Secular patience wearing thin
Op-ed: Religious Zionists hold many views that are abhorrent to the secular, though their response to these views varies based on their potential closeness to the issues; only a minority actually express these beliefs, held by the majority, and the secular sector's patience is wearing thin with them.
The shock in the secular world caused by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein's statements was so strong that even the chairman of Bayit Yehudi, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, had to condemn him. And after him, as always, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Basically, if you want to know what Netanyahu thinks about a specific topic, all you have to do is wait to hear Bennett's opinion, and then start the countdown to the PM's response. But there's no doubt that there are days when even the most committed atheist prays to God that Hell really exists, just so Levinstein and his ilk can go—after living to a ripe old age, of course—to their rightful place.
Then again, maybe not. Because what are Levinstein's crimes, really? That he spoke the truth. That he said what he believes. And if he apologized, it would be for saying what he did, not for believing it.
Just a week previously, people were shocked by pretty similar statements given in rabbinical rulings to religious questions put to the candidate for IDF chief rabbi. Just three months before that—and honestly, when aren't they?—our ears were ringing from the honest statements of faith by MK Bezalel Smotrich and his wife that only racially pure hands should touch a newborn. Really, why are we shocked again and again?
Few in the religious sector honestly and openly express their faith. Most of them belong to the school of pretending innocence and eye-rolling, while it's disseminated via yeshivas like Ateret Hacohanim and others like it to the pre-army preparatory yeshivas (mechinot) and from there to the junior command ranks in the army, and within a short time, also to the senior command. Rulings, instructions and statements of people of that sector that shock us every time anew, like we haven't heard such things regularly. Worldviews that are likely to one day decide that it's permissible and even required to violate the Sabbath to save a Givati brigade commander, but it's utterly forbidden to save a Golani brigade commander on the Sabbath because he isn't Jewish.
Reform Jews are Christians. It's permissible to rape an attractive woman during war to keep up soldiers' morale. It's permissible to harm innocent Arabs—and innocent children, if they're Arab, because they'll grow up to be terrorists. And obviously there's no need to treat terrorists as human beings, because they're "animals," and the maxim states that he who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.
It's forbidden for women to enlist, and if, God forbid, they enlist, it's forbidden to be around them, certainly not when they're commanders. Because the presence of a female commander around male soldiers requires them to focus their gaze on her, which violates the prohibition on looking.
There's nothing to say about women singing. The consensus is that one has to get up and leave, and to avoid it coming to that, women shouldn't sing in the first place.
And gays—beasts. By the way, it should be noted that secular rage comes out principally against these pronouncements. In regards to everything related to Arabs and innocents, the secular get only better with Halacha (Jewish law) than they do when it comes to women and gays. Maybe it's because we don't end up as Arabs and innocents ourselves, but our daughter is a woman, and our son—who knows—might end up, God forbid, gay.
And anybody who doesn't believe all this just has to google the website Kipa or a collection of rabbinical rulings, and they'll believe.
The overwhelming majority of Religious Zionists behave in the fashion of Col. Eyal Karim, who, after conversations and hearings, clarified that he didn't exactly mean what they said that he said, and if somebody was hurt, etc., etc. Or in the fashion of Dan Zamir, director general of the Joint Council of Mechinot, who said to Army Radio that Levinstein didn't mean to hurt anyone; he just tried to find a way to say things in his own words. A week after Levinstein's statements, a letter of support came out signed by hundreds of rabbis, including the leading candidate for the position of chief rabbi of the Israel Police, Rami Berechyahu.
You don't understand, they say; it's a pure Halachic debate that doesn't touch on day-to-day life until the Temple is rebuilt. Yet, for the whole of the Land of Israel, it's permitted to lie, let alone rolling your eyes heavenwards and arguing that you don't really understand anything. Only a minority of Religious Zionists dare to say what they think and what they believe in their hearts. But the truth is that this is what most of them believe. As they were taught in their childhood, the Torah from their parents.
The difference amongst the various ideological movements and opinions in the National Religious sector is not on principles of faith, but rather on how to present them in a modern society that contains humanists, liberals and seculars, and if it's necessary—at least for now—to take their opinions into consideration until they've completed their takeover of all the centers of power.
And if, from time to time, a minister like Bennett comes out with statements or declarations contrary to these principles of faith, they can always whisper, as they frequently do, that this isn't really a Religious Zionist, but a politician pretending to be a Religious Zionist. And the fact that the minister of education bestowed a lifetime achievement award and a considerable cash prize to Shuli Rand—who observed Maimonides' permission to coerce his wife, even with a whip—doesn't turn Bennett into an actual religious person.
Sometimes something slips by. The order for the operation to invade Gaza. The King's Torah. The ruling forbidding selling apartments to Arabs. The ruling to fake documents for the purchase of land from a gentile. False testimony in court. And whoever turns in the burners of babies to law-enforcement authorities has committed the egregious sin of snitching. And who really knows on which side they will be in the moment of truth?
Travelers on a full cart don't really believe that travelers on empty carts have values, faith or morals. The biggest insult that a secular person could say to a religious one is, "Believe me that the respect that I have for you is exactly like the respect that you have for me."
Well, we understand. We're the messiah's donkey, destined to do the dirty work, not out of stupidity, but out of patience. But even patience has an end. And even though Rabbi Levinstein says behind closed doors that it's possible to help people change their tendencies, it's doubtful it it's possible to help people to be rehabilitated from the darkness of their religious faith.