Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Passover interview with Rabbi Drukman - Part 1 of 3: The 'Formerly Religious' Phenomenon

"Do everything you can to ensure the future of the people and the country."

Rabbi Haim Drukman established a generation and paved the way for the religious Zionist movement in many areas. Apart from the love of Torah and love of Israel, he has a great message here for today's youth

By Ariel Horowitz – Arutz Sheva, Small World Magazine, 12 Nissan 5775, 01/04/15 (Translation)

Rabbi Drukman at memorial service
for Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, zt"l
This year, as every year, Rabbi Haim Drukman visited the grave of his mentor, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook, on the Mount of Olives on his yortzeit (the Fast of Esther). Thirty years have passed since that rainy day that Rabbi Zvi Yehuda was buried. "I think that his character is sorely missed today," said Rabbi Drukman with sad eyes, "In many situations, I feel that he is missing." How symbolic that three years ago, on his way back home from the Mount of Olives, the rabbi received notification of winning the Israel Prize.

"The real prize is the privilege to contribute to the nation, the state, the Israeli public," says Rabbi Drukman, "When there is official recognition of this enterprise, it certainly adds value."  Rabbi Drukman’s modest words actually allude to several enterprises: his establishment of Bnei Akiva yeshivas in Israel, his many years of work with the Association of Hesder Yeshivot and his position as head of the Israel government’s Conversion Authority. This last role put him in a severe – some would say explosive – conflict with the ultra-Orthodox Haredi world.

In his book-lined study at his home in Merkaz Shapira, a small religious community in the south, just a short walking distance from Yeshivat Bnei Akiva Or Etzion that he founded, Rabbi Drukman sits, learning and teaching, advising students and rabbis, in person and on the phone; Looking down from above is a painting of Rabbi Kook, whose name he mentions during our conversation over and over again. Just before Passover we came to his home to talk to him, to try to understand some of his teachings, and to hear his thoughts on religious Zionism, today's youth and Israeli society.

‘Taking off the hat’


When I ask Rabbi Drukman to recall the religious world that he experienced in his youth, he was not tempted to glorify the past and put down the present. As usual, he is full of gratitude for our situation today. "The situation in the days of my boyhood was far different from the case today. Like [the distance between] heaven and earth. I was once interviewed on a Channel One TV program, and the interviewer said, 'Israel is full of religious education, but it is also full of datlashim - formerly religious people!' I replied: 'Let your ears hear what your mouth is saying: There are also formerly religious people! Decades ago the majority were formerly religious people! You have to understand that just a few decades ago everyone was traveling in just one direction: the off-ramp leaving the path Torah and the Mitzvot.

Boys and girls finished the eighth grade in a religious school, and that was the end of all their connection to Judaism. They were drawn to the big ideas of that era: building the Land, pioneering, Socialism; and it seemed to them that these ideas had nothing to do with the Torah. We would say, 'so-and so has taken off his hat' – because in those days the boys would go with hats, berets, in public. Who ever dreamed that religious youth would go on the street wearing a kipa? How can anyone not see what a revolution took place? Today there is a world of tremendous religious Zionist Torah that is unprecedented! We have an entire population; we have institutions and youth movements. Look at how much value there is in [religious Zionist] education; how effective it is and how much it influences."   

Are ‘formerly religious’ people today leaving religion for the same reasons as before?

"I don’t think so. Today, it is usually the religiously weak youth, those without a strong religious background; boys who went with a kipa but without any commitment to religious Zionist values. If there are internal values, you can stand up to all kinds of crises and difficulties, exposure to other influences and peer pressure. But if there are no values, a religious upbringing will not last. Some people are outraged when formerly religious people are referred to as 'captured babies’ [who never learned Torah]. They claim that that the formerly religious are people with great values who turned to another path after thoroughly investigating [religion]. But no one can convince me this is the reality. [In most cases] it is a weak youth who comes into contact with a particular social group, and finds it difficult to resist the peer pressure; so he allows himself to pulled along in order to fit in. What can you do? It is a sign of lack of character. It is important that we fill our students with substance and develop their character, [so they will have the backbone] to stand on their own."

Do you think that secularization is associated only through one’s encounter with another world, or can is be due to problems in the religious world itself?

"You cannot generalize. In most cases, it is about a weak character who could not cope with the reality around him, but there are also youths who were disappointed with the religious world, so they left. Rabbi Kook, of blessed memory, wrote long ago that people, by mistake, relate to Judaism through those who they see practicing it [rather than for what it really is]. Sometimes someone may encounter a rabbi that disappoints him, and because of it he projects that disappointment onto the values the rabbi ​​seems to represent. One needs to make a distinction between a specific rabbi and whole of the religious world. It is the identification of Judaism with a specific individual that often creates the motivation to become secular."

Go to Part 2: Rabbis and Politics

Go to AFYBA Website

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