Torah and State in our time – Medinat Yisrael

Rav Yair Dreifuss • 2018

Perhaps it is time for us to establish a new utopia – one that, God forbid, will not indulge the megalomaniac impulses of history, Rather, it will direct our hearts towards thoughts of peace.

In 1982, when Rav Hadari – who recently passed away – was on vacation, I had the privilege of serving alongside Rav Shagar in leading Yeshivat HaKotel. That was the year of two dramatic, traumatic events in our state and society: The First Lebanon War and the devastating evacuation of Yamit.

In the month of Sivan, war broke out. Young men from several hesder yeshivas were killed, among them my uncle, Aryeh Yehoshua Strauss, who fell in the battle of Sultan Yacoub. Three soldiers involved in that battle are missing to this day.

Rav Shagar addressed the topic of the war in a talk he delivered at the yeshiva. His words were later published after his death in the book Panecha Avakesh.

Thinking of Rav Shagar’s speech on the First Lebanon War, I have understood just how sharp his foresight was at the age of thirty-two.

Rav Shagar’s lesson was devoted to an Izhbitzer distinction between the kingdom of David and that of Solomon, and its consequences for the Messianic, somewhat more permissiveutopia of Solomon. He also spoke about the spirituality of Solomon – a world of wisdom that is above the Torah – and its relationship with the Davidic kingdom’s all-encompassing spirit of prophecy. I’ve also discussed the difference between the sins of David that belong to the man of war and instinct – and his tumultuous journey of tikkun and repentance – as compared with the multifaceted, universal world that arises from cultural, economic abundance, and Rambam’s messianic utopia.

All these topics led to my discussion of our founding fathers’ political thoughts: according to their ideology, we should give our lives to defend ourselves, and resist adopting a “new world order” mentality (just consider America’s megalomania complications in Vietnam on one side, and Iraq and Afghanistan on the other).

Today, I am not certain that we must continue to stand in the shadow of a Holocaust-consciousness as we did 30 years ago. Perhaps it is time for us to establish a new utopia – one that, God forbid, will not indulge the megalomaniac impulses of history (as Ariel Sharon did in Lebanon). Rather, it will direct our hearts towards thoughts of peace (however utopic they may be).

Judaism should not sanctify the spirit of diaspora in the political realm. Exile in redemption is redemption in exile. The trends toward globalization in society and state can destroy the delicate fabric of covenant and holiness. Yet the reaction of intensified haredism and Hardalization – despite its short-term protective effects – will reveal itself, in the long term, to be just one terrible, missed opportunity.

It is possible for us to hold onto contradictions, to be the bearers of a clear-headed, strategic philosophy that can be applied in political and military contexts with humility: “Yaakov is small and meek.” The IDF: the defense forces, not the aggressive, warring forces. At the same time Sfat Emet comments that the sin of the Spies (in the Numbers narrative of Parshat Shlach) was political haredism, an attitude of ‘We only learn Torah, we have nothing to do with the state.’ They want to remain in diaspora even when they are already in the land. We know that Jews actually feel the great closeness and warmth towards other Jews specifically in the diaspora – when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable.

I believe that we should hold onto our diaspora-inflected traditions, but at the same time we must learn to influence, to carry the torch. To bear the part of religion that seems silly – the Sisyphean stone, our Jewish ‘baggage’ – unapologetically.

Why? Because. (because) is the crown of all crowns. (ככה – כתר כל הכתרים) God forbid we should give up our invaluable assets, our Jewish lives of covenant and oath.

On the other hand, it is specifically from this place of security that we must train our hearts to integrate human experience in all its depth and breadth. We must at least begin to dream about the very real transition from prophetic immersion to an infinite wisdom, with its consequences for an open, universal society. We must imagine the profound transformation that will bring us closer to zealously pursuing the covenant in both the personal and national realm. We should move towards an entirely new mindset for the State of Israel, the foundation of God’s throne in the world (as Rav Kook used to famously refer to it).

The problem perhaps lies in the fact that we’ve already exhausted this ‘fundamental’ aspect (the righteous Joseph, a zealot of the covenant) – the sometimes vulgar stage of national revival, at the same time the divisions of the throne (Yehuda the righteous, as he was described by the Mei HaShiloach). Yehuda is mired in doubt. He fails with women (just as Solomon would). He does not only ask the normative questions of “What is the law?” but also inquires freely, from the most personal place, “What is God’s revealed will at this given moment?”

Doesn’t such a question threaten normative halachic observance?

Does political power lead us onto a megalomaniac path (Ariel Sharon-style, despite his many merits). Or perhaps it is not the right time?

Or maybe it is the opposite: opening our hearts may herald a new Torah? And it would be a voice not only for secular people – who have grown sick of the worn-out religiosity that grips religious groups – but perhaps also and especially for religious society, which has grown tired of the fundamental assumptions of an oppressive Torah? And then, perhaps, an entirely new discourse would begin: a discourse on state, society, power and tradition; a new dynamic between men and women; a renewed conversation on a transcendent wisdom and the human spirit; innovative thoughts on statehood, army, security, international relations and so on.

In my personal experience, conversations of this sort are alive and well.

Many nations are likely to discover that the Jewish tradition – so invisible and unknown to many – can enliven the spirit of the age above and beyond ethnic and national borders.

And perhaps we are chosen?

Most importantly: we must not fear. We cannot be afraid of the violence and threats of various religious circles. There is no need for provocation: we can conduct ourselves in the way of Gandhi, that of non-violence. We m   ust speak our words – even if they are new and surprising – and stir up a new spirit, a revived trust in a Torah that has not yet been revealed.

The connection between Torah and state is clearer to me, now more than ever.

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