Commentary Magazine


Anti-Orthodox Prejudice?

To the editor:

The article on Ralbbi Kuk (“Rav Kuk’s Path to Peace Within Israel,” March), zecher tsedek le-vrocha, was very much worth reading, though I could wish it had drawn more heavily on the Rav’s own books. The description of the demonstration against the Women’s Mobilization Bill provokes a number of questions, some of them directly connected with Rav Kuk.

Has the author evidence that any group in Israel, Orthodox or not, raised a white flag of surrender to the Arabs by preference, and not by necessity? . . .

Is the author quite certain that all Yeshiva students—he goes further and includes all those who brought “Certificates of Orthodoxy”: what is a Certificate of Orthodoxy?—were exempted from all military service in the War of Liberation? I was there during part of that war (was the author?) and I saw both students and faculty members of Yeshivas under arms; perhaps they were volunteers. The Second World War was certainly as important as the Israeli War of Liberation, yet the United States exempted all clergymen employed as such, and all theological students. Are we now to spit on all who took advantage of their exemption? (Did the author?)

Is the author familiar with Rav Kuk’s attitude on conscription of clergy and theological students when he was Principal Rabbi of the Machzikei Ha-Daath community in London during the First World War? Does he not know that Rav Kuk did exactly the same as he implies the Chief Rabbi of Israel did during the Israeli conflict?

Does the author care to tell us the name of the “Orthodox delegate” to the Knesset whom he accuses of organizing the demonstration? If there is evidence—the real, not the McCarthy kind—let us have it.

I bitterly regret that so many rabbis in Israel have turned politician. When one sees how absolutely without influence Rabbi Kuk has been, alive or dead, upon the anti-religious people he loved, and who loved him yet nevertheless ignored all the religious principles he stood for, one understands the emergence of the political rabbi. Love is not enough, it seems.

Everything the author says about the matter of anti-Orthodox prejudice makes quite clear what I have sensed from the beginning: that the program to draft religious women is not based upon security needs, but upon a desire to hit back at the Orthodox community and to visit the real or fancied sins of the brothers upon the sisters, and by so doing to expand further the influence of the “alufei Edom” with the aim of bringing every section of the community under the absolute domination of the Secular Ethic.

A. A. Davidson
Los Angeles, California

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Rabbi Weiner writes:

I fear that the tone of Mr. Davidson’s letter reveals more about the nature of Israel’s problems than the actual questions he asks.

May I point out that my article did not attempt to judge the complaints issued by one side against the other, but to describe them. Nor was it so much an indictment of Orthodoxy as an effort to reveal something of the greatness of true Orthodoxy through the ideas and personalities of Rav Kuk and his son. Least of all did it cast any reflection either on the courage of the religious youth who fought in the war, or upon those who clung to their Yeshiva studies out of genuine religious conviction.

Now as to the questions. The incident of the “raising of the white flag” occurred during the most crucial period of the Jerusalem siege. A group of the Neturei Karta from the “Hungarian House” section of Jerusalem started marching towards the Arabs with a white flag but were stopped by Israeli soldiers. They were under no greater necessity to surrender than any other section of Jerusalem. The full details of the event can be secured from Israeli government sources, or, for that matter, from almost any resident of Jerusalem.

Regarding the religious exemptions, may I quote from Isaiah Leibowitz, an Orthodox religious thinker in Israel (B’terem magazine): “The battle for Jerusalem was at its height. . . . At this critical juncture the students of the Torah firmly insisted upon their right not to be drafted and to take no part in the fighting. Their right to exemption was confirmed by the National Administration which had been set up by the Jewish authorities and, when it came into being, by the Provisional Government. . . . The recruiting committees had to deal with hundreds of sons, sons-in-law, nephews, pupils and servants of rabbis and heads of Yeshivahs, all armed with certificates signed by their fathers, uncles, etc., attesting to their being Yeshiva students and therefore exempt from enlistment. . . .”

Dr. Leibowitz later points out that a large number of Yeshiva students did join the army, fought gallantly, and some of them made the supreme sacrifice; but they were volunteers.

As regards the question of exemption of religious students from war service, the article at no point claims that such religious exemptions are unjustified. However, during the battle for Jerusalem, Zvi Yehuda Kuk issued a statement that “every man in Israel with all his personal and bodily possessions is obligated to observe the commandment of the protection of life.”

Lastly, as regards the “organization” of the women’s demonstration, even the extreme Orthodox groups in Israel do not claim that the well-directed march of the women or the carefully planned demonstrations and parades that took place at that time were spontaneous demonstrations, or revolts against the will of their leadership in the Knesset.

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The final insinuation of the letter is absurd. Surely one can understand that parents whose daughters fell on the field of battle, or are today serving in posts of danger, may resent the exemption of Orthodox girls not only from the army but from any type of national service, without being anti-religious. Mr. Davidson’s parenthetical questions aimed at me are, of course, completely irrelevant. But let me satisfy his curiosity: I did happen to surrender my exemption as a rabbinical student to enter active service during the war.

I still think that the case for Orthodoxy in Israel is better stated by Rav Kuk and his son than by this zealous defender of the Law, who, convinced that “love is not enough,” evidently thinks that a measure of choler will help matters.

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