The Brick Report for Religious Zionism

Parsha and its fulfillment - Parashat Shmot - Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - 5769

In our Parasha, the Torah describes the process of the sinking into the exile and servitude, and the spiritual assimilation to the Egyptian culture. Chazal emphasized that the beginning of the process was cultural assimilation rather than spiritual: "… so that the land was filled with them" 'ותמלא הארץ אותם'- said R. Yohanan - filled Egypt. Another thing: that they filled the houses of Theater and Circuses. They immediately ordered them to leave." (ילק"ש שמות א רמז קסב). 

The Egyptian culture was very powerful and attractive, which attracted the people of Israel to it. The decrees started and grew worse with the time. And the spiritual decline that brought the Jewish people to a low spiritual state: " And it increased that the sons of Jacob and those that accompany them, they became a nation that knew G-d. Until the days went by, and the Israelites stayed in Egypt much longer and returned to worship idolatry. Except for the tribe of Levi who kept the Mitzvot of the Avot and never did perform idolatry. And it was almost as if Avraham's descendants had been uprooted. And Bnei Yaacov go back to their mistakes. And because of Hashem's ultimate love for us, and his oath to Abraham Avinu, was that Moshe, the greatest of all the Neviim, and sent them" (Rambam -Laws of idolatry 1,3).

In recent days, there has been an uproar over the report of Major-General (res.) Yitzhak Brick, on the readiness of the IDF for war. Some people believe that his words are fully justified in all aspects of the report, and some disagree with him and believe that our situation has never been better, the truth is apparently somewhere between the two.

I think everyone can agree on two things:

On one side, Brick's public civic courage to speak his mind up and give out criticism even though it may not be well accepted and might buy him some enemies. It's easier to flow, and to say that everything is good, to be kind and loved by everyone, than to be perceived as an opposition, and as someone who spoils the euphoria.

And on the other, that this steadfastness caused an earthquake and an unbiased self-examination of the system. A process that bodes well. Because it allows to produce the atmosphere required for change and repair of what needs to be repaired.

The "Brick" of the religious Zionism has not yet emerged, the one who with great courage will write the report on the achievements of religious Zionism and its challenges in the State of Israel in the past seventy years. He will require great courage because it will attract fire. This has been said for a long time but not officially. Not to the general public. But the goal will not be achieved if it does not lead to a public debate, with all its parts.

This report will probably point to tremendous achievements for religious Zionism in the areas of Torah, community, settlement, education, integration into state institutions, security, key positions in the army, in the rest of the security forces, in law, in science, economics, etc.

To the unprecedented blossoming in the amount of Batei Midrash for men and women, spread out across the country in the periphery and in the influential cities of the center. To that it has become a much more varied and less dogmatic movement and enables expression of different opinions and emphases. This is the part of the "full cup" in the report, and we will all look at it with satisfaction and thank G-d for having had the privilege.

However, he will also have to relate to the portion of the "empty cup", which is divided over the extent of the opinions, because unlike the Haredi public, religious Zionism did not grow in accordance with its birthrate. And a not-small percent became non-religious 'חוזר בשאלה' (some say 30% and up and some say 20%), and on the fact that pulling away from the commitment to Halacha, is gradually becoming the norm, and that the number of those who attend Torah institutions, is not increasing according to the birth rate.

There are more boys from the religious Zionism in the army, however, on the general scale, the army allows less religiousness today than it did a decade ago. (And well might be that most of the "חזרה בשאלה" seems to occur during the military service).

Although there are more members of the religious Zionism in key positions in the country but in recent years there has been a significant erosion of public religious status quo of the country. Probably some will try to refute this part of the report arguing that it is pessimism. Or those who will accept it but argue that there is nothing to be done, these are large-scale and powerful processes that cannot be dealt with.

And some of them, including myself, will say that it is forbidden to remain indifferent to this part of the report, and we must not accept the situation because it is not a matter of fate, but we have a public responsibility to deal with the problem.

Even among the latter group, there is likely to be an argument as to whether the situation is the result of a lack of study and examination of faith, or of cultural erosion. The culture which is not founded on religious Zionist values, is equipped with very attractive powerful advanced tools, that erode the religious Zionist culture, especially among the 20-year-olds.

And there isn’t enough thinking, and actions taken to find alternatives, and to develop powerful alternative tools, to preserve the rich culture of religious Zionism. The traditional tools are not enough, with frontal lessons or workshops, we need stronger tools, that reach individuals, educational institutions, military units and  the community.

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