Annually, when we leyn Parshat Bechukotai, whether as its own Parshat or as twinned with Parshat Behar, my thoughts drift back to concerns regarding Zehut and their party platform advocating separation of religion state. These concerns were further highlighted for me with the video discussion (linked above) on Sunday, 8 May, 2018 between Moshe Feiglin and media expert Barak Moore (with whom I wrote a number of years ago on blogs: http://iris.org.il/blog/, http://www.iris.org.il/israelblog/ owned by a mutual friend).
It seems, at times, that Klal Yisrael tolerates a governance, a so-called “Justice System” (oxymoron) and political entities both new and old, which don’t learn from their disastrous errors of the past, as well as misguided segments of certain sectors of the Am who seemingly, although with differing rationales or self-perceived ideologies, travel yet further away from the Ways of Hashem and the mission of B’nai Yisrael.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” writes on our Parshat Bechukotai (Sefer Vayikra, page 227):
[A]… fundamental idea… may… be rooted in the passage “a Jubilee [Yovel] year shall it be for you, and you shall return every man unto his heritage and every man unto his family you shall return.” (Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 15a)
With the laws of the Yovel year, the Torah informs us that freedom cannot be gained through a complete severance with the past. In order to chart a new course towards the future, the past with all its complexities, must be reckoned with: lessons must be learned, successes valued and failures confronted.
As new political entity, the Zehut party has invoked separation of religion and state for Israel — the nation of the Jews, as bechirot — choice, in what this author views as a benign expression pertaining to observance of Shabbos visa vi the “issue” of transportation.
The Zehut political entity has framed discussion of this “issue” in a Q. and A. handout:
What is your position about public transportation on Shabbos?
“Bechira” [choice] is a value shared by all Jews, from the most religious to the least. It is not the state’s place, nor is it G’d’s desire, that the state force religion. We will provide an atmosphere to encourage people to keep Shabbos, but each community will make its own decisions, and private companies can fulfill those needs.”
Please note the key phrase at the end:
“…and private companies can fulfill those needs.”
This author must express the principle that the term “private companies” in the above context is an oxymoron.
Dictionary.com defines oxymoron as:
Noun. A figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in “cruel kindness” or “to make haste slowly.”.
In other words, the words “private companies” have conflicting meanings. Private, again via
Belonging to some particular person: private property.
Pertaining to or affecting a particular person or a small group of persons; individual; personal: for your private satisfaction.
Confined to or intended only for the persons immediately concerned; confidential
Such private company or companies, in the above context, indicate an organization which either directly or indirectly deals with the public. In short, there seems, in the above context of transporting a public, there is no such thing as a “private company.” Of course, in a “democracy”, in principle no one can force or compel an individual regarding Shabbos observance. But, regarding a company or organization which deals with a public, not just the individual who violates halacha by driving on Shabbos, can one begin to contemplate, to imagine the halachic implications and consequences spiritually, economically of Bitul Shabbos, Chillul Hashem on a company level, or on a communal or national level in Medinat Yisrael — the opening of pandora’s box?
Tanach repeatedly states regarding this or that Melech, that he “did not do what was good in Hashem’s eyes” regarding avodah zora. Can we not make the same equation regarding bitul Shabbos? And how can we not recall the generations of Eastern European Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who, confronted with the religious discrimination of the time in the workplace regarding Shabbos, failed Hashem’s test by forsaking Shabbos (painfully at first) for want of parnossa? How can we forget all of the subsequent backsliding which has affected subsequent generations of Jews which grew out of Bitul Shabbos?
In a nation of the Jews, we are defined, both in Shemayim and in the eyes of the world by our adherence to Torah, to Halacha and there is no other aspect of Yiddishkeit which so defines a Jew as the keeping of Shabbos, and thus it seems clear to this author that Shabbos, as with no other Halacha or Mitzvah can not be treated benignly or subject to so-called “separation of religion and state.” This author has expressed often in the past that Shabbos is either the embarkation point for coming closer to Hashem, or the disembarkation point distancing one from Hashem.
And where does this pandora’s box of separation of religion and state and resultant mass desecration of Shabbos lead? Compelled work on Shabbos by increasing numbers of companies, civil and mixed marriage, same-genderism, negation of Rabbinic, halachic authority for State civil courts and much more — the ultimate loss of both our heritage and our lineage as Jews.
