Throughout the generations, the Jewish nation has been committed to Torah and Mitzvot, using the Torah’s way to deal with the questions which arise in every era. With the establishment of the State of Israel and the return of the people of Israel to their land, it has become necessary to determine the Torah’s directions for dealing with this new reality – Israeli rule in the land of Israel, in a modern world with a varied society in which the majority are not dedicated to keeping the Torah and mitzvot. We believe that the Torah’s way is relevant in every generation, and that the depth and complexity found in the Torah should guide us in dealing with the new reality and the complexities of our generation. This platform includes the basic principles in which we believe with respect to three main areas: Society and Democracy, the Status of Women, and Education.
Halacha and Democracy
The premise of our stand on issues in which the Halacha interacts with Israeli democracy is that the establishment of the State of Israel reflects the shining countenance of The Holy One towards His nation. The establishment of the State of Israel has brought rescue and salvation, has created an opportunity for the existence of Jewish life and for realizing the dream of a state which operates according to Torah values, and even encourages the great hope for continued progress toward the full redemption.
From the beginning, Religious Zionism in the land of Israel has worked closely with secular Zionism, and later with the authorities of the State of Israel, and has adopted the basis of democratic rule. Rav Kook established that “at the time when there is no king, the royal rights which are relevant to the state of the nation are inherited by the parliamentary bodies in Israel” (Mishpat Cohen 144, 336). This stance, which grants status and validity to the democratic system in the State of Israel, has been adopted and developed over the years by numerous important Rabbis, and we too see the Israeli democracy as an appropriate and binding framework that requires us to preserve it and honor its rules and laws.
Needless to say, we recognize the absolute validity of the Torah of Israel and the Halacha. The meeting between Halacha and democracy may create conflicts and contradictions with which we must deal. Our approach is that it is possible to bridge the differences between these two systems without sacrificing Halachic observance, in all its details. With this, we believe that there is no purpose in constantly emphasizing the superiority of the Torah over the civil system, or to constantly refine the contradictions between the Halacha and Democracy.
The gaps between the two systems have been expressed in recent years in a series of topics which have arisen in the public sector. Below we will briefly note our stance on some of these issues.
1.1 Compliance with the Law, Judicial Authorities and Law Enforcement Legislation
We perceive the laws of the State of Israel as binding on every citizen. These laws draw their authority from Halachic sources as well, and they continue the spirit of the Talmudic decree of “Dina deMalchuta – Dina”, the law of “Mishpat haMelech” and the authority of the communal decrees and the “shiva tovai haIr” that existed in many Diaspora communities. They draw their validity from practical thought and logic as well, for it is clear to all that in the delicate fabric of Israeli society, and with awareness of its heterogeneity, there is a need for all citizens to fully and completely respect the laws of the state, otherwise “man will swallow his neighbor alive”.
In light of this, we believe that one may not violate the laws of the state, even in a case of ideological disagreement with the actions of law enforcement agencies. We believe that citizens reserve the right to protest, however, this must be done within the limits of the law. We disapprove of actions which involve taking the law into one’s own hands, and vehemently oppose any action which involves violence against any party. The provisions of the law cannot, of course, override any provisions of the Halacha. However, it behooves us to minimize these potential conflicts and not to strive toward them.
As part of our respect for Israeli democratic institutions, we recognize the validity of the rulings of Israeli courts. We yearn to see the renewal of Jewish law; however, alongside this expectation, we see the Justice system as an essential element in maintaining the law and securing peace in the land.
It is the right and the obligation of the State of Israel to defend its security and its economic interests, and those of its citizens. However, this must be done while preserving as much as possible a moral sensitivity toward each person, according to the moral values of the Torah of Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces
We believe that service in the IDF is part of the fulfillment of the Milchemet Mitzvah to save Israel from its enemies, and follows the call of Moshe Rabbeinu – “Shall your brothers go to war and you will sit here?” We believe that the way of the Torah negates a reality in which a large and important sector of society, such as the Chareidi sector, avoids taking part in shouldering the public burden. We believe in an integration of Torah with Derech Eretz, and in the essential need for solving the problem of poverty in the Chareidi sector by integrating them into the work force. Along with this, we believe that the court is not the proper venue for settling the social questions which divide Israeli society. The complex questions of integrating the Chareidi sector into Army service and the work force must be settled through understanding and dialogue. Any attempt to act otherwise is doomed to fail. We call on the Israeli government to promote the process of integrating the Chareidi sector into the work force and taking a fair share in the burden which is incumbent on every citizen of Israel. In parallel, we call to the Chariedi sector to be aware of the feelings of the general public and the Chilul HaShem involved in these issues, and to cooperate in sharing the military and economic burden.
