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The IDF’s Crisis of Unity

The following is a transcript of Episode 80 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, I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage Project. Major support for For Heaven’s Sake comes from the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation. Our theme for today is the IDF under attack. Not under attack from the outside, but under attack from within. In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and Elana Stein Hain, head of the Beit Midrash of Shalom Hartman Institute North America and senior fellow, and myself discuss a current issue central to Israel in the Jewish world, and then Elana explores how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of an aspect of the issue. Let’s begin. 

The IDF under attack from within is coming at a difficult moment in Israeli society when now there are more terror victims than ever since the second Intifada. This is one of the most deadly periods in Israeli society. And normally when we confront these moments, the source of comfort, the unifying force is the army. But it is precisely at this moment that the army is under attack.

Now, the IDF has long been the most trusted, respected, and beloved of Israeli institutions. It’s confirmed by the polls and also by general public sentiment. 

Israelis, we regard the IDF as an extension of ourselves, of our families, a reflection of the nation’s Zionist ethos and social solidarity repository, a repository of our idealism and willingness to sacrifice for the country. Now, the IDF has not been above controversy. The Yom Kippur war and subsequently the war in Lebanon were just moments where the country was deeply divided by the activities of the army. But nothing quite compares to what we’re experiencing today. The IDF is now under attack from three directions simultaneously. 

First came the movement among thousands of reservists opposed to the government’s judicial plans to suspend their volunteer service. This includes hundreds of reservist pilots and other essential military personnel. Then there’s the concentrated attacks against leading officers of the IDF, in particular those in charge of areas or units within Judea and Samaria, by some within the settler movement and their representatives in the government at Knesset. The attacks, especially following terrorist incidents, accuse the military leadership of being pro-Palestinian, caring more for the well-being of Palestinians and their rights over those of Jews. They accuse the military refusing to bring its might to bear in protection of the settlers in Judea and Samaria. 

And finally, there’s the pending government-sponsored bill that would grant wholesale exemption from service to the Haredi or ultra-Orthodox community, and consequently change the foundational ethos of the IDF as the people’s army. Now we all know that the Haredim have long been exempt from service. However, this law would enshrine that exemption into law, and one of the consequences is that many are now threatening to refuse to serve and to join the army. 

What does this moment mean for Israel’s social solidarity, to say nothing of our ability to defend ourselves? What is the social contract between the IDF and the people of Israel that is being threatened? Who’s at fault here? The government? Right-wing settlers? The reservists? The Haredim? What can we do to repair this? 

I’ve been living in Israel since 1971, I don’t remember this type of internal criticism. The viciousness of the language which is being used. Single officers, whether it is the chief of staff, whether it is the minister of defense, whether it is the commander of Samaria. Yossi, there’s a war against the army. How do you make sense? How do you make sense of it?

Donniel: Well, what’s really unprecedented, Donniel, is that we’re facing a three-front war against the cohesiveness of the army, against even the legitimacy of the army. And as you laid out, that war is being directed from within my camp, from the liberal, from the protest camp, our camp. It’s being directed by the government and the settlers in a very different way. And it’s being directed by the Haredim. And each of these assaults, because that’s really what they are, would be severe in and of themselves. When you bring it together, it feels like the army itself is disintegrating. And I don’t think we’re there yet. I think that that’s an exaggeration, but that’s certainly the feeling that we have here. 

And each of these assaults is obviously coming from a very different place, a different motivation. And so I think we need to look at them, look at each of them in a different way. And maybe for the sake of intellectual honesty, I’ll begin with my own camp. And the unease that I feel, even though I understand why reservists, growing numbers of reservists, are refusing to volunteer—and I’m emphasizing the word volunteer because today, to be a reservist really is to be a volunteer. It’s not the way it was when you and I were in the reserves, Donniel, when it was really obligatory. Today, such a small percentage of the country shows up for reserves that those who do really are volunteers. 

