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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Orthodoxy and Homosexuality -- The Need to Define and Clarify the Issues

Perhaps it is because of the present dispute regarding transgender public bathrooms in the U.S. -- or maybe it is simply because this topic is one that does continue to demand our attention -- but the subject of Orthodoxy and homosexuality -- or, to be more politically correct, in our present world, Orthodoxy and the LGBT community -- again seems to be in the spotlight. As one, though, who has been involved with this investigation since the 1980's, I find that the depth of the issues involved within this subject have actually become more and more overlooked -- even as the breadth of the extension of this topic into the community has expanded. My initial thought was, as such, that it may be incumbent on me to highlight as significant reading, in various venues, the articles that I have  authored through the developmental years on this subject -- and that is why I will be presenting links to them at the end of this post. I, though, do believe that there is, as well, a further need to clearly define and clarify the issues that must be diligently faced within any discussion of this nature. This is a most complex concern and this is often simply not realized. This complexity must be seen.

There are actually two different major categories of issues that are inherently addressed within this subject. One, I have termed: Disposition; the other I would label: Behaviour. This is not to say that there is no overlap between the two but this distinction is important for it offers us means by which to address this overall issue, especially the complexity.

By the term Disposition, I am referring to what we may identify as the inherent, physical distinctions between individuals that are factors within this discussion. The questions that would thus be addressed within this category would concern how Orthodoxy should relate to individuals who are attracted to members of the same sex. This Disposition issue in regard to Orthodoxy and homosexuality, in itself, as such, has nothing to do with the behaviour of such individuals. The question that emerges simply concerns whether there is any theological basis for a difference, within the Orthodox community, in the response towards individuals who have this characteristic, namely an attraction to members of the same sex. This question is very specific: how are we to relate to gay individuals? Should the fact that someone is gay even be a consideration in how we relate to him/her? A corollary of these questions may be: how should we relate to a group of individuals given that it may include gay individuals?

The matter goes beyond discrimination although that is an obvious issue. Many gay individuals (who are not identified as such, which would be the normative situation in general company) find it difficult that, in many conversations, once they are identified as single, the discussion often turns to potential shiduchim. The motivation of the group, of course, is positive; they just wish to be helpful through possibly assisting someone in finding a mate in marriage? To the gay person who may be the focus of the discussion, however, this only highlights his/her distinction (which is, furthermore, unknown to the others) and even possible estrangement from the community. Are we then never to raise the subject of shiduchim in our general, communal encounters? What about the general benefit of such discussion within the broader community? A further question then also emerges: how open should one be about one's sexual identity? How accepting or encouraging should the community then be to this openness? There are many reasons presented for supporting such openness but there are also many legitimate reasons for why this aspect of identity should be maintained as a private matter. This argument for privacy does not mean that this characteristic of identity should not be shared with anyone but, rather, that it should only be revealed as a result of discreet and thoughtful reflection. The fact is that, even just in respect to Disposition and without any consideration of Behaviour, there are many questions for the Orthodox world to contemplate in regard to gay individuals. To gain the full picture and to thus respond appropriately, it is important to recognize this.

Of course, the issue of Disposition still cannot be recognized as existing solely within a vacuum. The issue of Behaviour is not a fully independent one but depends on and inherently flows from Disposition. The fact is that Orthodoxy prohibits any action that flows from same sex attraction. As such, since Behaviour is inherently tied to Disposition, the halachic restrictions on Behaviour must have some effect on the Orthodox response to distinction in Disposition, even without consideration of actual behaviour. For example, the fact that certain heterosexual behaviour is halachically prohibited has an effect on how Orthodoxy relates to heterosexual individuals. We separate men and women because of  heterosexual desires even though individuals have not acted in any way contrary to the law. The concern for such violation is enough to affect the communal response. The question thus emerges in regard to Orthodoxy and homosexuality, as Disposition enters the realm of the issue of Behaviour, what effect the restrictions on same sex sexual contact, and the potential for violation, may have on one simply with this attraction?

