Trauma Ahead

Published in Mishpacha Magazine, July 14, 2005

The impending removal of 8,000 Jews from the Gaza Strip constitutes a trauma of unprecedented magnitude for the national religious world in Israel. That trauma is both theological and sociological.

On the theological level, religious settlers have been betrayed by the very state that they came to view as holy. As Hillel Halkin points out in the March 2005 Commentary, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the most important figure in national religious thought since 1967, spoke frequently of the “holiness of the state [of Israel],” and that holiness was in no way conditioned on the Torah observance of its citizenry. Now that same state has become the instrument of the most dramatic retreat yet from the vision of Greater Israel which has dominated religious Zionist thought since 1967.

From the Six Day War on, religious Zionists viewed themselves as the vanguard of societal renewal. Since the Rabin assassination, however, the national religious community has been forced to recognize that they are a vanguard with no followers. Far from representing an ideal for secular Israelis, they are increasingly viewed as public enemy number one. When Israelis describe secular communities beyond the Green Line, such as Alfei Menashe, they refer to “communities” and their “residents.” But if the community is religious, it will inevitably be referred to as a “settlement” and its residents as “settlers.” The latter two terms have become as pejorative as they are descriptive.

In the IDF, whose junior officer ranks are dominated by kippot serugot (knitted yarmulkes), religious soldiers are more and more seen as a potential menace, whose willingness to follow orders that conflict with their ideology is very much in doubt. Talk of terminating the special status of hesder yeshivot is very much in the air. A public that, in the words of Ha’aretz columnist Yair Sheleg, “is ready to sacrifice everything for the future of the state and the nation . . . are disparaged and portrayed as hallucinatory, messianic, violent, the greatest danger to society.”

The hurt is very great. Even left-wing religious Zionists like Sheleg, “identify emotionally with the settlers’ struggle” out of a feeling that they “have been humiliated and are now being uprooted.”

Most chareidim also oppose Prime Minister Sharon’s plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. They fear that Gaza will become a bazaar for sophisticated weaponry that will be directed against Israel from both Gaza itself and the West Bank. And they empathize greatly with those who are being uprooted from their homes. Having experienced no small amount of delegitimization by the mainstream media themselves, they identify with what the settler community and its supporters are experiencing today.

But for the chareidi community the withdrawal (if it takes place) will be a painful, but not traumatic, event. Chareidim never sanctified the State of Israel. Pikuach nefesh has always taken precedence over the geographical contours of the State for them. Nor have chareidim ever imagined themselves as a societal vanguard. They have always been the “Other” of Israeli Jewish society. Few chareidim have close friends or family members living in Gaza or in the smaller, more isolated settlements of Judea and Shomron, which are the next candidates for evacuation.

There are probably some in the chareidi world who even view the blow to the national religious world with a certain satisfaction. They hope that it will lead the national religious world to question its sanctification of State and army, redirect energies that have been centered on the settlement effort towards the study of Gemara, and convince religious Zionists that, at the end of the day, they have more in common with their fellow religious Jews than with secular Israelis.

And some of that will doubtless occur. The phrase “perhaps the chareidim were right” has already begun to appear in the writings of the national religious camp.

But the great danger is that if the evacuation takes place there will be a massive turn from religion among national religious youth. A group of national religious rabbis meeting with Prime Minister Sharon has already apprised him of the disastrous consequences of withdrawal for their youth. They also warned the Prime Minister that he is destroying the last bastion of traditional hard-core Zionist values, and that the state of Israel cannot exist with a majority that is either openly post-Zionist or which is apathetic to any larger purpose for the existence of a Jewish state.

Raised to think of themselves as part of the mainstream of Israeli society, national religious youth are shocked to find themselves outside the consensus. The fear is that many will attempt to rejoin the mainstream by aping the behavior of their secular contemporaries. A few years ago, wearing pants under long skirts became increasingly fashionable among young women in the national religious world. Over the past two years, the skirts have gradually grown shorter, and are in many cases today purely symbolic. These fashion trends likely reflect something far deeper.

