About a half a million Israelis voted for the ‘Religious Zionist’ slate which made the three parties that composed it one of the big winners of the 2022 general election, and now partners in the governing coalition. Daniel Goldman examines one of the parties in that slate, ‘Noam’, the views of its sole MK, Avi Maoz, who has been given real power in the realm of education, and of the party’s guiding influence, Rabbi Tau. As a religious Zionist himself, who does not feel represented by these parties, he argues that Israelis would do well to remember the philosopher Karl Popper’s warning that ‘when a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant.’
Although ‘The Religious Zionist’ party brand sounds like it represents the religious Zionist camp in Israel, it does not. In reality it is a combination of three distinct parties, which together realise a political and religious agenda that many have described as deep or hard right. These parties are: Tekuma, which had previously split from the now somewhat defunct National Religious Party in 1999, now led by Bezalel Smotrich; Otzma Yehudit (li. Jewish Power), led by Itamar Ben Gvir and considered a more pragmatic version of Meir Kahane’s Kach party (banned for its racist policies and violent tactics); and Noam, led by Avi Maoz with an openly anti-LGB and anti-feminist agenda. Noam, the smallest of the three with a single member of Knesset, was established and is led by Rabbi Tzvi Tau, the founder and ideological leader of Yeshivat Har Hamor and represents the most extreme and intolerant religious platform in the Knesset.
Inside Israel there are dire predictions about the threat from these three parties, all included in the new governing coalition, to minority, women’s and LGB rights, while Jewish communities around the world are struggling to come to terms with their inclusion in the government of Israel. A number of leading Jewish Diaspora organisations have expressed concerns over the likely policies that will be soon promoted.
To understand what is happening on the religious right in Israel and how it will affect Israeli politics, it is crucial to unravel what lies at the core of Tau’s movement and in particular how a specific closed community with less than 1 per cent  of popular support has become critical to national politics.
What is the Noam party and who does it represent?
Many in the religious communities in Israel presume that belonging to Yeshivat Har Hamor, the ideological home of Noam, and its related institutions  and communities equates with being more religious and acting with greater stringency on things like women’s modesty or the primacy of Torah study over other academic pursuits. Yet, while the vast majority of the religious Zionist camp is indeed territorially hawkish and religiously conservative, this hides more than just nuanced differences on religious, social and political questions. Indeed, most of the community lies across a broad spectrum of religious observance and social attitudes, but – despite these differences – lives, prays and schools their children together.
Within this group exist a small minority who, inspired by Rabbi Tau, seek to separate themselves from the mainstream religious community. It’s not an exact science, but the total of the National-Haredi Community Charda’l  community (the Hebrew acronym for National Haredi) is normally considered by the research community as being around 15 per cent  of the religious community. However, National Haredi includes many families and communities that do not follow Har Hamor and Tau . A better approximation would be to consider how many schools have opted out of the religious education stream altogether, (although this is not just Har Hamor families). It is hard to say how large the core of Tau’s base is, but of the more than 500 primary schools catering to the religious Zionist community, around 30 are outside of the regulation and hence are independent enough for Maoz and his peers. This represents about 6 per cent of the religious system, (and of course a tiny proportion of Israeli society). In a post-election podcast, Channel 12 religious affairs correspondent Yair Sherki commented that the real electoral support for Noam may be as little as 5,000-10,000 votes . Less than half of one percent of the Israeli electorate.
Getting the keys to our children’s education
Some of this might not matter had the Har Hamor camp not become politically important when Maoz was appointed a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. Maoz’s office includes a meaningful budget and staff whose intent is to impact the national state education system.
Given that Maoz has been explicit about wanting responsibility for thousands of external educational enrichment programs as part of a platform within the Education Ministry, it is worth delving into how Har Hamor views education, for itself and for wider society. This new educational platform was set up to allow autonomy for school principals to choose programs on a vast array of topics, appropriate for the pedagogical needs of the school community. The platform is open to schools from across the religious and non-religious public-school systems .
What is less well known is that Har Hamor followers do not actually send their children to the regular state religious schools. In addressing the issue on their website, Har Hamor explains why they don’t want their children in the state system. ‘The education ministry and the municipalities are not committed to religious authority, they are influenced by the current zeitgeist and western culture, whose hands are tied by policy makers and organisations.’  Now, to be clear, this resistance to outside regulation is not directed at the secular school stream, but instead at the religious school stream. There is an entire division  within the education ministry whose raison d’etre is the provision of religious education to religious Zionist communities across the country. The division enjoys meaningful independence within the education ministry and also has its own independent board of religious leaders and educators. This is revealing and indeed a central characteristic of Tau’s leadership – i.e. there can be no religious leadership other than his own. Even strictly religious and serious Torah scholars are assumed to be under undue influence from western culture and nefarious foreign bodies.
