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Kahane, Ben-Gvir, and the Religious Right

The following is a transcript of Episode 56 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: My name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. And this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast on the Hartman Institute’s iEngage project. And it’s really nice to be here after the hiatus that we had. 

With this podcast, today, we’re initiating a series of sessions which will do a deep dive into the central issues on the table as Israel approaches what most believe is a critical election for Israel’s future. And what makes this election different is that it’s not about a particular policy, who’s better on economics, or Iran, or which leader will better serve Israel. There’s a general feeling that in many ways, the future of the country is on the table.

And in our podcast, we’re gonna try to really delve into what these issues are, so that as a people we could understand them and hopefully also be able to influence. Today for our subject, we’re gonna deal with the rise of religious fanaticism in Israel and in particular, why now?

Now, in general in each edition, as you all know, of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself discuss a current issue central to Israel in the Jewish world. And then our colleague Elana Stein Hain, director of Hartman faculty in North America explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Let’s begin with the issue of the rise of religious fascism or fanaticism in Israel. Why now?

The shock of this election season is the unprecedented rise of the Israeli far right. With elections less than two months away, polls are showing that the party that calls itself “Religious Zionism,” a coalition of religious ultranationalists and followers of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane could get as many as 13 seats, making it either the third or fourth largest parties in the Knesset and one which is indispensable for any Netanyahu led coalition. 

Long consigned to the periphery of Israeli politics, the anti-democratic far-right is rising. Especially worrying is its growing popularity among young Israeli Jews. And not only Orthodox. The very name the party has chosen for itself, Religious Zionism, reveals its mainstream ambitions. The far right is trying to co-op the proud legacy of one of the most important movements within Zionism. The religious section of that movement. Once this would have been inconceivable. 

In 1984, Meir Kahane was elected to the Knesset on a one man ticket. When Kahane would approach the Knesset podium to speak, the Likud prime minister Yitzchak Shamir, hardly a leftist, led his entire faction in a protest walkout. Yet today, the Likud has accepted Kahane’s heirs as legitimate partners in a future governing coalition. 

What has changed in Israelis society? Why are ideas and figures once considered beyond the pale, suddenly finding political respectability? What happened to the religious Zionist community? Is there something in our teachings that has made this moment possible? And what does all of this mean for the future of Israeli democracy? 

Yossi, Elana. It’s wonderful to be with you. And Elana will join us in a little bit. Yossi. 

Yossi: It’s great to be back with you. 

Donniel: Nice to see with you. Nice to see you. How, here it is. I don’t wanna delve, you know, we’re about to talk about the future of Israeli society, but you’re doing well?

Yossi: Thank God.

Donniel: Did you have a, did you have a, like most Israelis? Did you have a profound vacation outside of Israel?

Yossi: Oh, I suffered tremendously. I was in, I was in Norway in the fjords, and thank God, I came back to the heat wave in the Middle East and a fifth round of elections. I, I, I missed, I missed our, our corner of the world enormously.

Donniel: You missed it, while you were in the fjords, you know,

Yossi: I said, I just can’t wait to get back to, to the Middle East. 

Donniel: Do you, you rem, you know the famous rabbinic saying, um, uh, there were 10 measures of beauty that came down to the world. And nine of them were given to Israel. And many people say here’s proof that the rabbis never traveled.

Yossi: Well, for sure one went to Norway.

Donniel: One went to Norway. 

Yossi: How about you, Donniel, how was, how was your summer?

Donniel: Um, we had a, we had a beautiful summer, um, in Crete. It’s, you know, to our audience, it’s really interesting. Israelis I don’t know. I have a feeling that percentage-wise, we travel outside of Israel, per population than any other, cause wherever I go, there’s always,

Yossi: Oh, abso oh, in, in this remote, it wasn’t even a village. It was a hamlet in, in the fjords. Hebrew. 

Donniel: So it’s anyway, it’s interesting. Part of our love for Israel is our, is our need to recharge by leaving it. 

So now we delve let’s leave the fjords and Greece and Crete and, and the civility of the world. And come to, to look at some of the serious questions that we’re facing, cause it, you know, it’s the new year starting and we’re, there’s a lot on the table. Why now? You know this, like how do you, what’s your take here?

