(Rabbis with a knife between their teeth). Now that the chess players in Israeli politics have been drastically moved, and for the first time a mainly secular government is leading the country, it is high time the religious parties, religious institutions and their leadership ask themselves some hard and uncomfortable questions.
How is it possible that after more than 50 years in power, the religious parties not only failed to inspire the majority of Israelis to feel a closer affiliation to Judaism and to foster a greater appreciation for the Jewish way of living, but, as the last elections clearly showed , have in fact caused hundreds of thousands of Israelis to opt for a more secular life style and to identify with parties some of which have explicitly committed themselves to attempt to do away with the most minimal form of Jewishness of the Israeli State?
While it has been the custom of the religious establishment to point a finger in the direction of the media, the secular hardliners and the intelligentsia, and accuse them of a deliberate attempt to misinform the general public about the religious world and its ideology, such an approach no longer holds water. Although it is definitely true that there has been a great amount of deliberate misinformation about the religious community pumped into Israeli society, it is time both for the religious parties and the religious leaders to admit that, for years, they have played their cards the wrong way.
Just as the Israeli government constantly fails to understand the mind of the non-Jewish world, so the religious parties have continually misread the minds and hearts of secular Israelis. Just like the Israeli leadership does not seem to grasp the basic rudiments of proper Public Relations policies, so the religious parties have in no way understood how to explain themselves and their values to a secular Israeli society. And just like this failure of the Israeli government has caused irreparable damage to the image of Israel, so have the religious parties caused permanent injury to the image of Judaism.
There was and there is no reason for all this. Israel is unique in its sound moral obligation to defend its borders. No army has ever shown so much respect for the lives of its enemies as the Israeli army. No nation has ever been more concerned with the condition and welfare of those people who are intent on destroying its very existence. No army has ever dared to put its own soldiers in such dangerous positions so as not to injure the innocent among its enemies. No nation has ever been prepared to give up whole parts of its territory, and by doing so endanger its own security, as Israel was prepared to do for the Palestinians.
And no nation has so miserably failed to use these and other facts to explain itself to a world which should in turn have generated an overwhelming admiration for this small country caught between hostile nations in the Middle East. In the same vein, the religious parties should have made use of the most advanced, uplifting teachings of Judaism and as such created an unprecedented admiration for Judaism among the Israeli people. If anything should have impressed secular Israelis, it should have been Jewish values, genuine religious observance, integrity, impeccable example and high ethical performance in private and communal life.
But little of this has been the landmark of the religious parties. While we do not doubt the integrity and good intentions of some of the leaders, as political parties they failed miserably. Instead of creating an atmosphere in the Knesset and among the Israeli population which proved that money, prestige and political infighting are not issues which play any key role in the making of the religious world view, most Israelis have been convinced that the Jewish religion is identified with party politics, questionable financial deals, and self interest. Indeed, as some of the religious party leaders would like us to believe that no such inaccuracies actually occurred, we wonder even more how it was ever possible that such a devastating image of the religious parties ever happened.
Neither is there any evidence after this devastating blow in the Israeli elections, that the religious parties are involved in any real soul searching or even coming close to admitting that something went drastically wrong. What religious party leaders need to realize is that the outcome of the elections may be a forecast of what will occur in a few years time: that their fight for Judaism will be over and that their parties will no longer constitute any danger to the other opposing ideologies. While at this moment, the religious parties still incorporate power which cannot be neglected, there is enough evidence in political history, that powerful parties, against everybody’s better knowledge, can easily become completely irrelevant a short while later. Let nobody make the mistake of thinking that such a situation cannot take place in Israel because of the high percentage of religious Israelis. There is little doubt that in the latest elections more and more religious and traditional people opted, out of great disillusionment with the religious parties, for their secular rivals. However much the rabbinical leadership will try to stop this trend, it will not succeed.
What rabbinical leaders and thinkers need to do is to cook up a storm which will turn the whole of Israeli society pale. A storm which will prove that they have freed themselves from the sandbank in which they are stuck. In a completely unprecedented shift they should lead the ship of the Torah with full sails right into the heart of Israeli society causing such a shock to the Knesset that it will take days, weeks, or months before it is able to get back on its feet.
With their knives between their teeth, and just like the prophets of biblical days, those religious leaders who are known for their impeccable and uncompromising conduct, should create a moral-religious uproar which will scare the moral wits out of the secular and religious Knesset members and weigh heavily on their souls.
Real religious leaders should not be “honored”, “valued” or “well respected”, as they are now, but as men of truth they should be feared. Israelis should be shivering in their shoes at the thought of meeting with them but simultaneously be incapable of staying away from their towering, fascinating personalities.
Only then will Israeli society extricate itself from its ongoing predicaments.