This issue is not an uncomplicated one and answers may not be easily forthcoming. I remember being told by a gay individual who had just moved to a new community about his discomfort in shul. He just did not feel right sitting, during davening, in the company of men given his general attraction to them. He mentioned that he, personally, would obviously feel more comfortable in the women's section but recognized that this was not really an option given the communal nature of this matter. The first issue that confronts us in regard to the gay community is how we should treat people who live with choices outside the realm of our understanding, in this case, with same sex attraction. Given, however, that this distinction also has halachic repercussions in that there would seem to be no behaviour that provides a means to satisfy this drive in a halachically permitted manner, the issue clearly becomes deeper. Yichud clearly becomes a further difficult matter. A major theological issue is also enjoined: why would God create individuals with such a drive if it has no purpose?

The subject is obviously a full one even before we actually confront the issue of Behaviour. By this classification, I am referring to the general question of how Orthodoxy should relate to individuals who maintain a gay lifestyle, which, of course, would be in violation of Halacha. In a certain way, this is just a specific case of the greater question of how Orthodoxy should relate to individuals who transgress Torah law. The question, however, is more complex on many levels.

How Orthodox synagogues relate to individuals who are known to openly desecrate Shabbat is often used as a base point -- and there is much value in such a comparison. From a halachic perspective, if there are no parameters on the way in which we are to interrelate with such an individual, especially given the value of Sabbath observance as a defining element of Orthodoxy, why would there be parameters in regard to gay individuals? The fact is, though, that there are parameters, according to some views, on how we are to relate to one who publicly violates Shabbat. This being so, similar type arguments could then be made, according to these views, that there should be parameters on how Orthodoxy interacts with the gay community. A weakness in this argument, however, exists for it may just be Sabbath desecration, given its defining significance, that elicits such parameters and that other violators of the law should not be so treated. The fact is, and sadly so, there are individuals who simply wish to apply such parameters on gays because of inherent homophobic feelings towards them -- and it is important for people to practice significant self-examination in regard to whether their views truly reflect an honest understanding of Halacha or simply personal feelings. Nevertheless, there are variant viewpoints within Orthodoxy in regard to the question of permitted interaction with non-observant individuals and this discussion would extend to those maintaining a gay lifestyle. Still, though, the vast majority of present-day Orthodox Jews do not generally exercise limitations, or, at least, strict limitations, in their interactions with those who do not follow Halacha, albeit that nearly all still may apply some parameters. The question then arises: how would these halachic concerns be reflected in Orthodoxy's relationship with those maintaining a gay lifestyle?

Again applying the standard of Shabbat, we may wish to point to the fact that most Orthodox synagogues that are welcoming to those who do not observe Shabbat still close their parking lots from Friday evening to Saturday night. While if you drive to shul on Shabbat, you will be warmly welcomed within the walls of the building, and may even be given an aliyah, the closure of these parking lots would seem to indicate that a message must still be pronounced -- that, pursuant to Halacha, driving a car, even to shul on Shabbat, is still forbidden. In the same vein, it would seem similarly appropriate for Orthodoxy, in positively relating to gay individuals, to still wish to clearly indicate that it is not foregoing its halachic standard that same sex sexual activity is forbidden. Does a similar type of question as to whether a shul parking lot should be opened or not on Shabbat then also surface in regard to Orthodoxy and homosexuality?

The fact is that the issue is even more complex. Same sex attraction is not just simply about physical attraction but enters the very realm of relationships. The question of how Orthodoxy should relate to the gay community does not, thus, simply involve how we are to interact with individuals who violate a specific Torah law regarding same sex behaviour. How is an Orthodox synagogue to relate to a same sex couple -- who may even have children and is perceived as a family within general society? To be sensitive to the individual and the couple identity of these individuals would seem to reflect a renouncement of Torah but to not do so would seem to also challenge the very call of a sensitivity existent within the realm of Torah-dictates as well. The issue becomes even more problematic with the advancement of the mistaken idea that the Halachic standard is more flexible than it actually is. To find some manner in which a person could act in fulfillment of a same sex attraction within the confines of Halacha would clearly solve so much of this beleaguered dilemma -- and we can clearly understand why many would like to believe that such an answer does exist. It, however, does not. The argument that such a possibility exists only raises a new demand: the need to protect the very integrity of the Halachic system itself. The issue is longer how to relate to one who violates the law but how to relate to one who does so believing that such behaviour is totally in concert with Halacha. The powerful challenge of this dilemma, in all its breadth, remains before us without any simple answers.

