By Mordi Miller
Maccabees and Hellenizers
In their self-perception, Noam’s members constitute a contemporary incarnation of the Maccabees: the “sons of light” who are doing battle on God’s side against the West and against its representatives, the left-wing Hellenizers in the media, in academia and in non-Orthodox Judaism. Upon Noam’s establishment, Rabbi Thau quoted Moses’ words of battle when he set forth to slay the sinners in the episode of the golden calf – “Who is for the Lord, come here!” (Exodus 32:35) – the same battle cry attributed to Matityahu the Maccabee when he went to war against the Greeks.
Thau explained to the audience, “We shall not allow our sons and daughters to be guinea pigs for experiments in the sickness and mischief of postmodern pedagogy and demagogy.” The party will fight the attempts “to penetrate power centers of our public life, to disrupt our health and our lives, and to transform our country into the advance campaign for realization of the dreams and hallucinations that are burning with swelling heat and fondness for hooliganism and a lust for destruction, corruption and perdition.”
In December 2022, on the eve of the establishment of the present government, Avi Maoz sang from the Knesset podium the Hanukkah song “We are here to expel the dark.” He explained that just as the Hasmoneans had fought the Greeks, he too had come to expel the dark of “those who falsify Judaism amid a cynical attempt to create a new religion, supposedly enlightened and liberal, which is totally alienated from everything that gives off the fragrance of original Judaism.”
The linkage with Hanukkah is not random. Every year, that festival offers a golden opportunity for the followers of Rabbi Thau to stir themselves for a stubborn battle marked by the invocation of the terms “courage,” “truth,” “heroism,” “zealousness,” “light” and “holiness,” which are pitted against “uncleanliness,” “impurity,” “licentiousness,” “destruction” and “darkness.”
In an internal document drawn up ahead of this past Hanukkah, Thau noted that just as in the past it was necessary to be liberated from the Greek influence by the “heroes of the zealots for holiness,” in our time, “we are increasingly called upon [to manifest] a boldness of holiness, a chutzpah of holiness. And as forces arose then that embarked on a war of freedom from the yoke of foreigners, so too, today there are present among us forces of the war of culture against the foreign spirit that is seizing control of the character of our country.” Victory is assured, he avers. “Today, Hellenization controls the Education Ministry, academia, [and] is increasingly controlling the spirit of the IDF. The struggle is very relevant. We are in its midst. We are not afraid of this clash. In it, too, we shall triumph! The Torah, the light, will leave all of Israel alive. We must be liberated from every influence foreign to the Jewish spirit.”
The Noam party’s underlying assumption is that the nation of Israel identifies with the party’s values – that the nation has a powerful yen to maintain a life guided by Torah and mitzvahs (commandments) in the Land of Israel. This is “the soul of the nation” that pulses in every Jew, even if he is not aware of its existence or its activity within him. Thau stated that with the aid of sufficient readiness and courage to tell the people of Israel the truth, even if they find it unpleasant, “the cruse of pure oil that exists in the heart of Israel [will come to life]. There are multitudes of hearts that are only waiting for this assertion of truth.”
According to Maoz, “deep in their heart, [the people of Israel] want the authentic Judaism that we received on Mount Sinai.” Furthermore, “We know that deep down the overwhelming majority of the people think as we do. The overwhelming majority of the people want the State of Israel’s education systems to educate the nation for Judaism. What is Judaism? Authentic Judaism. The Judaism we received at Mount Sinai. Yes, that is what most of them want. Deep in their hearts they want their children to be educated this way.”
Blacklists and agents
If the people of Israel so fervently desire the Orthodox Judaism that Maoz perceives as the correct form of Judaism, how is it that the forces of impurity have had so much success? Maoz’s answer, following Thau, cites “foreign sources,” “foreign governments” with “foreign funds” and “immense capital,” which “with wile and subterfuge” have planted agents in key positions “in Israel’s public governmental systems.” Maoz has delivered a great many speeches seeking to show how impurity has trickled into the language and culture in Israel, and brainwashed the country’s Jews by means of “consciousness engineering.”
He also provided a detailed description of the “enemy’s” working methods: “In a process that did not take very long, the power of Israel’s citizens to conduct their lives as they believe it is right and worthy to live, was wrenched from them and given to a group of white-collar Jews who are hidden and concealed behind the scenes, people whom no one can critique and who in general no one knows, either. These individuals are leading the State of Israel into an abnormal situation. The title ‘Jewish state’ is becoming an empty slogan void of all true content. Their rule is absolute and unassailable, and they do as they please in the judicial, educational, media and other systems.
