The Chosen State: The Jew Within

The friction between the religious and the non-religious has reached the danger point. Across a bridgeless  chasm the two camps stare at each other with precious little dialogue and conversation. On both sides there are suspicion and mistrust and basic lack of understanding of the other�s point of view.

The secularist stares at the religious Jews and sees only that he wishes to circumscribe his freedom to do as he pleases. Because of the religious Jew, he cannot travel on a public conveyance in many cities on the Sabbath; cannot marry the girl of his choice (be she
shiksa or not); cannot create the kind of free, western society that he reads about in the newspapers. He looks upon the Yeshiva student who is exempt from army service as a draft dodger or an opponent of the state. He moves toward a position where the black kaftan of the Hasid instinctively makes him angry and resentful - without his knowing why. His mind is filled with many false notions and concepts of Judaism: that a Jew, by halacha, is only a religious one; that a mamzer, bastard, is any child born out of wedlock and thus completely outside of the Jewish community; that the Sabbath and kashrus and ritual purity are meaningless and reasonless relics of medievalism.

The religious Jew stares at the secularist, his way of life, his desecration of Jewish values that to him, the Religious Jew, are holy and precious, and considers the secularist to be a maliciously wicked person whose preconceived desire is to destroy Judaism and its practitioners. The whole governmental machinery becomes some sort of diabolical machine whose sole purpose is to crush the Judaism of our fathers. Marxist kibbutzim are peopled with atheistic sinners and the religious Jew must either fight them or have nothing to do with them.

Where there is no dialogue there can be only misunderstanding. When people do not meet each other it is easy for images and demons to take the place of reality. And so it is here.

The secularist who rarely comes into contact with the religious Jew and never sits with him for meaningful discussion of religion, fails to understand that the observant Jew does not live simply to make life difficult and oppressive for a fellow Jew. He has no opportunity to listen to the religious Jew explain that the Jewish people exists only because of and through Torah and that the survival or happiness of the state depend on the observance of the Law. That if we speak of the Defense Forces of Israel, then Jewish history has shown that while Jews do not depend upon miracles and there is a desperate need for Zahal, still, the major defense is observance of
mitzvot and the study of Torah. And so, with the deepest respect and support for the armed forces, yeshiva students sit and learn - to obtain divine defense for the Jewish state. The secularist rarely has the opportunity to hear the religious Jew say that his very desire to create a truly Jewish state is proof not only of his intense love for Judaism but for all Jews who live in the state. It would be easy enough not to care about how the secularist lives; it is a sign of love that one cares enough about a fellow Jew to try to make him cleave to his heritage despite his lack of understanding of its importance.

To be sure there are the few, the religious minority, whose bitterness against the desecration of Torah has driven them to a point of unreasoning hatred of the secularist. But the secularist does not understand that this kind of mind just as easily, perhaps more easily, hates the observant Jew who is not quite as ready to hate the secular Jew. The kind of Jew who refuses to recognize the state, hates and despises the observant Zionist Jew even more than he hates the atheist Marxist one. Nor does the secularist understand what a minority of a minority this group is within religious Jewry and how unacceptable is its point of view to religious Jews. And so he makes the grave error of equating all religious Jews with a few at the very moment that he deplores the blaming of all
kibbutznikim for the sins of their few. This error can only be erased by the secularist�s being willing to sit down with the religious Jew and hear his side of the argument - a side, incidentally, which was the mainstream of Judaism for millennia.

Only this dialogue will allow the secularist to understand the contention that the
halacha - which has been the very air of the Jew since Sinai - has at least the same right to limit the individual that socialism has. That the very essence of a state is its right to limit the individual�s freedom in return for what it promises him will be a greater good. That many individuals are unconvinced of this greater good and thus lament the loss of their freedom, but so long as the democratic majority decrees that it sees the logic of the �trade,� this remains the rule of the land and cannot be attacked as �coercive� or �oppressive.� All laws of society are coercive in the sense that they force the individual to obey even when he does not particularly care to. All the state�s laws are oppressive in the sense that they take from me the delicious freedom to do anything I would like to do. But any sensible man knows that they are not oppressive in the pejorative sense of the word. The price we pay for making man safer and better is individual liberty.

If Socialism can take away man�s right to work as hard as he can, keep all that he makes, and let the poor devil hang who was not as clever or as fortunate, none of the �progressives� calls this coercive or oppressive. If religion, in order to make man a more disciplined and less selfish person, and in order to obtain what it believes to be G-d�s divine intervention on behalf of the state, does the same thing, why should it be considered tyrannical?

Dialogue is what we need and Ahavat Yisroel and a willingness to hear the other side. And this goes for the religious Jew, too.

How difficult it is for one who believes to understand the mind of one who does not. How difficult to place one�s self in the shoes of a man whose training, whose education, whose environment are so different. Is a
kibbutznik of Hashomer Hatzair to be condemned because he never saw a pair of tefillin or a Torah scroll in his life until he joined the army? Is one who was subject to totally secular, or even atheist and Marxist indoctrination, wicked? How simplistic and how terribly un-Jewish to hold such views. Only the man who secretly wishes the majority to remain secular so that he may be numbered among the few, the �elite,� will not look upon the secularist as one who simply either did not receive a full, effective Jewish education or as one who, for whatever reason, left the observance of the faith. Not hatred and not pushing aside and not separate communities will solve the religious-irreligious conflict, but an understanding of each side, a mature willingness to recognize that there can be honest differences (even when each side is convinced that it is correct), that these differences need not stem from wicked intention, that compromises are necessary for the people and state to survive.

What do I mean by compromises? Not on questions of principle; Not that the religious should agree to change a
halacha for the sake of a nebulous peace. But that each side, when pushing for a change in the status quo, should realize just what is noncompromisable and what had better be left alone. For the irreligious it is imperative to realize that on certain issues that affect the very heart and root of the Jewish definition there can be no compromise by religious Jews. No rabbi can be asked to twist or bend halacha - no matter how important it may seem to the secularist. The religious understands that although Torah never changes, the times and tempers of the times do change and what a society was willing to accept once, it may not be willing to accept now. That, in the end, it is impossible to force upon an unwilling majority that which it will not agree to. That certain areas, although of great importance, do not go to the heart of the definition of the Jew and if not pushed today can still be pushed at a later date when times and tempers change. That to push and win a battle at the wrong time is sometimes to lose the war later on.

How sad that so many of the leaders of both camps are men who add little honor to their cause. Let us not judge the cause by the incompetence or pettiness of certain of its representatives. The main thing is for the Jews of the state who love their nation and land to understand that they cannot separate themselves from their Jewishness that brought them back and that some means must be found and can be found to live together. Bridges, dialogue, and Ahavat Yisroel are the burning needs of the hour.

I do not say that the parties to dialogue will walk away from their conversation agreeing to agree. But when one sits down with another for a discussion of deep differences and leaves agreeing to disagree, a major success has been achieved. For the two have heard each other, understand that there is honesty and sincerity on both sides, and begin to see
why the other side differs. Dialogue should leave the one who truly believes unshaken in his convictions, but with new compassion and insight for his opponents. In the end every Jew is a Jew no more or less than others. Good or bad, he is our brother and we love him.

By Rabbi Meir Kahane
Our Challenge
Hosted by