Yossi: Well, first of all, I really like the way you’re framing this in terms of the new year, that what you are really calling for here at the, is cheshbon nefesh, a, a self-reckoning and, um, Ben-Gvir’s rise really requires that. 

So, there are several, let’s say political reasons that I think are important to put on the table and then maybe we can delve more deeply into the spiritual, theological reasons of what’s happened to Judaism in Israel. I know this is something you’ve spoken a lot about, especially over these last months. 

So in one sense, you know, my first reaction to the question, “why now,” is in a way, what took Israeli society so long to validate the extreme right? And I say that in light of what’s happening in Western Europe. There were elections right now in Sweden and a party that was explicitly neo-Nazi in the 1980s, uh, may emerge from these elections as the number two party, as part of the government.

Uh, look at what happened in France and Germany. A few major terror attacks swung the electorate to the right and even farther right. So in one sense, I think, you know, look at Israeli society with all of the pressures we’ve been under and really, what took us so long? So that’s one part of me responding. 

The political triggers, I think for the astonishing rise of Ben Gvir, is first of all, Netanyahu’s, uh, whitewashing, mainstreaming of Ben Gvir and he bears no small responsibility for this, but he’s not the only factor to blame. My sense is from speaking to young Israelis who are voting for Ben Gvir is that the riots last year in Lod had a major impact. The riots were initially triggered by groups of young Arabs, burning synagogues, beating and attempting to lynch Jews on the street, and then followed by counter attempts by Jewish mobs to lynch Arabs. And Ben Gvir, by the way, played a seminal role in whipping up the Jewish, uh, response. 

And, and there’s something ironic though here, Donniel, because this past year was the best year in Arab-Jewish relations in the history of the country. We had our first Arab Jewish government, Monsour Abbas, who we were privileged to host here at the Institute a few months ago, was the first mainstream Arab Israeli leader to say, unequivocally, we accept Israel as a Jewish state, but we also demand that you, the Jewish majority, own Israeli identity as a democratic state, which is exactly the right trade off. And yet the Jewish public seems to have missed that historic moment and is focusing instead on Lod. And looking at Arab Israelis as a fifth column. That’s what Ben Gvir is drawing on. 

And the final, the final piece of this here, which is, I think, significant as well, is that Ben Gvir has succeeded, with the help of much of the mainstream media, in conveying the lie that he’s a different person. And I say the lie, because the other day he was speaking in a high school and he said, you know, when I was 17, I admired Baruch Goldstein. Now I’m 43. Well, three years ago, up until three years ago, he had a picture of Baruch Goldstein, the mass murderer of Chevron, uh, on his living room wall. And yet Ben Gvir has managed to do what leaders of far-right parties in Europe did. 

I don’t know whether he consciously borrowed from their playbook or whether this is just a part of a, a pattern that’s playing out around the world. But Marine Le Pen, for example, has managed to successfully convince much of the French electorate that she’s different from her father. Now she isn’t, but she speaks with a little more of a refined way. Uh, Ben Gvir is careful not to invoke Meir Kahane’s theological racism. 

Kahane’s genius, his mad genius was to create a theology of racism. Ben Gvir has distanced himself from the theology, but taken the rage and that’s, I think, how he’s repackaged himself.

Donniel: Really interesting. I appreciate your political analysis and I accept every one of the points. They sadden me. And the reason why they sadden me is that, my Israel, and when I talk Zionism, I want to be better than. And the fact that it took us a little longer, or that Sweden, Germany, France, like, I hear it. But it’s, 

Yossi: There’s no comfort in it. 

Donniel: There’s no comfort in it. There’s no comfort in us being part of a, of a trend. And I think there is another dimension that I wanna put on the table here. In addition to, it’s not instead of, because I don’t believe it’s by accident that Israel’s far right, or right-wing neo-nationalists are really growing within the religious Zionist community. I don’t think that’s an accident. I don’t think it’s exclusively there. 

They have Haredi supporters, and they also have some secular nationalist supporters, but those would have remained on the fringe. I think Ben Gvir goes from one seat, two seats under the threshold to 10, 11, 12, 13 seats because of a core flaw within religious Zionism.