A proponent of cancel culture before it reached the progressive left
One of the great differences between the Har Hamor ideology and the rest of religious Zionism is its tolerance towards other views. In the case of Tau (who broke away from the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva associated with the Rabbis Kook, father  and son) to form his own Yeshiva in 1997 he is intolerant of the irreligious and specifically those he considers to be progressive. It seems, however that he maintains his strongest opposition towards any interpretation of religious Zionism that is not his own. As has been documented recently in articles and posts by Yehuda Yifrach in Makor Rishon, Chen Artzi Sror in Yediot Ahronot and powerfully by Dr Yaffa Gisar , Har Hamor’s cultural battle of, as they see it, the forces of light against the forces of darkness in the defence of Israel’s collective soul, is perhaps the single most differentiating factor of Tau’s zeitgeist. He was a proponent of cancel culture long before it came to the progressive left. This intolerance is so extreme that one might even describe it within the famous paradox of tolerance as described by philosopher Karl Popper which states that ‘if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant.’ Given Tau’s track record of public activism and ideological intolerance his increasing influence over the system could be a threat to the system itself, if left unbridled.
A culture war against ‘foreign’ influences
There is a second aspect of the political and religious philosophy worth emphasising. Tau has always been (at least for the last 40 years) very active in his resistance to any outside influences. One of the reasons for the split from Yeshivat Merkaz Harav, where Tau had been a very prominent student of Tzvi Yehuda Kook, was the intention of the yeshiva to initiate a teacher training track alongside pure Torah study. This would mean introducing academic ideas and foreign teaching methods and ideas into the study hall, a position to which, then and now, Tau stands diametrically opposed. He is deeply suspicious of academia. This is reflected in how he believes Torah should be taught , but it has also been previously documented that he is highly suspicious of psychologists and psychiatrists. In recent years he and his close followers have waged a culture war against all forms of feminism, although the greatest zeal is saved for the fight against the LGB community. It is no coincidence that the very first comment made by Maoz after the recent election was a desire to see the gay pride march in Jerusalem banned. Indeed, a central banner of Har Hamor activism  in recent years, is the campaign against educational programming of any sort about sex education, LGB or anything perceived to be part of the progressive conspiracy to weaken Israel or its Jewish Identity. Tau has written in extremely graphic terms about gay people to the point of being not only accused of being highly homophobic, but also bordering on the grotesque. 
Noam have even more sinister ideas to root out foreign influences. As brought to light by Yediot Ahronot reporter Nadav Eyal, Noam published specific plans in 2019 for an administration that would not only promote Jewish identify and policies that promote Jewish observance, but would include powers to carry out intelligence gathering in conjunction with other security bodies (Mossad, Shin Bet, IDF etc.) to identify the influence of ‘foreign governments, wealthy anti-Israel activists and will indicate any involvement they have in funding, managing or partnering with Israeli organisations.’ In an op-ed that Maoz published in June 2022 he defines the work of this body as ‘responsible for the in-depth mapping of “agents of change” and all the programing and foundations who are the long arm of foreign governments and foreign NGO’s within the public arena of the State.’ One cannot help but feel that this is Start Up Nation crossed with McCarthyism and deep state conspiracy theories.
Warriors in an almost apocalyptic struggle for Jewish identity
Here we see the connection with the other project that Maoz will have responsibility for as Deputy Minister, a new Jewish Identity Administration within the Prime Minister’s Office. Jewish identity for Tau, and hence Maoz, is much broader than promulgating more Jewish learning and practice. This is not simply about a more Jewishly literate Israeli society, or religious observance in the public or private arena (although it is about that as well). It is crucial to understand that for Tau it is about fighting the LGB organisations, or restricting the access for women in combat roles in the army, or indeed banning women from army service completely.  He sees this as a key plank of the fight for the Jewish soul of the country. Tau’s disciples have made repeated references to these issues during lectures, some public and many in private, which have become public at a later date.
