ORLANDO, Fla.—While socialism, secularism, and radical activists seem ascendant in the U.S., an American-born Israeli rabbi who left America in 2011 argues that Israel rejected these trends and represents a model for his birth country to follow.
Rabbi Tuly Weisz, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who left Ohio for Israel and who founded the news outlet Israel365, sat down with The Daily Signal at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention Monday. He reflected on Israel’s 75-year history and drew lessons for America today.
Israel’s founding fathers essentially worked from scratch when they put together the state in 1948, Weisz explained. “We had to build settlements, we had to drain the swamps, we had to build the roads. And as a result, everyone feels very connected to the land, patriotic or Zionistic,” he said.
Yet the founders also established a form of socialism in the kibbutz movement. Kibbutz means a collective settlement or farm.
“They established these agricultural sort of communes, which were really important because they couldn’t pay people,” Weisz recalled. “They didn’t have enough for everyone. They had to share things and they had to share their shirts—they literally didn’t have enough shirts for all of the different farmers.”
“They would try anything. They just wanted a state where they could live as Jews and not be persecuted,” he explained. “So they were socialists and they were communists,” and “They were not very observant. They were not faithful to God and to the Torah.”
Weisz marveled at how “the second generation of builders” led Israel to become “one of the wealthiest countries in the world” with one of the world’s best armies. He noted that the kibbutzim, the socialist farming villages, still exist but have rejected socialism, and “no one wants to go back to socialism or communism.”
“Who would’ve thought just in such a short amount of time, Israel would’ve been able to accomplish so much?” he said. “At the same time, you have these demographic trends where the secular community in Israel is getting smaller.” Meanwhile, he and his wife have six children, while other “faithful Orthodox Jews” in his community have as many as 15. “So, Israel has one of the highest birth rates of any [developed] First-World country. And as a result, especially the religious community is becoming more and more powerful demographically.”
He noted that the last election propelled “a very religious and a right-wing government” under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “representative of the fact that that’s how the population is shifting.” Yet “the secular, smaller, elite founding generation” is loudly protesting Netanyahu’s government, creating a “turbulent transition period.”
Massive protests have erupted in Israel in recent weeks, as people voice opposition to Netanyahu’s judicial reforms. Weisz described the reforms as an effort to bring Israel’s government “more in line with the U.S. Supreme Court, where you have checks and balances between the departments.” He noted that Israel did not adopt a formal constitution in 1948, in part because many in the religious community said the Hebrew Bible should be Israel’s constitution. He suggested a constitution would help avoid “judicial overreach.”
The rise of conservative Judaism has presented Israel with a new problem, Weisz noted. Many young Jews want Israel to be a Jewish state “first and foremost,” and in the modern world, “there’s no precedent for it.”
“It’s very important to all the Jews in Israel to give equal rights to all of its citizens, no matter if they’re Jewish or Muslim or Christian,” he added. “That’s a very important pillar of Jewish democracy in Israel. Now, at the same time, we have major security issues that no other country in the world has—none.”
“We have terrorists living in our communities,” Weisz noted, referencing real terrorist threats against communities in Israel. Meanwhile, “Iran is working 24 hours a day to try to destabilize and destroy Israel,” not only by working with China and developing its nuclear program, but also by “arming Hezbollah to Israel’s north and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza.”
He blamed the United States’ “vacuum of leadership” under President Joe Biden for the recent deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia brokered by the People’s Republic of China.
Weisz mentioned the story of David Rubin, former mayor of Shiloh and author of “Confronting Radicals: What America Can Learn From Israel.” Palestinian Islamic jihadis shot at Rubin and his son in 2001, nearly killing them. Rubin wrote the book because he saw the Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020 and heard the same talking points that Palestinians use in demonizing Israel.
“He understood that there was a very sinister thread that was tying the radicals in America together with the radicals that he sees in Israel,” Weisz explained. “And so, based on his book, ‘Confronting Radicals,’ we made a documentary on this very topic that I think tries to warn America to wake up and to start confronting the radicals in the streets of the United States.”
The documentary premiers Wednesday at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention.
Weisz also mentioned “The Israel Bible,” a version of the Bible dedicated to the land and people of Israel for which he served as the lead editor. He recalled being in Barnes & Noble and seeing many niche versions of the Bible.
“There’s the ‘American Patriot’s Bible,’ there’s ‘The Golfer’s Bible,’ there’s the red-headed left-hand teenage girl’s bible,” he quipped. “So I asked them, ‘Do you have a bible all about Israel?’ And [the cashier] said, ‘Well, let me check my computer. No, we don’t.’ So that stuck with me for a few years, and I started putting together a commentary about Israel because it pops out almost on every page and certainly in every chapter of the Bible.”
Listen to Weisz’s interview below.
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