I find myself often considering the theological question of why God would create such a drive which He then forbids to be employed in any manner. I don't have an answer. The one thing I do know is that it is fully inappropriate for me, in any manner, to judge an individual who personally faces this difficulty. It is a dialogue between the individual and God. The challenge for me, though, is that I am given certain instructions from God regarding my behaviour and my goal must be to meet these standards as best as I can understand them and maintain them. The call is to be sensitive to the other. The call is also to properly present the values of Torah. Meeting these two calls, though, can often be most difficult. That is a dilemma that we must acknowledge in facing this issue. 

I also invite you to view the following articles that I have written over the years regarding this topic. It is often presented that it is hard to pin-point me; in some ways, I am critiqued for leaning to the right while in others I am critiqued for leaning to the left. The Forward once questioned me about being the only Rabbi who signed two petitions, circulated to Orthodox Rabbis, regarding Orthodoxy and Homosexuality. Most perceived the petitions to be in conflict with each other. I did not. (See, from the Forward, Orthodox Rabbis Oppose Gay Marriage)  This is always because the dilemma is always before me and that this recognition is God's present demand from me. It is one I also feel, in the furtherance of the presentation of the Torah's great depth, I must share.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


RBH Articles on Orthodoxy and Homosexuality

Commentary: The Same Sex Marriage and Defining Discrimination

Spark 5754-27: To'evah

Introspection 5761 -#1: Essential Conflict: Essential Study

Commentary Series on "Trembling Before G-d": Analyzing Homosexuality & Orthodoxy

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Beyond 'Off the Derech' -- Why is Someone Committed?

