Should Diaspora Jews Weigh in on Israeli Politics?

Well, the Israeli elections are over and it seems that Netanyahu will soon return to power.  Many in the religious Zionist community have strong feelings about this, whether or not they live in Israel.  Some are ecstatic and some are devastated.  Some in our camp advocated for a strong centrist government which can unite all parties.  Some asserted that Bezalel Smotrich gets things done for the religious Zionist Yeshivot and organizations, so we should tolerate some of his divisive language because at the end of the day, he is the one who takes care of our community.  Some are fearful that aligning oneself with Ben-Gvir creates a threat to democracy.  Some assert that Bezalel Smotrich is the one politician who passionately advocates religious Zionist ideology.  Some have responded that the religious Zionist party has twisted what religious Zionism was meant to be.  And the arguments won’t stop now that the elections are over.  These are the substantive arguments that I have read about and discussed relating to the Israeli elections.

But there have been other types of arguments.  Many diaspora Jews opined on the most recent election, some very forcefully.  Do diaspora Jews have the right to have a strong voice?  Do they have the right to passionately advocate for a particular candidate?  Does they have the right to dictate to an Israeli how to vote?  If you don’t live in Israel, why should your voice matter in Israeli elections?  But on the other hand, don’t all Jews wherever they live feel connected to the State of Israel?  Shouldn’t we care what happens to it?  What’s wrong with trying to educate others with our own perspective?  Can we educate Israelis but not dictate to them?  Where should we draw the line?

I believe that diaspora Jews should absolutely voice our opinion about Israeli elections and other issues relating to the Jewish state, albeit with one important limitation.  What does it mean to be a religious Zionist Jew who lives in the diaspora?  It means that we not only stand in solidarity with our brethren in Israel, but we appreciate and study the philosophy and ideology of religious Zionism.  To be a religious Zionist Jew means that we ask how does a return to Zion impact our lives as Jews?  What does it truly mean from a religious perspective to return to our homeland after 2000 years in exile?  What does the term “atchalta d’geula,” the beginning of the redemption, mean to us?

In Orot Yisrael, Rav Kook explained that the Jewish nation can express its inner essence only by exercising political sovereignty in the Land of Israel.  During two thousand years of exile, Judaism itself was deficient, for it lacked the national half of its identity.  A Jewish state means that we can more fully live a national religious life in all of its complexity.  As a religious Zionist Jew, I want to understand not just how we live as individual Jews or Jewish communities, but I want to understand how we live our Torah ideals in a Jewish country.  How does a Jewish country function on Shabbat and during the shemitta year?  What do a Jewish army and a Jewish hospital look like?  What values should we look for in political leaders of a Jewish country?  These are important questions that should be studied by anyone who seriously cares about the Jewish state.  The Jewish state teaches us about ourselves and our values and we must engage in these questions to have a broader understanding of what a more ideal Jewish life, a Jewish national life in a Jewish country, may look like.  Why should we only study the laws of the king in Parshat Shoftim and in Hilchot Melachim in the Rambam in theory?  Let’s study them in practice!  Let’s try to understand the values necessary to be a good leader and which values are more important than others.  Let’s weigh in on practical relevant situations to help deepen our understanding of Torah values as applied to the modern world.

All of this is true with one important limitation.  If we are in the diaspora, we must realize that often we can’t effectively evaluate the right balance between different values if we aren’t actually living in Israel and aren’t practically affected by the decisions we make.  How do we balance one candidate’s rhetoric with perhaps his ability to get things done?  How do we balance another candidate’s more refined manners with potential security concerns?  As a shul rabbi, sometimes when I ask a posek a complex halachic question, he may rule leniently or stringently.  But sometimes he will tell me that it’s a judgment call.  He will tell me that I’m the rabbi of the community and I’m aware of the situation better than he is so I need to personally balance the different factors involved.  Similarly, diaspora Jews should absolutely weigh in on matters relating to the Jewish state because the issues involved often touch on Torah values about which everyone, whether or not living in Israel, should feel passionate.  However, at the end of the day, when many of the decisions made affect the day-to-day life of those living in Israel on a much more profound level than me living in America, I must defer to those living in Israel to make the final call, weigh all the factors, and come up with their decision.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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