Thoughts on Beit Shemesh

by Rabbi Daniel R. Allen

We play dreidel in America with the letters forming the words a great miracle happened there – Nes Gadol Haya Sham. In Israel we play the game with the words A great miracle happened here – Nes Gadol Haya Po.

In Beit Shemesh these past days a great miracle has begun to happen which must connect the enlightened Jews both here and there. The rally at Beit Shemesh at the end of Chanukah must become the starting point for a renewed Zionist vision of Israel that is inclusive of all Jews being able to share in the blessings of a secure, democratic Israel with true religious pluralism.

Even while we in chutz l’aretz – outside of Israel (not in exile) – work diligently to support Israel’s legitimate security needs, we must also challenge the Government of Israel to live up to its Declaration of Independence. If written today I am afraid it might have read as follows (additions in parenthesis):

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish (halachic) immigration and for the Ingathering of (certain of) the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants (if they are Jews, preferably ritually observant according to the chief rabbinate); it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel (as long as the prophets are not understood to be liberals or social justice activists); it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion (unless they are Arabs, Bedouins, or some others), race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion (for Jews within the definitions needed to keep a coalition government strong and the chief rabbinate in power), conscience, language, education and culture …

It is time for the Government of Israel to stop being coerced into allowing the chareidi community to choose to be poor and educated [while allowing them] to be anti-nationalists. Ben Gurion’s compromise on army exemptions has spun wildly out of control. The Charedi population – who are mostly non Zionist, who do not believe in Israel as a Jewish state – must no longer be exempt from the opportunity to earn a living by being subsidized and serving the country in some volunteer capacity whether that be the army or social services.

It is time to return to the wisdom of Rav Kook. He loved both the yeshiva bochers and the kibbutznikim. He worked to build a society where tolerance of Jewish differences and differentiated ways of life all worked for the rebuilding of the Land of Israel and the State of Israel. The Charedi no longer are part of the Kook equation. They are outside the acceptable parameters of a modern Jewish democratic society which was envisioned in the Israel Declaration of Independence.

We have the responsibility and obligation to support Israel’s security needs while fighting for its spiritual soul. We take seriously the words of Rab Kook “What is old you will make new and what is new you will make holy”.

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is Executive Director of ARZA.