Saturday, November 22, 2008

Apologia Pro Vita Politica Mea: De Mafdal ad Likud

'The Mafdal died this week, or perhaps last week. I don't remember.' (Apologies to Albert Camus)
For me, Mafdal (aka National Religious Party) died long before its actual demise, this past week. Personally, I stopped voting for Mafdal after the 1999 elections (when we still voted for Knesset and Prime Minister separately). I had several reasons for this step, despite my years of activity in the RZA (where I sat on the ועד המנהל for almost a decade):

1) Mafdal had become a one issue party that reduced all of Judaism to the struggle for Eretz Yisrael, according to one specific line (Merkaz, Merkaz, Merkaz et Eliyahi Inc). This, in my opinion, constituted a distortion of Judaism, Zionism and Common Sense.

2) Mafdal didn't advocate a Modern Orthodoxy with which I could personally identify. In its more bourgeois eras, it was religiously flaccid (as evidenced by the the tragic failure of its key educational institutions to develop any concept as to the deeper meaning of 'Torah ve-Hokhma').
The idea that deep involvement in the world demanded a total, active commitment to Torah, as well, just never appears to have occurred to anyone.

In its post 1967 form, it increasingly sold out to the phenomenon known as 'Hardal' (i.e. Haredi-Leumi) Judaism. I learned this up close at an emergency gathering of the now-defunct Shacharit group, in May, 1998 (in the wake of the 'Pa'amonei ha-Yovel' scandal.) There, then Education minister, Yitzhak Levy, tried to explain why culture was dangerous and had to be reined in. Prima facie, it's not an objectionable statement. The problem was that it was clrear that neither he, nor anyone else in his cadre, had a clue as to what Western Culture (or any other culture) contained. In a word, in stage one there was a lack of Torah. In stage two, there is no Hokhma.

3) As a direct result of #2, Mafdal decided to become Poalei Agudat Yisrael, with a Soviet of Gedolei Ha-Torah, essentially composed of Reb Avrum Shapira זצ"ל and R. Mordechai Eliyahu שליט"א. Since I'm not an afficianado of Da'as Torah, certainly not on political matters, this was not something to which I could subscribe.

So, about 8 years ago, I joined the Likud. I did so not out of שנאת המן but out of אהבת מרדכי.

1) Ideologically, I had come to deeply respect the ideas and example of Zev Jabotinsky (partly from reading, and partly from having had the luck of becoming friendly with members of his family). It is true that n the early stages of his career, Jabotinsky was anti-religious. In the last decade of his life, though, he became aware of and committed to the positive contribution that Judaism must make to the Jewish People and the (as yet unborn) Jewish State. It was this openness to Judaism that accounts for the large percentage of religious and traditional people in the Etzel and Lehi.

2) Religiously (and politically), and with no connection to Moshe Feiglin, it is critically important that Orthodox and Traditional elements create a significant presence within the larger party framework. Only such a presence will advance the re-judaization of the educational system, the reform of the judiciary and the intensification of the country's qualitative jewishness (as opposed to the essentially racist definition offered by the 'enlightened' Left). My convictions, in this direction, have only become stronger as a result of many conversations with my good friend, Ben Chorin.
3) Personally, I owe a debt of gratitude to Betar. My father in law was an active Betari in Poland (to the chagrin of his father, who was a Trisker Hassid). In 1940, before the German invasion of Russian occupied Poland, Menachem Begin (who was head of Betar in Poland) sent him a postcard in which he told him to take his family and flee to Russia. He listened. He compelled his parents and siblings to go to Soviet Russia. Until the Germans invaded they were kept in a Siberian Labor Camp. After the invasion, they were freed and moved to Tashkent, where he met my mother in law. Meanwhile, the rest of his family was murdered by the Germans. In other words, I owe my family to God's Providence, to my shver's extraordinary courage and strength, and to Menachem Begin and Betar.

The reason I raised this here is two-fold. First, I wanted to briefly comment on the connection between Mafdal's demise and the contemporary crisis of Religious Zionism. Second, I decided that despite my not being a member of the Likud Central Committee ( I leave that to Ben Chorin), I'm going to single out candidates for the Knesset list who I think are promising and deserve support.



Ben said...

Let's compare lists before you (and I) post.

Ben Bayit said...

when you sat at the Meimad founders conference please tell me that there was at least one person in the room who foresaw the day that the party would eventually degenrate into the likes of Ami Ayalon becoming the poster child for liberal modern orthodox religious zionism. just one person, please?

Ben Bayit said...

