For over a decade, Moshe Feiglin, a Jewish Press weekly columnist, has been working toward becoming prime minister of Israel with the aim of “turning the state of the Jews into the Jewish state.” He still has ways to go, but on February 5, he advanced one step closer when he was sworn in as a Knesset member for the first time.
Ahead of a dinner celebrating his victory in the Chateau Steakhouse in Queens, NY on February 25, MK Feiglin spoke to The Jewish Press.
The Jewish Press: You’ve been trying to get into the Knesset for a long time. Now that you’re in, what do you hope to accomplish?
Feiglin: I hope to advance the concept of Jewish leadership to the state of Israel – a state that is based on its Jewish identity and not just the concept of survival.
What does that mean?
One example is the two-state solution. If you understand that we came back to Israel after 2,000 years of exile to achieve a goal and not just to survive, then you understand we need the whole country. We long for Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, Schechem, Chevron – all these places that connect us to our identity.
When the goal is survival, Tel Aviv is enough. When the goal is to create a special society that carries a message to the entire universe, then questions like [surrendering land to the Arabs] are not even considered.
You often write that you want to create a Jewish state. For some people, this means a halachic state.
No, I’m talking about something much, much wider. I’m talking about making the Torah part of our culture.
Some people argue that a Jewish state means a state where Torah law reigns supreme – with police enforcing the laws of tzniyut, for example, as they do in Iran.
No, nothing can be forced. The whole concept of force is against Judaism because Hashem tells us, “U’bacharta ba’chaim” – you should choose, and if you’re being forced, you cannot choose…. The difference between Judaism and Islam is exactly that. God wants us to choose between life and death. Therefore, the whole concept of force is totally irrelevant.
Are you saying there was no force in the times of the Bayit Rishon or Bayit Sheini?
I’m saying that this is what we need today – a state that carries a message of freedom.
A number of years ago, you wrote that Israel should make Sunday a day off like it is in America. You argued that Israelis who love soccer, for example, would gladly move all professional soccer games from Saturday to Sunday and possibly observe Shabbat if Sunday wasn’t a workday.
That is a good example of how to build a modern Jewish state that gives its citizens the capability to have a real Shabbat even though they’re not religious right now. What we need to do is to be more open and give Israelis the ability to be who they [truly] are. If you give them the opportunity to choose, most of them will choose the right thing.
Some people would claim this argument is silly since Israelis are, by and large, secular.
I think they’re totally wrong. When you ask Israelis what they are first – Jewish or Israeli – more than 80 percent say first of all, and above all, they’re Jewish. When you ask Israelis to describe themselves, only 19 percent say they’re secular, 50 percent say they’re traditional and the rest say they’re dati or haredi. So those who say that [Israelis are secular] don’t really understand where Israeli society is holding.
In your articles, you often write about the importance of building the Beit HaMikdash, calling it “the direct link between the Almighty and His world” – a place that allows us “to synthesize between the physical and spiritual…to create a life of harmony between the two.” Your average Orthodox Jew, though, believes we must wait for Mashiach to build the Beit HaMikdash. You evidently don’t agree.
We just read in last week’s parshah, “V’asu li mikdash” [“You should make a Sanctuary for Me”]. It doesn’t say “V’asu li haMashiach mikdash”[“Mashiach should make a Sanctuary for Me”]. “V’asu” means the people of Israel. So what can I tell you? It’s written clear and simple right there.
Why do so many Jews believe otherwise?
You should ask them.
You descend from a Chabad family and went to religious Zionist schools growing up. How would you describe yourself today?
I’m Moshe Zalman Feiglin. There’s no [label] that describes me specifically. Sometimes you can call me Chabad, sometimes you can call me dati le’umi [religious Zionist], and sometimes you can even call me not religious at all since I don’t identify with the concept of “religion.” Religion, to my understanding, is not a Jewish concept. The first person who uses the word “dati” [religious] in the Bible is Haman Harasha.
