By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
As a religious Jew I believe – nay, I claim to know – that there’s more to human existence than rationality. As a liberal Jew I also claim to know that authentic Judaism must never be less than rational.
Rationality has made Israel to what it has become in the realm of science, technology, human discourse and much else. The Hebrew University in Jerusalem even has an institute for rationality; several of its fellows have received the Nobel Prize.
One of the areas where, alas, rationality doesn’t have the last word in Israel is in education. That’s why the ultra-Orthodox who, because of the high birth rate are a big part of the Israeli educational system, can claim that the men who study in their yeshivot and refuse to do military service contribute more to the security of Israel than the country’s defense forces. One can perceive the religious sentiments behind statements of this kind, but they’re alarmingly irrational.
The reason why people can get away with such claims is because of the political clout they have. Though the ultra-Orthodox may be less than 10% of the population, the Israeli electoral system gives them great power. Though politics in general tends to be irrational – it appeals to guts more than to brains – Israeli politics is especially so. Thus the strange mixture of great rational sophistication in many areas of life and almost primitive thinking and behaviour in others: e.g., the claims on behalf of the yeshivot.
That’s also why the peace process isn’t going anywhere. Though a rational discourse would conclude that the so-called two-state solution – Israel and Palestine as non-belligerent neighbours – is the best outcome for all concerned, the political forces pull the other way. Those elected to to promote peace are often sabotaging it.
And not only in Israel! The Palestinians are arguably even more imprisoned than Israelis by irrational politics. Thus many Palestinians still insist that somehow they’ll manage to do away with Israel and return to all the land they claim to be theirs and theirs only. That’s why their educational system is infested with venomous irrationality. In comparison, the claims even on behalf of the most extremist yeshivot seem moderate.
However, I find it much more productive to reflect on our own irrationality than pointing fingers at others. The body in Israel that does that most effectively – and saves Israel from self-destruction – is its defense establishment. Thus in response to the current wave of Palestinian terrorism, the armed forces seem to have a sober way of assessing the situation and are determined to neutralize hysterical demands by politicians.
If despite the at times grim prospects most of us who live in Israel remain calm and hopeful it’s because we trust the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
(One instance currently in the news: Russian war planes are in Syria. Occasionally they err into neighbouring air space. Turkey, acting irrationally, got itself in trouble. Israel acting responsibly reportedly ignores such incidents.)
Terrorism is likely to be with us in this region for a long time. The politicians’ uncontrolled rhetoric may continue to fan it in order to gain support from irrational supporters. But as long as the country’s defense is in the hands of rational women and men, we’re likely to be able to go about our daily business in relative security and comfort. God is our protector and the IDF acts as God’s faithful and rational arm.