And here I speak as a religious Jew, as a modern Orthodox Jew. I don’t believe that religious Zionism has ever questioned and really asked, not how you integrate Judaism and politics, but how you integrate Judaism and modernity. And Ben Gvir is riding on a wave of religious ideology which sees modernity as dangerous. And even if early Rav Kook was comfortable with modernity, and they were much more nuanced, once the religious Zionist community began to be connected to the holiness of the land and spoke about the holiness of the land as more significant than anything else, and in which settlements is the ultimate expression of their religiosity, they began to speak in a moral language completely separate from liberal or modern values. 

Kiddushat eretz, the holiness of the land. What are you comparing it to? As a moder, I know about human rights, I know about national rights, I know about morality. Where is this notion about the holiness of the land, the significance of the settling? You created an ideological priority which is alien to modern discourse. 

And in the religious Zionist community, the primary enemy, a colleague of ours, Tomer Persico, wrote this phenomenal article in Haaretz recently in which he says, you know, okay, Ben Gvir is not, he dropped the racist language, but, but some of the core old Kahane language, which sees modernity as dangerous, that sits very well in a religious zionist community, which is religious Zionist and not modern Orthodox. 

And the difference between religious Zionism and modern Orthodox is that modern Orthodox asks, how do I live with a commitment to Torah and a recognition that the modern world has values that I also care about. There’s spectrums every, you know, everybody’s on a spectrum today, but, um, but in the religious Zionist community, the group that he’s reaching, the Smotriches, the community that he’s attracting are a community of people for whom the of human rights, the values of human equality, even freedom of religion, they had to be suppressed under this language of the holiness of the land of Israel. 

And so you have a community which knows that the only way it could defend itself and explain itself would be to disconnect from a certain discourse. And once you’re disconnected from that discourse, then fascism, where us, them, Jew, non-Jew, all that language is natural and there is no place for a corrective. Its growth now in Israel is a symptom of a growing religious Zionist community, which is completely disconnected from modern orthodoxy.

Yossi: I think that’s a fantastic insight and what we’re seeing is a popular revolt inspired by religion against modernity. And you know, we’ve, uh, we’ve talked about this before, as you well know, I come from that world. I come from the Kahane world, when I was a teenager in New York I followed Kahane, and as you were speaking, I, I suddenly realized that what Ben Gvir has done is gone back to the Kahane of America before Kahane came here.

Donniel: Interesting, really interesting.

Yossi: I, I suddenly realized that the Kahane in America, what connected the two Kahanes, the, the American and the Israeli was rage against modernity. How we understood modernity, those of us in the Kahane circle, was that modernity gave us the Holocaust. Now it was only later that I realized the obvious, which is well, modernity also gave us the state of Israel. It also gave us a free diaspora

Donniel: It also gave us democracy.

Yossi: And human rights.

But the revolt against modernity, which spoke so deeply to me and to my generation of children of survivors was rage against the West for having allowed the Holocaust and creating it. Ben Gvir is connecting the dots. And, and you know, when he talks about how he doesn’t care what the world thinks about us, that’s exilic thinking. 

The contempt for the world and for Israel’s place in the world, is deeply Kahanist. And also really anti Zionist because one of the seminal promises of Zionism was to restore us to the international community. And this revolt against modernity that’s erupting in parts of the religious Zionist world is a, in some sense, a response to the Holocaust and really saying you, the world that created the Holocaust, have no moral say on what we do.

Donniel: It’s interesting that the, these are some segments, there is a modern Orthodox segment in the religious Zionist community that, there are about 30% of them, I believe, but especially amongst the Eretz Yisrael ideologues, there’s no way you could explain that to someone outside of your community.

What happens when you have an ideology, which by definition creates a ghetto? That’s what the Haredim, like, you can’t understand me. The Haredim embrace it, they dress, they, here, I’m in my own world. I don’t wanna, it’s very clear that the outside world is, like here, you have a community of people who look as if they’rein the world, function completely within the world, but have an ideology which nobody could understand.

Like when you say yes, kiddushat eretz, the sanctity of the land of Israel, like you could talk and I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience. Now the Jewish community in Hebron has a very talented spokesperson. 

Yossi: Yeah, I know.

Donniel: Fleischer. 

Yossi: Sure.

