He says that Independence Day shouldn’t be observed; and he thinks that kippa-wearing army officers are no big deal. No, he’s not some haredi hotshot rabbi. He’s Rabbi Shmuel Tal, head of Yeshivat Torat HaChaim, and until two years ago, he was considered to be a rising star in religious-Zionist circles.
In a recent interview with the haredi “Mishpacha” magazine, Tal lays out his new worldview. Referring to the Israeli government as a “kingdom that has transformed into apostasy” and the State of Israel as one “who screams against God”, he insists that “it’s no longer possible to combine holiness and impurity.”
According to him, the path of the Torah doesn’t allow for sanctifying the State. In fact, religious-Zionists should forget about trying to “influence from within”. Honoring the secular leadership, Tal claims, only corrupts the secular leaders themselves.
“It’s impossible to genuinely advance within the secular system unless you adopt the secular outlook whole-heartedly,” the rabbi observes. “Even if a religious prime minister would be elected, he wouldn’t be able to do whatever he wanted. When someone raises his head, a criminal file about him is immediately stitched together.”
Even the very fact of Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel has ceased to impress him. He notes that Herbert Samuel, the Jewish British Mandatory high commissioner, “represented a kingdom that didn’t represent God’s kingship” and draws parallels between Samuel and the current secular leadership.
Turning the other cheekThe religious-Zionist leadership doesn’t emerge unscathed from the interview. “To my great sorrow, the Torah leadership of the community where I came from didn’t think to reexamine its relationship to the State,” Tal says.
“Several important and central rabbis in the national-religious world have privately told me that they completely agree with me and would be happy to join me, but they’re afraid what their colleagues will say about them.”
Later in the interview, Tal refers to a syndrome which he calls “accepting the yoke of the secular sovereign.” He believes that no matter how the State mistreats the national-religious population, the latter will continue in their praise.
He cites the aftermath of the so-called Disengagement – which, he asserts, was the result of “anti-Semitism and true evil” and was carried out “with cruelty and without basic humanity” – as an example of this phenomenon.
“We declare out loud that we’ll continue enlisting in the army without any preconditions,” he bemoans. “We take leave of Netzarim with a prayer for the well-being of those doing the expelling.
“We embrace the soldiers who are banishing us, and we even pray for their health. We turn the other cheek. Have we gone crazy?” he asks rhetorically.
The next generationTraining his sights on today’s religious-Zionist teenagers, Tal bewails their familiarity with secular Israeli culture. He blames this fluency on either a misguided sense of obligation to “Israeliness” or a desire to “broaden their horizons”.
In particular, Tal is saddened that Orthodox youth aren’t able to differentiate between Israeli heroes and religious icons. For instance, he reports, the younger generation doesn’t distinguish between Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook and Chaim Nachman Bialik or between David Ben Gurion and the Chazon Ish.
“In the eyes of many pre-military yeshiva students, an IDF general is a more admired figure than the Chazon Ish or Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach,” Tal recounts.
In addition, Tal pleads with the religious public to refrain from going into raptures upon encountering kippa-wearing junior officers, academics, members of the media, or justice officials.
Tal insists that these individuals are simply being used and made to do the dirty work.
The secular establishment “will never permit any religious person to advance if he hasn’t enthusiastically adopted the secular positions,” Tal concludes.