Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Adar 5759 - March 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
The Jewish People Does Not Need a Strong Leader
by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

The slogan chosen to lead the Likud's election campaign headed by Binyamin Netanyahu, the incumbent prime minister, raised a hue and cry. "Netanyahu -- A Strong Leader For a Strong Nation" induced a wave of sharp reactions that flooded the country. The Labor Party criticized the slogan with blatant comparisons to fascist governments. One said that this slogan "reminds many of the Third Reich's slogans and offends the hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors." Another said: "In his battle for political survival Netanyahu is awakening fascism."

Israeli newspapers quoted at length academic intellectuals who expressed their acute dissatisfaction with the slogan. A historian in Tel Aviv University commented: "As a person who witnessed the birth of fascism in France and Romania during the thirties, I am truly shaken. This slogan does not belong to a free world. Only the few remaining dictatorships use it. . . . East European dictators of the fifties used such slogans."

Likewise Prof. Zeev Sternhall, an authority on European nationalist movements who lectures at the Hebrew University in Yerushalayim, said: "It is impossible to believe that this message is being used. Before World War II, fascist leaders in France and Italy conveyed this kind of message to the public. They called it the "strong man" image. Ever since that time no one in western Europe has so much as touched this slogan. Even La Pen -- the extremist French nationalist - - did not dare."

It is quite true that many of those who have so staunchly criticized the Likud's campaign slogan cannot be regarded as objective and impartial parties, as people who can open- mindedly judge this slogan. It is no secret that people working for definite political interests -- and who bear Netanyahu considerable ill will -- drafted many of the reactions. Even before the new slogan was formulated these people would have done all they could to try to curb the Rightist block and help the Leftist parties gain headway. Nonetheless, we must admit, that the new slogan's text does contain deplorable elements -- even though it is not necessary to make such extreme and far-reaching analogies.

The fear of using concepts of power in matters of state has been heard many times and in various countries. One does not need to be an expert in political science. It is enough to look into world history to see that there does exist a basis for fear and concern about the impression that aggressive slogans arousing repugnant feelings can make. These slogans are aimed directly at the lowest levels of man's soul.

While secular and non-Jews are concerned about these harmful messages because of their implications, Judaism loathes the style itself.

A Torah-true Jew from early childhood learns that feelings of power are directly contrary to Torah and emunah. Any mistaken feeling of apparent self power serves as a false alternative -- a particularly defective one -- for our pure emunah. For the Jewish people especially, we believe that the success and failure of individuals and the public are determined only by Heaven. Neither a person's physical power nor a nation's nationalist pride will affect its salvation. The yeshu'ah can come only through bettering our spiritual condition.

The Zionist Movement, including all its various parts, challenged the traditional Jewish faith and proclaimed that "We will control our own fate!" It nurtured the worship of power and the longing for a "strong nation" and "strong leadership" that would ensure a "secure" future for the Jewish Nation without having to rely on Divine kindness and without necessitating observance of the Torah. Max Nordau's announcement at the Zionist Congress about the need to establish a New Judaism in the form of a "Judaism of Muscles" was only publicly professing power and physical strength, something quite popular among nationalist leaders and thinkers.

It was not Netanyahu who invented the "fascist style" since anyone who peruses the writings of Zionist Movement leaders (Left as well as Right) will find abundant fascist expressions. Likewise, Netanyahu and his party always represented merely another facet of the Zionist ideology. The fact that United Torah Judaism prefers a political partnership with them does not indicate approval of their improper ideologies. The Likud was preferred merely because they are the lesser of two evils, but not because they are good.

This, of course, is obvious from the special status the army has in Israel. The worship of anyone wearing a military uniform and the adoration every general traditionally receives in Israel, is characteristic of certain regimes in the world. Who knows better than the chareidim that serving or not serving in the IDF is the main secular way of maintaining how to relate to each individual citizen and to every sector of the population. A person's main test whether he is considered a "man" is neither dependent upon his nature, his character traits, nor his talents. The only important factor that counts in some circles is his military service, the stripes and stars he succeeded in pinning onto his uniform. Even the ability to be in charge of civil duties, including economic, political, and social affairs, is measured according to one's capability in the war field.