And so what they’re saying, and I understand them, is that we have the right to suspend our volunteerism. But when it’s coming together with these other assaults, and when you think about the dangerous precedent that the suspension of reserve duty is creating, because down the line, we could have a liberal government power and it’ll be the right-wingers will say, we’re not going to follow army laws, the army instructions.

Donniel: It’s like, what happens, Yossi, the army, it’s no longer holy. 

Yossi: The army is no longer holy. 

Donniel: It used to be, the army, there was something holy. You know, you want to demonstrate, you want to disagree, you don’t use your service in the army as a vehicle for demonstration. We try to keep politics outside of the army. We show up. So there’s almost, both, every side, when, if you’re not, if I don’t have to serve and I’m Haredi and that’s, it’s not all, this is not a holy section of Israeli society, if I could, if I could suspend my service it’s not holy. If I could attack officers, it’s not holy

Yossi: Exactly, exactly.

Donniel: Could the army function without, without this holiness? 

Yossi: This is it. Every side is crossing a red line. The government

Donniel: At the same time. 

Yossi: At the same time. The government has crossed a red line, as you noted. Unprecedented, vitriol. It’s not just criticism. We’ve always, as you say, we’ve always had criticism of the army and its functioning. But this is different. This is really—there’s something vicious and personal about going—about government ministers attacking the heads of the army and the Air Force. 

So can the army function without maintaining this aura of holiness, of untouchability, of the last repository of Israeli cohesiveness? Because that’s what the army, we always knew we could depend on the army, not just to win battles, but to maintain the cohesiveness of Israeli society. 

And the truth is, Donniel, that’s been a fiction for many years because 40% or 35% of the country doesn’t serve. I’m talking about the Arab Israelis and the Kharedim. That’s 35% or more.

And so this notion of a people’s army is a kind of fiction. And what’s so painful about this time, but also so important, is that we’re facing lots of fantasies that we’ve lived with all these years. Issues that we didn’t want to face. There are certain inbred incongruities in Israeli society that we are now being forced to confront. And I think this is one of the.

Donniel:  You know, it’s like, we all have our myths, and myths are necessary. We live by them. And I think the myth of the holiness of the army was a critical myth. A, the country needed a sense of its greatest self and a willingness to serve Israel and the Jewish people. That myth also gave you the strength to do the impossible, and that is to send your kid into harm’s way, which as a parent is the most difficult thing you can possibly do. The most difficult thing. That myth was critical. 

One of the reasons, and part of why I’m upset, because I think this myth is a necessary myth, one of the reasons why it’s being attacked is when the center or a left-wing government is in power, and there’s a terrorist attack, there were articles all about this in the newspapers over the last couple of days. The right-wing comes out and calls them a mimshelet damim, a bloody, how would I translate that into English? A bloody government. And you basically say that the cause for the terrorist attacks is this peace-loving, compromising government. But now you have a right, we have a yamin yamin al maleh, a full, full right-wing government. So who are you going to attack? You can’t attack yourself. So now who do we have to attack? You attack the army.

And so I think there’s this confluence of the reservists saying that the army isn’t holy and then allowing the army to be portrayed as some disconnected leftist elite who also aren’t fighting on behalf of the Jewish people against terror. I think the confluence of these two, let’s leave the Haredim out of the story, and I want us to delve into that in a moment. But these two are feeding off of each other. It’s very easy to attack the army when the chief of staff of the army or the heads of the various security forces aren’t willing to come out and declare war against the people who are refusing to serve. because they’ll be cutting the limb off of, or the branch on which they sit. These are their people. 

So there is this politicization of the army. Now there was always politics, but this, like I for that reason by the way, I was against the reservist move. I understand it. I understand someone saying, I bought in to defend a certain type of country. I’m not going to defend a fascist country. But I think we’re not yet a fascist country where, I think it was too, it was a neshek yom hadin, it was a weapon that should have been kept for later on. I think it was used too early. And I think its impact on the whole discourse around the army is very, very negative.