Military service in the IDF for observant soldiers creates a significant encounter between the Halacha and democratic values, and often can create difficulties and points of friction. Our premise is that service in the IDF is both an obligation and a right, both from a religious standpoint and from a civil standpoint. Preserving the strength and power of the IDF, which protects our country from enemies, is a personal and religious decree which obligates every person in Israel.
The army’s plans should be made in a way which will be inclusive of all of the general public in Israel, in all their types, and should act to minimize the conflicts and points of friction between them. An effort should be made to prevent disputes which cause divisiveness in the IDF and in the nation of Israel. We disapprove of all coercion to secularism of religious soldiers who wish to follow a religious lifestyle as they learned from their rabbis and to follow in the way of the Halacha.
At the same time, we feel that within the framework of the Halachic discourse there is an obligation to address basic Jewish values, such as preserving national unity and ensuring human dignity. These values should be essential considerations, which in cases of conflict would allow reliance on halachic opinions which are more lenient. We trust the Chief Rabbi of the IDF and the framework of the Army Rabbinate, who are charged with providing response to Halachic problems in the IDF, and we support the holy work which they are doing.
The relationship between the Religious community and the Secular community in Israel has varied, and from time to time points of friction arise around topics which are connected to the image of the State of Israel as a Jewish State. For years, the “status quo” was the means for negotiating compromise in these situations. We believe that the status quo no longer fulfills its historical purpose, and that the time has come to for a new understanding between the religious and secular communities; along the lines of the type proposed in the Gavison-Medan Covenant on this topic. We call for dialogue between the different sides in order to build this new relationship, and at the same time we believe that it is not appropriate to violate the status quo unilaterally. The key to a new understanding must be: more Judaism, less coercion.
Attitude to Gentiles
The democratic framework places great emphasis on the rights of the individual, including the rights to life, security, freedom, equality and respect. We believe that these values are consistent with Jewish ethics, and we advocate protection of these rights for all citizens of Israel, regardless of gender or sector.
This principle raises the need to deal with the question of gentiles who live in the State of Israel. We believe that the State of Israel has a responsibility to all of its citizens, including non-Jews, and that they too have the rights listed above. Israel’s political sovereignty has created challenges and opened new opportunities for implementing pathways to peace between Jews and Gentiles.
We see ourselves as a continuation of the great Rabbis of the Religious Zionist movement, who paved the Halachic pathways which are the foundation of the status of minorities in the State of Israel. Rabbis such as Rabbi Herzog, Rabbi Uziel, Rabbi Yisraeli, Rabbi Goren and others showed in their writings that the gentile citizens of Israel have a Halachic right to live in Israel. Included in this right are the rights to sell and rent houses and land to gentiles in Israel. We believe in the religious and historical right of the Jewish people to settle in the territory of the Land of Israel and its cities; however this must be done without impinging on the minorities who live in the land.
It is the right and the obligation of the State of Israel to protect its security and economic interests and those of its citizens; however this must be done with ethical sensitivity to all people, according to the ethical values of the Torah of Israel.
The Status of Women
The status of women is one of the most dynamic and complex topics in Torat Yisrael. The far-reaching changes which have taken place throughout the generations in regard to the status of women, both within the Jewish people and in the general population, have contributed to the complexity of this subject. These changes have required the attention of the poskim of every generation, and even more so those of the recent generations, during which wide-spread change has led to the broad education of women and their integration into all sections of society.
Two key points are central to the discussion of the status of women in halacha. First, the viewpoint of the Jewish family structure must be considered. We see great benefit in the changes that have occurred in the status of women, in general and Torah education, and the integration of women into society so that they can share equally in relationships, families and the public sphere. These changes are a part of the Tikkun of the world and society, and represent a proper relationship both halachically and ethically to women in our generation. At the same time, we are aware of the shortcomings of modern society, especially the weakening of the family structure. Throughout history, women have fulfilled a unique role in shaping the Jewish home and in the education of the children, and we believe that the correct balance must be found to preserve this role in the modern reality.
Secondly, these changes have always required halachic attention. We are absolutely committed to Halacha, along with which we are aware of the need of the Halacha to take into consideration the new reality, while this need remains subordinate to those boundaries of Halacha which are inflexible. The great poskim of Israel throughout the generations have showed us the way to balance between a new reality and the commitment to unchangeable Halachot.