Stef Wertheimer, a leading businessman, wrote an article in an Israeli economic daily Globus under the title: "Are There No Citizens Living Here Anymore?" in which he pointed to a typical example of the special status retired generals have in Israeli politics. "In a press conference of the Centrist Party, two retired officers (Yitzchak Mordechai, previous Defense Minister and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, until a short time ago Chief of Staff) sat in the middle of the table, and two civilian leaders (past Likud Knesset member Dan Meridor and former Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo) sat at the end. The arrangement of how they sat is symbolic: The heart of the party is military while only the wings are civilian."

Wertheimer asks: "Should only past military leaders be political party heads?" He points out that only in certain countries are soldiers regarded as being fit to lead even in politics. "If we look around us today we will see that our neighbors too have placed past military figures such as Mubarak and Assad as their heads.

"Turkey, however, whose expressed aim is to adopt the European system, does not place retired soldiers as politicians. In the entire modern and enlightened world civilian leaders are placed in such positions."

Here in Israel people determine a person's worth according to a military fixation. "Is war or threat of war the reason for the Likud's survival? And Ehud Barak? He who claims to be more reliable than Netanyahu is himself an old model military figure. Who shall we choose from among the three parties when they are all so similar in their platforms and objectives?"

Dr. Ma'oz Ezriyahu's research work National Rituals (Pulchanei Medinah), published by the Ben Gurion Tradition Center, quotes what the first Prime Minister said in the summer of 5709 (1949) when a discussion was held in the Knesset about the Army Services Law. Ben Gurion used this opportunity to lay before the Knesset his general concept about the army's place and duties in Israeli society and in "building the nation." The basic point in his weltanschauung was that the army is not a negative element, something undesirable but unfortunately necessary that must be tolerated. "We must uproot the erroneous presumption inherited from substandard and backward lands that the army is by nature something stupefying, disgracing, and degenerating . . . Our army must educate, elevate, and promote a healthy society."

No. 287 of the military publication Ma'arachot is dedicated to the question of the relationship between the IDF and Israeli society. Articles appear that deal with the questions: "Is there a danger that the IDF is introducing militarism into our society?"; "Service in the IDF and its contribution to forming the fighter's personality as a citizen"; "Israeli society from the IDF's viewpoint," and many others.

The pamphlet opens with a speech of Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of the State of Israel, in which he defines the IDF as being the "formative institution of the nation!"

"The army," he claims, "will change the nation into a fighting people, a people that can stand erect, a people crowned with bravery. If all the nations have armies that are nothing to be ashamed of, we will build up an army that will be our pride and glory." Further on in the speech he speaks of the IDF as an entity that has "spiritual superiority" (!) and declares that "there is a deep significance to every word said in the name of the IDF."

Prof. Moshe Lisk writes in that issue that "we cannot disregard the influence that `military experience,' acquired in army camps, guard posts, and theaters of battle, exerts on songs, literature, and certainly on the Hebrew language. Our social identity is drawn from our relationship to strength and might, and our connection to using it in certain conditions is a dominating factor in our lives."

Elsewhere in the same issue we find: "Undoubtedly the IDF must train, and does train, to violence. This is not so simple; it creates problems. Continuous violence, during many years and throughout many generations, must leave harmful signs, and the IDF is aware of that."

Adopting foreign ideologies from other nations indeed bequeathed a militaristic approach to the masses: this concept of Ben Gurion's that the army is not "undesirable though necessary" -- something that would have been better if not created since it causes bloodshed and terrible loss -- but something fitting and lofty, something that must be created per se, an element that helps realize exalted ideas of "fashioning the citizen's soul" according to the national spirit.