            There is a growing concern, within the Orthodox world, about the increasing number of young individuals choosing to leave Orthodoxy. This phenomenon, often referred to as going 'Off the Derech', is indeed something that should foster concern and generate an on-going discussion such as the one that has resulted. What I find somewhat disconcerting with the present inquiry, though, is how the subject is generally being approached. There seems to be an underlying, powerful assumption that staying ‘on the Derech’, maintaining an Orthodox lifestyle, is simply normative. The issue is thus framed in terms of reasons for these divergences from what should generally be expected. The explanations, thus, often reflect an attitude of deviation, some problematic abnormality that led to an aberrant result. Are these, however, the correct assumptions by which to frame the issue?
            Thinking that individuals brought up Orthodox will generally continue to remain Orthodox throughout their lives is somewhat understandable. Metaphorically applying a principle of physics -- items stay as they are unless there is something that causes them to change – it could seem expected that someone with an Orthodox life-style would maintain it unless there is something that causes a change. Yet, I could also see limitations in such a theory. Early in my reading of Faranak Margolese’s book Off the Derech a question began to bother me. What if the issue being discussed was a familial love of camping and what to do if one of the kids started to not want to go camping? On the surface, this question would seem almost trivial in the context of the seriousness and fullness of the 'Off the Derech' issue. Obviously, commitment to Torah involves a multitude of considerations and touches upon the most significant of metaphysical issues. Yet -- and, in a certain way, this is somewhat noted in the book -- it also extensively involves the psychology of the human being and specifically the nature of the individual. As such, should we not actually start any investigation with the interests of a person just as we would ask, in a situation where one no longer wished to be involved in a traditional family activity, whether this individual simply did not really like this activity? The metaphorical comparison to the principal from physics actually breaks down because human beings are not just passive objects who are acted upon but they all have distinct, internally dynamic natures. Human beings have variant motivations and responses to life just as different people like or dislike camping.
            Phrased somewhat differently, the contention may be that individuals raised Orthodox will want to remain Orthodox unless something happens to affect this desire. The assumption would be that Orthodox nurturing is generally successful unless there is an external conflict or resistance that disrupts this nurturing. That, however, is still a most powerful assumption, for the Orthodox life-style is not a simple one and there is great divergence in humanity. Given the multi-dimensional and challenging nature of the Orthodox life-style, would it not be correct to assume that conflict between the strictures of Orthodoxy and the dynamic nature of humanity is a strong possibility? The fact is that Off the Derech somewhat deals with this concern in maintaining that parents, for example, should attempt to make their children’s observance of Torah, somewhat tailored to them, positive and enjoyable. It also does speak to some extent on different forms of Orthodoxy. The inherent parameters of Torah observance, though, are also still a given and the true nature and full extent of this issue is not really addressed. A concept similar to the idea that a person may simply not like camping is also not considered. There is a strong assumption that every individual – all things being equal -- really would want to follow Orthodoxy.
            To fully and honestly investigate why people are leaving Orthodoxy, I would thus contend that our first undertaking should really be to consider why people are Orthodox. To postulate a generic desire in any individual to observe an Orthodox life-style is too simplistic. There actually may be many factors involved in such a decision yielding a more complex model that one might first consider. We clearly have to look at the direct drives and motivations, on the behavioural and personal level, to remain Orthodox – and consider, in this regard, the place of the varying forms of Orthodoxy in such consideration. The issue, however, also goes beyond one’s personal response to life-style behavior. A further factor, for example, may be familial connection. Again applying the camping model, if this behavior is an integral part of the family experience, it may be that a person could be interested in going camping because of a desire for family connection even if the camping experience itself is viewed negatively. As the Orthodox life-style is even more all-inclusive in terms of family relationships, it could be even a greater possibility that the desire for family connection would also be a significant factor in why a person remains Orthodox. There actually may be numerous factors -- reasons, desires, motivations – in conflict and in support – in the decision to maintain or adopt an Orthodox life-style. It is then only with an understanding of the possible complexity of the decision to be Orthodox – whether conscious or not -- that one could truly investigate the decision not to be.
We may also wonder: if the motivation of family connection, for example, plays a significant role in the reason a person remains Orthodox, what could be its effect on the manner of the Orthodox life-style that then emerges? This question actually exists, in some manner, throughout the discussion concerning ‘off the derech’, specifically in regard to what exactly the term refers. What is the minimum behavioural requirement that defines someone as a member of the ‘Orthodox group’, in general and in this context? What then defines one as off the derech? What then may be lost in such a discussion of the border of Orthodoxy is that we may also inherently thereby be addressing variant motivational factors in observing Orthodoxy. There is an inherent connection between this discussion and the investigation of Orthodoxy itself. How one defines ‘off the derech’ and the nature of Orthodoxy may indicate what that individual’s perspective would be on variant reasons for observance. Similarly, one’s perspective on the variant reasons for observance could have a great effect on how one defines ‘off the derech’ and the nature of Orthodoxy.
Then there is the theological/philosophical dimension of the issue which clearly is of extreme importance in such an investigation. It would seem limiting and unrealistic to only consider observance or non-observance in regard to psychological factors. In regard to non-observance, it would seem almost bewildering to find someone who fully accepts Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith who also does not integrate at least some aspects of an Orthodox life-style into his/her life. At the very least, there would seem likely to have been some type of inner contemplation to explain and justify the inner dissonance.  Similarly, even in one whose main motivation for observing Shabbat, for example, may be family commitment, as this commitment to observance touches the private space of the individual, the behavior has to be seen as more than just behavior. Such behavior is more than just the inherent action but would seem to touch upon a greater meaning in the action. There is more in what is happening than a person may even be aware.
 This then opens the further question of the nature of such a decision to be Orthodox and the interplay between the psychological, behavioural and theological motivations – separately and in their interwoven nature. As an example of this interwoven nature, we would have to recognize that one who likes the Orthodox life-style would be motivated to find theological reasons to support it while one who dislikes it would necessarily find reasons for the opposite. Similarly, we may find one with theological/philosophical issues in regard to the basic tenets of Orthodoxy also beginning to question behavioural decisions, not because the person is inherently bothered by this behavior but because of a desire not to be hypocritical. Interestingly, in a similar vein, we may also find one desiring commitment, comfortable in the theological confines of Orthodoxy, attempting to find halachic justification for certain behavior that is generally eschewed within Orthodoxy in order to avoid a contention of dissonance between the behavior and belief. One who wishes to identify as Orthodox will go to great measures to try and ensure that a certain behavior to which this person is committed is defined as permitted. Such an attempt is also not necessarily improper or wrong. What we can begin to see is that the ‘off the Derech’ question actually touches upon much more than this one issue narrowly defined. For many reasons, it demands investigation within broader parameters.  
Included in this investigation, as another example, would have to be the question: Do people generally see orthopraxis individuals, who do not believe in the general fundamentals of faith of Orthodoxy but may be fully observant, as ‘off the derech’ (in colloquial terms)? Should they? Inherent in that question is the very issue of how we define Orthodoxy and Orthodox – is it primarily by action or theology? What is our goal as we attempt to build the Orthodox group – incorporation of individuals who will adopt similar behavior or incorporation of individuals with shared theological principles? This has further implications in regard to the various sub-divisions within Orthodoxy. The observation has been made by some that individuals who leave more extreme right-wing forms of Orthodoxy, generally do not even consider modern Orthodoxy as an option. In their minds, it would seem, there is little difference between non-observance and modern Orthodox observance – after all they are both so vastly different from the behavior they were observing. What does this, though, say about Orthodox pedagogy and Orthodox identity?
The Off the Derech topic is thus actually one that is multi-faceted and opens many further areas in need of investigation. The real question is not only why people leave Orthodoxy but also why people are Orthodox. It is from that question that we may find out not only more about ourselves but clearer understandings of why people leave. With this article as a start, it is Nishma’s objective to further investigate this issue.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Jewish Nationalism and the Challenge of Its Uniqueness: Yeshiva Students and the Draft