Yossi: The ultimate weapon. The ultimate weapon. You know, Donniel, listening to you and thinking about the holiness of the army and my experience as an immigrant and joining the army was the transformative moment into becoming an Israeli. Or at least that’s what I thought when I was drafted. Later on, when my son was drafted, I realized this is the moment

Donniel: That’s the moment. 

Yossi: When you become an Israeli. 

Donniel: That’s right. 

Yossi: And thinking about the situation today, I don’t have army-age children anymore, and you don’t either. But what if we did, Donniel? How would you feel about entrusting your child to a government of Smotrich, Ben Gvir, Netanyahu, I not only would have sleepless nights, which every parent who sends their child to the army has anyway, I don’t think I would have a moment’s peace during the day either. And I would be so conflicted.

And so there’s something about what’s happened, the consequences of the loss of faith in our leadership, which half the country feels today, judging by the polls, it’s more than half. And that inevitably spills over into the army because the army is a reflection of the society. It’s not like other countries where you have a professional standing army that can continue to exist in some ways in a bubble, independent of what’s happening in the rest of society. We don’t function that way. That’s always been our strength. It’s our weakness.

Donniel: From 6,000 miles away, Elana, with aybe more of a mythic relationship to the army, even though you might have family here who served as well. How does this attack against the army? Because we’re so used to, one of the biggest charities in North America today is Friends of the IDF. It’s one of the most successful, one of the most powerful. The myth of the army is still, at least I imagine that it’s there, maybe it’s not, how does this discussion or hearing it hit you?

Elana: To me, this is completely parallel to the way that American Jews are polarized over anti-Semitism. When you are polarized, the most basic foundation, that which preserves your safety, that used to unify you, is going to become politicized. Literally, I could take out the word army and I could put in sources of anti-Semitism and talk about the American Jewish community arguing, no, this is not anti-Semitism, that’s anti-Semitism. We don’t have to guard against this, we have to guard against that. Your people are doing the wrong thing. You don’t care about Jews. No you don’t care about Jews.

It’s actually uncanny. It falls under the general rubric of things that are considered institutions and above the fray are no longer above the fray. But what I think is so interesting about it is like we think of some of these things, whether it’s defining our safety, you know, to stay away from anti-Semitism and fight it or defining our safety through our army. It’s like that’s the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. That’s like the basics. And then you go above that and go for self, you know, self-fulfillment and achievement and ideals, it’s the reverse. If you don’t have the ideals together, you start attacking the bottom. And it is, it’s kind of horrifying to see, both here and there.

Donniel: Elana, I think the comparison to antisemitism is brilliant. And it is a tragedy. I have to tell you, I do expect that, as an Israeli, that we keep the army outside of this conversation. 

Elana: Easier said than done.

Donniel: It’s not going to happen. And I appreciate it. It’s very, very scary, but I have said this on this podcast many times and it references to what Yossi said. I have never had any discomfort with my children going to the army under a Netanyahu government. I never have. And I still don’t. I trust Netanyahu, I trust Galant, I trust Levi, I trust the leadership of the army. 

Here though, I do know that there can be decisions which are motivated out of certain political considerations, of appearance, causing, let’s do an action. Like, how do we stop it? You can’t stop it. And I’m afraid that soldiers might be put in harm’s way, even though Netanyahu’s record has always been that when push comes to shove, I think he still has a notion of holiness. But unfortunately, it’s interesting. He’s not defending the army. His son, he’s always, he comes out…

Yossi: So what does that, Donniel, what does that tell us about the new Netanyahu?

Donniel: About what?

Yossi: The old Netanyahu would have been front and center defending Herzi Halevi, the commander of the IDF. This Netanyahu is playing politics with the most basic respect for the IDF. We are dealing with a qualitatively different Netanyahu. And this is a good moment to internalize that. He’s not the same guy. And yes, I once would have entrusted my children to the old Netanyahu, to this Netanyahu. He scares me more than any of them in government. 

