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When I moved to Israel twenty years ago, as an idealistic and wide-eyed charedi yeshivah bachur, I was amazed and horrified at religious Jews who did not vote for United Torah Judaism. After all, Torah is the ultimate guide to everything, right? And the Gedolim are the ultimate guide to the Torah, right? And the UTJ Knesset Members are the ultimate guide to the Gedolim, right? So how could a religious Jew not vote for UTJ?
Ah, the naivete of youth! Unfortunately, looking around at my neighborhood, it appears that a lot of adults suffer from the same naivete. Since many of them apparently read my blog, I thought that I would explain how I evolved.
My chain of logic expressed above came undone in reverse order. The first thing that I realized was that the Knesset Members are most certainly not some sort of perfect conduit to and from the Gedolim. They filter what information reaches the Gedolim, and they make plenty of decisions on their own. Some of them might be fine people; the late Avraham Ravitz comes to mind (and I received a lovely phone call from his wife recently, complimenting me on one of my Jerusalem Post articles). But I'm not particularly confident that others are not the askanim that we all know about, who simply manipulate the Gedolim. Look at how much power Leib Tropper was able to wield! An important Rav in the charedi world told me, a few years back, that this is how UTJ ended up supporting Sharon for the Gaza withdrawal - the Daas Torah that allegedly determines UTJ was simply manipulated by askanim.
The second thing that I realized was that the Gedolim themselves are not the ultimate guide to the Torah. They reflect one very particular and narrow approach to the Torah; that of 21st century charedi ultra-Orthodoxy. As I have explained in my monographs "The Novelty of Orthodoxy" and "The Making of Charedim," this is but one of many approaches to Torah that exist and have existed. Sadly, the charedi Gedolim are largely unaware of other approaches, or in denial of them. And the ultra-Orthodox approach is, in many ways, contrary to Chazal, mesorah and common sense. In particular, of course, the notion of the rest of the country funding mass open-ended kollel while Charedim do not give their children the education or desire to support their families - which is the primary issue for which UTJ exists - is most certainly contrary to Chazal, mesorah and common sense. (This was discussed in a previous post, Not For The Reason You Might Suspect, that was the third most read post on this blog of all time!)
The third thing that I realized is that it is far too simplistic to say that Torah is the ultimate guide for everything. As Ramban states in his commentary to Devarim 6:18, the Torah does not and could not spell out the proper course of action in all situations. Instead, it gives us the basic guidelines and values, and we have to work out the rest for ourselves. In complex situations such as political decisions and national security, there is very little explicit guidance from the Torah; such decisions are affected much more by the values of people. And the notion of "pure Torah values," I discovered, is a myth. Everyone is affected by their surrounding culture; either directly, or by responding to it, or indirectly via learning from rabbinic sources that were themselves influenced by their surrounding culture. The Vilna Gaon accused no less than Rambam of being deeply affected by Greek culture (in which the Gaon was, of course, correct); does anyone seriously think that Rambam had some personal weakness that led him to be influenced, while every other Torah scholar is immune?!
Thus, I realized that voting UTJ was based on a very naive view of Torah, Charedi Gedolim, and how Charedi rabbinic authority functions. They would simply sell out the Land of Israel, even supporting the Left and giving away land, in order to receive the money that they so desperately need because they cannot support themselves, and/or to avoid sharing the burden in being moser nefesh for the nation by serving the army. They've basically said as much recently.
So who should one vote for? Rav Chaim Amsallem and his Am Shalem party seem to have great values, but sadly, they don't seem to be going anywhere. Yesh Atid has some well-meaning people, but I don't trust Yair Lapid one bit, and they are clearly left-leaning. Tzipi Livni? Don't make me laugh. Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak? Don't make me cry.
Likud is a reasonable option, especially with the current makeup of candidates. (Also, I am related to Bibi Netanyahu, by marriage.) However, ultimately, there are grounds for concern that they would succumb to the same weakness to which Sharon succumbed - giving away irretrievable land for temporary international goodwill and useless promises of security. The problem is that, as we have seen, once land is given away, Israel can never defend itself from attacks that are launched from that territory, without being faced with international condemnation that it can't withstand.
So, it's Bayit Yehudi for me. Religious Jews who, unlike charedim, understand that working to support one's family is the normal, traditional and correct way to live. They won't sell out the land for money, and they realize that Israel is destined to "live alone among nations." Sure, the road ahead will be tough; there simply isn't any good solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. But we shall endure, as we always have.