With the development of what we may term modern Zionism, an issue arose as to the nature of the nationalism that was being asserted through this movement. Traditionally, the desire to return to Israel had religious roots and reflected an understanding of the unique nationality of the Jewish People. The goal through the ages was to return to the land but as a distinct Torah nation that would then meet these religious goals in the land given to the nation by God. This objective still found reflection in religious modern Zionism through the Mizrachi movement. Am Yisrael im Torat Yisrael b'Eretz Yisrael. To Mizrachi, the Jewish nation was not simply just another nation. The predominant secular elements of modern Zionism, however, did not see the desire for return in this manner. 
To Secular Zionists, the Jewish nation was a nation like any other -- and, to them, this is just what it should be. It was in this spirit that they demanded that the Jewish People itself should take action to re-gain the land of Israel and not just wait for Divine redemption. As a nation like any other nation, they declared that Jews should stop simply waiting for God to act on behalf of His Chosen People but rather should themselves do whatever is necessary to establish a state, just like any other nation would do whatever it deemed necessary. This comparison to all other nations was, though, not just a call to action, to act in the service of the nation as other nations would act in their own service. It was a further vision of nationhood. "David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel once quipped: 'We will know we have become a normal country when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew.'" The goal was a normal country like any other country and not a unique country in any way, let alone a unique Torah country. It removed God from the equation of Jewishness -- emphatically declaring that Jewish nationalism was like any other nationalism. A Jewish state should be like any other state.

We thus had was two visions of what Israel should be – and, on the surface, it would seem, these two visions of Jewish nationalism co-existed with each other, over the years, in the furtherance of a joint goal to create and preserve the State. The result was not a harmonious blending of values but rather an acceptance of a dichotomy of results as certain secular conclusions were reached in some areas of the State’s social being and other religious conclusions were reached in other areas. The result, however, did endure – and was able even to include the Charedi population as well. There was tension but there was also co-existence. What, however, was really the basis of this co-existence?

To answer that question, we have to further ask, what, in the mind of the secularists, was their vision of a Jewish state which was also like any other state? In defining the country as Jewish, and not just generic, there must be something unique about it, in any event, which inherently would distinguish it as Jewish. By definition, a Jewish State could not be a state like any other for it would be Jewish. The secular Zionist ideal, in fact, did include a powerful infusion of what it believed to be the essence of this Jewishness, which it derived from, actually, the Tanach. It, in fact, called for a re-focusing on our ancient historical roots -- as presented in the Biblical literature with individuals such as Dovid HaMelech (specifically, as presented, solely within the actual books of Tanach) as our models -- and a distancing from the model of the Diaspora Jew who was associated with the influence of the Talmud. The most powerful philosophical voice within the movement was that of Ahad Ha’am, the accepted thinker of modern Zionism – who clearly defined a Jewish ethos for modern secular Zionism. So being a state like any other state did not mean, to the secular Zionist, to not be a Jewish state – so what did they mean by a Jewish state still like any other state?

