Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Lost Assertion

Way back after the previous election I wrote a piece called "The Great Reassertion".  Despite only garnering 8 comments it has quickly become the third most viewed post in the history of this blog.  Although I'd like to think that this is because it came to the intention of important people in the Bayit Yehudi party and the Religion Zionist community I suspect it is actually just a random blog-bot out of Russia repeatedly trying to spam me.  But I digress. At the time I concluded as follows:
This is, as I noted, Religious Zionism's third opportunity.  Played right, the religious leadership of the Dati Leumi community could retake the Rabbanut and make it more relevant for average Israelis.  It could position Religious Zionism back in the heart of Israeli religious life.Or it could, pardon the baseball reference, be strike three and out.
The recent Israeli election seems to have lent an air of semi-prophecy to my words.  Bayit Yehuda went from an influential number of seats along with a palpable sense of momentum back to being a second-rate party with sectoral influence only.  If it weren't for the mathematics of it all and Yisrael Beiteinu's sudden nasty divorce from the Likud it would not even have the limited influence it does on national policy. In fact, Bayit Yehudi is starting to strongly represent the party it replaced,
So what happened?
For several decades Israel had two dominant parties, the leftist Avodah and the rightist Likud, which were surrounded by innumerable smaller parties, each representing a single sector or community of society or a special interest.  These parties never pretended that they were governing entities.  They were in government to suck out as much money and influence as they could to their pet projects and followers.  Over time some parties did try to break into the big time and develop a comprehensive platform but other than Kadima, which was a leftist breakaway from Likud and riding on sympathy for Ariel Sharon's untimely stroke, none every succeeded.
Bayit Yehuda, for what it's worth, did try this tactic and in the previous election it looked to be successful.  However it's gains were its loss.  As the only religious party in the coalition the party seemed to become pigeon-holed over time and instead of representing an alternative to the Likud on the right it became the bigger party's handmaiden.  What's more, the party seems to have developed the same problem that ultimately took down the Mafdal: an obsession with the Jewish population of Yehuda and Shomron.
Now, I am certainly not suggesting that Israel's policies in the Jewish heartland aren't important.  I'm not suggesting they shouldn't be a government priority or worthy of support.  However, the issue is a passionate one and tends to consume groups involved with it.  Quick, when you think of Meretz do you think of leftist economic and social policies or of a group of losers dedicated to helping Israel commit national suicide because it'll make the Arabs happy?  Exactly my point.  The Mafdal lost popular support even within the National Religious community because it became perceived as a party for the "settlers" and not even all of them but really a party for the right wing religious settlers.  It failed to create the impression that it was a truly national party.  Has Bayit Yehudi made the same blunder?  Is that why it's seat total plummeted?
Here's my free, unsolicited advice: Yehuda and Shomron aren't going anywhere.  Bibi Netanyahu can promise the EU and US he'll accept a two state resolution based on the 1937 Peel partition plan and we don't have to worry because ultimately the Arabs will say no to any final agreement.  Make perfunctory statements about the integrity of Israel including it's heartland but then move on.  What is Bayit Yehudi's plan to reduce income discrepancy in Israel?  Any initiative to reduce corruption in the government and police force?  How about trade policies with Europe and the Far East?  National education standards to restore excellence to all Israel's school systems?  A plan for tackling the never-ending health system crises?
As I wrote before, Bayit Yehuda can become a truly national party if it champions all of these issues and presents progressive (ie. not leftist) ideas on how to tackle them while adding in a Jewish perspective, using the halacha where able to provide suggestions.  Before this unstable government gets too wobbly the party needs to turn itself around and present itself that way else it join the Mafdal in obscurity.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Which Bear Is Poking Which?

As those following the news know, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, is coming up for a review before the Rabbanut, ostensibly because he's turning 75 but more likely because he's a non-Chareidi rabbi in a position of authority in a political system where the Chareidi leadership is looking for payback after its two year stint in the opposition in the government.
It also doesn't help his cause that he's a well-known maverick when it comes to innovation, the role of women in Judaism and views of Chrisianity.  As Rav Avraham Gordimer, Cross Current's new attack boy against Open Orthodoxy, points out, Rabbi Riskin has veered away from mainstream Modern Orthodoxy and into the territory of Open Orthodoxy.  He has expressed odd opinions about Chrisianity and its supposed saviour and recently ordained a woman for one of his shuls in all but name.  As Rav Gil Student noted recently, once upon a time Rabbi Riskin was an avante garde figure with great ideas but also a sense of need for guidance by the great halachic luminaries he grew up under.  Somewhere along the line he arrogated the position of great luminary for himself.  Whereas he once vetted his good ideas by his elders, he now seems himself as the elder and as a result he seems to feel that he now sets the boundaries.
What complicates matters is Rabbi Riskin as a person.  From multiple sources it is quite clear that he is a decent, loving Jewish leader.  He inspires his followers, seeks peace between Jew and Jew along with peace between Jew and Arab and tries to present a positive model of Torah observance.  It raises the old conundrum that Torah Judaism often has to struggle with.  I can eat in the home of a complete menuval as long as he keeps properly kosher but can't eat in the home of a practical saint who doesn't.  This is another reminder that while Judaism should be synonymous with ethical and decent behaviour, it often is not which leads to an awful choice - halachic observance or human decency.
This is relevant here because, while Rabbi Riskin may indeed be nearly off the derech in some ways from mainstream Modern Orthodoxy, he is being opposed by leaders in the Rabbanut who, while their ritual halachic performance might be impeccable, aren't half the mentch Riskin is.
So who's right?  On one hand Rabbi Riskin is poking the bear that is the Rabbanut.  Like it or not that institution is controlled lock, stock and bekishe by the Chareidi leadership and they demand Chareidi standards of their employee, especially their prominent ones.  The initiatives of Open Orthodoxy are not some of their favourite right now.  If he, as a notable employee of theirs is going to poke them they're going to hit back.
On the other hand Rabbi Riskin, due to his years of community work and outreach, his long history of teaching Torah in an accessible way to the masses and his genuine chen has many supporters.  What's more, he's not alone in not liking the direction that the Rabbanut is taking and this brings him many allies, including the rabbonim of Tzohar, for example.  The public backlash against a forced retirement might cause the Rabbanut a significant headache.
Does the Rabbanut care about such a thing?  One might almost believe that causing an outcry from the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy would be a badge of pride for them.  Forcing Rabbi Riskin to retire from his official position also wouldn't have the devastating effect they think it might.  He still has his Ohr Stone yeshiva, he still has his shul and all his followers and, of course, his book income.  He will remain influential and famous.  The notoriety from this incident won't hurt either.
But all this begs the question: the Rabbanut's official reason for the review is that Rabbi Riskin is 75 years old.  Hey, anyone remember the last time the great "Gedolim" who are all older than that had to show up for a review based on age?