It is still unclear whether the terrorist who entered the Mercaz Harav yeshiva on Thursday night and killed eight of its students knew exactly what place he was entering. But the thousands of people who walked behind the coffins on Friday knew very well. “The flagship of religious Zionism” was the common expression used, the “holy of holies”; there was even a hyperbolic comparison to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in terms of sanctity. Some of the praise of the yeshiva is certainly well deserved, and nothing, of course, can justify the horrible killing of young boys in a library. Still, it would be appropriate to recall, even at this difficult hour, what this yeshiva has brought forth.
Mercaz Harav is the flagship of the last group in Israeli society still operating in the realm of ideas. Religious Zionists are the only group, aside from the ultra-Orthodox population, whose members are willing to lay down their lives for the collective and its worldview. It is a group that responds faithfully to its leaders – a group that even has leaders – and idolizes them. It is also a fairly homogenous group in terms of its thinking: Some 80 percent of its members define themselves as right-wingers. None of this is true of Israel’s complacent, individualist secular public. And so we end up with a minority, 12 to 15 percent of the population, whose influence in certain areas is crucial and far exceeds its own relative size.
No one can explain in depth the magical powers of extortion this group has obtained. Nor can anyone ignore the damage it has caused the country. Without the settlement enterprise, peace might have reigned here already; without the Gush Emunim movement, supported by successive Israeli governments, there would be no settlements; and without the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, there would be no Gush Emunim. This institution, then, was the cradle of the settlement enterprise and its driving force.