For the benefit of anyone who isn’t good at reading comprehension, either because of selective reading or from plain ideological blindness, I want to make it clear that I have nothing against Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.
I’ve lived here for several decades, traveled the length and width of the country on frequent occasions, and I really like it. In years when I’ve been forced to live outside the country I’ve missed it, and even the Bible connects me to it through love and tradition. So okay, I’ve said it.
But anyone who examines the public agenda of Israel’s religious public is liable to think that the Messiah has arrived and the entire Torah has been annulled, other than the commandment to settle the land, and that even that commandment has been limited to one specific region.
Without getting into a political discussion about the legitimacy of the struggle, it looks as if the entire religious public concentrates all its energies on what is generally called “the struggle for the Land of Israel.” When, in the past decade, has the religious public, its rabbis and leaders and their followers, come together for the good of any goal not connected to that struggle?
Several months ago a demonstration was organized on the issue of men who refuse to give their wives a Jewish divorce, which is clearly a religious issue of the first order. There were no buses sent to the demonstration from Kiryat Shmona, there were no swarms of people walking along the country’s roads, and religious schools did not release their students even one hour early so that they would learn an important civics lesson.
Only several hundred women joined the demonstration, and they were tagged as marginal, delusional feminists.
Last week the religious public neglected the great struggle for the country’s rabbinical courts, leaving the field to the 13 new-old strictly Orthodox rabbinical judges, who will presumably just continue doing what they have been doing. Yes, it is true that a National Religious Party representative on the committee left the vote in protest, but was the coalition threatened, even for a moment, because of this issue? Absolutely not.
The social gaps in the Jewish country are the largest in any Western country. A light unto the nations? Not exactly.
But even though the Torah has a social agenda of the first order concerning workers’ rights, social benefits, and treatment of impoverished workers, there is no religious discussion of those issues. Has any religious angle been heard on the subject of the withholding of wages of workers in local governments, which is one of the most serious offenses concerning employment in the Torah? A quotation of a verse from the Torah?
Every religious child can quote, “in every generation we are required to see ourselves as if we left Egypt,” but can someone teach the same child about all the people in our society who cannot see themselves as free because in fact, they live a life of slavery - sub-contracters, women whose bodies are sold as if they were merchandise, and others?
When was the last time there was a call for the religious public to launch a consumer boycott, not against a chain that refuses to sell hamburgers in Judea and Samaria, but against a chain that employs people at less than minimum wage, that puts poison into baby food out of greed, or that advertises its products through ads that border on pornography?
The list is too short to be exhaustive. To our shame, the diseases of Israeli society are numerous, and Jewish law has a great deal to say on the subject. The religious public can be the spearhead in the struggle over the moral character of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world. We are prepared to have a civil war and to stop playing by the rules over every threat to evacuate an empty caravan standing on some hilltop in the Judean hills, but we don’t speak up on other fateful issues.
Yes, the Land of Israel is beloved, and it’s important, and it’s possible that for some people, there is no other issue. But the total focus on the struggle for the Land of Israel is not just a religious, social, and moral injustice. It’s also a plague.