Whereas most religious Zionist Rabbis are interested in balancing the needs of both women and religious men who serve in the IDF, seeking an optimal position that would allow maximum benefit for both, they do not see the feminist movement per se as the enemy. The fact that a growing number of religious women choose to serve in the army instead of doing national service as civilians may be seen by some religious leaders as a negative development, but few outside the Har Hamor faction see it as a terrible conspiracy. And at a time when parts of the religious community are trying to take a more nuanced approach to the complexity of LGB within their communities and schools, Tau sees this as the pinnacle of a nefarious progressive agenda to wreck Judaism. Many religious leaders are grappling with these issues in an attempt to remain absolutely loyal to Jewish law and may conclude very differently, but they do not see themselves as warriors in an almost apocalyptic struggle of life and death for Judaism and Israel as a Jewish country.
Sexual indiscretions and conspiracy theories
Finally, and without prejudice to the validity of the recent claims of sexual attacks  against Tau, it is worth noting the responses of some close to Har Hamor to these claims, and indeed to Tau’s earlier responses to other sex scandals. In an uneasy parallel to the way the Tanach is read at Har Hamor, with an ideology that demands the idealisation of key figures (whether the Biblical King David sinned or not is central to this thesis ), Tau has been variously compared to an angel. He is considered to be on a spiritual level that simply cannot have done wrong, and hence the allegations must be rejected automatically. Rabbi Eli Sadan, a prominent figure and long-term student and ally of Tau and Har Hamor, himself considered a relative moderate, even claimed that the allegations were part of blood libel  against Tau, (without providing any evidence to support this). Tau previously defended both former and disgraced President Moshe Katzav who was convicted of rape, and Haredi author and educator Haim Walder who was accused of multiple serious sexual abuses. Delving deep into conspiracy theories, in both cases he claimed these men were targeted because of their views , not because they were sexual predators. Some of his followers have used the same arguments in recent weeks about the allegations against Tau himself. Whilst this does not prove or disprove the allegations, it speaks volumes to the inner circle’s mindset, not to mention their shocking disregard for those making the allegations.
Religious Zionists, standing up for your principles
Via his political party and single MK, Tau has unarguably achieved a position of disproportionate political leverage. Although we do not yet know his policy over the educational programming for which Maoz has responsibility, it is totally understandable that the rest of the system should be concerned that a marginal political group, that refuses any oversight or educational monitoring on its own schools, are now in the position to control the educational content for the rest of us.
Religious Zionism has room for a very broad range of opinions and ideologies. Yet two parallel processes have locked out most of these ideas. Firstly, Smotrich self-branded the party as ‘religious Zionism’ (he was helped by a lack of serious political alternatives). Secondly, Netanyahu’s obsession not to lose any votes facilitated the leveraging of Noam’s ideology despite its limited popular support. However, those who seek to control the rest of the community while keeping themselves apart – in particular those who idealise leaders to the point that they cannot do wrong, including serious sexual misconduct – may endanger not only themselves but the rest of us. We who also see ourselves as part of that community must stand up for a different set of religious principles. Of course, I do not propose ‘cancelling’ Har Hamor and certainly not the rank and file of his followers. But nor can we stand by as idle observers as they try to dominate the religious landscape and leverage their position for wider influence in Israeli society (with the help of Netanyahu and Smotrich without whom they would not be in the Knesset). Instead we must argue that some ideologies – particularly those characterised by infallibility and conspiracy theories – are not only different but dangerous, emphasise the diversity within the religious Zionist camp and seek to advance a different, more tolerant and inclusive path.
 Quoting from Israeli ‘Daily’ Podcast with leading Israeli journalist Yair Sherki, speaking after the election about Tau and Noam.
 Known as Yeshivot HaKav, because they support the same ideology and ultimately see Tau as their leader. Most well-known are the pre-army academies of which the Bnei David Yeshivot (Eli), founded and lead by Rabbi Eli Sadan,, but also include a number of Yeshivot like Mitzpe Ramon, led by Rabbi Tzvi Kostiner
 Also known as Chardal. For more information see Wiki Entry here and HaHardalim, Yitzchak Blau Tradition Online
 Out of all those who define themselves as religious Zionists, a 2014 study carried out by Dr Tamar Herman of The Israel Democracy Institute determined that 12 per cent define themselves as ultra-Orthodox/National Tory, 24 per cent as liberal religious, and all the rest simply as national religious (the more bourgeois mainstream, and less clearly identified with one of the ideologies). It is likely that in the intervening period their growth has outpaced the mainstream religious Zionist community and could be around 15 per cent.
