Interview with Yoav Sorek-Part IV
Sorek discussed the theological and halakhic implications which are to be the end of the exile in his first big article, “The Torah of Eretz Yisrael and the Torah of the Diaspora (hutz la’aretz),” twelve-and-a-half years ago in the journal “Azure.” He was then a fellow at the Shalem Center, which publishes “Azure,” and this was also his last year at Yeshivat Beit El (and the ninth year in upper-level yeshivot). He didn’t intend for this to be his last one (i.e. year in yeshiva), but his revolutionary articles, among them this article and a booklet on the need for renewal of the Torah, “Return and Establish Them,” caused the heads of the yeshiva to make it clear to him that his place wasn’t there. “I am proud to be among the few of our generation who were thrown out of yeshiva because of ideology,” he smiled.
The article in Azure, he summarizes, “showed how much the halakhah that we experience is pointedly enmeshed to the reality of the people of Israel in exile, and essentially different from the Torah as we encounter it in the Bible and in its foundational essence-and that is how to build an exemplary society that includes God’s presence (shechinah). All of the halakhah that we know is built on the assumption that there is no presence of God in this world, that it has removed itself from it, and now the goal is to preserve the commandments so that one day we can use them. This temporary Torah worked well, and thanks to it the people of Israel survived, and specifically (davka) because of this we aren’t successful in breaking free from it until this day, even though we have arrived at a different place in which it is possible to return to the Torah which actualizes values-this drive also moved secular Zionism.”
From then until the series of articles in the “Shabbat” supplement of Makor Rishon and the programmatic article in Akdamot a number of years passed. “Religious Zionism gave up on the audacity to create a new Jewish way of life,” he wrote in Akdamot. “It lives in spirit and education the Biblical approach, the approach of a people who holds by the covenant with its god and lives it out in history, an approach of belonging to the general human undertaking, an approach of honor to this world and the putting forth of ethical and humane values as the peak of its religious fulfillment, but in actual life and that of the commandments this has no expression.”
It is just in the past two years that you have awakened to an outpouring of writing, to the personal act of taking off your kippah, and to a crystallization of a core group for a movement that will work in this direction. Why did it take such a long time to arrive to the practical stage?
“When I was in yeshiva I tried to build a movement that would promote such a thing, in a sort of naive way, then I understood that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I put it aside and I made my house, and I assumed that if the thing was correct, then somebody bigger than me would succeed in promoting it. During the past few years I thought [about it] again. I saw how religious society just became more haredi, which is in my eyes, is a natural progression of its choice to stay within the halakhic haredi approach, which is Orthodox, exilic, that just ignores the deep changes that have occurred in society, culture, in the way of living, and in the approach of how a person sees themself. I saw that this message needed to be said and since it was not being said I had to say it.”
“Another reason for waiting a long time is that with the years, something changed in who I was. First, I understood that many things that bothered me in halakhah were the result of its dogmatic reading; that many times the problem was not the halakhah, but rather the way in which it was read. Mainly, it became clear to me during the past two years that secularization was an inseparable and essential part of the Zionist process, that the realization of the Torah is to secularize it to some extant, to give to the every day much more space and more meaning.”
Where for instance?
“The working assumption of the religious exilic viewpoint is that work is not important. Your contribution to society in the framework of your work is not a meaningful challenge in your life (except if you are working in something which is considered meaningful or ideological). This is a livelihood and one needs to do the minimum, and the important question is how much do you invest in Torah and mitzvot. At the moment that one returns to the Torah of the Land of Israel, to the will to live out values within life and not to create a ‘religious’ area outside of life, the work world needs to be a value that one is able to compare to other religious values. Then, for example, the afternoon prayer (minchah) will not always take precedence over the important work meeting.”