Donniel: He’s an intelligent man. And he’s a serious man. He just had a talk, beforehand, if you’d go, they’d start talking, like everybody would just like, their eyes would glaze over. Cause they have no idea. You have no way to communicate. 

What happens when you have an ideology which nobody could understand outside of yourself? And by definition, that world is dangerous and you have to protect yourself from it. And part of what you’re protecting is you have to then protect yourself against the Supreme Court, which speaks about rights of Palestinians and you have to, supreme.

Yossi: And which undermines our hold on the land of Israel.

Donniel: Because it’s not the only value in the, it’s like all, all of us,

Yossi: And it’s not even part of their worldview.

Donniel: It’s not part of their worldview. So here it is you. So, and then along comes this fear of the world, which wasn’t a racist one. It had nothing to do. Gush Amunim, the holiness of the land, has nothing to do with racism. It has nothing to do with discrimination. It doesn’t have to be. It’s challenged, but it inherently doesn’t have to be. But once you don’t have a bridge to the world, it’s very easy for someone else who has an ideology of not building a bridge, where Gush Amunim now becomes part of a Neo-nationalist ideology. I know.

My daughter recently married somebody who grew up in Beit El, a settlement in Samaria. And this whole family are very mainstream. They’ve always voted Mafdal.

Yossi: The religious Zionist party. 

Donniel: The religious Zionist party. You know, they lived in Kiryat Shmuel, You know, they were like the classic, this is mainstream, you know?

And now they moved. And now who are they voting for? They’re voting for Tzionut, the religious Zionist party. I said, what about Ben Gvir? They said, okay, they’re religious Zionists and it’s also a lesson for all of us on, beware, does your ideology have these internal correctives? 

And part of what I’m feeling now, and here, I want to go back to some of the ideology that you mentioned and ask you to, to elaborate on it on it more, is when Netanyahu legitimized it. He mainstreamed, not a party, he mainstreamed an us, them, a delegitimization of an outside world. Why, why that’s not Netanyahu, who’s a secular it’s like, where, where

Yossi: It’s not the old Netanyahu. The old Netanyahu wrote a book called, uh, A Place Among the Nations. It was, uh, his first book and came out in the 1990s where he not only attacked the left for its utopian ideas on peace. He attacks the settlement movement. People, people forget this. 

And he said, the settlement movement is detached from the real world. This is Netanyahu writing in the ninetiess. And Netanyahu always prided himself on being first of all, the Israeli who understands America the most, who can convey the Israeli position in fluent English. And who is most successful in connecting us to the rest of the world. 

This incarnation of Netanyahu, who heads a coalition that not only has contempt for what the rest of the world thinks about us, but has no interest or maybe you can put it even more strongly, doesn’t want to be part of the non-Jewish secular world. This is a very different Netanyahu. 

Donniel: So in, in many ways, you know, when we’re looking at this election, I want your feeling about this. And then we’ll turn to Elana.

Here at the Institute, I, I have never adopted a position, and I don’t believe it, that democracy modernity human rights is, um, the inheritance of the left or the center-left. And I always believe that the right, that right wing on issues of security, can have just as strong, a moral commitment to human rights and to democracy as, as someone on the left. 

And that’s not just me being politically correct. Here in Israel, you know, it really is more complicated and the bundling of issues, which you have in so many societies, where if you believe in a, then there’s B, C, D, E, F, G, that you also believe in. If I believe that Abu Mazen doesn’t want peace and therefore I can’t have a two state solution then therefore I also don’t believe that Arabs have rights and I’m not committed to democracy. And I don’t like the Supreme court.

That bundling is so destructive, but part of what’s happened now, and this is what’s really at stake here is that is the political right, which in Israel is not really economic. The issue is to what extent do we believe there is a possibility of some peace initiatives in the future or what is the balance between security and non-security? To what extent is that becoming a position that we also believe that no one could understand us? Is the political right, does it have to be a ghetto? And I think the real challenge of this next election is that we know that if neither side could win, then there’s a chance to redeem the political right from its Ben Gvir move.

Because now Ben Gvir, is still, unlike Sweden, it’s 10, 13. They’re still not, the Likud is not Ben Gvir. But they’re embracing of him, which fits into their same sense that the Supreme Court doesn’t understand us. And they’re attacking Netanyahu. And an us them, when Israeli political rights also become something that the world can’t understand, then we’re in danger of moving from nationalism to ultra-nationalism.