Donniel: It’s interesting, I still, here, maybe I need the holiness. My Zionism needs that myth. And I still hold on to that notion that, as you said, that our priorities are straight. And that this neighborhood is so dangerous. And that we might play. I feel what’s happening is we’re playing with it. And thinking that we could play with fire and not get burnt. And I think we’re playing with the army in order, in order to deflect attacks against the government, because if who’s failing right now, is it the government? Well, I don’t want to attack myself. So in order to deflect that criticism, you’re but you’re I think you’re playing with fire. And it is it’s a very, very scary moment.

Yossi: But you know, it’s interesting thinking about the politicization of our conversation on terrorism. This is another aspect of what’s gone wrong in the last few years. We never used to blame a government for terrorist attacks. We all understood terrorism is like the weather. Terrorism happens. You deal with it as best you can. Every government tried to deal with terrorism as best it could. with the last government, with the Bennett-Lapid government, when the Netanyahu opposition began making this personal and saying, you are the ones who are causing terror attacks by your left-wing weakness. 

Now there’s the temptation to turn the tables, and certainly this government, in terms of poetic justice, deserves that kind of treatment. But I think, and here I’m really calling on my own camp, we need to restrain ourselves and not return the favor and to really show some national responsibility and not do what they did.

Donniel: You know, before going to the Haredim, which I just one last, again, your comparison to anti-Semitism is really helpful, Elana, because my policy, I hate it when people try to explain why anti-Semitism happens. Like, I don’t take any responsibility for anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is on the anti-Semite. Terrorism is on the terrorist. 

Now, it’s true, there are things that can mitigate. A more powerful and active Palestinian authority has been the primary source of security and the front line of the battle against terror in Judea and Samaria. Weakening of the Palestinian authority has consequences. But all said and done, at the end of the day, it’s not a right-wing government, it’s not a left-wing government, it’s not a settler, it’s not a settlement. Hamas wants us dead. Iran wants us dead and I think it’s critical that we remember that. And not search for the causes in that sense. In that sense it’s not

weather because it’s not natural, Yossi, it’s evil. And the explanation is on the part of the evil person. 

But let’s turn to the Haredim a second. And we’ve spoken about this in the past but it’s not the same anymore. This, let me frame it this way. A Haredi deal would have been passed by any coalition, left, center, or right. With the exception of Lieberman, nobody would object to a deal with the Haredim which would enable their coalition. It’s always been that way. 

Now though, the level of the conversation has changed. It’s like, I feel sorry for the Haredim. It’s like, here it is. They didn’t know that they’re going to push the issue right as the country is, you know, they thought the reform was going to help their draft legislation. And actually, the reform is what’s making it impossible. It’s just a different conversation today. 

People are, this is now a red line for Israelis in a way that it was, it used to be the weather. Haredim don’t serve, they won’t serve. Where it was like, here, you’re gonna say you don’t serve, we’re gonna say you have to serve, and we’re gonna agree not to notice the fact that you don’t serve. Now everybody, it’s just, that game is not being played out anymore, so how do you frame this, Yossi?

Yossi: First of all, Donniel, don’t feel sorry for them. The Haredim are having the time of their lives, they have access to unprecedented budgets, they are taking full advantage of this wave. That’s first of all. Secondly, and related to the first point, it’s true that any government in the past not only would have made a deal with the Haredim on the draft, but did in fact make deals. But the nature of the deal has changed. What the Haredim are demanding now is qualitatively different from any deal that any government has ever agreed to. 

And the new deal that Haredim are insisting on is to formally equate yeshiva students with soldiers, and to enshrine that into a basic law, and to say that it is the right, it is the innate Israeli right of a young Haredi man to learn, and he needs to be treated in all ways as the equivalent of a soldier. Now that is undermining in the most moral sense the notion of a people’s army. That’s the definitive end of the fiction of a people’s army. And like you, I need to hold on to some mythos here. 