Currently all the energies of the national religious youth are directed towards preventing the withdrawal slated for just after Tisha B’Av. Many have convinced themselves that if their faith and determination are great enough Hashem will not allow the withdrawal to proceed. But what happens if the evacuation does take place as planned despite their fervent efforts?

A rabbi who teaches in a prominent national religious institution related to me a story from the time of the Yamit evacuation in 1982. One of his students – a ba’al teshuva – told him that he was taking his family to Yamit. The rabbi tried to dissuade him, but his student remained adamant that the battle over Yamit would bring Mashiach and that the evacuation would never take place. Within six months of the evacuation, that student was divorced and no longer religious. The groundwork is being laid for a similar dashing of hopes today.

Jewish history is replete with examples of the tragic consequences of such dashed hopes. The crushing of the messianic expectations raised by Shabbatei Tzvi triggered the disintegration of much of European Jewry. Amsterdam and Italy, two prominent communities where messianic fervor burned most brightly, lost their status as Torah centers within a century of Shabbatei Tzvi’s apostasy.

From the creation of the State (“reishit tzmichat geulateinu – the first flowering of the Redemption”) to the lightning victory of 1967 and the return to our historic heartland to the mass immigration of the early ’90s, the national religious world has lived in a state of heightened expectations to which the writings of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook gave the most fervent expression.

The dashing of those expectations could well prove to be the most tragic consequence of the Gaza withdrawal.

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17 Responses

  1. Micha says:

    Historically, messianic movements that go through a failure of their expectations reassess their worldview and become MORE extreme. The hopes don’t get dashed, they get enlarged. (An easy example can be taken from a parallel crisis that happened 12 years ago. The idea of a messiah who returns from the dead is a repeated theme in this regard.)

    This is exactly what’s happening in Israel’s Religious Zionist community. Walking on the Temple Mount, once only considered halachically permissable by very few, is increasingly the norm. Another group is actively working on manufacturing utensils for the third Temple, there are artisans trying to reproduce the Levitic instruments, and there is someone who makes a 1/2 sheqel coin for donating machatzis hasheqel (the money is then guarded by two Brinks employees who are kohanim). Not to mention the attempt to reinstate true Mosaic ordination and the Sanhedrin, headed by R’ Eidin Shteinzaltz shlit”a.

  2. Joe Schick says:

    It is not accurate that the entire national religious sector bought into Greater Israel. For one thing, the people are, on the whole, more moderate than the rabbis; for another, some (a minority admittedly) of the rabbis rejected Greater Israel. In any event, Oslo, and not the Gaza withdrawal, is what formally ended the hope of a Greater Israel.

  3. Gad says:

    this article although informative and on target presents just as many questions about the Chareidi community as the National Religious.
    1) Gloating – it is implicit among Charedim that they are G-d’s vanguard and as such their view is by definition always “right”; this confidence especially when compared to other groups of Shomer Mitzvot is not fully explained.
    2) the National Religious put more on the line – they invested in a country, in a religious as well as physical way and now it seems that G-d is spurning them. But the chareidim alwys have an outlet – they don’t associate with the state because they don’t believe.
    3) based on the above point, how realistic is it to expect that Israel will ever be led by religious people? what are the charedim doing to change this? Not that much – their whole existence as the article makes clear is being “the other”. To purposely exaggerate the point – with a chareidi Prime Minister and government, who fights the wars, who pursues the terrorists? etc.
    4) if Charedim are against the disengagement, why do their parties stay in the government? If Kiryat Sefer and Beitar [both over the green line] were to be disengaged, would they be?
    5) As a chareidi spokesman, give us a Realistic alternative that works right now

  4. Menachem says:

    Jonathan Roseblum has touched on many important issues in his latest post. There is no question that the disengagement poses somewhat of a crises of ideology for many religious Zionists. However, I think, and certainly hope, that Rosenblum is overestimating the impact this will have on the rank and file member of this community.

    There is no question that we are seeing severe problems among many religious Zionists. I personally am extremely upset with the behavior of some of the more “zealous” among them. It is totally unacceptable for a religious Jew to endanger others by blocking highways and putting dangerous debris in the path of moving vehicles. Ironically as things heat up we are ceding the moral high ground that we maintained during the intifada. It is unacceptable to see young religious Jews almost kill, by hand, Palestinians, physically assault soldiers and police, and create panic by planting fake bombs. Not only are they not assisting the cause of anti-disengagement, but they are tainting all Israelis with their heinous actions.

