewish masses, graduates of the Bnei Akiva youth movement and their yeshivas, who go to synagogue but have been brought up to be like everyone else. They serve in the army and enroll in universities. In public and in private, they conduct themselves as others do. And they are not prepared to hide in a political ghetto.


An outsider who views the activities of these same Bnei Akiva youth in defending the illegal outposts is permitted to be skeptical that Burg's views represent the majority of religious Zionist youth today.

Burg writes:

With Zisser's wealth, Landau's newspaper and the views of them both, it seems that the new religious Zionism is already in our midst.


Perhaps, though it is not really felt. It is true that most Zionists who are religious are not part of the Greater Israel movement. However, as Burg indicates, those who are not, are usually at pains to be "part of the modern world," and to keep their religion private. "Religious Zionism" as a brand is still identified with the "hill top youth" who defend the outposts.

Ami Isseroff

Hilltop - or down-to-earth?

By Avraham Burg
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/683954.html
February 18, 2006
"Yamim ketumim" ("Orange Days") by Sivan Rahav-Meir and Yedidia Meir, Yedioth Ahronoth Publishing, Hemed Books, 238 pages, NIS 88

Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip will soon look like ancient history. That, after all, is the nature of the Israeli psyche. Before the drama, everything looms like a mighty mountain that no one can climb. And then, a moment later, it all goes flat and boring. In that light, one can understand the Yedioth Ahronoth Publishing House's haste to bring out this book, which is a kind of interim summation of the driving spirit of those days. If the publishers hadn't been so quick, who knows if anyone would even remember the connection a couple of weeks or months from now. By then, orange might be nothing more than a nice color for a dress or a sweater.

I never intended to write a full review of this book by the talented husband-and-wife team, Sivan Rahav-Meir and Yedidia Meir, who interview eight representatives of what is known as "religious Zionism." For me, the book was worth reading exclusively for two interviews that deviate from all the rest, both in power and content. The first is an interview with David Landau, the editor of Haaretz; the second, with businessman Motti Zisser.

These men are very different from one another, although their roots are intertwined. Zisser is a native-born Israeli; Landau immigrated from England. One has switched his black skullcap for the crocheted one worn by religious Zionists. He is a down-to-earth type, plugged in to all that is going on here. The other is an intellectual, connected to the text as a way of life, as befitting someone who hails from the ultra-Orthodox world and has never severed his nostalgic ties.

Zisser was born here (if Bnei Brak can be considered "here") and has opened up to the world almost as far as one can go. His business ventures span the globe. Landau, by contrast, is a citizen of the world who has narrowed his world down, becoming the editor of a newspaper with the most local and patriotic name imaginable: Haaretz (The Land). Together, their words create pictures and insights into the current reality and the future of religious Zionism, now at the most critical juncture in its history. Should the movement continue barricading itself on the hilltops of Greater Israel, surrounding itself by barbed wire, hunkering down in settlements that border on forts, and spearheading a stubborn nationalist policy to the point of death or suicide? Or should it choose life, return to Israel proper and become the pool of human resources that will elevate the nation to uncharted heights?

'Smile-tinted' glasses

In the interests of proper disclosure, allow me to say something I have never said before: When I was growing up, Motti Zisser was the boy I loved most. He and I shared a dorm room at the yeshiva. The classrooms and study halls were not where we learned the things we needed to know in life. Like kids everywhere, we learned much more from each other. Motti taught me to play volleyball. He taught me to see the world through "smile-tinted" glasses, without anger, with so much creativity. I have never told him how important he was to me. People didn't say such things back then. We were rough, tough Israelis.

After high school, we hardly saw each other. He went on to make a name for himself in his world, and I went my way. Now our paths have crossed again in "Yamim ketumim" ("Orange Days"). After all these years, our differences have clearly deepened. His religious and spiritual life is rooted in the Orthodox Zionist world, whereas I have become alienated from the "straight and narrow" of that world. For many years now, I have been outside the Orthodox mainstream, searching for ways to renew and rebuild Judaism.

And yet, we still have much in common. One of his daughters has adopted a secular lifestyle, just as some of my own children have. This is a terrible source of pain to him, but he loves her dearly and somehow, through the cracks in the relationship between an adoring father and a daughter who is carving out a path of her own, Zisser has become privy to certain insights into aspects of religious Zionism that this insular movement has been studiously avoiding.

"Over the past 15 years, religious Zionism has gone over to black-and-white," he says. "Most of us have parents who survived the Holocaust and brought with them both good and bad in the wake of their wartime experiences ... In those days, the rabbis busied themselves with Torah, not politics ... Their job was to teach us Torah ... and how to be good Jews."

And us? "We placed our children in the hands of rabbis whom we believed were doing their job and teaching them Torah, but our children came back from yeshiva schooled in politics."

Beyond his insights on the virus that has paralyzed the nerve center of religious Zionism, Zisser represents a lifestyle all his own. He is part and parcel of the business world and the realities of the day, but without compromising his faith. He is a full partner in the world of secularity, Arabs, modern communications and politics, but in the final analysis, he calls himself a "Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] Zionist." He is pious in his religious observance and belief, yet an equal partner, sharing the same rights and obligations on all Israeli political issues, from foreign policy and finance to evacuation of settlements and demarcation of borders.

Zisser is a tremendous challenge to secular Zionism - much greater than all the extremists who represent the various streams of Judaism today. If we were friends again, if we were back in touch, I would hug him and say all those things that are so commonplace today, but which were so hard to say back then: I love you, Motti, and I owe you so much.