Because, and you know, it’s not only us, Donniel. A people needs myths. That’s what sustains a people. And if we give it all up, and we move to these cynical deals, which every poll, by the way, shows 70 to 80% of the country opposes this particular basic law, including a strong majority of Likud voters, if nevertheless the government goes for this, particular deal, then we’re in a post-mythic and cynical Israel.

Donniel: Yossi, you put your finger, I think, on exactly the point. And I think it pays to give a little background for one minute. Why is it that the Haredim are insisting on passing a law which equates the right to study as a basic right in Israeli society, like freedom and democracy, and to see the Haredi soldiers as, ha, Haredi soldiers, to see Haredi yeshiva students as necessary for the security of Israel just like a soldier. Why did they do that? 

Because the way we’ve been dealing with Haredi draft for the last 30, 40 years is just not dealing with it. But over a decade ago, a petition was filed to the Supreme Court saying, that the exemption of the Haredim from the army violates the basic right to human freedom and dignity of the soldiers who are being drafted. And of the families. Why should my son and daughter go to the army and yours not? The supreme court said you can’t do it anymore. You’re not allowed to, if you want to exempt Haridim, you have to pass a law. You can’t say this one goes to the army and this one does not go to the army. 

So precisely, you know, here it is, we have a tradition which recognizes that sometimes you have to go beyond the requirement of the law. But in this case, the basic law of human freedom and dignity did not enable us to say, okay, we have a community that we don’t know what to do with, we have to exempt it, let’s not talk about it. And we all know that the army doesn’t want the Haredim to serve in the first place. So the issue is not whether Haredim should serve, it’s exactly what you said. It’s, I refuse to declare that the yeshiva student has the same mythic significance for Israel as the army soldier does. That is the end of Zionism. And so

Yossi: It’s so interesting, it’s so interesting, Donniel, because Haredim are people of values. They take values very seriously. Haredim take symbolism and metaphor seriously. And so what they’re insisting on here is not just a practical law. There will be practical consequences. which will be very objectionable to most of us, but it’s in essence a symbolic law. And the problem here is that when it comes to the army, we take symbolism no less seriously.

And so what you have here is a profound clash of values. And this can’t be finessed by the old ways of doing Israeli politics as usual, a little manipulation, we’ll throw them a little more money. This is the clash of rock-bottom values. And it’s so interesting, Donniel, because that’s what’s happening in Israeli society generally. What are we really debating about today? What do we mean by a Jewish state and what do we mean by a democratic state? And so now we’re extending that debate over definitions, fundamental definitions. to our relationship with the Haredim. It’s all on the table. That’s what makes this such a painful moment, but also such an essential moment.

Donniel: When the Haredi weren’t Zionists, they would never imagine, why would they ask the country to recognize their importance? Who are you? It’s like, I need your, you’re going to tell me that I’m important? You’re a Zionist reform. Ptuh!

Yossi: Right. Right.

Donniel: I need you to say, but precisely because they’re now Zionists, and they’re mainstream, they want now the country, not to accommodate them, to give them space. They want the country to reaffirm their significance. Now that is a step too far. You wanna not serve, you wanna create exemptions, de facto is no problem. But it’s so, I think it’s a combination of three things. 

As you said, one, or as I said is the fact that the Supreme Court is not allowing the country to come up with, you know, backroom deals, beyond the requirement of the law deals. Two, the Haredim becoming Zionists. And three, what you said, this is the moment when we are fighting for the definition of this country. And the Haredi vote, this issue, is no longer just an issue about whether the Haredim should serve. It’s now a question about what is the nature of our country. And when it comes to the nature of our country, a whole segment of Israel has now stood up and said, woah, woah, woah, I have a voice. And so this confluence is really is quite fascinating. In many ways, just like the myth of the army is being attacked. it’s on the back of the Haredim that the myth is being reconstructed. So there’s an interesting paradox. 

Let’s take a short break and then Elana, within this whole issue, I’m going to ask you to enlighten us, but let’s take a short break.