    I am afraid that some, a few but some, in the religious Zionist camp will be lost to one extreme or the other. However, religious Zionist ideology is much more robust than Rosenblum gives it credit for. First of all there is quite a large segment of the RZ camp who are non-messianic. They follow gedolim like Rav Soloveichik and Rav Dessler who held that the founding of the Jewish state held extremely important religious significance, while not being prepared to presume that it was messianic.

    Even those gedolim, like Rav Kook, who believed that the founding of the state of Israel had messianic overtones were not so presumptive as to think they knew how this would unfold. The early religious Zionists had to absorb the “setback” of going from the British Mandate, which included everything we have now plus Jordan, to the untenablely small land area authorized by the UN under its partition plan. In truth, the founding of the state itself was a disappointment for the pre-state religious Zionists who believed the events of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s would lead directly a messianic Eretz Yisroel. And while the miraculous military victory of 1967 gave a boost to the messianic ideology, the relinquishing of Sinai just a few years later had to again be absorbed as a setback.

    What all this shows is that over the last 100+ years religious Zionism has been quite resilient in adapting to various ups and downs that it has faced. While the coming disengagement will be a blow, maybe even a trauma, I think the ideology is strong enough not allow it to be a knockout. So by and large the religious Zionist community will continue to say the tefila for the medina, will continue to send their kids to the army, and next year will celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut with vigor.

    Many in the chareidi camp, I’m sure Rosenblum is not one of them, are anticipating with the glee the fall of Religious Zionism. I think they will be disappointed.

  5. Netanel Livni says:

    What a misrepresentation of Rav Kook’s ideology! Rav A”Y Kook Zt”l was not a fatalist who said that history can only move forward down one path. He warned the mizrachi about the dangers of working within the secular Zionist structure and he recommended a different separate approach to the settlement of the land. He also forewarned about the potential moral degeneration of the secular Zionists and how, if the religious do not take the reigns of leadership, the non-religious would turn into great oppressors. Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook Zt”l famously declared that regarding Yesha there will be a war among Jews. Do those sectors of the Torah world (sometimes called Chareidi) who look upon the collapse of the secular state with glee think that they can avoid the suffering that will ensue from this destruction. In the end, ALL torah-true Jews have failed in our response to the challenges of modernity. The religious Zionists have failed in their inability to realize that only true religious leadership can save the runaway train that is secular Zionism and chareidi public has failed in thinking that passivity is a legitimate response to the difficulties of the age. If there are those who would leave the Torah because their ideal vision of the world is not yet realized, this shows only the weakness of those individuals, not of the ideology. The same phenomenon occurs often in the chareidi baal teshuva world. A young baal-teshuva enters the world of the baal-teshuva yeshiva where Torah society is painted as the closest thing there exists to utopia, after a few years, they enter the mainstream world only to find out that reality is a little more complex than that which they were taught at yeshiva. Not all individuals quite live up to the moral standards they expect from a Torah kehilla. Some of these people end up leaving the Torah world and their mistake is the same as the religious Zionist would make if he were to give up his world view just because something went wrong in its implementation.

    I just do not understand how the chareidim can come out and protest Shabbat violations and the desecration of Graves but do not come out in great numbers to protest the expulsion of fellow Torah Jews. How is this not a crisis for the chareidim as well?! Rav Kook writes in Orot HaKodesh that moments of personal and societal crisis are great opportunities to build a stronger foundation of Emuna and Bitachon than there was before. Let us pray that this moment is a crisis for all in the Torah camp. That we all realize that only with united effort can we all succeed. Together, the entire Torah world in Israel is 35-40% of the population, our weakness is that we are divided. We can and must start thinking in terms of leadership if we want to alleviate the suffering of the Jewish people.

    In the end, every Jew can learn a tremendous lesson in real bitachon by looking to the pioneers of Gush Katif. I do not think anybody can fathom that amount of faith that a Gush farmer is exhibiting when he plants his crops for the coming year. Even if we fail and this crime against the Jewish people succeeds, these heroes will continue to be an inspiration to all who want to learn how a person lives for the sake of Hashem in a world that doesn’t want to facilitate such a life.