The answer, of course, lies in culture. All countries have their own individual culture; being a state like any other state does not mean that all states share the exact same, generic culture. It is thus expected that a Jewish State would have a unique Jewish culture – and in this regard even secular Zionists wished Israel to reflect Jewish culture. Israel should be like any other state with its own unique culture just as all states have their own unique culture.

It is in this regard that religious Zionists and secular Zionists could find some point of agreement for, even within the secular vision of Jewishness, so much of Jewish culture flows from the religious roots of Jewishness. It was within this perspective that, perhaps, the secularists were able to make peace with themselves for adopting religious initiatives into the law of Israel – these demands of the religious were still a part of Jewishness. Shabbat, kosher, the kippa – these were all parts of Jewish identity in the eyes of the world – could one really imagine a State of Israel that did not include these images? There were grumblings over the impositions of Halacha upon Israeli life – but there was the begrudging acceptance that it still did reflect Jewish culture. In this regard, there was overlap between the religious and the secular. The religious and secular Zionist could co-exist in a disagreement over the implementation, within the State, of Jewish culture – but it would still be Jewish culture.

So what, then, did the secularists really mean to exclude through its cry for a State like any other? From some thoughts I heard in regard to Gush Katif, I began to understand what the secularists really meant.  Their focus really was the issue of God-consciousness, which they, sadly, wanted absent in their Israel. They wanted a country that acted practically like any other, where the processes of thought in the furtherance of the country were similar to those processes applied by other countries. This reflected the initial break the secularists had with the religious – that Jews should act on their own rather than wait for God. It’s nationhood first, with religious observance the culture of the nation; not God first with commitment to nationhood part of His directive. (Further on this distinction, albeit in somewhat of a different context, see my National Identity, Nishma Introspection 5767-1.) Religious behavior per se was not the real concern of the secularists. Of course, they would like less imposed restrictions from Halacha but, as an argument within the parameters of Jewish culture, you win some, you lose some. But theocracy, and a perception of God-consciousness actually being part of the State’s functioning, that they could not tolerate. In the religious Zionists, who also took action to create the State, they did not perceive a force that would promote this view of theocracy – and thus they could work with them. Their disagreement with them, they could define as cultural.

What about, though, the Charedim? They clearly saw such commitment to God-consciousness as the purview of the Charedim but that they could tolerate, and even consider in such legislation as the exemption from the draft for yeshiva students. This, most likely, had something to do with the small size of the Charedi population. The Charedim were on the fringe. The actual functioning of the State was within the realm of the secularists and the religious Zionists who co-existed, in the minds of the secularists, in a battle over culture.
The yeshiva draft exemption was thus safe in this world. The perception was that the two groupings in charge – the religious Zionists and the secularists -- both still shared a vision of a nation like any other directed by humans. These two groups would both serve in the army. The God-conscious Charedim could be tolerated on the fringe. They were not in the mainstream of what Israel was in any event – and so they could have their yeshiva exemption from the draft. As the Charedi numbers swelled, however, some concern did develop within the secularists. It would not be easy for them to co-exist with a stronger expression of God-consciousness. With the growth of the Charedi population and their further involvement in Israeli society, the old concern of the secularists in regard to the religious was beginning to re-surface. This was an element that put pressure on the Charedim and the draft exemption. 

This, however, was not the only issue of God-consciousness and Jewish nationalism that was now flowing to the surface. This speaker on Gush Katif that I mentioned above posed the following question: why did secular Israeli society come down so hard on these settlers from Gush Katif who, eventually, were forced to leave their homes? The answer presented was that it was their specific mentioning of reliance upon God that angered the secularists. A state like any other state makes decisions through political and strategic analysis – and this was what, it was argued, was done in regard to Gush Katif. If the settlers were in disagreement with the conclusion reached through that process of human deliberation that would be one thing. But, according to this speaker, when the settlers started to say that there was no need to pack up as God would never let anyone move them from their homes, the secularists became inflamed. This was doubly so because these settlers were religious Zionists. They sounded, in the minds of the secularists, like the religious of old who argued that Jews must wait for God to take them out of the Diaspora.  The secularists could accept such an argument from Charedim, who they tolerated as a small minority reflecting the quaint religion of old, but not from their partners in the actual building of the nation. They saw a powerful God-consciousness in the religious Zionists which they previously chose to ignore. This left the secularists wondering about their partners in running the State.

