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The Political influence of Religious citizens

Author: Esther Ehrman, Kislev 5775/Nov 2014

Some perspectives presented by Rav Soloveitchik

In a set of five talks given to members of the National Religious Party called MIzrachi, Rav Soloveitchik shows the importance of a Torah oriented political party in terms of the relationship of the religious Jewish community to the wider community both in Israel and in the Diaspora, as also to the non-Jewish world. The Rav takes into consideration the ideology of the party, its weaknesses and its potential.

In the talk entitled 'The Revolving Sword and the Two Cherubim' (English translation, The Rav Speaks, Toras HoRav Foundation,2002), The Rav gives a systematic analysis. He begins with the tools needed to point society in the right direction, using the image of the two Cherubim and their revolving sword in the Garden of Eden (Gen.3, v.24). The Rav sees the Cherubim as the guardians of the Book, here the Torah, just as the Cherubim figure on the Ark of the Covenant that contains the Torah; the sword that they wield then denotes physical power. A political ruler needs to understand the judicious use of both. Its physical power of the sword will engender fear, its spiritual teaching of the Book will inspire awe and love.

Next, the Rav looks at what is required by the recipients of that which is being taught, the citizens of a community as well as those who guide them. A king is not a king without subjecys, a teacher is not a teacher without students, a creator cannot create without matter. Every human is both creator ('in the image of G-d') and a humble subject, a recioient. The Rav terms the creative function, male and the ability to receive, female ('male and female created He them' Ge,5, v.1,2). The faith of those who seek to guide the community needs to be based on both; one cannot be Rabbi or a Rosh Yeshiva, says the Rav, without both when seeking to bring people 'back into the fold'. The Mizrachi Book, therefore, places this verse, 'in the image of G-d...male and female created He them' on its cover. The assumption that it is important to bring people back into the fold is an indication of the Rav's engagement with the wider community.

Armed with this faith,what is our attitude to others to be? The Rav takes as his model the speech that Abraham made to the Hittites when he wished to buy the cave at Machpela to bury Sarah. Abraham explained why he could not bury his wife in the local burial grounds that were being offered to him: 'I am a stranger and a resident with you '(Gen,23,v.4). The Rav explains that being a resident means taking part in the life and culture of a place, serving in its army, holding communal positions and the like; yet the Jew remains a stranger, follows different laws as well, has different values. That is what distinguishes Abraham and it distinguishes the Jew in any country, wherever he 'resides'. It also distinguishes Israel in the world; as resident, Israel contributes to world progress, yet it remains a stranger, with its own values and life style. All of this, says the Rav, constitutes the ideology of the MIzrachi party.

Given such an ideology/programme, how is it that the practising Jewish community in Israel did not give the Mizrachi party an overwhelming mandate? The Rav rejects the answers usually offered: apathy, anti-religious campaigning, the small number of religious Jews (it cannot be that small, since 40% of children attend religious institutions), internal strife. His answer, as always, is Torah based, The religious voter can be compared to the angels' descending and ascending' the ladder in Jacob's dream. This means that they look up and see the model of the righteous Jacob and when they look down they see the real world and expect to see something comparable; what they actually see in the would-be Mizrachi members of Knesset are - politicians, a party willing to make political deals, agree to compromises. Consequently, the voter does not trust them.

That is how the Rav explains the result of the elections in Israel for the sixth Knesset (This Knesset saw the Six Day war and the unification of Jerusalem. It was led by Levi Eshkol, then by Golda Meir and included David ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan. The dominant block was the left oriented Maarach. The Mizrachi party did not join the Maarach, but it was part of the government coalition. The Rav sees the Party as looking for power, the 'sword', rather than teaching from the 'book' of its ideology. It should, he stresses, 'aspire to be teachers, and not the rulers of the population' (The Rav Speaks, p.80).

In the last section of the talk, the Rav gets to the core of his subject, the content of the Judaism that needs to be taught. Here, too, he uses the Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah to convey his thought. On the birth of Isaac, Rashi brings two comments from Midrash. One says that Isaac must have been a foundling, since both Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children. The other suggests that Sarah became pregnant from Avimelech. The Rav shows how absurd both views were and then uses them to show how typical they were of the way many people view Judaism.

The 'Hellenizers', secular Jews, want nothing to do with the Judaism of Abraham and Sarah. They dismiss the story of the Torah as impossible. However, says the Rav, nowadays many secular Jews long to find their way back. What are they looking for and what do we offer them?

Abraham, the Rav explains, stands for strict, halachic Judaism and total submission to G-d. That is not what these people are prepared to accept. Sarah stands for 'the great love of the Jew for the Creator and the great happiness he finds in being close to Him'. This appeals to the Jew who would have the beauty of Judaism without its halachic discipline - the Judaism of Sarah as mother, where Abraham is not the father. The Rav, however, is very firm on this, Judaism has both Avraham and Sarah as its progenitors. The people of Haran were converted by both Abraham and Sarah. The inference is that teachers of Judaism to the secular world cannot pick and choose what to teach. A political party cannot compromise. The Rav sees the need to address the wider community, but it has to be with the teaching of the whole Torah.