Shabbat Parashat Ki Tissa| 5766
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - An Address to Rabbis of Mizrachi 5714 (’54) - Part I - From Harabbanut V’hamedinah pp. 152-155
[Editor’s note: We bring these ideas to you without intent to apply them to any specific current events. Although we hesitate including an arguably “political” address in a Torah leaflet, which we try to keep apolitical, we believe that the arguments that Rav Yisraeli z.t.l. advances explain why he believed that “political” efforts to raise the banner of religion in the State of Israel should be part of a Torah world view.]
Before appraising the situation of religion in Israel and in our movement in order to plan our course of action, we should consider the special nature of the issue of the status of religion in the country. The status of religion in Israel differs greatly from that in Diaspora communities. If we make a purely numerical appraisal, our situation is much better than those of even the largest Jewish populations of the Diaspora. We have a higher percentage of religious Jews and a larger and more advanced Torah school system. The 13% who voted for religious parties in the last Knesset elections is respectable by world standards, especially considering that many members of the religious camp voted for other parties for a variety of technical reasons.
However, numbers are not sufficient, and in other aspects we are extremely unsatisfied. The difficulty that we have in Israel, which our counterparts in the Diaspora do not have, is as follows. Abroad, the religious community is an isolated, independent entity, something that is not possible here in Israel. Our religious community is by necessity part of the society as a whole; we cannot be an isolated, insular community. Therefore, the religious community’s strength, relative to the rest of society, is crucial. These conditions also make it necessary for Israel’s religious community to be organized politically, for only in that way can a minority group have influence. It is also necessary that we not be fragmented and that we know how to strive toward our goal in cooperation among ourselves.
(Because of the differences between the religious communities in Israel and abroad, which are not always recognized, there is often a misunderstanding among religious Jews of the Diaspora as to our situation. Recently one of the stalwarts of Mizrachi in Britain resigned, amidst publicized complaints that political, religious activism damages and diminishes the stature of religion, rather than advancing it. That distinguished gentleman overlooked the difference in the nature of society between Israel and England. The claim that no one prevents the religious Jew from going about his religious affairs, and so he should not try to use political means to advance the interests of religion does not hold water in Israel.)
However, we must remember that it is insufficient for the religious community to have organizations and parties to represent it. It is important that there be large constituencies in these organizations. Only when a party is large enough does it become a factor that those who are struggling to form coalitions to lead the public have to take into consideration. It is also crucial that those who are organized to represent the concerns of religious matters have the proper moral standing. They must be worthy of being respected by those who do not accept their worldview or practice religion like them. Especially in a struggle where the numerical balance of power is not equal, it is important that the minority has the proper moral leverage. A minority’s high moral standing in its rivals’ eyes forces proponents of rival stands to give the minority’s ideals reasonable consideration and respect, even if they do not agree with those ideals.
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