It isn’t only Religious Zionist voters who have to make ideological decisions this election season. But we do seem to find ourselves at a fateful crossroads. Consider the following three choices:
A – Is democracy an obstacle in the way of shaping the ideal state you imagine?
B – is democracy a system created to unify a diverse nation into one people?
A – Does your worldview have a monopoly on truth?
B – Do diverse perspectives lead to wiser diagnoses and prescriptions for societal problems?
A – Should Religious leaders should use governmental powers to mold society according to its ideals?
B – Should Religious leadership set positive examples that influence society to elevate its culture?
The Different Outcomes
If you believe the A options, then compromising with political opponents means sacrificing your ideals. A nation is seen to be made of diverse people in a struggle against each other for power and dominance. Politics is a zero-sum game. Democracy is an obstacle, my worldview is paramount in all things and Religious leaders should battle for power. Winning that battle is the path towards redemption.
If you believe the B choices, then compromising with political opponents is idealistic patriotism. It is the path to national growth and unity. A nation is made of diverse people in a collective debate over how to best become the best they can be. Democracy is a privilege and a responsibility, all parts of the nation contribute to its growth and Rabbis should exert influence through example, not power. The battle for power itself is what slows down the redemption.
It isn’t surprising to find Religious Zionists in both camps. It is also to be expected to find many who aren’t exclusively on one side or the other. I’d be hesitant to guess at percentages.
Having been raised and educated as a Religious Zionist in the United States, I was also inculcated to believe in the ideals of Modern Orthodoxy. I was taught that Religious Zionists shared values with both the secular nationalists and those devoted to rigorous mitzvah observance. In fact, we could be the bridge that unites all Jews who are dedicated to a robust future for our people. I don’t see that as the current zeitgeist here in Israel.
What does surprise me is how little the writings of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook seem relevant to today’s Religious Zionists on the topic. I’m certainly no deep expert, but much of his writing indicates support for the B outlook and seems relevant. Perhaps one could find support for the other approach in his writings as well, which could also enrich the discussion. But I don’t hear Religious Zionists engaging in those sources much at all.
And so, with little hope of changing minds, but some hope of enriching discussions before Tuesday’s election, I’ll simply leave some quotes that I find relevant here, with my own emphases added. May G-d help us on the path to Redemption.
Rav Kook on Unity with Diversity
1) [Rabbis must] constantly strive to bring people closer to each other and introduce a spirit of peace between all factions and parties, by way of the holy sentiments that are equally shared in every Jewish soul.
Rabbis must stay far away from all factional disputes and differences, they must view everything in a positive light, focusing only on that side of every faction and every event. This way, they will be able to infuse a spirit of sanctity, faith and pure Jewish awareness into the nation’s entire collective existence, materially and spiritually.
HaRabbanut, Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, pp. 52-54
2) We now have three noteworthy factions among our people. The first is Orthodoxy, as we are accustomed to call it. It champions the cause of the holy; it speaks with vigor, with zeal and with embitterment on behalf of the Torah and the mitzvot, of religious faith, and of everything sacred to the Jewish people.
The second is the new nationalism that battles for everything toward which the national spirit aspires. It embraces many of the characteristics of a nation seeking to renew its national existence after a long period of exile. It also seeks to include many elements deriving from the influence of the other nations, to the extent that it judges them desirable and appropriate for itself.
The third is liberalism, which was an advocate of the Enlightenment in the recent past and still has a following in many circles. It does not confine itself to the domain of the national but demands general human enlightenment, culture, morality and much more.
It is understandable that in a healthy setting there is a need for each of these three forces. We must always seek to reach this healthy state, where these forces will act in our lives jointly, in all their fullness and their goodness, in harmonious integration with nothing in excess or in diminution. The claims of the holy, of the nation, and of humanity will be joined together in a spiritual and practical love. Individuals and parties will be in agreement that each one is to recognize with goodwill the positive service of the other.
This acknowledgment will then develop to a point where each one will recognize the positive role in every cause, that it is desirable, and that in order to pursue it for the general good of spiritual harmonization as well as the enhancement of the particular cause with which he himself is identified. He will go even further in recognizing a positive dimension in the negative aspect of every cause, within its proper delimitation. He will know that it is to the benefit of the very cause of which he is an advocate to be influenced to some extent by the negation, because by its challenge it sets his beloved cause within its proper sphere and saves it from the perilous detriment of excess and exaggeration…
If we shall examine the tension that we suffer in this generation we will know that only one course is open to us. Everyone, the individual or the community, must take to heart this admonition: that together with the need to defend the particular position to which one is attached by natural inclination, habit or training, one must know how to utilize the positions that have found a following among other people and their parties. Thus one will perfect oneself and one’s party, both through the positive aspects in the position of the others, and through the beneficial aspects in their negations, by safeguarding one’s own position against the defect of exaggeration which produces weakness and destruction. Thus we may hope to attain a way of life appropriate for a people of high stature…
Orot, pp. 70-72