The “Plesner proposal” is the main platform of discussion today but its focus has consistently been at the forefront of debate within Israeli society. To date, the main rift within Israeli society is based upon the issue of who serves in the army and the ill will understandably, towards those who do not. Prime Minister Netanyahu said,
“After 64 years in which this issue has not been properly dealt with, we are facing a historic move, a dramatic increase in the participation of the ultra-Orthodox and Arab publics in bearing the burden (of serving in the IDF)”.
No doubt, the need to address and deal with mandatory military service for all of Israel’s citizens without exception, as well as the need for the Haredim to readdress not only its communities role but also its requisite to necessitate its constituents with alternative options whether they like it or not (an important by-product of this entire process), is long overdue. Even if major change by way of a law is not implemented the fact that these issues are being addressed is significant in of itself.
I believe when concerns of this magnitude surface around the Jewish world and within the Jewish country, it is important to gain perspective and assess the ramifications on both a national and personal level. As a Religious Zionist rabbi, I believe that the Plesner proposal facilitates an opportunistic platform for Religious Zionists to boldly declare who we are and what we represent. We can turn to the Haredim and demonstrate to them how successful we have been in establishing large institutions of Torah which exemplify a commitment first and foremost to promote standards of Talmudic excellence and uncompromised commitment to Jewish law, in conglomeration with an analysis of concerns regarding the impact these institutions should have upon the Jewish nation and the land of Israel. We should then turn to the Israeli secular population and pronounce that there are major differences between us and the Haredim (something which many secular Israelis do not appreciate and do not even recognize) and much that we share in common with our secular brethren, namely our passionate desire to represent our community within the elite forces in the IDF not mainly because of mandatory service but based on a sincere commitment to Zionist ideals and a devotion to Medinat Yisrael. As such, Religious Zionism not only represents a fine balance between two ideologies but it remains the only active force which can accentuate the connection between Torah, the Jewish people and the Jewish land.
The Torah portion describes how Pinhas was commended by God for taking action. When he witnessed the desecration of God’s name transpiring in front of him as a tribal leader of the Jewish people engaged in an adulterous relationship in front of the nation, he executed him with full force and without delay. Perhaps Pinhas would have preferred to close himself off within the walls of the Yeshiva, but he knew that duty calls and he responded without hesitation. Hashem recognized Pinhas’s conviction with the “covenant of Peace”, pronouncing his descent from Aaron the High Priest. The rabbis say that Aaron “loved peace and pursued peace”; when he saw a rift develop within the Jewish people, he would actively attempt to bridge the gap between the two parties towards rectification.
As yeshiva students, perhaps many of the Religious Zionist young men from Yeshivot Hesder would prefer to sit in the Yeshiva immersed over a portion of the Talmud, but they are aware of the fact that duty calls and they too respond by serving in the army with conviction. At the same time the Religious Zionist soldier wears a Kipah on his head, dons his tzizit over his uniform, and straps his tefillin to his body. He embodies the values of the Torah “whose paths are those of peace”. We are prepared to take action as our ancestor Pinhas was before us, and our goals remain the same as that of Aaron before him, to mend the rift between the Jewish people and to facilitate unity.
During this time of historic consequence it is crucial that Religious Zionist leaders and all who subscribe and live in accordance with its principles serve as a reminder to the nation of the role which we play and the contributions which we make. It is through these pursuits that we can help the entire nation achieve once again being graced with the covenant of peace.