In the National Religious society there are different viewpoints on the topic of the status of women in Halacha. While we desire to strengthen and empower the religious world of women and their involvement in communal life, we are aware of the need to minimize controversies and conflicts, and therefore, in areas which deal with the public sector each case must be examined separately and decided for every community according to its character and world view.
We believe that despite the complexity, it is possible and necessary to make clear statements on different topics which relate to the status of women. We will present here some of our positions:
2.1 Torah Learning
One of the great benefits of recent generations is the broadening of the spiritual world of women through the establishment different Batei Midrash which teach Torah to girls and women on a high level. We wholeheartedly support this process and call for further expansion. Inter alia, we call for Talmud study to be included in the curriculum of girls’ studies in educational institutions.
We see an especial benefit to women being involved in Halacha, especially in areas pertaining to matrimony and family purity, such as the program for “Yoatzot halacha.” This program allows women to feel comfortable asking their questions to other women. We call for women to be involved in leadership positions in their communities, alongside the community rabbis, out of a belief that this integration will broaden the Torah’s influence on the women in the community.
Women in the Community and the Synagogue
We support the integration of women into community life – in decision making in any role, involvement in different activities and as members or chairs of various committees. We encourage the integration of women in Torah shiurim in the communities where this is supported, including in shiurim which are given in the synagogue in various frameworks (after services, at Seudah Shlishit, etc.). In those communities we also support having a women’s Megillah reading in a way that does not impinge on the family and community setting (such as the morning reading) and having women say the Mourner’s Kaddish.
The value of modesty is a central component of a religious society. We share the feeling that in Israeli society female modesty is violated by media and advertising, and we call for all sectors of society to protest the objectification of women and the trafficking of women.
We believe that it is possible to have a mixed society which is conducted in modest fashion, in which men and women live together but keep appropriate modest boundaries. We especially see importance in the integration of women on committees and in meetings on various subjects, and having discussions in which the voice of women are heard, in a respectful and serious way. We call for dignified treatment of women and a unanimous movement to prevent sexual harassment and degrading attitudes toward women everywhere.
We see danger in extreme stringencies in the area of modesty, beyond the boundaries of Halacha, such as preventing women from speaking in public forums. We believe that stringencies of this type lead to the opposite results: to the viewing of women as sex objects, and the creation of a reality in which it is not possible to live in modern society, without obsessing about the interaction with women.
Refusal to Give a Get and the Problem of Agunot
We find the phenomenon of refusal to give a get and the problem of agunot worrisome, preventing the rehabilitation of the lives of those whose first marriages were not successful. We call on the courts to act against these phenomena, and to relieve the distress in whatever ways possible halachically.
Throughout the past few decades, the religious educational system has had to combine a variety of values, including some which appear to conflict with one another. This effort was not always successful, and the educational system has had varying success in raising generations of students capable of complex thought, whose feet are firmly planted on the ground, but who strive for spiritual heights. There are no instant solutions to enable students to be receptive to a variety of worlds of thought. The ability to include different values in the reality of modern life, together with absolute commitment to Halachic traditions and Jewish thought, requires a powerful educational message and commitment to an inner truth.
The religious educational system has always had to contend with the secular world on one hand and the Chareidi world on the other. The challenge of life in the state of Israel involves unique educational hurdles, such as dealing with the majority of the nation who are not Torah observant, overcoming the lure of shallow and indulgent leisure activities, the need to create a national fabric of dedication to the state and its future, and many questions that arise as a result of the transition from a communal to a national Jewish framework.
Therefore, we recognize a responsibility to imbue in our students tools for forging a deep religious Zionist identity, from a complex and comprehensive world view, that includes all the good that the creator has granted us in the Torah as well as the general world. An integral part of this outlook is the appropriate respect for all segments of Israeli society, and understanding that there is truth and importance in their way of life, even if it does not conform to our path.
Torah and the Outside World
The polarization between Torah and the ever-changing outside world results in the Religious Zionist personal identity being composed of both general and religious components. The religious Zionist moves between the secular and the holy.
The decision between operating according to Halacha and education toward self fulfillment, and recognizing the value of freedom, is difficult and demanding. These conflicts result in confusion, and often in the development of a personality rife with falsehood. In the era of the internet revolution, the task is even harder. This revolution resulted in the greater accessibility of Jewish sources to the public, but it also harbors grave dangers in terms of content and the blurring of religious and social hierarchies. As a result, there are those who advocate complete disconnection from all outside influence, for fear of the disastrous effects this will have on the youth and the adult communities.
