The Israeli election campaigning is reaching a fevered pitch as the April 9th election day fast approaches. The apparent surprise of the election, Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party, seems positioned to become the kingmaker. It is the only party that is not aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud and the so called “rightwing” bloc, nor with Gantz’s Blue & White and the “center-left” bloc. Both blocs are in favor, in one way or another of a two-state solution and a continuation of Israel’s entrenched socialist agenda. Only Zehut is vehemently against the destruction of any Jewish homes, is fundamentally against giving any land away, and champions a truly free market.
Zehut’s groundbreaking publication of a detailed and comprehensive platform has already transformed the election landscape by making the discussions and debates more about ideas and policies and less so about personality politics and who is for or against “Bibi.” Zehut has announced that it will join a coalition with whichever party will advance its published platform the furthest. Not unsurprisingly, each party has mimicked and started to discuss an interest in some of Zehut’s more publicized positions.
Zehut’s surge in the polls and its growing popularity across the spectrum of the Israeli population has brought on ire, mudslinging, false and out-of-context accusations, half-truths, distortions and outright venomous attacks against the party from almost everyone in Israel’s political and media world.
Many esteemed Rabbis have joined in the attacks as well, and in a rare display of political brinkmanship have ordered their followers not to vote for Zehut.
One of the reasons that Rabbis are attacking Zehut is because four years ago, one of Zehut’s candidates, Idan Mor, a secular standup comedian and number eighteen on Zehut’s list, was filmed publicly stating his condemnation of performing a Brit Mila and encouraging Jews to discontinue the ancient and deeply rooted Jewish practice of ritual circumcision.
Rabbis have argued that any party that is willing to associate with such a person, is beyond the pale and should be avoided at all costs.
While all the other 119 candidates on the Zehut list find Idan’s position contradictory and abhorrent to Jewish values, Zehut protects his right to voice his opinion and to keep or not keep Judaism’s most sacred rituals as he sees fit.
There is a pervasive mentality within the Israeli Rabbinical world that the more the state can impose and coerce Jews to follow the Torah’s laws, the better things will be. While the motivation may be noble, the reality and the consequences of religious coercion have consistently proved disastrous, in every single realm where the government got involved in religious legislation within the private realm.
Though Israel is a shining beacon of democracy and civil liberties in the Middle East’s morass of draconian, tyrannical and theocratic regimes, it interestingly has some theocratic elements itself, which consistently turns off large swaths of the population from Jewish life.
For example, it is illegal for Jews to marry except via a ceremony that is approved by the Rabbinate. The consequence of the law is that thousands of Israeli couples leave Israel to perform a civil wedding abroad, are generally disgusted with the Rabbinic coercion that is imposed on them and become antagonistic and hateful of Jewish practice in general and Rabbis in particular.
The Rabbinate controls the authorization of Kosher food in the country, including imports. Unsurprisingly, the management of these authorizations have become highly corrupt with ongoing discoveries of bribes, blackmail, fraud and more within the field. The Israeli public has learned to view the authorizations with growing cynicism and it further reinforces the distaste, the understanding of duplicity and the corruption of the Rabbinic authorities in Israel.
The corruption of the Rabbinate bureaucracy is so pervasive that it reached the very top of the pyramid with former Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger being convicted and imprisoned on corruption charges. Chief Rabbi Metzger has become Exhibit A in demonstrating how rotten the bureaucracy of the Rabbinate of Israel has become. The concept of the government legislating and regulating religious observance in the personal realm has been a catastrophic disaster and probably is the single largest organization in modern history to turn off more Jews from Judaism than any other that comes to mind, including those organizations purposely intending to sway Jews from Judaism.
The Zehut platform has identified the abysmal failure of the Rabbinate and proposes severally curtailing the Rabbinate’s role in the private lives of Jews.
It is this view and philosophy of the separation of religion from state that deeply troubles many of the leading rabbis in Israel today. Many Rabbis are uncomfortable with the idea of giving up the theocratic powers the government enjoys. Many would be happy to extend those powers further.
Zehut believes that the truest way to interest and attract non-observant Jews to Jewish practice and observance is by giving them the freedom to choose.
Thankfully, there is no law regarding the requirement of circumcision (making Zehut candidate Idan Mor’s comments irrelevant from a policy point of view), yet it is estimated that more than 98% of Jews in Israel, no matter how secular, have a Brit Mila for their sons.
There is no law regarding conducting a Pesach Seder, yet 97% of Jews in Israel have a Seder, eat Matza and Maror and drink the four cups of wine.
On the other hand, there is a government law that restricts the sale of Chametz (leavened products) on Pesach, which is enforced and whose violation carries a fine. Yet multiple restaurants brazenly sell Chametz on Pesach and pay the fine, because their profit is greater than the fine.
Every time the government legislates a religious law it leads to less observance and more hatred of Jewish tradition.
This the reason that Feiglin is anti-Theocracy. This is one of the reasons why many Rabbis are uncomfortable with Feiglin and Zehut. This is one of the reasons why Zehut is being attacked vociferously.
And this is one of the reasons why so many Jews who seek greater freedom, who seek a Judaism that gives them space to return to their roots and to Jewish tradition will be voting for Zehut on April 9th.
Ben-Tzion Spitz is a former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay and current candidate for Knesset with the Zehut party.