Last thoughts, Yossi?

Yossi: When you say that issues like human rights and democracy shouldn’t belong to the left, I, I think of Menachem Begin. There was no Israeli prime minister who was more democratic in his soul than Begin. Far more democratic instinctively than Ben Gurion, who was a bit authoritarian. And to see the moral decline of the mainstream right, you just have to trace the line from Menachem Begin to Bibi. 

Democracy was once a consensus issue in this country. It was the one issue, Israel is a Jewish state and a democratic state.

Donniel: Do you know the one group it wasn’t a consensus issue on? For the religious Zionists.

Yossi: Okay, 

Donniel: So it’s therefore not by accident,

Yossi: But not the, not the old religious zionists.

Donniel: not, but they still never had a full ideology of it. Cause they spoke about the kingship. It was temporary. So it’s therefore not by accident

Yossi: Right, that it’s coming out of there.

Donniel: that, that this community is moving and what’s so tragic is that it could be moving mainstream Israeli society who also have some of these fears. 

Yossi: When you say that the Likud isn’t Ben Gvir, the new Likud is not necessarily far from Ben Gvir and, uh, Ben Gvir is radicalizing large parts of the land. 

Donniel I, I still believe that they’re not there, but I still wanna believe that it’s political expediency because this is not about a party. This is about the future of the state of Israel.

Um, let’s take a short break and then Elana will join us.

Elana, really nice to see you and to be with you again. How are you feeling?

Elana: Doing pretty well. We had a really wonderful summer it’s um,

Donniel: did you travel outside of America, like we Israelis do? Like did you have to get out?

Elana: Our travel, our traveling outside of America was to Israel. So if that tells you something 

Yossi: You know, you know, Elana, the best argument for making Aliyah is that you don’t have to waste your vacations coming to Israel.

Donniel: But did you travel in America? Was, so traveling in America is at least getting out of New York?

Elana: Well, we did not travel. We’re saving up our travel for actually a trip to London, God willing in November. So we, we we’ll get there. We’ll get there. 

Donniel: We’ll get there, im yirtzah Hashem.

Elana: You know, and right now we’re, we’re paying for camp tuitions. You know what I’m saying? Like it’s, you gotta.

Donniel: Yeah, it’s a whole, yeah. The American universe, you know, and I know you’re in the modern Orthodox the, the economic substructure. I’ve heard you lecture on this it’s really quite fascinating, but, but I don’t wanna deal with your problems. I wanna deal with my problems.

Elana: Great. Great. I’m in, I’m in.

Donniel: I wanna, so it’s like, you know, like the Bette Midler line in, in her movie um Beaches, she says, okay, it’s enough talking about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?

Elana: I love it. I love it. 

Donniel: So here, what do you think, what sense do you make as both an Orthodox Jew and as a lover of Israel with this rise within the religious community, um, how do you make sense of it, Elana?

Elana: Well, can I ask you guys a question first before I get to my Torah? 

Donniel: Sure.

Elana: Because I, I have a question about the relationship between secular Jews and religious Jews in Israel. And do you think that there’s any dynamic there that’s also pushing this? Because I’ve heard some, you know, more doveish, uh, religious Zionists who say, well, honestly, there’s this binary of you’re either a peacenik or you’re religious.

And like, that’s what it is. And it’s actually reinforced by relationships between secular Jews and religious Jews sort of pushing against each other. Do you find that that’s changed and I’m just hearing like one voice, and there there’s not much to it. I’m just curious from the two of you cause you’re you’re so in the issues.

Donniel: Again, if I understand this correctly and I might have a very profound answer for the question you didn’t ask. Um, but that should, that shouldn’t stop me, but, um, why, why should I, let you stop me, but stop me in the middle. 

Is that, it’s not as if the peace camp is secular and the anti peace camp is religious, Eretz Yisrael. The Eretz Yisrael camp has both religious and secular and the fear of a two state solution is dominant across religious and secular lines. Doesn’t make a peace camp, but even, if you look at the Knesset today, with the exception of Meretz and Labor who together make 10 seats, is it, Yossi? 10?

