In the weeks leading up to the elections, my friend and I spent every spare moment campaigning for Meretz. Friday mornings were spent on busy corners in Givat Shmuel in our bright green Meretz shirts handing out flyers and asking people if they are interested in hearing about the party. Given that both of us have clearly visible knitted yarmulkes on our heads, people were interested in our views. They seemed to think my bright orange yarmulke and my bright green shirt clashed. I would like to offer this explanation.
Meretz, Religion, and The Two State Solution
Included in The Meretz platform is the plank dealing with the establishment of a neighboring Palestinian state based on the ’67 borders i.e. The West Bank/Judea and Samaria. This idea is anathema to many in the religious community. How can I, as a religious person, be willing to give up Judea and Samaria? It is not only the birthplace of my religion, but the place my forefathers and foremothers walked and are buried. How could I consider giving this land away?
My religion is filled with nuances, questions, and challenges as I think religion should be, but there are some unwavering tenets in my religious life that I hold dear. The first one is modern orthodoxy’s emphasis on being a light unto the nations (אור לגוים). The second one is a well known quote from Ethics of the Fathers (פרקי אבות): “Be like the students of Aaron: love peace, pursue peace, love all beings, and draw them closer to Torah”.
I pursue peace the way I was taught to by the Torah of my parents. I believe that my foreparents would have been proud to sacrifice Judea and Samaria for the sake of peace.
I base this belief on the narrative in Parshat Vayishlach of Jacob meeting his brother and enemy, Eisav. As a good leader does, Jacob prepared and strategized in anticipation of all situations, but his initial strategy was to placate his brother with an enormous fortune and a kiss on the cheek.
Through this narrative, we see our foreparent’s quality of relinquishing fortunes and dismissing ego for the sake of peace. This is a quality that years later Aaron emulated. I, too, try to embrace these traditional Jewish values.
I don’t mean to say that a true religious Orthodox Jew must vote Meretz or Left. I think that one’s place on the political spectrum doesn’t have to be determined by your religious stance, since both ends of the spectrum can fit into religious Judaism.
Meretz, Religion, Zionism, and Separation between Religion and State
The second plank that seems to alienate the religious community from Meretz is Meretz’s attempt to separate the Israeli government from religion. This includes public transportation and the right for businesses to operate on shabbat as well as marriage outside of traditional orthodoxy.
Why, as a religious Jew, would I want buses or stores to operate on shabbat? Or how could I support gay or civil marriages that are not in accordance with my halacha?
The simple answer is that it’s my halacha, but it’s not everyone’s halacha. I feel absolutely no need for other people to follow Orthodox Judaism and I think no less of people who don’t. On the contrary, it pains me to see non-orthodox or non-religious people resenting the religion I hold dear, because they feel they’re limited or harmed by imposed religious law. I think it’s wrong to impose my religious values on anyone else.
So how does Israel being a Jewish state align with the principal of not imposing your beliefs on other people? That’s not an easy question and one I still haven’t fully answered.
The Jewish state that I am proud of is a state that implements the beautiful Jewish ideals I was brought up with.
What does that mean practically? When we say be a “light unto the nations”, what would that radiant nation look like? It’s a nation that cares for everyone. Jew and non-Jew, gay and straight, religious and non-religious, African or European.
A true Jewish state seeks to bring an end to the suffering of all people. “Never again” is a statement that rings true to me. Never again should there be discrimination based on race, sexuality, gender, economic class, language, or religion. That’s the true Jewish state. A Jewish state is not a state that imposes its religion or religious traditions upon others.
And that is why my Jewish and religious values align with Meretz’s platform. Meretz is fighting for a true Jewish state based on inclusion. A Jewish state with true traditional Jewish values.
Meretz is the only party that is fighting for the Jewish, religious, and Zionist Israel of my dreams. A Jewish state based on the Jewish values of sacrificing for peace and the value of inclusion can truly make Israel a brighter light unto the nations.