Judaism is not a religion; we should remember that. Religion is just part of Judaism that served us in the Diaspora, but when we come back to our land we should open that to a full culture because otherwise Judaism cannot fulfill its message.
There’s a reason why the punishment of not willing to go from the Sinai desert to Eretz Yisrael was much bigger than the punishment the Jews got for cheit ha’eigel [the sin of the Golden Calf]. For cheit ha’eigel – which is, so to speak, a religious sin – we can do teshuvah and start from the beginning. But when you’re not willing to go to Eretz Yisrael, you’re basically saying, “I give up on the Jewish mission” – which can only be fulfilled from the land of Israel.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch also disliked the word “religion” to describe Judaism since it implies that Judaism concerns only one aspect of life – the religious as opposed to the secular – when, in fact, Judaism encompasses and is supposed to permeate and inform every aspect of life. Is this what you’re saying?
We took the concept of religion from Christianity, and we should understand that this is not what Judaism is all about. It’s not just about religion. It’s much wider than that. Of course I’m not talking about giving up Torah u’mitzvot. Nahafoch hu. I’m talking about Torah u’mitzvot with a national purpose. Not just a private purpose or a family purpose, not even a community purpose – but a national purpose.
On that level it can be done only in the land of Israel with Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and, b’ezrat Hashem, as soon as can be, the Beit HaMikdash.
Who are your heroes?
Herzl is also definitely a hero. Not that I agree with everything he said, but definitely a person with a vision who changed history. If you want to talk about non-Jews, we can talk about Churchill who saved his people from Germany.
Both your friends and enemies sometimes compare you to Meir Kahane. Do you embrace this comparison? Reject it?
You can find places where we say the same things. You can also find places where we are different. I was in the army when Meir, Hashem yikom damo, was [most] active, so I didn’t get to know him so well. But I can definitely say that the slogan “Kahane tzadak – Kahane was right” has proven itself many times.
When you first started your campaign to become Israel’s prime minister, terrorism was rampant and Israel’s leaders were constantly negotiating to surrender land to the Arabs. Matters seem to have improved somewhat since then. For people who only care about land and security – rather than the ideological vision you outlined earlier – why is it important that you become prime minister?
Well, I don’t agree with the way you describe the situation. Just a few months ago, we had missiles being shot from Gaza at Tel Aviv. It reminds me of the joke of a person falling from the roof of a skyscraper and somebody in the middle of the building is looking from the window and asks him, “How is it going?” and he says, “So far so good.”
Israel is being targeted by terrorists and losing its credibility all over the world. We have the strongest economy; we have accomplished miracles. But we have also lost our roots and our ability to justify our existence. We definitely need Jewish leadership.
Do you genuinely believe you will become prime minister one day?
I have no doubt that sooner or later Israel will have Jewish leadership.
But not necessarily you?
Of course not necessarily me. I am not the message; the message is the message. I’m looking right and left and don’t see anybody else, but it’s not about me.
President Obama is visiting Israel in March. What would you advise Prime Minister Netanyahu to say to him during his visit?
Netanyahu should demand that Obama come with Jonathan Pollard before anything else. That should become the number one issue when it comes to the relationship with America. If, God forbid, Jonathan Pollard dies in jail, this black moral cloud above Israeli and American society will not be able to be erased.
Why is securing Pollard’s release more important than anything else?
Because I see [neglecting Pollard] as treason against our fellow brother who gave his life for us, and I believe that morality changes history. The bottom line is that when something immoral happens for such a long time in such a terrible way, it has an impact on the moral foundation of the Jewish state. It also has an impact on the moral foundation of the United States, but that’s a different story. I care about the Jewish state first of all.
For reservations to the dinner celebrating Feiglin’s election to the Knesset, visit jewishisrael.org or call 516-295-3222.
About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and holds a Masters degree from Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies.
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