As mentioned, the feeling of power that guided the Zionist Movement from its founding until this very day, is diametrically opposed to da'as Torah. Maran the Rosh Hayeshiva shlita expressed this view in a letter from Adar 5754, written after the massacre of Arabs in Hebron by Dr. Boruch Goldstein. At that time Maran shlita implied that such acts were inspired by the posul ideologies of Zionism that have penetrated even into the hearts of Jews who wear yarmulkes.

"The feeling of power has implanted itself within us. People think they have power to control other nations. They are unaware of a simple fact that is the basis for the Jewish nation's existence. Dovid Hamelech writes: "Unless Hashem builds the house, they who build it labor in vain; unless Hashem keeps the city, the watchman stays awake in vain" (Tehillim 127:1). All plans are vain and wasteful. How the Redemption will eventually come is a secret that has not been revealed to us. It will, nonetheless, not come through physical strength. We are sure, hope, and are awaiting each day that [the Redemption] will come, and `Yisroel are redeemed only through teshuvah.'"

Physical strength, diplomatic sagacity, national pride, and stubbornly not relenting on security demands -- all cannot guarantee the Jewish Nation's continuation. A secular leader who presents himself as a "strong leader" is using a symbol that has nothing to back it up.

Also, defining the Jewish Nation as a "strong nation" has no basis. The strength and soundness of am Yisroel are not natural and innate characteristics since the nation's security is completely dependent upon its spiritual status. The nation that left Egypt through miracles without any battle with those who persecuted them, the nation that fought Amolek and was successful when the people's eyes and heart were directed to Shomayim, were nonetheless smitten and destroyed when they transgressed Hashem's will.

The power of, "And you shall chase your enemies and they shall fall before you by the sword. And five of you shall chase a hundred and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight. . ." (Vayikro 22:7-8) is based upon, "If you walk in My statutes" (Vayikro 22:3). If, cholila, the Jewish Nation does not fulfill its spiritual destiny, that same apparent "strong nation" will suffer painful defeats, "Until your high and fortified walls come down wherein you trusted" (Devorim 28:53) and until, "And the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase you and they shall flee as fleeing from a sword and they shall flee when none pursue" (Vayikro 26:36) and you "shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth" (Devorim 28:25).

R' Shmuel Di Uzida in his commentary to Eichah called Lechem Dimah explains that before the churban Yerushalayim was endowed with all the means that would have allowed it to withstand the enemy. It had a large population, strategic experts, and impressive fortified walls. Nevertheless, all this did not help them. There was a Divine decree on Yerushalayim -- "Alas she sits in solitude. The city that was great with people has become like a widow" (Eichah 1:1) -- due to the generation's sins. The city that contained great strategic geniuses -- "the greatest among nations" and the military power of Yerushalayim -- "the princess among provinces" -- "has become a tributary."

If only Netanyahu and his colleagues look into the annals of Jewish history, they would understand that a "strong leader" cannot save us, and that there is no reason to feel secure by the perverted definition of the Jewish nation as a "strong nation."

It is a grave mistake if they think that the relaxation in terrorist attacks is because of diplomatic determination and our display of national pride. We do not understand Heaven's ways and how Hashem guides the world. However, one thing is clear: Eretz Yisroel's security is not dependent upon material means or human diplomatic strategy. It is only dependent upon, "And it shall come to pass if you hearken diligently to My commandments" (Devorim 11:13).

If people claim that there has been less terrorism in the last few years because the Likud was in office, it is quite possible that it was because the tremendous kitrug of an actively atheistic government that wanted to uproot Judaism was absent. Perhaps also during these years the political leadership had the zechus of repulsing the attempts to enlist yeshiva students. The improvement of our security condition can also be without any connection to the government having been Rightist but because Torah study has been strengthened throughout Eretz Yisroel.

As mentioned, we do not know Heaven's secrets. No one knows for sure the reasons for what is happening. We only try to evaluate what was the zechus for which the middas harachamim has been stronger than the middas hadin in the last few years. One thing is for sure. It has surely not been because of the "zechus" of a "strong leader" or because of a "strong nation."

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