Donniel: Elana, the floor.

Elana: The zoom room.

Donniel: The microphone. The podcast is yours. 

Elana: So first of all, I gotta say, you know what this whole conversation reminds me of? You know Yehuda Amichai’s poem, Hagibor Ha’amiti, the Real Hero? It’s about the binding of Isaac, and he basically says the real hero of the Isaac story is the ram who gets sacrificed at the end. And like, Abraham went home, Isaac went home, the angel went home. And the Ram was sacrificed. And I think to myself, as the country kind of roils with these arguments about the IDF and who’s doing what and who’s protecting whom, there are people who are just putting themselves in harm’s way day in and day out. And they’re the real heroes as everybody. tempestuously argues around them. So that’s just the first thing that I want to say. And that’s as someone with a nephew in Tzahal right now. 

I also want to say, I don’t want to talk about the Haredi issue much in this piece, because I actually think it’s related more to the kind of theocratic bent of this government. And to redefine a soldier as someone who is studying Torah, I think is just part of, it’s part of a theocratic move and I think that is a worthy conversation, but I can’t take it on with the piece that I want to talk about. 

The piece that I want to talk about is reservists not showing up. And at first, when I saw that reservists decided not to show up for their voluntary piece, I was like, wow, that’s really effective. That’s really smart. And then as I talked to more and more people who have been to the army, whose family’s in the army now, I started to think about it a little bit differently. And the Torah framework that I started to think about is what we would call emergency powers. Hora’at Sha’ah, it’s called. And I want to read what an emergency power is, according to Maimonides. It’s essentially the power to suspend a norm in a moment of urgency. And we have that within our

jurisprudential, within our legal toolbox. We have that. 

So it goes like this. And I think that Maimonides, I think that the Rambam uses an amazing metaphor. It’s in Laws of Rebels, in Mishneh Torah. I mean, you think that Maimonides, when he lived, thought he would be quoted on a podcast 900 years later? Who knows? 

“A court that sees a need to strengthen religion and make a fence around religion to protect it so that the nation will not violate Torah may mete out punishments that are not even in accordance with Jewish law.” 

In other words, a court can decide, look, we don’t have the norms on the books to punish XYZ, but we have to punish XYZ because otherwise society is going to decline. We’re going to have a real problem. But they can’t institute these changes permanently and say that this is the new law. It has to be temporary. And likewise, if they saw fit to temporarily suspend a positive commandment or temporarily allow people to violate a negative commandment, they can do that too if the hour demands it, right? Look, I’m thinking about the reservists who don’t show up. They’re saying like, look, we know what the norm is. We are in a moment of urgency and therefore we’re gonna suspend the norm because we are trying to keep from a worse catastrophe than us not showing up. And the worst catastrophe is democracy not showing up. That’s the worst catastrophe. 

But here’s the metaphor that he uses. He says, just as a doctor might amputate their patient’s arm or leg so that the patient may survive, likewise the court may rule at any time to transgress a few commandments for a short time in order to sustain them all. Just like we say, violate one Sabbath so that the person who you saved by violating one Sabbath can keep many Sabbaths in the future. Now that’s the metaphor, amputating an arm or a leg. 

And when I think about this, I say to myself two things. You brought up the point, Donniel. I don’t think we’re at the point where we’re a fascist state, meaning, when you’re going to put in emergency powers or use an emergency suspension of a norm, you gotta be sure that it’s a real emergency in the deepest sense of the term. But I also wonder, like, even if it is a real emergency in the deepest sense of the term, I think you have to ask yourself, when are you amputating an arm and a leg, and when are you cutting out a heart? 

And I didn’t serve in the Army. My kids didn’t serve in the army. But all I keep hearing from Israelis is that’s cutting out the heart and that’s actually dangerous. And that’s something that I think is worth thinking about, not even for precedent down the road, but it really is what we’re talking about right now. Like, what are we actually, what do we think we’re doing in this moment? Even if it’s for good reason, and to save, right? And it’s not for naught that there are thousands of reservists who wrote counter letters and said, we’re going to serve no matter what.