  6. Gershon Seif says:

    R’ Yonason, Are you suggesting that because some youth in the national religious camp are dillusional, the government must change its military strategies to sustain these dillusions??

  7. mb says:

    In the aftermath of the 1967 war the NRP was very much against the Labour Party led attempt to settle the territories. And So was R.Soloveitchik, Lord Jakobovitch and many others. This messianic madness linked to Greater Israelthat we are witnessing, whether from some in the Nationalist camp, or Lubavitch can only( as always in history, don’t we learn?!!!) end in disaster.

  8. TzviNoach says:

    While Jonathan Rosenblum’s assessment of some of the potential consequences of the Gaza expulsion is scary enough, it strikes me that there is something not right about analyzing these events in terms of the effect on this or that community. What ever happened to the concept that the Jewish people are one organism, and when one part is hurting, the pain affects us all? This is not just a trauma for the communities to be destroyed — it is a national trauma for the Jewish people.

    Simply put, for those of us born after the Holocaust, this would be the most tragic and devastating event that the Jewish people will ever have experienced in our lifetimes. There is simply no parallel, no precedent, for the destruction of over 20 Jewish communities in our lifetimes. Dozens of shuls, yeshivos, kollelim, bais yaakovs, chadorim, and schools — not to mention a cemetery — are to be destroyed. Thousands of yidden are to be displaced, thrown out of their homes. And there are virtually no plans to replace or rebuild these communities or Torah institutions elsewhere, either on the part of the government, or on the part of the residents, who are still focused on fighting the expulsion.

    Is this not a national tragedy? Does this not affect you and me every bit as much as it affects the people directly involved? Should we not all be saying kinos in future years for these destroyed homes, families, communities and mosdos? Are kinos only recited for communities destroyed by gentiles, but not for those razed by Jews?

    We also ignore at our peril the ramifications of the precedent being set. If the Israeli government destroys Gush Katif next month, that will make it much, much easier to demolish other communities that are inconveniently located across the Green Line. Is there any reason to think that Beitar and Kiryat Sefer will be spared?

    Unfortunately, it is this very factionalization of our people that has contributed to, if not caused, the fact that this expulsion is taking place. As others have pointed out on this site, we have developed an alarming tendency to be interested only in what affects our own immediate community, and to close our eyes — and yes, our hearts — to the plight of the rest of the Jewish people and the world. If, as the article states, most Chareidim oppose the withdrawal plan, they and their leaders did not do much to prevent it from happening. That is sad, and it is tragic. In the end, we are all in this together. And the sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll be able to prevent tragedies like this from occuring.

  9. Ori Pomerantz says:


    Sorry, but you’re overstating your case.

    Simply put, for those of us born after the Holocaust, this would be the most tragic and devastating event that the Jewish people will ever have experienced in our lifetimes. There is simply no parallel, no precedent, for the destruction of over 20 Jewish communities in our lifetimes.

    Maybe it’s true for me, because I was born in 1974. But you’re forgetting the Yom Kippur was in 1973. About three thousand soldiers died. They didn’t lose their homes and have to find new ones. They got Beit Olam (= grave). They didn’t feel like the government betrayed them, if anything they felt the intense heat of a burning tank or the pain of a bullet. Their children did not have to put up roots in a new community. They had to grow without their fathers.

    I’m not saying being betrayed by the government and losing your home is easy. But I assume it is a lot better than dying in a war. Being willing to fight and die for your country is one of the requirements for living in Israel (I wasn’t, so I left).

  10. Micha says:

    WADR to Zvi Noach, the primary thing that caused this disengagement is American Jews. Arik Sharon (may H’ grant him the wisdom to lead our people) isn’t talking about disengaging from Efrat, Gush Etzion or Maalei Adumim. Rather, from Azza, where only 9,000 or so Jews live amongst a Palestinian population time bomb.

    In PM Sharon’s eyes, giving up Azza is like amputating a gangrenous leg before it spreads. All the while one cries for the patient, even if you agree with its need.

