Reuven Bobby Weinmann

The Gay Speaker of the Religious Jewish State

If you’ve been listening to the news from Israel then you’ll have heard that Israel now has its most right-wing government ever.  You’ll have heard how racist, extremist, religiously conservative and anti-LGBTQ it is. If you’ve REALLY been paying attention you’ll also have heard that that same government, where most of the parties are explicitly Orthodox, unanimously [63 of the 64 members, since one was out of the country] appointed the first-ever openly gay man as the Speaker of the Knesset. Yep, it’s so anti-LGBTQ, that they made a gay man the Speaker! The chutzpah!

This first act of the incoming coalition is what gives me hope for this to be the best government ever. I say this not because I’m a leftist, an LGBTQ activist, or was worried that this government will destroy minority rights. I say this because I am not a Hasmonean, and we, as we stand just after the end of Chanukah, need a non-Hasmonean government.

What many wilfully ignore about Chanukah is that the war of Chanukah was a Jewish civil war. On one side were the non-religious Jews, who supported the Greek ideals (including LGBTQ) and on the other were the Hasmoneans, a.k.a. Maccabees, who imposed Judaism forcibly on those Jews they conquered (including circumcising the unwilling). The Hasmonean victory cleaned the Temple, but it was never able to truly root out Hellenism, and within a couple generations, their descendants devolved into Hellenists themselves, eventually inviting the Romans to take over the country.

What made the Hasmoneans fail, I believe, is the idea that we’ll have an ideologically pure state by somehow getting rid of the Jews on the other side or making them succumb to our side’s beliefs, at least in outward behavior. This has been true of both the religious and non-religious, who often do petty things to make the other side’s life a little worse – witness the last government’s tax on disposable goods, because the ultra-Orthodox use them more. While we can look forward to some of this from the incoming government, I’m sure, the real downfall comes when we see our internal struggle as so pivotal that we’re willing to accept “help” from the outside world.

The thing is that Jewish society has always had room for the sinner. Every town had its thief, its town drunk, the Shabbat violator, etc. But they were, as they say in Yiddish, “unsere”, “one of us”. To have a Jewish society, we need to do one main thing: not look to outsiders, especially our enemies, to help us against our Jewish opponents.

That destroys us every time, yet it’s not so easy to stop. Firstly, there are those whose goal is not a Jewish state. They want a democracy of “all its citizens”, with the definition of “citizen” to be decided later – a Hebrew-speaking (or perhaps Arabic-speaking) Belgium in the Middle East. The most natural thing in the world is for them to turn to the nations of the world, because they are Our Team – “unsere”, while those Zionists are not Us, and perhaps we can narrowly define “citizen” to keep most of them out.

Attached to these Jewish-rejectionists are those who are trying to redefine what Judaism is. They are attached to them because they are doing the same thing – redefining who is Us. If Judaism is about being a political Liberal, then seeking help from the Biden administration to stop the building of settlements is perfectly natural – Biden is “Jew-ish”, and Hilltop Youth are not.

Amir Ohana is an openly gay man, and there is room for him as Speaker of the Knesset because he is Jewish. He is 100% one of us, “unsere”, and by the way, this is what makes him “right-wing”. He supports our rights here and not our replacement with another people or peoples. He may not be observant, but he is not telling us the Torah approves of homosexuality. Does halacha say that a gay man is the ideal for leading a Jewish state? Of course not! But it’s all right not to have a halachic state. The Jewish people have almost never had a halachic state – the Hasmoneans were kohanim – priests – and therefore the rabbis criticize them for taking the mantle of leadership, contrary to halacha, but we still celebrate Chanukah. The biblical Northern Kingdom was non-halachic, but they still received prophets.

Notice that Israel can, and wants to, take in all the Jews of the world. We have plenty of room for Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Humanist, atheist, LGBTQ Jews, in addition to the Open Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Religious Zionist, charedi and chardal Jews. They don’t have to change who they are, but they have to be Jews. They have to be on our (the Jewish people’s) side. When Jews come, they get citizenship and the vote to help us decide what is best for the future of the Jewish state.  That is what can make it a real Jewish and democratic country.

Our sages coined a phrase for just this situation: “Yiftach in his generation is like Shmuel in his generation.” Shmuel was a great halachic leader, Yiftach was at the far opposite end of the spectrum. Both were Jewish leaders of Jewish states, and G-d willing, so is Amir Ohana. The important thing is that even when it was a freak show, it was OUR freak show.

PS I hear it coming already – what about the Arabs?! What I’ve written is what I believe about the necessary underpinnings of Israel. While I am sure there are many who would disagree with me, I believe it is the basic philosophy of many on the right- and the right wing is the majority of the country now, based on the election, and by far the majority of the Jewish population. What to do about specific issues, including the Arabs, is for another time.

About the Author
Reuven (sometimes Bobby) came from a mixed Jewish-Christian background. He became ba'al teshuva (Jewishly observant) in his 20s with the intention of making aliyah, which didn't happen until his 40s. His daughter, Shani, also blogs and serves in the IDF as a medic. She was a lone soldier until her parents made aliyah in 2017.