“Their ownership of the country does not depend on the percentage they represent of all of Israel’s citizens,” Maoz continued, “because they are all professionals, renowned experts in their fields and obviously are not answerable to the judgment of the majority or to any sort of public review. Nor is there any chance that they will conclude their terms and be succeeded by others who do in fact represent the opinion of the Israeli public. Why? Because they reinforce their absolute rule with the aid of processes of selection, training, advanced courses and predetermined and supervised tracks of promotion, which have a steamroller effect that is intended to produce more and more experts and professionals in their image.”
Accordingly, an important part of the battle against impurity resides in the term “exposure,” which appears time and again in dozens of articles and speeches by people in Thau’s circle. His followers are out to expose the enemy: their names, their organizations, their funding and their modes of activity. All that’s needed, Maoz says, is to tell the Jewish people what it doesn’t know. When the people discovers what is being done to it, it will rise up and Noam will be the people’s party.
But it’s not only the actions of the enemy that must be exposed, it’s also the actual identity of the enemies, which is accomplished by preparation of genealogical charts of economic, personal and ideological ties between the enemy’s different “arms.” In interviews, Maoz has named the Wexner Foundation, programs of the Mandel Foundation, the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Abraham Initiatives. He also assailed “the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Russell Berrie Foundation, the Alan B. Slifka Foundation, [among] many others.” As part of the exposure effort, documents were drawn up containing the names of LGBTQ individuals in the media. Other papers drawn up by Noam elaborate on “how liberal organizations and foreign governments control the Education Ministry,” and the same “have altered the conception of gender in the IDF” and more.
Maoz and Thau harbor a special enmity for the New Israel Fund (an NGO that raises funds for a large number of programs and bodies considered progressive), which they perceive as the epitome of impurity. When Noam’s website first went up, the NIF was listed in many of the negative realms against which the party wished to do battle. In fact, it was sufficient for a person or an organization to be linked to the NIF for them to be categorized as an enemy. In January 2016, Rabbi Thau stated, “There is a terrible war here… it’s happening at the influence of the New [Israel] Fund, which seeks to malign us and destroy us.” In a January 2020 party bulletin, Maoz inveighed against “the radical left-wing foundations and organizations under the leadership of the New Israel Fund.”
Little wonder that one of the declared reasons for Maoz’s desire to become an MK was to enable him to acquire the legal authority to glean information about organizations that promote a “foreign culture.” Maoz told Giluy Da’at, an online weekly aimed at the religious-Zionist public, that an MK, and especially the chairperson of an oversight committee, “can stir a public discussion on almost any subject. He has tools to compel the officials in the relevant ministries to give him all the information about their [organizations’] activity, including summations of conversations, agreements with providers of partnerships. He can expose the depth of the problem to the public and those who are truly responsible for its emergence.”
But Maoz’s remarks carry not only a terminology relating to exposing the enemy; they are also replete with terms relating to a war of neutralization, purging, cleansing and toppling. He explains that the party’s rabbis are “stirring us to struggle against the tentacles of the postmodernist worldviews that are forged by bodies that aspire to undermine and blur our identity as the holy people in the Holy Land.” He is calling for “a struggle against elements that are tainted in this way in the educational, academic and judicial systems and also in the security branches.” His aspiration is “to purge the public atmosphere in our country of foreign influences, and to add more and more Judaism and purity to the soul of our country, the State of Israel.”
Ubiquitous Jewish state
Maoz and Thau plan to start their purge program in the schools. An internal document drawn up by Rabbi Thau states that “postmodernist poison” is injected beginning in “the lowest grades, where they don’t yet have the faintest notion. In grades 1, 2 and 3, and even in kindergarten. Who authorized you? Whom did you ask?”
Accordingly, within the framework of the “Authority for Jewish National Identity,” Maoz is out “to remove all the programs [outsourced to] progressive movements that give expression to the postmodernist culture in the Education Ministry” – of which there are 3,000, he says. If he detects educational content that in his view contradicts what he defines as “Jewish identity,” such as “surrealistic comments about the matriarch Rachel,” he will do all he can to annul them. The greatest educational danger, in his view, lies in material that seeks “to inculcate doubt in the hearts of our children – doubt about whether you are a boy, doubt about whether you are a girl, doubt about who your family is, doubt about whether you have a father, whether you have a mother.”
The “cleansing” of the Education Ministry is only a small part of the far more extensive plans Maoz has, whether to be carried out during the term of the present Knesset or in the future. Noam presented the issues on which it aspires to carry out a transformation from the day of its founding, and they have remained unchanged. The specific examples Maoz has put forward so far enable us to understand more precisely what kind of country he wants. All the issues belong to the state-and religion realm (“Jewish identity”). Their main objective is to transform the public space in Israel into a religious space, a development that will entail a revision of the existing “status quo” that defines the balance of power between the state and the religious authorities (the country “cannot make do with the status quo that was agreed on at its founding”). In the face of the impurity that seeks to bring about the demise of the body (the state) by severing it from its soul (religion), Maoz wants “to thrust soul into the state.”