So how does a political entity, how do we justify, how does Hashem justify a Jewish Sovereignty over Har HaBayit, Ma’arat HaMachpela and all of, or any part of Eretz Yisrael without Shabbos observance? How do we justify ourselves to Hashem, as with the two bloods of Pesach?
Will this political entity lose more support than it will gain due to its principle of separation of religion and state?
To return to Rabbi Shmuel Goldin and his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” on our Parshat Bechukotai (Sefer Vaykra, page 227):
The law turns to the Jew who has sold himself into servitude… and forces him to go free. You cannot run away from your past, the Torah insists, you must return to your roots and confront your failure. Likewise, the Torah instructs the property owner who has sold his cherished heritage, again due to poverty: Learn from any errors that you may have made, so that you will succeed tomorrow.
….A healthy respect for that past is the best insurance for the future.
It seems to me that R’ Goldin’s points regarding Yovel and remembering the past can similarly be applied regarding past and present Bitul Shabbos and other Halachic issues regarding the principle of separation of religion and state.
This brings us to a discussion of “Bechira” in that Q. and A. handout cited above which deals with separation of religion and state in the context of Libertarianism: minimalist government.
As I’ve understood, one could say that Torah has Libertarian characteristics in terms of minimization of governmental control and regulation the economy, internal affairs, individual privacy, etc. — so long as none of the areas mentioned and more conflict with Halacha. As I’ve understood, Torah outlines the main functions of the Melech, or head of state of a Medinat Yisrael as to set an example as to how Am Yisrael should emulate Hashem in its Land, Eretz Yisrael and to lead the nation in time of war.
But, as far as religious questions are concerned, upholding Torah, in all of its Halachic aspects, is critical to the continued cohesion of Am Yisrael and Judaism. And there is at least one precedent for the coalescence of religion and state: the reign of Yoshiahu HaMelech during a period of a great Teshuvah movement, Shotrim would enter people’s homes in search of avodah zora. Unfortunately, many skirted notice by the Shotrim by hiding their avodah zora between sliding doors.
Moshe Feiglin and Barak Moore spoke at length about the benefits of Libertarian governance in context of Zehut’s platform. Almost all of the benefits of such governance are worthwhile. But, in my humble opinion, they err in seeming to present their program to the electorate as promises, as immediate changes which, should Zehut gain mandate to form a government or should they gain sufficient strength in an election to be a “king-maker”, they would have raised voter expectations to such an extent that they could be hard-pressed for a substantial period of time to actually fulfill the promises of their program. They would then fall victim to a powerful, but vicious, vindictive leftist in-bred print and electronic media which anyway opposes them from jump-street.
Such platform planks as education vouchers giving parents and students educational choices, institution of an all-volunteer IDF or ending government subsidies to Yeshivot thereby making the constituents of each sector responsible for their own institutions all may be worthy concepts, if they are promoted to the electorate as goals to be worked step-by-step, rather than as immediate quick-fixes.
It is crucial to take to heart that old adage, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” — change, derech hateva, can’t happen instantly. Change requires a step-by-step process. Yes, the Israeli swamp must be drained. But to do so requires diligent, continual Torah-pure, untainted efforts, step-by-step mixed with cunning; L’Sheim Shemayim.
President Trump has shown us that draining a swamp is NOT a simple “one, two, six” process. Stated another way, achievement of the goals, as set forth in Zehut’s platform requires those who would be deemed government leaders and members of Knesset charged with working to bring the platform goals to fruition need be totally clean, free of even a hint of possible corruption or scandal, yet as cunning as Yaakov Avinu in his dealing with Lavan. For reaching worthy goals and establishing a Torah-based Libertarian governance is a process fraught with confronting opposition at every turn who are in fear for their long-entrenched “kingdoms” and financial gravy-trains and are set and determined to take down anyone who threatens their status quo.
IY’H, with the eventual achievement of platform goals, sectorial rivalries and hatreds would eventually vanish, evolving into true Yahdut among Am Yisrael, with mutual disdain between secular and religious no longer existing, i.e. that there will no longer be a concept, in the State of Jews, of separation of religion and state.
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.