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Making Connections
David Zwiebel

Making Connections

David Zwiebel

"Last week," reported The New York Times four days after Palestinian rioters decided to use Ariel Sharon's pre-Rosh Hashana stroll along the Temple Mount as an excuse to push the Middle East to the brink of war, "Israelis were debating the pros and cons of allowing public buses to run to the beaches on the Sabbath.

"This week, needless to say, they're not."

Perhaps, though, the debates of the previous week were not so irrelevant after all. Those debates centered on a proposal to create what many commentators referred to as a "secular revolution" in Israel through such "innovations" as sanctioning public desecration of the Sabbath and establishing a secular civil alternative to the Rabbinate-controlled institutions of marriage and divorce. It is certainly presumptuous to draw any definitive conclusion, but would it be outlandish for all of us Jews to consider whether there might be some connection between Prime Minister Barak's efforts to radically redefine the religious character of the Jewish State and Chairman Arafat's efforts to radically redefine the physical boundaries of the Jewish State?

A few weeks earlier, in what would have been an unthinkable concession just a short while ago, Israel offered to yield significant portions of Jerusalem to Palestinian control, with nary a thought about the inherent sanctity of the Holy City entering the bargaining equation. Might one perceive some linkage between the negotiating sessions at Camp David and the violent rampages in the City of David?

A few months before that, in a ruling that is currently under appeal, a panel of Israel's Supreme Court authorized provocative non-traditional prayer services at the Western Wall. Might there be some relation between battles to erode what the Jewish religious tradition considers modest behavior at the holiest site on the Jewish map and the battles that forced that site's closing on the holiest days of the Jewish calendar?

The Council of Torah Sages, a group of venerable rabbinic authorities to whom Agudath Israel of America looks for guidance, recently noted in a statement calling on the Jewish community to pray for the security of Jews in Israel and around the world, that "the physical security of our people is based on the well-being of the Jewish soul." One need not be an Agudath Israel constituent to recognize the profound truth of this formula; commentator upon commentator have noted that the identity crisis in modern-day "post-Zionist" Israel presents a clear and present danger to the security and well-being of the State.

For when our enemies perceive weakness in our commitment to the essential Jewish character of the Holy Land, they perceive a concomitant weakness in our desire and ability to make the difficult sacrifices necessary to defend the Holy Land. And when our enemies see the movement to recreate Israel as simply a "nation of all its citizens", and to redefine the "Jewish State" as simply a "democratic state", they see a country that is squandering its historical moorings - and is thus vulnerable in its geographical moorings.

Those who fail to grasp the connection between Israel's physical security and its spiritual well-being are misguided. The rest of us, though, are burdened - with the responsibility to do all that we can in this time of crisis to strengthen the soul of the Jewish people in its land.

We in the Diaspora need to realize that Israel is helped when we help it retain its Jewish essence: when we encourage, not fear, the strong wave of "returnees" to the fullness of the Jewish tradition in Israeli society; when we empower, not bemoan, the proliferation and growth of yeshivot in Israel; when we champion, not decry, the Jewish State's high standards - those of the religious tradition of all Jews - for defining Jewish personal identity. For Israel's safety and her Jewish nature are inextricably intertwined.

Physical siege is a symptom of spiritual malaise; and refuas ha'nefesh (healing of the soul), as we say in the "Mi Sheberach" prayer, goes hand-in-hand with refuas ha'guf, healing of the body.


[David Zwiebel is executive vice president of government and public affairs for Agudath Israel of America]

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