Yossi: Barely. Yeah, 

Donniel: no, 10, 11 seats, like in the 10 seats out of 120. Yair Lapid, um Kachol Lavan, nobody is pushing the two states. So that dichotomy, religious secular, is not as relevant for Israel’s foreign policy as it  used to be.

Yossi: It’s also the old Israel. It’s Israel of the nineties. Israel today is not divided between left and right. It’s right and center. And this dichotomy between peaceniks and supporters of annexation, there is no peace camp anymore for all practical purposes. It’s so marginal. As Donniel said there, they have barely representation in the Knesset.

Elana: Yeah, it’s just making me, I, I really appreciate that, cause it’s making me think about, you know, the question of how much this is about theology and how much is this is about like the Le Pens of the world, but that’s, I guess for a different time, I, that’s kind of where my question is coming from is, you know, is this coming from religion? Is this coming from just a move to the right that’s happening in the world? A reactionary? 

So I’ll keep that on a bike rack, cause I know we’re gonna talk more. But the idea that I wanna put in here is I just wanna put in a characteristic that the rabbis talk about that I just find, it’s abhorrent, and it’s when I’m hearing in terms of the rise in the religious right. 

And it’s funny, I have a son named Azan and the name Azan, ayin zayin nun, it means strong one, essentially like Oz. But there’s another way that that word Oz of strength can be used, which is somebody who is meez panim, somebody who is brazen.

And every day I remember as a kid, you know, when I had more time to say everything in the siddur than I do now, as a parent, I would say, and a full-time working person. I used to say this prayer at the beginning, literally at the beginning of the prayer book, right after the first blessings that was, may it be your will before you, my God and God of my ancestors, that you will save me today and every day from azei panim, people who are brazen, who meazut panim, and from brazenness. 

And brazenness, I, I, the way I wanna explain it is actually the way the rabbis explain it, which is, it’s a lack of shame. You have no shame and there’s actually this comment in the Babylonian Talmud in Zevachim 88B that says that the beautiful gold plate that the high priest would wear on his forehead, it atones for brazenness, assuming that there was brazenness among the people and that Talmudic passage is beautiful because it goes through all of the clothing and says, this one atones for this and this one atones for that.

Assuming that we have all these terrible things among us, because we’re human, like anyone else. And this is derived from the fact they say that, about this golden band, it says, and it will be on Aaron’s forehead. And when it comes to brazenness, there’s a verse in Jeremiah that says you have the forehead, the brazenness of a prostitute, and you have refused to ever be ashamed, Jeremiah 3:3.

There’s this association of, you know, when you see, you know, someone commits a crime and they’re doing the perp walk and there are some people who they cover their faces. Their hand is like near their forehead. And there are other people who walk brazenly, you can see their whole face. Nothing’s covered. Their forehead’s not covered. Their eyes are not covered. They’re not embarrassed about what they are and what they do. 

And chazal, the rabbis, were very, very disturbed by having the characteristics of having no shame of being able to do things that are shameful. And having no shame about them. And in fact, when I hear, you know, I was thinking about the Ben Gvirs and this whole uptick and what I read in the news, the term that keeps coming to mind is azut panim. 

We are talking about abrasiveness that has, I’m gonna go foment violence. I’m not embarrassed about it. I’m gonna go create problems for people. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m gonna say terrible hateful, nasty vitriolic things, and support people who are violent. I’m not ashamed of it. And that is terrifying.

Donniel: Do you know why, Elana? Could I, could I just jump in a second cause I, I, I really appreciate the point. 

Elana: Of course.

Donniel: And the use of the term azut panim, because it connects to one of the points I was making, um, beforehand. And that is that part of the Ben Gvir, or the combination between this ultra-nationalism and religion, which is different than Le Pen-ness alone, is that religion enables you to remove your significant others.

Those who don’t believe with you, you don’t have any external critics. Of course you have no shame because I have no one that I need to be shameful  from. Oh, I, you Universalists who wanna just assimilate us into progressive nothingness and, when religion is there, part of what it does is it removes this external critic, or this other person who, who you have any shame from.

So of course I’m allowed to be brazen. I’ve removed this whole other group. And therefore the combination between Ben Gvir and religious Zionism is producing a unique brazenness that’s impacting on us. 

