Sometimes you wonder what Hashem makes of all this. After all the Sturm and Dang – the victory proclamations, the claimed vindication of daas Torah by the charedi parties, the humiliating defeat of those who did not pass the threshold – we are now starting all over again.
Everyone has an opinion on who’s to blame. Avigdor Lieberman’s name, of course, comes up the most. Lieberman, in refusing to budge even an inch on drafting charedim, has now become a hero to political conservatives who want nothing to do with religion. His party, Yisrael Beiteinu, has essentially become the rightist equivalent of Meretz.
What will happen in September’s elections is uncertain, but one thing is clear: The battle lines between the militantly secular and religious camps have been drawn, and underlying it all is a struggle for Israel’s future. Close to 60 percent of Israel’s one million charedi families are under the age of 20, which means, experts say, that charedim will comprise 16 percent of the total population by 2030 and 33 percent by 2065.
This prospect is alarming to Lieberman and his cohorts who are determined to do whatever it takes to prevent Israel from becoming a “halachic state.” This alarmism is perhaps inevitable, but it is also most unfortunate. For the truth is that while extremists on both sides hurl verbal insults and condemnations at each other, the silent majority is shedding some of its old animosities.
Yes, Peleg Yerushalmi and others engage in non-stop Chillul Hashem – making religious Jews look like wild-eyed, hateful ingrates interested only in protecting their turf – but more charedim than ever are now entering the labor force and supporting themselves. They participate in civic-minded organizations like Zaka, Yad Sarah, and Hatzolah. Increasingly, they are even joining the army.
The tone of the ads for Yahadus HaTorah this past election were notable in that they communicated positive messages to the Israeli public – the importance of Shabbat for everyone and social fairness in all sectors. These ads no doubt helped them achieve their electoral success.
On the secular side, there are more and more people who – while not officially religious – are looking for a greater connection to Torah and our heritage. Many groups of “non-religious” Israelis have sprung up throughout the country. These groups regularly participate in Torah study and tefillah, and they are growing.
I personally am involved in two such groups. One is Ayelet HaShachar, which has started shuls and religious services in numerous secular kibbutzim and moshavim; established a huge network of telephone chavrutot; and helped plant people like me on completely secular yishuvim to quietly and pleasantly spread the light of Torah.
The second group is called “HaKipot HaShkufot” (the Transparent Kippot), which is a fascinating grassroots coalition of religious, formerly religious, not-yet religious, and non-religious-but-interested-in-tradition Jews. Next week, they are having a national Tikkun Leil Shavuot and have invited people of all kinds to come together and share their thoughts about a tradition or Jewish value and honor Zman Matan Torateinu.
Bottom line: While an ugly battle over the place of religion in Israel will likely take place in the next few months, I take solace in knowing that the extremists who will participate in it do not represent the majority – on either side.
As we stand now before Shavuot and Matan Torah, it behooves the religious public to remember that perhaps the most impressive feature of Am Yisrael before Har Sinai was its unity. It was “one nation with one heart.” Parshat Bamidbar, always read just before Shavuot, speaks of 12 separate tribes, each with its own flag, personality, and way, united around the Mishkan (or, the “portable” Mount Sinai, as Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch calls it).
The differences between the various segments of our nation today are in some ways greater than they were 3,300 years ago, but we should still strive to see ourselves as one nation with one heart – seeking what unifies, rather than what divides, us.
May we get through the challenging time ahead with minimum damage, and may the religious community have the wisdom to answer the venom that is sure to come with pleasant and peaceful words aimed at the silent majority eager to hear the beautiful voice of our heritage.