Yosef Blau

The future of religious Zionism

The critical shift of voters in the last Israeli election was the growth of the “Religious Zionist party.” An amalgam of three parties, uniting after intervention by Benjamin Netanyahu, emerged as the third largest party in the Knesset. Polling of the religious Zionist sector indicates that the three components together reflect the religious values of a relatively small minority. There are indications that some of the voters were expressing their opposition to Naftali Bennett forming a government that included an Arab party and two left wing parties. Security concerns and the claim that the previous government was weak in responding to terror played a role. It was also assumed that the realities of running a country would lead to modifying extreme positions. Early indications have not shown a reduction of terrorist attacks or any modification.

Whatever the motivation of the voters, the Knesset members of the party have assumed that they were elected to fully carry out a mandate. The large increase of voters following an election a year earlier raises the question whether this represents the culmination of a long process of religious Zionism moving to the right politically, or a one-time occurrence. The response to the major dispute about the proposed judicial reform, which will transform the relationship of the Supreme Court and the Knesset, sheds light on the thinking of religious Zionists. Whether accurately or not, the proposed changes are perceived as moving Israel away from being a Western liberal democracy.

The compromise suggested by President Herzog, which is an attempt to defuse the split within Israeli society, has created a test and an opportunity for the religious Zionist community to clarify its values. Many Anglos, coming from Western democracies, assume a compatibility between their religious commitments and adherence to democratic norms. There is an element, which is represented by many of the religious Zionist party’s ministers and Knesset members, that questions whether liberal democracy is is authentically Jewish. Some prominent religious Zionist rabbis have differentiated between Jewish morality and that of the Western world. Rabbi Tau, the head of Yeshivat Har Hamor, which created Noam, the smallest of the three parties, has rejected all modern Western values as antithetical to Torah. While his view is extreme, there are other rabbis, more moderate rabbis, who are skeptical of democracy as well.

The protests have expanded beyond those on the left and include some self-defined religious Zionists. Whether this represents a majority or even a significant minority is to be determined. As important as this issue is, the implications are broader and ultimately more significant.

About the Author
Rabbi Yosef Blau is the Senior Mashgiach Ruchani (spiritual advisor) at Yeshiva University, and a partial resident in Jerusalem.
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