As he puts it, “The state’s Judaism must be apparent in every corner of its life. It must become a far more central consideration in our national way of life, for this, after all, was what we toiled so hard to achieve. We shall strengthen the image of the State of Israel as a Jewish state in all spheres. In all the public systems, in the public realm, we will see to it that the state’s Jewish identity will be clear, will be natural, will be simple, will fill our hearts with Jewish pride. That is what we are fighting for.”
Maoz wants Judaism to be present in every aspect of life. His desire is for “the Jewish hallmarks to be the ones that will dominate the Israeli public domain,” so as to ensure that Israel will not be like all other countries, which are “states for all their citizens.” As part of the thrust to transform the public space in Israel into a Jewish-religious realm, Noam is doing battle first and foremost against those whom they perceive as posing a threat to the traditional institution of the family, namely the LGBTQ organizations. Over the years, Thau and his circle have termed LGBTQ people and their groups “perverts,” “organizations of abomination” and the like. According to the rabbi, “Two men who live together in homosexual intercourse, the whole house stinks. They are occupied all day with the anus. The whole house stinks, and that is how children are educated, and the whole nation is silent about it.”
In a 2020 Noam meeting, Maoz asked, “Does anyone among us remember [a moment] when we all convened, Israel’s citizens, and decided that it was proper for the Education Ministry to educate our sons and our daughters [to believe] that perverse relations between two men or two women are normative and constitute a recommended family model?”
An aversion to the LGBTQ community and lifestyle is perceived as intuitive and described as “healthy,” “natural,” “simple” and “normal.” According to this approach, humanity, which preceded even the Torah, is naturally based on the model of “man,” “woman” and “children.” Positing different models undermines the deep foundation and is defined as an abnormal, unhealthy deviation. The Noam party believes that the LGBTQ organizations are working to blur gender identity, as part of a broad trend to blur all identities, including Jewish national identity.
For Noam, the struggle against the LGBTQ organizations is no less than a war. Rabbi Tzvi Kostiner, a student of Rabbi Thau and the head of a yeshiva in the Negev town of Mitzpeh Ramon, made news last spring when he demonstrated outside the Petah Tikvah home of Nir Orbach, at the time a Yamina MK, who was under pressure to resign and help bring down the government. “This is the battle of all of us, each in his own place,” he declared. “Not to be ashamed, to pluck up courage, wherever you work, to say: ‘LGBTs go home, homos go home, evil, evil, evil and again evil.’”
In 2020, when Rabbi Benny Lau, a popular figure in liberal, modern-Orthodox circles, supported legislation in defense of the LGBTQ community, Thau added his signature to a sharply worded statement against him. The document came out against the ”legitimization of severe Torah prohibitions for the so-called ‘LGBTs’ and the regularization of their status in a matrimonial partnership of a couple who are both of the same sex, who ostensibly will be able to be called a family and be granted various public rights, be admitted to communities and more, God preserve us from such bad ideas.”
Constitutionally, and in the spirit of his rabbi, it appears as though Maoz will try to annul the legal rights now held by LGBTQ families (“a country in which two fathers or two mothers are recognized as a family is not something normal,” he says); outlaw the country’s Gay Pride parades; revoke public funds now designated for LGBTQ organizations; and expose LGBTQ “influences” in the Education Ministry and other public systems. Maoz has also declared that the first legislation he will enact is “a law that will promote a prohibition on giving a talk or a lecture, or educational instruction in primary schools, at primary-school age, concerning sexual or gender inclination.”
A price to pay
Another issue regarding which Maoz will seek to bring revision of existing law is the standing of the Chief Rabbinate as a supreme religious body. Above all, he wants to abolish the kashrut and conversion reforms instituted by Matan Kahana, who headed the Ministry for Religious Services in 2021-2022 on behalf of Naftali Bennett’s now-defunct Yamina party. Under Maoz’s plan, the Chief Rabbinate will hold exclusive authority regarding all the realms related to religion and marital relations in Israel. It would have exclusive authority to determine who is a Jew, who is entitled to convert to Judaism and by what means, who is entitled to get married and get divorced, and who will receive an Israeli ID card. Within the framework of confirming the exclusive status of the Chief Rabbinate – which Maoz terms “a force of holiness that unites all Israel” – non-Orthodox streams of Judaism will be barred from worshiping in Ezrat Israel, the area to the south of the current Western Wall prayer space that was designated for egalitarian prayer in 2013.
Maoz and Thau view the non-Orthodox streams as the bitter enemies of Judaism and of the State of Israel. In 2016 a special conference, in which the presence of Thau’s followers stood out, was devoted to the struggle against the influences of the Reform denomination. Speaking at the event, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner averred that the growing strength of the Reform movement in Israel was actually a good sign. “It’s the last heartbeats, the final spasms of the evil. They are frightened. We are heading for victory. In the country, too, there is more and more Torah. We are not in a position of weakness, we are in a position of strength, and we need to fight. Certainly to fight.”
