I wish I could say I’m surprised. But I’m not. Once again Rav Aharon Feldman, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Israel has disappointed me. I refer to an essay that he wrote in Dialogue (not available online), a periodical that has supplanted the old Jewish Observer and is its ideological heir. Rabbi Feldman is on their rabbinic board.
He tells us how he responded to a question from a secular Jew who heads a major secular Jewish organization and is a strong supporter of Israel. His question was about the Gaza war of last summer. He said he was disturbed to no end.
How can it be that a group of primitive terrorists who are not recognized as a nation – how could it be that they were able to compromise a developed nation like Israel which has a top-notch army equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry? Furthermore, how could these terrorists wantonly launch thousands of unprovoked rocket attacks against unarmed Israeli civilians and yet have the world back them? Not only this, but how could the world go on to accuse Israel of being the aggressor?
Rabbi Feldman answered him by saying it all made perfect sense to him and based it on a Pasuk in Devarim (32:21):
They angered Me by believing in a non-god; I will anger them through a non-nation.
He then went on to explain what he meant:
Israel is founded on a belief in a non-god, the belief that Israel will flourish and anti-Semitism would end when Jews would have their own democratic state, when they stop acting the way Jews have always lived and begin to behave like all other people in the world. Israel’s founders did everything possible to remove God from the Jewish agenda.
Its national anthem and its declaration of independence avoid mentioning God; its school system that Jews believed or even believed, in God; its courts and legislature repeatedly render God’s laws irrelevant. In short, Israel is a state whose society has substituted the non-god of secular Jewish nationalism for the God of Israel.
This comment is breathtaking in its scope of condemnation of the both the government and the Israeli people!
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein has skillfully refuted Rabbi Feldman. Out of respect he does not characterize it as a refutation. Instead he praises Rabbi Feldman’s success at convincing a secular Jew that Israel suffers the hatred of the world because it is a Godless society founded by Godless people.
Unfortunately using arguments like this to convince one man of that and them publishing it in a periodical that is geared towards Charedim reinforces the hatred many Charedim in Israel (and to a lesser extent here in the United States) already have for the State. Hatred they have been weaned on in steady diet by many Charedi Mechanchim. They were not – and still are not – reticent to share their antipathy for Israel with their students.
Rabbi Adlerstein’s approach is eminently more sensible and truthful. Rabbi Feldman’s view about the State of Judaism in the Jewish State is simply wrong. Is Israeli society a Godless one? Is the government Godless? Hardly. As Rabbi Adlerstein says:
We needn’t remind our readers about the crucial role played by the State in supporting the largest Torah center in close to two thousand years. Those who declared war on religion decades ago did much better on the battlefield against the Arabs then they did against G-d. Ardent secularists are very much a minority today.
The average Israeli may not accept the yoke of mitzvos, but stops by the mitzvah store fairly frequently to take a few items off the shelf. Mezuzah, kashrus, Yom Kippur, the Pesach seder enjoy widespread observance. Kibbutzim that swore off religion decades ago now have shuls on site. In large numbers, Israelis have the good sense to find Reform and Conservative irrelevant.
A full third of Knesset members see themselves as Shabbos observant. Srugim are overrepresented in eltie units of the IDF. It is difficult to make a case for overt governmental or societal hostility to religion unless the only touchstone one employs is attempts at conscription of charedim – and even there, reasonable people find plenty to disagree about motivation and propriety.
Sad as it is to hear Rav Feldman, a Rosh HaYeshiva of such stature, condemn the Jewish State that way, it does not (as I said) surprise me. That’s because he already stated his views on Zionism in a book called The Eye of the Storm. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein makes note of this in his review of the book where he says the following:
Emulating Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, Rabbi Feldman asserts: “I, too, humbly submit that the criticisms in this book are directed towards those parts of the Jewish people which are not Jewish” (p. 4). In the interest of both accuracy and fairness, it should be added that the sequel reads, “My love for the Jewish people remains undiminished.”
However, when we note that the source and precedent cited had not merely sought to justify criticism but to be stirred to hatred; that “the parts which are not Jewish” did not allude to unhalachically converted pseudo-Jews but to presumed ideological aberrants; and when we realize that these include a very significant segment of the Israeli yishuv, as well as its Diaspora supporters–many of us will, understandably, be shaken.
Rabbi Adlerstein says that Rabbi Feldman is a lot smarter than him. I know that he is a lot smarter than me. But I doubt that he is a lot smarter that Rav Lichtenstein. In fact I would say the opposite.
Rabbi Adlerstein’s views are in line with Rav Lichtenstein’s views. Which for me means his views are not only more sensible but in the end a lot smarter. Thank God for sensible people.