Religious-Zionist rabbis should stop impeding peace

Until two weeks ago, some of my religious friends and neighbors assured me that the continuing drought was a punishment for giving up parts of the Land of Israel.

So when the rains finally appeared, I thought I could use a bit of one-upmanship and determine, once and for all, that the downpour was due to meteorological, not divine, reasons.

But I was told, by the same people, that given the advanced stage of the Israel-Syria talks and the withdrawal from further parts of the West Bank, the heavens were crying for the lost territory — and that when the heavens cry, there are floods.

After all, they argued, who had ever heard of 5.2 inches of rain in one day in Tel Aviv? The poor people whose houses in South Tel Aviv were flooded were the true victims of the government's policies.

At the same time, a group of rabbis affiliated with the National Religious Party and headed by former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira made a formal declaration that the Golan is a part of the Land of Israel and that it is forbidden under Jewish law to withdraw from such territory once it is under Jewish rule. This dubious religious declaration used terms similar to those in many previous statements by the same group about the West Bank.

One of the saddest things about the continued use of such arguments is that the number of religious Israelis who care about the rulings of the religious-Zionist rabbinate is shrinking. Far more adhere to the rulings of the haredi, or fervently religious, rabbis in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak and/or to the statements of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who commands almost total obedience within that religious world.

None of these haredi or Sephardi rabbis has added his name or signature to the so-called religious rulings forbidding any territorial withdrawal. And an increasing number have made it clear that the cause of peace and the prevention of further loss of life is far more important than a piece of real estate, whatever its historic or religious importance.

Yosef has also announced that before deciding how his hundreds of thousands of adherents should vote in the referendum on the Golan withdrawal, he will consult military experts — from both the right and the left.

Religious-Zionist rabbis will always consult the world's top physicians before they rule on matters of health, yet they rarely consult military authorities on security matters — unless they're certain the authority in question will back up their own views.

So, they will always cite Rehavam Ze'evi or Rafael Eitan, but they will never take into account the views of other former Israel Defense Force chiefs of staff like Prime Minister Ehud Barak or Tourism Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. Nor will they consult the multitude of ex-Israel Defense Force generals who sit around the cabinet table or are party to the negotiation process itself.

In the not-too-distant future, Israel's territorial issues will finally be resolved. The religious-Zionist world, having made this issue the very core of its religion over the past two decades, will suddenly find it has nothing more to protest.

It will find that its raison d'être has vanished and that all other matters of religious and moral concern have been taken over by the other sectors of the religious world — haredi, Sephardi, Conservative or Reform. The former leaders in the attempt to give religious meaning to the modern state of Israel will find themselves relegated to the periphery of religious life.

Perhaps these spiritual leaders should stop making pseudo-theological declarations about the peace process and get back to where they really belong.