We strive for a more harmonious approach. We believe that we cannot ignore the reality of modern life, and the need to advance our children towards excellence in a variety of paths, for the good of the nation and the people, and also for the development of their own abilities/skills. However, it is also important that internally, both in the formal and informal education systems, we should pursue a process sensitive to the needs of the generation and its limitations, and to the boundaries of exposure to the public space and its dangers.
One way to accomplish this is to empower the values of holiness that exist in the secular world, and to emphasize the many facets that reveal the Creator, not just through the Torah. These efforts should be promoted from the youngest age, hand in hand with striving for excellence in the Torah world. Education towards seeing God’s light in its many manifestations in the world is not just an economic or practical imperative, but part of a world view.
We believe that this educational methodology can contribute to the strengthening of the role of the Tanach and the Oral Torah in the religious educational framework. The understanding of this educational fabric, which is an essential tool to understanding Judaism and building a complete Torah personality, as well as creating a basis for deep national philosophy, can contribute to the strengthening of the educational program and increase its internalization.
Another emphasis that must be addressed is the encounter with secular society. Often the message projected in the religious educational system towards the secular society in Israel is tainted with contempt and condescension, which is a by-product of a society that educates its graduates towards religious excellence. It is important to note that in substantive and practical terms, this method of education might harm the relationships essential for preserving a functional Israeli society, capable of coping with challenges both internal and external. Along with education towards religious integrity and openness to the world, it is also important to emphasize the elements of humility and recognition of the goodness of Israeli society as a whole, and of the individual sectors within it. We cannot promote this educational outlook while being disconnected from mainstream society, and there is a need to create a genuine dialogue with quality segments of Israeli society, with great responsibility and consideration of the age and maturity of the students.
3.2 Learning Secular Subjects and Openness to Academia
Learning Torah is a supreme value for the Jewish people. Therefore, religious studies must play a central and significant role for both adults and students, especially in a school setting, both in terms of the time devoted to it and the intellectual effort expended. They should also be at the forefront of the educational framework for both boys and girls. Because “any Torah that is not accompanied by work will not endure”, we must also provide a broad secular education, in which we can also find the hands of G-d. Hence, the importance of studying general knowledge is not only due to the need for a profession. In our world, learning has many purposes, including advancing the world in economic, social and intellectual fields. In the modern state of Israel, there is a special importance to devote intellectual efforts to learning a wide variety of academic subjects, with the recognition that we are making a quality contribution to the building of the country in all aspects of life.
In addition, this is true for all academic subjects studied at institutions of higher education, but professions that give a person tools to better understand God’s world are considered part of the “creations of earth” by our sages, and every Jew is commanded to study them in order to enhance his religious world.
The Torah and our sages teach us the deep importance of social responsibility. This responsibility relates to those who are weak socio-economically and those with physical or mental handicaps. Ignoring this responsibility, by way of creating educational institutions and youth movements that are selective in nature, and by avoiding dealing with these issues in the beit medrash, harms the spiritual and moral stature of our children.
We must educate towards social involvement, by implementing social responsibility as part of the educational system and the youth movements that every student is exposed to. In recent years, great efforts have been made in this regard, and these should be encouraged and strengthened.
It is very important to encourage excellence among our students, in both religious and secular studies, but care should be taken to avoid screening based on family background or any factor that does not directly relate to spiritual motivation, especially in primary schools.
In this area in particular, we should put emphasis on personal example, which is the primary building block of any educational process. Accessibility of educational institutions, study houses and synagogues to broad groups, both physically and in terms of the commitment of the members of the institution to their practical responsibility towards others, is an important step in this direction.
High School Education
Over the years, religious Zionism has established Ulpanot and Yeshiva High Schools (some including dormitories), with extra emphasis on Torah study. In some of these institutions, learning takes place in small classes, and most of the schools are smaller than the average Israeli high school, and the students studying there are screened. The result of this is that only families with above-average economic means, or those willing to pay the heavy price in return for this type of education, have been able to send their children to these institutions.
This has created a situation where only a certain segment of the religious public, and the Israeli public in general, benefit from significant religious education, both in terms of allocation of hours to religious subjects, and in terms of the society in which they develop. We must consider this and search for ways to implement our Torah obligation to the people of Israel, from love and esteem, and to make the Torah accessible to all segments of society.
For this purpose, we must direct quality graduates of the religious education system to be influential in these areas, and to examine educational alternatives that can minimize the dichotomy between select educational institutions and those with less investment in Torah education, so as to reach students who are highly motivated to learn religious studies.