Michael Boyden

Destruction from Within

Following the Fast of the 9th of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples, it is customary on the following seven Sabbaths to read passages from the book of Isaiah, whose main theme is one of comfort and consolation.

On the second Sabbath we read the words from chapter 49: “Those who ruined and destroyed you shall leave you”. The plain meaning of the text is that Israel’s enemies will depart.

However, there were Biblical commentators, such as the 12th century rabbi David Kimhi, who interpreted the verse homiletically in an entirely different manner. They suggested that those who destroyed Israel were in fact from within.

Although there is a great deal of talk about the threat that a nuclear Iran could pose to our security, the truth is that Israel’s physical survival is no longer at risk in the way that it was at the time of the 6 Day War in 1967 or the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Today the threat lies within.

In an article published by the Atlantic Council last year, Dan Perry suggested that “Israel is one of the few countries whose fundamental character is imperiled. But the main threat is no longer external: it is the internal schism between the Haredi minority—the Ultra-Orthodox—and the rest of society that has the greatest potential to change the country at its core.”

However, our recent elections showed that the schisms within Israel extend far beyond our relationship with charedi society. As Perry put it: “Israel is so toxically divided as to make Red and Blue America look friendly.”

Already back in 2016, the Pew Research Center reported that there were “deep gulfs among Jews, as well as between Jews and Arabs, over political values and religion’s role in public life.” The recent elections have only served to highlight how Israeli society is hemorrhaging.

Left-wing, centrist, and secular Ashkenazi Israelis feel particularly threatened. Why should their children serve in the army when some 50% of Israeli citizens, mostly charedim and Arabs, are exempt from military or even national service?

Why should they fund the ever-growing number of yeshivah students most of whom will never receive a Western-styled education that will enable them to contribute gainfully to Israeli society? Why should they have to be the victims of religious coercion that tells them how to marry, how to divorce and what they can and can’t do on the Sabbath? Some of them are sadly suggesting that the time has come to seek a home elsewhere.

Israel is destroying itself from within, and is desperately in need of a political leadership that will not incense and divide, but recognize the need to reach the compromises that are required for our society to survive. Otherwise, God forbid, we shall destroy ourselves from within.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.