To review, in the mind of the secularists, the reason they were able to form a coalition, of some nature, with the Mizrachi was because they believed that these religious Zionists, albeit that they were still religious, accepted a similar model for Israel – that the nation must make decisions as any other nation would make decisions. The secularists knew that the Charedim did not accept this vision but, given the size and influence of the Charedim, they were not deemed to be a problem – and as a minority within the State, they provided some diversity within the culture. The issue was active God-consciousness. To the secularists, Israeli policy had to be absent this. In the religious Zionists, the secularists thought that they had religious elements of the people who shared this vision. With Gush Katif, the secularists began to recognize that this was not so. When the settlers first went to Gush Katif, while they invoked God’s vision of Israel, the secularists only saw this chant as existing once the pragmatic, political decision to settle this land was already reached. Those who settled Gush Katif -- in fact, all who settled Yehduda and Shomron -- were still seen as on-side politically and strategically. When elements of the inhabitants of Gush Katif refused to leave, the secularists saw that this was not true. These religious Zionists, even as they also declared that the Jewish People should take steps on their own to settle Israel, the secularists began to recognize, also had a God-consciousness even similar to that of the Charedim. They both shared the existence of a God-consciousness that Avinu She’b’shamayim, Our Father in Heaven, guides the Jewish People. The issue between the Charedim and the religious Zionists was in how God does so guide His nation, not that He does. The fact is that, over the years, the religious Zionists have become more vocal in proclaiming their unique God-consciousness. With Gush Katif, it was emphatic. This presented an issue for the secularists but the vocalization of this God-consciousness within the religious Zionist community had been strengthening for a while. In this regard, it was also presenting an issue in regard to the Charedim and the yeshiva draft exemption. There was a different God-consciousness developing that specifically did not exclude the draft.

Israel was perceived to exist of three groupings – the secularists, the religious Zionists and the Charedim with, seemingly, the two former entities forming some type of partnership in governing the nation that, to the secularists, was based upon a principle of, it would seem, human responsibility. As such, it was perceived that the religious Zionists would join the army just like the secularists – with the Charedim, given their God-consciousness, not doing so. This understanding, though, was a mistaken one. The involvement of the religious Zionists in the army was not without a God-consciousness – in fact, it totally reflected a God-consciousness albeit different than that believed by the Charedim. This became more and more evident with the growth of the Hesder movement – army service was more and more seen to be in fulfillment of God’s demands upon His people. Gush Katif was, in a certain way, a case of how secularists confronted this recognition of a devout God-consciousness, albeit it different from the Charedim, within the religious Zionist population. The fact is that this unique God-consciousness of the religious Zionists was already existent albeit that the secularists may have not perceived it or not wanted to perceive it. 

What is now occurring with the issue of the draft for yeshiva students may also be, in certain way, a further reflection of this difference in understanding of God-consciousness – which is now coming more and more into the forefront. In that there are religious Zionists amongst the proponents for change in the draft law, an issue may also be a further enunciation of their understanding of what God wants. The issue in this regard is not the absence or promotion of God-consciousness (the issue for secularists) but rather what this vision of God-consciousness should be. What is now also occurring, on one front, in this present battle over the draft, is a battle over God-consciousness. The religious Zionists are no longer willing to ignore their vision of God-consciousness or to see it as anything less than the Charedi vision. In fact, their belief is that theirs is the optimum manifestation of proper God-consciousness. Hesder is correct; total exemption from the draft is not what God wants. The world is changing. Previously, the secularists were willing to accommodate the Charedim, as a small population, with their God-consciousness. The religious Zionists were also willing to do so for they inherently respected the God-consciousness in the Charedim. Now the religious Zionists may, though, be placing a priority on their own value of God-consciousness.

