Avidan Freedman

Religious Zionists, it’s time to show up!

Since the last round of elections, and with even greater intensity since the government was formed, it feels like there are many within the Religious Zionist community who just don’t know where they belong. On the one hand, the most natural thing would be to align themselves with the party called “Religious Zionism,” and with the camp that calls itself the “nationalist camp,” and which consistently labels anyone outside of their tent as “left,” “progressives,” and frequently with much harsher words, as “traitors” and “anti-Zionists.” For any person accustomed to voting for right-wing parties (and that is a significant majority of those who identify as Religious Zionists), for any person who cares about Judaism and Zionism, it would seem to be clear where to stand.

But it isn’t. More and more people within the Religious Zionist community are coming to the understanding that this government does not represent us. Even if, on paper, it would seem to stand for and represent our values, the policies of this government — the “fully fully” right wing government, the most religious government in the country’s history — are actually diametrically opposed to many of the most basic values that we cherish and champion as a community.

As a community, we have long prided ourselves on our capacity to be the glue of Israeli society, as a community that believes in “both, and,” that bridges between sacred and secular, between Judaism and democracy, between army service and Torah study, between tradition and progress. To do this, we tried to teach and to preach a Judaism that was inviting and connecting, that even outsiders could look at, appreciate, identify with. A Judaism in the spirit of the verse- “Its paths are paths of pleasantness”- of “noam”.

But in today’s government, the religious tone is set by the “Noam” party, and it is anything but pleasant. Today’s government presents a religious vision which is coercive, aggressive and combative, which alienates people from religion. The “Noam” party’s path is one which paints every expression of Judaism other than its own as a foreign enemy against whom war must be waged. This was never our path.

As a community, we have stood for the idea that to perform a Kiddush Hashem, it isn’t enough to be meticulous in one’s ritual practices, but rather, it is necessary to act in ways that contribute to society at large, and which society appreciates. One needs to “learn and study and serve Torah scholars, and to deal with all people courteously…But, one who learns and studies and serves Torah scholars, but whose dealings with others are not honest, and who doesn’t speak courteously to all people, what will people say about him? ‘Woe to this person who learned Torah, woe to his father who taught him Torah, to his teacher who taught him Torah. This person that learned Torah- look how corrupt his actions are and how ugly his ways are” (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Yoma 86a).

But in today’s government, for the sake of the leader of the party named after the Talmud, Shas, this teaching of the Talmud is being ignored, as the government acts to change the law in order to allow a rabbi who violated the community’s trust, who was repeatedly convicted in court of corrupt actions and ugly ways, and who never expressed any remorse or did any Teshuva, to return to the scene of his crimes, and give him the opportunity to continue them. What’s religious about this?

As a community, one of our most central religious values was loyalty to the state, borne of the conviction that the wholeness of the people is not less important than the wholeness of the land, of the belief that the state and its institutions have religious significance, even sanctity, and of the understanding that if we do not ultimately bow our heads before the rule of law, even when we disagree with it, this will create a state of utter chaos, and undermine the very foundations of the Zionist project. During the disengagement from Gaza, we were a community that, with a dignity that was unfathomable to an outsider, sacrificed that which was a near-ultimate ideal for us, so as not to cross the line into civil war. Did anyone who saw, and criticized, the zealotry of the settler movement, equipped with ample arms and army training, imagine that the forcible removal of 8,000 citizens from their homes could be carried out without a shot fired? But even when the political and the judicial system acted in ways which were reprehensible and negated their own democratic values and commitments, even when we were sure that we were being wronged, and that justice was on our side, we understood that the good of the people as a whole, and that the good of the state demanded this sacrifice.

But in today’s government, the party called “cohesion”- the Likud- has adopted a strategy of divisiveness, of splitting the nation into us and them, into the loyal and the traitorous. Loyalty to the state has been translated into loyalty to Benjamin Netanyahu, and has been transformed from a value into a cynical tool. In recent years, members of the Likud party, led by a man who stands indicted by the legal system for fraud and breach of trust, have consistently sought to undermine public trust in the police, the legal system, the justice system, and even the army, by claiming that their actions are based not on professional considerations but on political bias (but only when their actions are directed against them, of course). Levin’s judicial reform seeks to replace one imbalance of power with another, far more dangerous and severe one, and to remove any effective checks and balances on the government’s power. And when he himself states that “three indictments (against Netanyahu) contributed to the understanding that there are problems in the system”, we are left with the question- is this reform truly in the public interest, or is it motivated by a severe conflict of interest? It would seem that the unprecedented numbers of significant public figures from every field speaking out against the reform, and the unprecedented numbers of civilians protesting suggest a clear answer to this question.

The current government claims the mantle of religion, of Zionism, of national loyalty, but in fact, its actions violate many of the most basic values of Religious Zionism. We cannot ignore this simply out of reflexive tribal loyalty, or out of the fear that opposition will suddenly transform us into “the left”, “the other”, or “the anti”. More and more people are coming to the understanding that this is not our path. More and more knitted kippot and headscarves are seen at every protest. This coming Saturday night, for the first time, there will be a protest across the green line, in Efrat. This is where we need to make our stand, on behalf of the values that we hold dear, on behalf of the country that we hold dear.

It’s time for Religious Zionists to show up.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the co-founder and director of Yanshoof (, an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators, and an educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute's high school and post-high school programs. He lives in Efrat with his wife Devorah and their 5 children.
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