Jihad against the Justices

Published in The Jerusalem Post on February 14, 1999

I won’t be going anywhere near the old bus station in Jerusalem today, where the Radical Orthodox will be praying to God to wipe out the Supreme Court, or at least foil its nefarious deeds. That is not my world and not my Judaism.


What bothers me most, as a Religious Zionist, is the collusion of former chief rabbis Eliyahu and Shapira, and Yeshivot Bnei Akiva head Rabbi Druckman, in the jihad against the Justices.


The three oracles, who last brought us a halachic ruling requiring religious soldiers to disobey army orders in Judea and Samaria, are now trucking with the hareidim in the most divisive and rhetorically-reckless public campaign since the anti-Oslo days. We all know where that led us.


Since when are Religious Zionist Jews — scientists, rabbis, engineers, generals, bankers and professors thoroughly involved in Israeli society — partners with the anti-Zionist, ultra-fanatic Eida Hareidit? Since when do we join forces with Agudat Yisrael’s army-dodging hot-heads to agitate for the downfall of democracy? Since when have lost our own, unique compass?


Since when do we lend a hand to anarchy, incitement and seditious talk? “Wicked”, “empty-headed”, “slaves” and “enemies” just aren’t terms of reference acceptable, even when speaking of a bitter ideological rival. The Supreme Court as the “root of all evil”? This is what we want to be associated with?


We used to have modern rabbis possessing intellectual independence who could fend-off ideological challenges from the religious right without worry. We used to have religious politicians who artfully participated in the building of a heterogeneous Israeli society without bending before fundamentalist clerics. And now?


The hareidization of the Religious Zionist rabbinate is not a new phenomena, its impact evident for years in halachic rulings across a range of personal and ritual law. But at least you could always point to salient differences between Modern Orthodox and Radical Orthodox in relation to the state, the rule of law, democracy, attitudes toward secular endeavors and neighbors, and the tenor of one’s tongue.


Today however, hareidi-style demagoguery is becoming the norm; segregation is promoted, not enhanced partnership with the secular world; and a commitment to democracy is less than certain. Will the rabbis and religious leaders who believe that Judaism and democracy are complementary value systems please stand up!?


Yes, we have Yehuda Amital, Alex Lubotsky and Moshe Kaveh speaking out boldly on behalf of religious enlightenment, rationalism and moderation. But obviously, it’s not enough.


For a long time, the secular public and press bought into the Shas line that boosted Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as a moderate, mainly because he was soft on the territories, not a Land of Israel messianic maximalist.


That bubble has burst as well. You can’t write-off his latest outburst simply as Sephardic-style street-language or rabbinic hyperbole. Moderates don’t crudely accuse Supreme Court justices of being “nidda-humpers”.


RELIGIOUS friends of mine who are more conservative or defensive will object to these reflections, arguing that one has to look past the rhetorical extremism of recent days and focus on the main issue: the Supreme Court’s overbearing intervention in matters of faith.


These friends will maintain that Chief Justice Barak and his colleagues have grossly overstepped their brief, barreling without restraint into the realm of values, attempting to impose their secular, liberal vision on society.


Rather than interpreting the country’s laws, it will be argued, Barak and company are attempting to make the laws and create norms themselves, pushing and provoking Israeli society so that it will end up where the high-and-mighty thoroughly-secular Justices from Rehavia think it ought to be.


Just look at the Court’s agenda, they will say. It is intervening across-the-board in matters of Jewish identity and belief, without any mandate to do so: from conversion to prayers at the Western Wall; from shopping on Shabbat to advancing Reform and Conservative representatives on religious councils; from hareidi army exemptions to the acceptability of gay lifestyles.


In short, many will contend that Justice Barak’s unchallenged power, wielded impetuously, imperils Israeli democracy almost as much as the hareidi attacks on the Court.


And they’re right, these friends of mine. The Supreme Court ought to be tiptoeing, not stalking ubiquitously, in the minefield of faith and convictions, especially since its makeup is in no way reflective of Israeli society.


But sadly enough, all the wildly-illegitimate blathering against the Court in recent days hamstrings legitimate protest and to-the-point criticism.


So I won’t be going to Radical Orthodoxy’s Court-bashing prayer rumble. I’ll be in my local synagogue softly praying for more temperate, much wiser Rabbis and Supreme Court Justices alike.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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