I also wanted to add a personal note (or notes here)

My grandfather, a Polish Chossid, also survived by way of Tashkent. I don't believe Beitar had anything to do with it, but it wouldn't surprise me at all had my grandparents heeded Jobo's call to flee rather than laughing him off the stage as did the majority of Polish Jewry (including the Rabbis - ultra-charedi as well as moderate orthodox)

I took became enamored of Jabo - read his biography and many works - over 15 yeras ago. I still believe that much of his political and economic platforms are relevant to Israel today (and much was adopted by the Mapai establishment when the State was founded.) However, the fact remains that Beitar was an absolute, utter failure in transmitting their value system t othe next generation. The enema (in Elyakim Haetzni's termonology) the Likud went through 3 years ago should make this abundantly clear; (alas, they will probably need another enema seeing Bibi ramp up the old style Likud song and dance hit parade....). The fact that the current leadership of the leftist oligarchy in Israel are all children of the fighting family and former Beitarists speaks volumes. Apparently Benny Begin's son is a regular attendee at the Bi'ilin weekly anarchy. The present Ze'ev Jabotinsky has to be seen as a sui generis living miracle.
Basically the failure of the National Religious public was not to adopt Jabotinksy's political ideas and combine it with a strong dose of Judaism and Tradition and sell it to the public. Unfortunately the fighting family could (or would) not do this, and being second fiddle in the Likud as currently constituted will be no more effective than playing second fiddle to the Mapai in the Brit HaHistorit.

Anonymous said...

The Mafdal now becomes the Mafz"l
certainly not the Mafzt"l.

Your point of the larger parties having a religious presence is attractive because on the assumption that approx 20-25% of the population is religious, the major parties, were they to have a religious group within their ranks, would be careful not to alienate the religious population. So even if say Kadima or Labour did not have 20-25% religious support, each larger party would not take the risk of losing these mandates.

That is the pro argument but sadly it will not work in the Israeli context. In the heyday of the Mafdal, it posed as a pareve "acceptable face" of datiyut. How many times do we hear "halevay kol hadatiyim hayu kamocha". This may be glib but it is a Kiddush Hashem and if not it is certainly not a Chilul Hashem which unfortunately is too prevalent today. So this "pareve" alternative stays relatively neutral allowing it to join any government and serve to make sure that things dont get pulled too far in one direction of the other and it can promote religious education in the Mamlachti system which will ensure at least that the next generation of leaders know the basics of Judaism.

It may not be fashionable to be "pareve" but the chilonim seem to want this by flocking to Kadimah and even Bibi has to make the Likud more user friendly by bringing in Assaf Hefetz and Miri Regev to appease more left wing views.

Surely there must be old style "lamifneh" types who could reconstitute Mizrachi Hapoel Hamizrachi and serve as a counterweight to Shas.

We all know that there will never be a final settlement in our lifetime and the question is simply how you dress up the negotiations. The late Josef Burg was a genius at maintaining the status quo. Were he alive today, the talks with the Palestinians would be bumbling along.

If you really knew your "leader" you would understand that he is more dangerous than all the alternatives. He believes that as he is the head of the Likud, he has the mandate to make concessions that neither Livni nor Barak could ever make. Those with him at the Wye Plantation know how quick on the draw he is if there is a chance to enter the history books. He is also woefully ignorant about Judaism. You may feel Livni is a boor. She is many things and I shudder to think of her as PM but she at least knows more than Bibi. Some years ago, on TV in the UK, BiBi patiently explained how Jews do not work for the 8 days of Channukah and that is why progress in talks could not be made and how terrible of the world not to understand. Perhaps he is now a yeshiva bochur and takes the week off but please, dont sanctify the guy.

Rather Jeffrey, people such as yourself should strive to reconstitute the Mizrachi Hapoel Hamizrachi with a view to taking a place in ANY government that is formed to serve as the voice of Modern Orthodoxy showing that it can synthesize with whatever party comes to power and serve to moderate their views with sechel.

Anonymous said...

any reason you are not joining the central committee? that is the best way to have control, isnt it?

Ben said...

I've posted my initial thoughts on the Likud primaries. Please offer corrections/additions.

Ben Waxman said...


You wrote that you like Jabotinsky's political beliefs. The following is from the Wiki article on Jabotinsky:

In 1934 he wrote a draft constitution for the Jewish state which declared that the Arab minority would be on an equal footing with its Jewish counterpart "throughout all sectors of the country's public life." The two communities would share the state's duties, both military and civil service, and enjoy its prerogatives. Jabotinsky proposed that Hebrew and Arabic should enjoy equal rights and that "in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice versa."[8]

Do you agree with this statement?

Sammy Finkelman said...

It should be noted that when Jabotinsky wrote that draft Constitution, there was a lot more equality between the Jewish and the Arab population - in fact at that time the Arab population outnumbered the Jewish population by quite as lot. he foresaw approximate equality of population even after a lot more jewish immigration.