    But more than that, I’m feeling overwhelming guilt. The leg is in danger because of a lack of flow of lifeblood. The guilty party is not Arik Sharon, it’s myself — I chose to build a large family in the comfort and familiarity of a NY suburb. And so infection gained a foothold… And if we all had built communities in Aza or northern Shomron instead of all us self-proclaimed Zionists in North Jersey?

    I’m the guilty party. If you want to be angry, blame me. I moved to an up-and-coming neighborhood, as though the Jewish People need another thriving neighborhood in North Jersey. Picture the difference had hundreds of Jews moved to Azza (or anywhere in Israel and driving up the housing demand in general) and had been raising families there for the past two decades.

    And so instead we sit in Passaic, in Englewood and Teaneck, in KGH and Flatbush, Lakewood and Monsey, the Five Towns and Elizabeth and wring our hands about the upcoming “Disengagement”. Our children where those oh-so-fasionable orange bracelets. And we watch on-line videos that promise “It won’t be! It won’t happen! It will bring tragedy upon us!” And what? We feel involved? We think we’re doing something with our lives, for our ideals, for the future of the Jewish People?

    Yes, I’m a “Zionist”, I march — twice! once with each school — in the Israeli Day Parade. My first cousin, the Yiddish speaking “non-Zionist”, he’s the one who moved to Ramot Polin.

    I’m a hypocrite, and I’m guilty. The only plus side is, I have the power to change myself. I wouldn’t know how to address the problem if it resided elsewhere.

  11. TzviNoach says:

    On reflection, you’re right. Assuming the destruction of the Gaza communities goes off without loss of life, it cannot be compared to any situation where even one Jewish life is lost. And on a national level, the trauma of large scale loss of life, of which the Yom Kippur war is the most notable example in the last 60 years, is an incomparable tragedy.

    (Are we right to implicitly assume that the Six Day War somehow different, because for the huge price we paid in blood — 700 lives — at least there was something positive to show for it?)

    Nevertheless, I stand by my case that the destruction of so many Jewish communities, and especially the thriving Torah institutions therein, is an immensely tragic event for our people, and one that is likely to reverberate for many years to come throughout our people. For that, we should weep, regardless of how we feel about the wisdom of such an act.

  12. MP says:

    WADR to Zvi Noach, the primary thing that caused this disengagement is American Jews….Picture the difference had hundreds of Jews moved to Azza (or anywhere in Israel and driving up the housing demand in general) and had been raising families there for the past two decades.

    WADR to Micha, hundreds or even thousands of American Jews putting their bodies in eretz Yisrael, where their minds already are, is as likely to be ma’avir hag’zairah as the aliyah of thousands of chutzniks in prior years was. IMNSHO, a primary problem isn’t the physical absence of Jews from Israel (NB: per se, perhaps as worthy a topic as it might have been in Ezra HaSofer’s time, but nevertheless not the primary cause of a Likud PM seeking to concretize borders) as much as the education and actions of Jews in Israel — instead of criticizing the Arabs for inculcating their youth in the true Islamic tradition, we should look at the inculcation of secular and religious Jewish youth over the past few generations and the results (some of which were implied or stated by JRosenblum).