'Shabtai Zvi analogy'

In the other corner - but still on the same side of the fence as Zisser - we have David Landau. Where Zisser criticizes the political echelon of the religious Zionist movement, Landau shoots his barbs into the heart of the ideology. In his eyes, Gush Emunim, and settlement in the territories in particular, are manifestations of modern messianism that endanger our very lives.

"I don't know who came up with the Shabtai Zvi analogy first, but until proven otherwise, I lay claim to it," says Landau. "For the past year, I've been living with the sense that the moment Gush Katif falls, it will be clear to one and all that we are talking about false messianism."

Landau speaks from the same emotional place as Zisser, in his anger over the politicization of education. "These people [Gush Emunim and the followers of Rabbi Kook - A.B.] have really gone overboard in dragging down the religion," he seethes. "Those who set the tone in religious Zionism are the fundamentalists, who are prostituting Judaism's religious and nationalist messages."

Landau even has an operative plan to offer: "There must be total separation of state policy and people's private beliefs ... Religious faith cannot be allowed to seep into everyday policy and the way the country is run. Complete and utter separation is the answer." On this subject, Zisser begs to differ: "What we need today is to integrate Torah and the life of the state. To think how we can carry out the laws of the Torah in a country that is completely secular and populated by non-religious Jews who are brothers no matter what."

These are days of sobriety, days of awakening from visions of the state as a platform for the coming of the Messiah. In the rightist camp, more and more chunks of religious Zionism are breaking away and embracing the ultra-Orthodox view that the state has no right to exist.

But here come Zisser and Landau with a religious approach that is completely different, an approach based not on ideological opposition to the Zionist idea, but on full acceptance, on living and creating in its midst. As partners and equals, in money and clout. Without posturing and without messiahs, this is the new religious Zionism: punctilious in its religious observance, free of nationalism, tolerant of those who are different, connected in every fiber of its being to the heartbeat of modern, secular, Tel Aviv-style Israel. As with Landau and Zisser, a home in central Israel on weekdays, and a home in Jerusalem for the holy Sabbath.

In the past, religious Zionism has been characterized by two stereotypes that have gnawed away at its insides: the settler from the religious kibbutz and the hilltops of Judea and Samaria, versus the teacher from Kiryat Moshe, Shikun Hamizrachi and the housing projects of Mishab [all catering to the religious population]. These two archetypes represent the supporting pillars of a religious Zionism in decline: religious settlement and education.

Nowadays, thank God, graduates of the religious school system are no longer satisfied with that. Through the closed windows and the drawn curtains, light has penetrated and young people have come to see that it is possible to be religious in Israel without apologizing. They can live where they choose. There is more than one alternative open to them. So who will be their role model? The messianic anarchist rabbis and hilltop youth, who are trying to attract the romantics and the hooligans of the younger generation? Or Zisser and Landau?

Cry of the masses

Zisser and Landau articulate, loudly and clearly, the cry of the Jewish masses, graduates of the Bnei Akiva youth movement and their yeshivas, who go to synagogue but have been brought up to be like everyone else. They serve in the army and enroll in universities. In public and in private, they conduct themselves as others do. And they are not prepared to hide in a political ghetto. Zisser and Landau, with all their nostalgia and longing for the old ultra-Orthodox world, are utterly immersed in the super-modern world. But the bridges they are building between these two worlds make them role models no less worthy than rabbis, holy men and mutterers of incantations.

My fervent hope is that the model offered by Zisser and Landau will become a prototype that attracts a new religious elite. Whereas they define themselves as Haredi Zionists, as an interested observer, I would like to call them general religious Jews. In one place, they are religious; in the other, they are part of the whole, no holds barred. Their religious world is their private preserve, yet the goings-on in the public arena concern them. Somehow, they manage to juggle these two worlds with incredible success.

This, I think, is a kind of preview of the spiritual map of Israel that we will be seeing in the coming years. It will run the gamut from pure ultra-Orthodoxy, dressed in black in a world of its own, to hard-core nationalism in the settlements (until they are all uprooted, by national consent or global coercion). After that, it will be the turn of "balabatish" (wholesome) traditional Judaism, represented by the religious members of Kadima, along with the much more interesting individualistic models of modern Jewish life offered by icons and celebrities like Zisser-Landau. As role models like these multiply in Israel, the walls dividing Jewish groups in the wake of religious Zionist politics will be torn down, brick by brick.

The stain of ignominy on Effi Eitam's forehead is red with the blood of religious Zionist politics. In its old format, religious Zionism will never rise again. People are sick of knights of the hilltops like Eitam and the conniving activists of the Hanan Porat school. The image of the new religious politician now resides in Kadima and Meretz. There, my brother-in-law Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson, Otniel Schneller and Tzvia Greenfield are continuing the legacy of my late father, Dr. Yosef Burg, and of Moshe Una and Zerah Warhaftig, all of blessed memory.

Here are people who have dispensed with the strangulating political frameworks of old and fully express their religious identity through political cooperation with the general public. They have formed a long-term, forward-looking historical alliance for the benefit of the common good - not just the good of Greater Israel loyalists. They offer us a new vista of enlightened, bridge-building Judaism that puts an end to internal strife and accepts all Jews as they are. This is the religious Zionism whose birth we have long awaited, and whose labor pains we may be witnessing today.

With Zisser's wealth, Landau's newspaper and the views of them both, it seems that the new religious Zionism is already in our midst.

Original content is Copyright by the author 2006. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000004.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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