The community known as “national religious” (dati leumi) has been undergoing many changes over the past 30 or so years. This community, largely congruent with the religious Zionist movement, prides itself for having a “mixed community.” This means that men and women are not completely shielded from one another. However, over the years, a disconnect has been forming between the leadership and the members of the community. It has become more en vogue to be “more religious.” Bnei Akiva used to be an a priori desegregated youth group. Now, it is more prestigious in many places for a Bnei Akiva branch to be segregated. Group activities in such places are conducted for boys and girls separately. These communities usually also have segregated schools, as well, and not for pedagogical reasons.
In recent years, this trend has manifested itself in yet another way – the surge of Torani schools. This labeling carries with it yet more coercion. When such a school surfaces (usually by way of converting a Mamlachti Dati school), boys and girls are forceably segregated, and a community who had thought of itself as a dati leumi, wakes up and sees it has become hardal. Members of the community are afraid to speak up, for fear of public censure, for being seen as not religious enough.
Efrat Shapira-Rosenberg has written about such an experience, of waking up and finding she is suddenly “not religious enough.” (Hebrew) “The prevalent position in the dati community today is that torani people are the serious ones… Someone needs to get up, stop the flow, stop the inferiority feelings and the apologetics, and to stand proudly for what we are, and in what we believe.”
Much has been made in recent years of the fact that members of this community have taken up so many key leadership positions in the army, that so many serve in elite units, and so many volunteer and go to officers’ school. This community, however, is eating itself from the inside out. A move towards stringency is not always a good thing, andif you are strong in your beliefs, moving to the right does not make you stronger in those same beliefs.
People who do believe that being torani is good have every right to hold these beliefs. However, much more is happening here. New communities are not being founded on the basis of this ideology. Established communities are being told they are not truly religious, and being forced to change, against the will of most. The consequences of this coercion are manifold. At the very least, when the children in these places will see one thing at home, and learn another in school, many more will choose to just leave everything behind.
The religious Zionist community is an important part of Israel. However, sometimes the self-proclaimed leaders, “the Rabbis”, don’t always know best. Very often, in fact. As the Rabbi of my community once said, if we all listened to the Rabbis, there would be no State of Israel today. So if “the Rabbis” do not stand down, there will soon be a lot of people who are without a community, and the happily torani community will bear more than a passing resemblence to simply haredim who do serve in the army.