  13. Max says:

    This is the most interesting and relevant discussion on this blog, I have seen since I began visiting it. Micha and Tzvi Noach, I share your emotions. While Jonathan Rosenblum has made a number of good points, I disagree strongly with him in one aspect. The crisis of the expulsion of Gaza Jewry, as well as Oslo crisis is also presents a challenge to faith of some Haredi Jews as well. I might be wrong and I might be alone in this line of thinking, but while realizing that we have no source of authentic leadership besides the Torah Sages, I fail to grasp how could both Oslo Tragedy and impeding Gaza disaster take place with participation of the parties guided by Torah sages. I fail to understand why the Haredi leadership (my leadership, should I move to Israel) has not provided a model for normal Torah life in the Land of Israel, the life which would include Torah study, strict Torah observance as well making reasonable efforts for economic self-sufficiency and service in army which is essential to provide for safety of one’s family and society. Why should Haredi leadership not offer and champion a model of what Jewish army should be like, an army where Haredi parents could feel comfortable sending their sons. The position that the role of Haredi public in Israel is of Shevet Levi, does not satisfy me, because Klal Yisroel can’t be Shevet Levi, and how do we expect to inspire and lead other Jews when we offer only Shevet Levi option. Finally, with 3 Weeks looming ahead, when will the Torah Sages speak in unified voice. Is it not Hillul Hashem that the gentiles can have European Union and NATO and UN and a number of other somewhat effective multi-national bodies, but the leaders of Torah Jewry can speak in unified voice. With all the differences amongst do we not have far more in common than that which separates us. And if so why can’t our leaders unite to defend effectively Torah ideals be it in the Knesset or in Public Square. The Oslo Tragedy had already cost 1000 of lives and thousands of life changing injuries, besides major economic fiasco. We don’t know now what the cost of Gaza withdrawal would be. Both events are the result of the meltdown of secular Zionism and of failure of Torah leadership to effectively fill in the vacuum. And the latter failure is shared by all groups of Torah observant Jewry. May G-d forgive the sins of Torah Jewry and inspire our leaders to offer effective leadership to the entire Jewish nation, at the time when it so much needed.

  14. Avrohom Hillel says:

    A chilling look at the possible ramifications of the Gush katif withdrawl on the National Religious camp, and hence on Klal Yisroel. Did Rabbi Rosenblum miss the Gush Katif supplement in last weeks Mishpacha, that tied one of the strings on the Shabbtai Tzvi analogy? Shabbtai Tzi was crowned in Gaza by I believe the chief Rabbi there and the movement gathered its strength from that community.On the other hand, I believe that the NRP youths’ flight from religious observance has been a long time in the making and was perhaps hastier in peacetime. This battle (the disengagement and its assorted grandstanding for American and World governents) will most probably be a long one, keeping the NRP youth busy for a while. Neverthe less the main point of the article was well taken. One can be sure that the collective sigh of self-examination that the publication of just such a viewpoint and assesment in the Mishpacha, such a widely read (my brother in law and his family in Maaleh Adumim and many other Dati Leumiers read it religiously) periodical was sure to have evoked, was sorely need.In end,though,it is my opinion, that the worldview:” Lo Almon Yisroel”, our nation will never be alone, that will surely take center stage. Good Shabbos

  15. Micha says:

    MP: You’re forgetting secondary effects. Such as having a larger dati voting block. We would not only have more people sitting on land, the culture of the country would be different.

  16. MP says:

    MP: You’re forgetting secondary effects. Such as having a larger dati voting block. We would not only have more people sitting on land, the culture of the country would be different.
    Thousands of olim over the few decades before Nefesh b’Nefesh, and how have they affected the country since the 1967 war? How have they affected the education systems utilized by secular Jews? By Mizrachi followers? By UTJers? How have they affected the Israeli media? The Israeli Supreme Court? Any other establishment of the M’dinah? I’m sorry, but the rational blame for current events doesn’t lie with chutzniks or even with the Israeli electorate who have been betrayed by Likud candidate Sharon but rather with decades of politically-correct education, official & media messages, and academic & governmental structure. Aliyah, aside from per se being the right thing to do, might (after thousands more olim) start having some rational, positive repercussions in the years to come (although one hopes for biyas Moshiach b’by’ long before then), and perhaps all those olim have been responsible in some small way for the current mayor of Yerushalayim, Manhigut Yhudit, etc., but whether thousands more olim than actually arrived would have led to something other than a PM Sharon seeking to place an internationally-recognized border between his country and territory occupied by at least hundreds of thousands of enemies sounds like very questionable speculation to me.

  17. Micha says:

    My point exactly. Thousands of olim did nothing. We needed tens of thousands. Both in terms of increased population and in terms of tying Israel to its Jewish roots. I’m not saying that disengagement is against those roots. Rather, that Israel’s current “Situation” since Oslo and then the 2nd Intifadeh can not be separated from the kulturkampf happening within its Jewish population.

    In an earlier comment (#5) Netanel Livni mistook the author’s attribution. R’ Rosenblum twice explicitly calls it R’ ZY Kook’s philosophy, not his father’s.

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