So, one of the root issues in regard to the yeshiva draft exemption may be the role of God in Jewish nationalism. The secularists have a problem with that role and, while willing to tolerate a little voice of God-consciousness within Israel, are concerned about a more dominant voice. With the growth of the Charedi population, the yeshiva draft exemption can be an issue for them in this regard. There is also, however, another debate over God-consciousness aside from that initiated by the secularists – a question of defining God-consciousness. The yeshiva draft exemption could be an issue in this regard as well; the exemption clearly challenges the religious Zionist view of proper God-consciousness. This question of defining God-consciousness, though, may also not just be an issue within the context of the Charedim and the religious Zionists. What we may be defining as the secular population in Israel may also be dealing with their own issue of God-consciousness. 

While the early non-religious Zionists were secular and wanted no part of religious consciousness within its national vision of Israel, this is not the case anymore. Even amongst the non-religious – or, for a better term, the non-observant or non-Orthodox – there is also a present issue with God-consciousness. It permeates through Jewish identity more than was thought. Yair Lapid, in his address at Kiryat Ono College, basically admitted, in his opinion, that the secular vision of Jewish nationalism had ultimately failed. What secular Zionist leaders, such as his father, failed to understand was the unique God consciousness which permeated the beings of most Jews. In the minds of this majority of Jews, there was always Avinu She'b'shamayim, Our Father in Heaven, Who had a unique relationship with His People, Am Yisrael, the nation of Israel. Regardless of the observance level of any singular Jew, this was part of the general Jewish consciousness of the majority of the people. While it took on many different manifestations, in thought and action, this consciousness was inherent to Jewish identity -- and thus had to be inherent to a Jewish State. As much as the early leaders of secular Zionism may have wanted a country like any other, they could not -- for the people who were forming this country were unlike any other people. They had this unique God consciousness that permeated their very national identity, even in the absence of Orthodox observance. There is now a growing population in Israel, outside of the Charedim and religious Zionists, who are also clamoring for the incorporation of their view of God-consciousness. This may also be affecting the issue of the yeshiva draft exemption – but it is clearly being felt in many aspects of Israeli life beyond that. 

This religious consciousness, in the nation as a whole, is perhaps seen in regard to issues such as those presented by the Women at the Wall. It is also seen in the growth of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel. The demarcations between religious (of this type) and secular are not so clear. This may be related to the fact that secular values and liberal religious values often overlap, Nevertheless, there are different formulations of what is termed religious being promoted throughout the country. The result is a lessening of a respect for the Charedi model especially as the only expression of religious consciousness, of God-consciousness. There may have been a time when secularists tolerated the quaint religion of the Charedim, allowing them, as a small group, in the observance of religion, to be exempted from the draft in the pursuit of their yeshiva studies. Nowadays, though, those being asked to accept the Charedi exemption are no longer just the secularists and these others may have an even stronger force of disagreement with this Charedi stance. Secularists, themselves, may also have problems today due to the Charedi numbers but the real issue in Israel today is this further recognition of God-consciousness in Israel and in Jewish identity in general. The challenge over the draft may be that many different elements in Israel are voicing different perceptions of Jewish God-consciousness, challenging the Charedi perception as the only one or the predominant one. This is extending beyond Orthodoxy.

The Secularists involved in the founding of Israel wanted a State like any other. What they did not recognize was that Jewish national identity was unlike any other national identity. There was inherent, for most Jews, a recognition of a special connection between the nation and Avinu She’b’shamayim. Recognition of this connection is growing in Israel but it is a connection that has many different shades of understanding – and, in our modern world, some not Orthodox. We, in many ways, are now experiencing in Israel, the first stages of how the country will respond to this shift. The further challenge to Orthodoxy will be that this new, open God-consciousness will not necessarily meet the parameters of Orthodoxy. It may also be less tolerant of Orthodox God-consciousness than the pure secularist. Looking on the positive side, one could say that the uniqueness of Jewish nationalism with an inherent God-consciousness is still being more and more enunciated. The reality, though, is that this also has its problems. The question is how to go ahead.

(Note: Within this issue of God-consciousness, I specifically did not deal with sincerity or propriety. What I am trying to identify is a matter of language, thought and/or form. A distinction between Halachic God-consciousness, within the parameters of eilu v’eilu must still be recognized – and my intent is not to place a non-Halachic God-consciousness in the same category as a Halachic one.
I also avoided dealing with the issue of whether some are invoking God to further their agenda or whether they really believe what they are saying. The very fact that these people are invoking a God-consciousness still must be noted.)