 In itself an interesting religious and sociological question, and best described in terms of those ‘Chardalim’ who are connected to Har Hamor, those connected to Merkaz HaRav and other ‘Chardalim’ are smaller, more independent communities or follow specific Rabbis, such as Shmuel Eliahu of Tzfat. Together these groups make up the leadership of the list lead by Bezalel Smotrich, Tekuma, Otzma Yehudit (not classically Chardal, more ultra-nationalist right wing politically) and Noam.
 It is interesting to note that although as a stand-alone political identity they are tiny, their activists in the field were a great boost to the Religious Zionist Party in terms of drumming up support and getting the vote out. By their nature they are fervent believers with a heightened sense of mission.
 See The Israeli Education System: An Overview. Nachum Blass, Taub Centre
 This is normally a reference to organisations with supposed hidden progressive agendas, designed to weaken Israel’s Jewish identity in general and the Jewish family values in particular. In recent years Har Hamor and its ally activist organisations have attacked the IDF for its stance on feminism and allowing women into more combat roles, and in the army in general, and the education system for allowing progressive messaging around sex education, feminism and the LGB issues. For more information, see here (Hebrew).
 Known as Hemed. For more information, see here (Hebrew).
 Rabbi Avraham Kook (see here), and his son Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook (see here) were both Chief Rabbis of Israel and are central ideological and spiritual figures for religious Zionism.
 Dr Yaffa Gissar is a prominent prominent religious educator and activist. She wrote a heartfelt letter to the students of Har Hamor following the allegations made against Tau. She pulled no punches. By way of example – ‘It is no secret that you succeeded in interfering with force and manipulation in the appointment of rabbis, in the appointment of administrators, in the establishment of schools and in the separation of classes on gender grounds even in places where a large population was damaged by this move.’ Srugim (Hebrew).
 One of the ongoing controversies between Har Hamor and the yeshivot more associated with Har Etzion Yeshiva (established by the late Rabbis Aharon Lichtenstein and Yehuda Amital) is how Tanach (the Pentateuch, Prophets and Writings) should be taught. This turns on two issues – a) the lens through which we look at our forefathers – idealised or imperfect and b) whether modern academic techniques can be employed when looking at the text. It has become known as the struggle around ‘Tanach at Eye Level’ – this is the pejorative used by Har Hamor about the method of teaching at Har Etzion. This controversy needs more discussion, but worth noting a comment from one of Rabbi Tau’s followers who encouraged parents to send their children to Haredi schools, if the only religious alternative was ‘Tanach at Eye Level’.
 Via the activism arms of Liba, Derech Emunah, Bocharim B’Mishpachah, Chotam and others. Some are very closely linked to Har Hamor itself and others in the broader Chardal camp.
 In one particularly graphic passage, Tau was recorded during a lecture in his Yeshiva saying the following in refence to the idea of two gay men raising a child: ‘If it is also possible to give a child to two men who live in bed, remember that the whole house stinks from what they are doing all day, they are dealing with their anus all day, so the whole house stinks of it, and this is how you raise a child.’ Zvi Tau on the command for joint service. The Chief of Staff and head of human resources are acting like a junta, Srugim (Hebrew).
 In another post-election statement Maoz called for getting rid of the Gender Affairs Advisor to the IDF Chief of Staff. This position is seen by Tau as a key part of the ultra-progressive agenda, and hence should be cancelled. IDF Yahalom website (Hebrew)
 Two female members of the religious community (indeed from Tau’s inner circle) have made very serious sexual allegations against him in recent months. There is an open police investigation although Tau has as yet not been called to give his version of events. National Religious Rabbis urge probe of sex abuse against Rabbi Tau, Times of Israel
 There is a long running theological and educational controversy around whether major biblical figures should be treated as perfect or imperfect figures. Har Hamor believes strongly that the only way to look at the forefathers and such like is to see them as without sin or mistake, whereas the Har Etzion Yeshiva believes that their true greatness can be seen through the lense of them being imperfect human beings. See The Sins of Biblical Figures, Amnon Bazak, Etzion Yeshiva.
 ‘There is a blood libel against Rabbi Tau. In two to three days all will become clear’ said Eli Sadan in a talk to his pre-army academy, 15 November 2022. See Israel National News (Hebrew).
 In Katzav’s case, the claim was that the allegations were made because of his stance against Reform Judaism, and in Walder’s case because he had made a negative reference to former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak.