The Religious Community’s Leadership Problem
Due to our two thousand years of exile, we have become estranged from those studies which relate to the issue of leadership. During that period, Jewish community leaders learned how to employ “shtadlanut” (persuasive entreatment) when dealing with rulers due to the justified fear that any show of self-dignity was liable to endanger the community. There was no choice. At any rate, this manner of leadership centers on survival, not on developing and carrying out state-level initiatives. It is this ingrained heritage which continues to set the stage for the emergence of leaders from the various sectors of the religious public.
On the other hand, when it comes to family life, religious Jews have a rich tradition and much experience. During the long exile, we acquired a wealth of experience in fostering Jewish families under even very difficult conditions. And, indeed, we find that in practice, the religious tradition is very beneficial to family life in light of all the difficulties and challenges of modern society. Family life in religious circles is more successful than in secular society in all respects.
Thus, in truth, the religious public merits a greater blessing when it comes to building families. However, when it comes to public leadership, we have yet to make any great progress. Secular leaders act more naturally, and they also learn from the experience of the other peoples. Religious Jews are not free to act according to their nature. Neither do they possess an organized and established tradition regarding how to build leadership upon faith and Torah. As a result, most religious leaders know primarily how to deal in mediation, to make declarations and condemnations, or to serve secular leaders.
An Intermediate Conclusion: Unity
We have to acknowledge this reality, and the resulting conclusion for the time being is that we must strive for the unification of all sectors of the religious public. If we expect more from our own public figures than what they are capable of doing, we will end up being disappointed time and again.
If there would arise leadership capable of presenting a vision and striving to realize it intelligently, with a broad, realistic approach, it would merit support, in the hopes that it succeed in changing the state of things. In practice, however, such leadership does not exist. Therefore, the least we can do is ask the various religious movements and figures to spare us the tension and competition, to unite for the sake of the common goals of all sectors of the religious public.
Such unity must embrace as many sectors of the public as possible. Despite our differences of opinion, we must emphasize our shared interests, for these constitute a majority. We must find an approach which will provide maximum freedom for each sector while at the same time allowing for maximum cooperation on behalf of shared goals. It will be necessary to agree from the outset that there will arise situations in which some Knesset members will leave the coalition and others will remain. All will be obliged to respect one another and to refrain from exaggerated accusations and denunciations.
This will be the first step toward developing a system of leadership according to the Torah.
The Most Severe Problem – Unclear Goals
In addition to our deficiency when it comes to a heritage of leadership, the religious-Zionist public has another problem, one which is more serious: our fundamental goals are not adequately defined. Despite the fact that, in many ways, ours is the best and most balanced sector in the State of Israel, a smokescreen covers all of our goals. The religious-Zionist community identifies with all of the important, Torah-related, national and universal values. We possess a fundamentally positive view of both Torah and academic study, of both Yeshiva students and those who work for a living. We esteem those who devote themselves to the nation and the land via military service, settlement, Aliyah absorption, and the development of industry.
However, the manner in which all these values fit together is not clear. How do we go about combining all of these praiseworthy and important values? What do we do when two ideals conflict? How do we determine which takes precedence? After giving precedence to one ideal, how do we nonetheless manage to allocate authentic expression to the other ideal? These questions have yet to be answered, and in such a state, it is impossible to produce leadership. Leadership needs to have a clear line of approach, and when the goals are not clear, it is impossible to establish leadership.
This matter should not be taken lightly, for the Talmud teaches (Shabbat 119b): Rabbi Yitzack said: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because the small and the great were made equal, for it is said, ‘And it shall be, like people like priest’; which is followed by, ‘The earth shall be utterly emptied’ (Isaiah 24).”
We see, then, that when there is no clear order regarding what is “great” and what is “small,” i.e., which value takes precedence over another, the entire value system crumbles and falls into ruin, and the land is laid waste.
Torah and Science
Let us consider, for example, the relationship between Torah and the sciences. Generally speaking, all students of Torah ought to take a positive approach to the study of science, as explained in the Talmud (Shabat 85a). The Sages even enacted a blessing to be recited when one sees an outstanding non-Jewish scholar: “Blessed are You O Lord . . . Who has given from His wisdom to human beings.” The various sciences, then, are considered God’s wisdom (see Maharal, “Netiv HaTorah”, chpt. 14). And the Vilna Gaon says that whoever lacks a portion of the secular sciences lacks a hundred portions of the Torah.
All the same, it goes without saying that Torah wisdom is preeminent and superior to all other wisdoms.
Here the question arises: On a practical level, what sort of relationship ought to exist between Torah and science? Should a person begin studying sciences only after he has finished all of his Torah studies? That is, at the age of about 700? Or should the student begin combining secular studies with religious studies while still young? And just how much should be incorporated? Perhaps this depends upon the character of the individual? How do we determine this?
In practice, because these matters have not been clarified, a deep rift divides the Yeshiva world and academia, each side pulling with all of its might in its own direction. This tension gives rise to strong reciprocal criticism. However, if the two sides would sit down and calmly discuss the problem, they would most certainly agree that both the Yeshiva and academia are of great value. However, it must be pointed out that compromise is not the key to solving the essential problem. Profound clarification is called for in order to combine Torah and science in an ideal manner, i.e., in a fruitful way.
As long as we do not carry out such a clarification, it will be very difficult to provide a comprehensive vision for the religious-Zionist public as a whole, a public which is obligated to produce Torah scholars, scientists, businesspeople, professionals, etc. Lacking such a vision, it is impossible to establish a study program which will provide a variety of possibilities for different people. And when both vision and means are absent, it is impossible to produce leadership which will act on behalf of its realization and transmission to the larger public.
Torah and Livelihood
The ideal relationship between Torah study and earning a living also remains a question. Is it best for a person to study in a ‘kolel’ (Yeshiva for married men) his entire life, as some Haredi rabbis advise? Or is such behavior forbidden in light of the ruling of the Rambam. Should a Jew make do with as little as possible, leading a life of poverty and dedicating most of his time to Torah study? Or is there value in the fact that a person spends a lot of time at work and becomes wealthy?
This issue has not yet been solved, and there are many who vacillate: on the one hand, they admire and praise the dedication of one who does not work for a living at all but lives off of a ‘kolel’ stipend his entire life; yet, at the same time, they are angered by such a person and say that, in light of the Rambam’s ruling, he desecrates the Name of God. It is difficult to educate youth according to such an approach, and even more so, to lead a public and provide an ideal example of Jewish life.
The same goes for the relationship between Judaism and democracy; Torah justice and the law of the state; Yeshiva study and army service; and many other issues. And, again, when such issues are not sufficiently clarified, it is impossible to establish a position and struggle on its behalf.
Leadership must set up clear goals and press forward to fulfill them. We do not have leaders because we do not have clear goals, and we do not have clear goals because we lack able leadership. Presently, we must work toward developing a system of leadership and clarifying the foundations of our outlook.