Elana: It’s wild, cause I, I just, I’m always gonna beat this drum, which is your significant other is supposed to be God. I’m saying God is, you’re supposed to say, what does God think of what I’m doing? And you’re not supposed to think it’s good, if what you’re doing is problematic. And I 

Donniel: But what happens when you control God, Elana? 

Elana: I, it’s a, it’s a fair question.

Donniel: Isn’t that part of the problem? 

Elana: So here’s, here’s my calling card. Okay. The Babylonian Talmud, Beitzah, 25 B. Okay?

Donniel: That’s a great calling card.

Elana: So, it is taught in a Braita, in the name of Rebbe Meir. For what reason was the Torah given to the Jewish people? It is because they are impudent, they are azin. Not cause we’re so good, but because we are brazen in a bad way and Torah is supposed to weaken and humble us.

Yossi: Uh huh. 

Elana: Rabbi Yishmael taught regarding the following verse in Deuteronomy 33, verse two, it talks about, that from God’s right hand, went a fiery law. And he explains it as follows. He says, the blessed holy one said, based on these people’s nature and character, they need to be given a fiery law. They need to be given something that’s gonna take away some of their natural fire and, and push them a little bit. 

The nature of these people is like fire. and were it not for the fact that the Torah was given to the Jewish people who are supposed to be restrained by the Torah? No nation or tongue could withstand them. I mean, this is what I want.

Donniel: And that’s not just what you want. That’s our mission at the Institute. That in many ways, the cultural war over the future of Judaism is whether Judaism is going to be able to teach to control this brazenness or whether Judaism is going to be the catalyst for, which Torah is is gonna emerge is, at this juncture, a critical part of this next election. 

I wanna give you Elana a last, cause I cut you off a last, statement then Yossi, conclude, and then we’ll end. Yes, please, Elana. 

Elana: Yeah no worries. My last, I think my last statement is just gonna be about education because if you’re telling me that Ben Gvir is speaking in high schools, I wanna know who’s teaching Beitza 25B to kids in religious high schools. That’s what I wanna know.

And as an educator, to my mind, this is a process that clearly has been going on for many years. And it’s not just about what’s happening in Knesset. It’s about what’s happening in schools. It’s about what’s happening in homes. And what are people learning. 

Donniel: Amen. Yossi?

Yossi: Yeah. My takeaway from our conversation is that the rise of religious fascism is really a convergence of potent motives. One is rage against terrorism, coalescing, and contempt for modernity and the outside world. And this is a dangerous moment for Israel that needs to be named and confronted.

Donniel: And I want, I wanna come back to Elana as we come to an end, cause what I find so important about what you’re saying, Elana is that it depends on how you define the problem that you’re facing. And you remember when you said, I wasn’t sure whether it, whether it was Le Pen or religion or whatever it is. I don’t know what the motivation is, but we have to know we have to name the problem.

And the problem is not just giving it a name like Neo nationalism or call it whatever you wanna call it. There is a value corruption. Our tradition points to a certain problem. So when you are brazen, when you act brazen, when you don’t have shame,

Yossi: And when you use the tradition to reinforce your brazeness. 

Donniel: To reinforce it, unless of, this is where, where we’re heading in a direction that we don’t wanna head in. 

Um, Yossi and Elana, it was, uh, a month and it was really, I feel like. I really needed you. 

Yossi: It’s great to be back. 

Donniel: And so it’s really back to be with you.

For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman, edited by Gareth Hobbs at Silver Sound NYC. Our production manager is M. Louis Gordon. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit at us online at

We wanna know what you think about the show, you can rate and review us on iTunes, tell more people, discover the show. You can also write to us, oh, by the way, I was just in England and everybody there’s listening to it or everybody who I spoke to, um, I didn’t speak to everyone.

Yossi: Including the king, 

Donniel: Including the king. That’s a shout out to the people I met in England who were phenomenal. Obviously if you listen to the show, you’re phenomenal. You can also write to us [email protected], subscribe to our show in the apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, audible, and everywhere else podcasts are available. 

See you in two weeks and thank you all for listening. And it’s very, very nice to be with all of you again. Shalom.

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