And I’ll say one more thing, which is, conscientious objection, I think that’s something different. Conscientious objection is, I object morally to what is happening in this action with the Army. That’s not what this is. That’s something else. So those are my initial thoughts about it. They’re not really initial, it’s what I’ve been thinking about. It’s evolved as I speak to people.

Donniel: Thank you, Elana. You know, I would add one other, you know, using the categories that you mentioned. As you said, sometimes the question is, are you cutting an arm or are you cutting a heart? But this hora’at sha’ah, how did you translate that into English?

Elana: I like calling it emergency powers, because that’s what it is. 

Donniel:  Great, the emergency power, it works when you’re the only one who decides what’s the emergency. But what happens in a democracy when each group is going to say, well, this is my emergency. So now this is, you could say, you know, and an argument could be made that the reservists aren’t cutting out the heart. Because the fact is, is that nobody has refused to show up in the army when they’re drafted. The only refusal is to volunteer. And the army, especially with its more exclusive units, demands of them to volunteer to circumvent certain bureaucratic rules pertaining to when a person could be drafted or not. 

So let’s say they’re cutting out an arm. Let’s say it’s not the heart because they’re still going to show up. Nobody has refused, no pilot has refused to fly to Syria to bomb Iranian missles, 

Elana: But who says the heart is only the practical? You are talking about the heart being cut out from the IDF in terms of the way people think about it.

Donniel: That’s also true. 

Elana: It may be the ideal, but you have a question coming. Let’s say it’s just the leg, for argument’s sake. 

Donniel: If you cut off the leg and then you say, OK, it’s not now emergency measures. And then comes a right-wing soldier who under what I hope will be a different government coming and saying, now I want to cut something. And now what happens when you don’t have two legs and two arms. So part of that is also this notion of emergency measures assumes that it’s implemented by the king or by the person in power. Here, the emergency measures are being implemented by the society, but that’s the nature of democracy, the sovereign in a society is the citizen.

Elana: Well, so let’s actually talk about that for a minute, because I think there’s wisdom here to think about what it means to have a centralized body that always makes those decisions. And in a democracy, you might even argue there’s no such thing as that, because even governments turn over. And I do think it’s interesting that, like, just a few, you know, paragraphs later, Maimonides says if you have a court that’s already done a hora’at sha’ah twice, maybe don’t be, he literally says, don’t be so quick to allow it a third time, right? 

Like, meaning I think there’s what to say here about the possibility of even using emergency power if you don’t have a centralized body that’s making the decision in a consistent way and can’t really control what’s gonna come next. But I am ambivalent about it. Like, I am ambivalent about it.

Donniel:  It’s like there’s an emergency ruling. The emergency could be the ruling in a situation which is an emergency. And sometimes the ruling itself is what creates the emergency. Yossi, 

Elana: Correct.

Donniel: Yossi, any last thoughts?

Yossi: I have to tell you both I have enjoyed this conversation enormously. And I didn’t think I would because it’s such a painful and loaded topic. But what I enjoyed was the way we took this emotionally fraught subject and dealt with it in a complex way. And it forced me to rethink certain assumptions. And what I appreciate most about this episode is that we’re leaving things open-ended. And in the overheated atmosphere in Israel today, this is rare and precious. So thank you both.

Donniel: Thank you, Yossi. Thank you, Elana. As always, it’s a pleasure being with you. 

For Heaven’s sake, is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by Davitd Zvi Kalman with support from Michal Taylor. It was edited by Gareth Hobbs at Silversound NYC. Our production manager is M Louis Gordon. Maital Friedman is our vice president of communications and creative. And our music was provided by Socalled.

Major funding for For Heaven’s Sake is provided by the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation of Los Angeles because of our shared commitment to strengthen the connection between Jews in North America and Israel. 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 us online at 

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The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics