Tommy Lapid has thrown down the gauntlet to the chareidi world. Referring to the fact that little more than a month ago all the chareidi parties voted in the Knesset against Prime Minister Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan and today those same parties stand poised to enter Sharon’s coalition, Lapid said last week, "Apparently, for 290 million shekels, the gods of Israel can change their minds."
On one level, Lapid does not have a case, and his comments are nothing but a continuation of the anti-chareidi electioneering that began with Shinui’s exit from the coalition over the promise of 290 million shekels to chareidi educational institutions.
At the time of the earlier Knesset vote, no Torah leader, with the exception of Shas leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, explained the vote against the disengagement plan as based on a halachic prohibition. A number of chareidi Knesset members explicitly noted that the vote was taken with full recognition that Sharon had the votes he needed, and in the meantime he deserved no prizes from the chareidi community.
The Torah leaders of the chareidi world have shown that they are perfectly capable of refusing huge financial blandishments in return for political support where matters of principle are involved. A classic example is Rav Schach’s, æö"ì, refusal to allow Degel HaTorah to join a Rabin government with Shulamit Aloni as Minister of Education. It would have been easy to justify joining on the grounds that the funding being offered was vitally needed, and, in any event, there was little that Aloni could do to further reduce the Jewish content in Israeli public education. But Rav Schach refused to countenance the transfer of control over the education of Jewish children to an outspoken hater of Torah.
Nevertheless, Lapid’s cynical implication that the Torah world can be purchased for a few hundred million shekels will resonate widely with the Israeli public, even among supporters of the withdrawal. Even worse, one can hear more than a few cynics on the chareidi street saying the same thing.
And that is why it is crucial that our representatives in the Knesset explain any decision to enter the government in the clearest possible terms. For nothing could be more inimical to kavod Shomayim than the view that Torah values are for sale.
Not long ago, the posek hador Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was quoted in the Mishpacha newspaper as saying that the decision on the Gaza withdrawal involved issues of pikuach nefesh, and therefore could not be made contingent on budgetary negotiations of any kind. The task of the chareidi MKs is to show that nothing has changed in this regard.
None of this is to imply that financial considerations are irrelevant to the upcoming coalition negotiations. The chareidi public in Eretz Yisrael faces an economic crisis due to the combination of cuts to chareidi educational institutions and drastic reductions in social welfare payments. Restoring some of those cuts to educational institutions and preventing further draconian slashes in welfare payments are obviously crucial goals for those charged with responsibility for safeguarding the viability of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. These considerations are not divorced from security issues: It is fundamental to our world view that the ultimate security of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael depends on the strength of Torah learning.
The security dangers of the Gaza withdrawal are obvious: unilateral withdrawal will encourage the Palestinian belief in the efficacy of terror; Gaza could well become a base for far more dangerous weaponry capable of reaching the heart of Israel; retaking Gaza, in the event that it becomes a launching pad for more lethal missile attacks, will be vastly complicated given the presence there of British and other European troops presently contemplated.
Still, it is quite possible that the gedolei Yisrael view these immediate dangers as offset by the long-term danger of doing nothing. If Israel seeks to hold on to all its present territory it may one day become a pariah state, as South Africa once was. At least one gadol has told me that he finds this argument compelling.
It is also possible that the gedolei Torah have deferred on security issues to Prime Minister Sharon, who knows a thing or two about military matters. And they may share his view that the present constellation of forces, with a favorably disposed administration in Washington, offers the best chance of imposing a long-term interim solution on terms favorable to Israel.
Finally, it is possible that the gedolim view the majority of the Jews of Israel as supportive of Gaza withdrawal, and are loathe to thwart the majority will on matters touching on security judgments. That reluctance reflects the vulnerability of the chareidi community to the charge that it has no right to exercise the crucial voice in security matters when its children will not bear the consequences in the form of regular army service.
Some combination of these factors, or others yet uncontemplated may explain a decision to enter the coalition. But whatever the case, our MKs have before them the crucial task of explaining to both their constituents and the larger public the basis upon which our Torah leaders have decided. Kavod HaTorah demands no less.