Thau’s circle boycotted rabbis like Eliezer Melamed, the religious-Zionist head of the Har Bracha Yeshiva in the West Bank, who dared to meet with Reform Jews as part of a public, mutually respectful dialogue. In many religious communities and publications, it was also recommended not to buy Melamed’s popular series of books on religious law, “Pearls of Halakha,” because of “his sin.” Explaining his opposition to talking with members of the Reform movement, Aviner stated, “Holding a panel discussion with the evil impulse so as to appear to be open? No. On the evil impulse, you open fire immediately. You don’t talk, you don’t discuss.”
The Noam party also aspires to alter the status quo in all matters relating to public Sabbath observance. Maoz has announced that “Shabbat will be observed in Israel’s public areas. In all the public systems, in the army for example, Shabbat is to be observed [fully] in public.” Within this approach, Maoz is expected to oppose “private initiatives that encourage mass desecration of the Sabbath,” in his words – in practice, all violations of the laws of Shabbat in city streets, such as by stores and commercial and entertainment centers, and of course also in terms of public transport. Asked by the Makor Rishon newspaper about the consequences of this approach for the underprivileged, who will have to remain at home on Shabbat due to lack of public transportation, Maoz said that this is the price a Shabbat-observing Jewish state will be required to pay: “Yes, the values of the general community are above the rights of the individual.”
Noam is opposed to women serving in the army, especially in combat assignments, and aspires to abolish the unit that advises the chief of staff on gender issues. As Maoz told Makor Rishon, the greatest contribution women can make to the country “is for them to marry, with God’s help, and to raise a magnificent family.” Asked about the integration of women in his political party, he replied, “We are a religious party, we follow the way of our rabbis.” Rabbi Aviner too has declared that women are barred from becoming MKs. “That is not modest. Does this mean they won’t be influential in politics?! Of course they will. Through the husband.”
In the perception of Noam’s leaders, the party is promoting what is most important for Israel at this time: Jewish identity. They maintain that the array of policies that are being advocated by the right-wing parties, including by Ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, are secondary, and that their success depends on Noam’s success. As Maoz put it in one of the recordings, prior to November 1, “Our banner is the most important one. The primary struggle in the forthcoming election is the one and only question: whether the State of Israel will continue to be a Jewish state or, heaven forbid, will become a state of all its citizens [meaning a state in which all religions will have equal rights]. The left-wing camp wants a state of all its citizens. The Jewish-national camp, to which we belong, wants it to continue to be a Jewish state. The struggle for the essence, the identity, the soul, is the struggle of struggles, the banner of banners, it is the main thing… The unequivocal war against what is progressive and the war for Jewish identity, that is the principal banner. That has to be in the forefront of the struggle.”
According to Maoz, the greatest contribution women can make to the country “is for them to marry, with God’s help, and to raise a magnificent family.”
In its self-perception, Noam, which is occupied with the Jewish “soul,” is itself the “soul” of all of the country’s political parties. In Rabbi Aviner’s words, it is “a party that is above the parties, a party that is the soul of the parties, not a party that competes against parties, not a party that pushes out parties, but a party that elevates parties, purifies parties, pulls parties upward, brings a blessing to parties.”
As “the soul of the parties,” Noam is connected to the viewpoint of Rabbi Thau and his circle as the bearers of the message of the people of Israel and as those who are responsible for the soul of the nation. As such, they are scornful of any sectarian approach and refuse to see themselves as representatives specifically of the religious-Zionist movement. According to Maoz, “the religious-Zionist public is very important, very precious,” and he himself sprang from it, but he believes that “we need to stop talking about ‘the sector,’” because “I am trying to connect every single member of the people of Israel to the root.”
Based on this approach, and in contrast to other ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox parties, Noam seeks to intervene in the general education system and not only in that of a particular community. And for the same reason, the party aspires to intervene in the way Shabbat is marked in Tel Aviv and not only in Jerusalem. There is a tremendous consciousness of responsibility: Avi Maoz doesn’t see himself as merely an emissary of the Noam party, but of the people of Israel across the generations.
It’s clear that Maoz would not be able to fulfill his ambitions outside the present coalition, but it’s important to understand that his support for Netanyahu is not bound up with political interests. It rests on a deep theological foundation. The Likud leader is perceived by Noam as a representative of the “healthy” people who crave for Judaism; and the struggle against him is seen as a battle of impurity against holiness. Theological evidence that Netanyahu is worthy to lead the people lies in the conception according to which God’s chosen one is revealed, among other ways, by being persecuted by Satan: If Satan is persecuting someone, it follows that this person constitutes a spiritual threat for the Evil One, and hence that he is God’s chosen one. Netanyahu’s persecution by the forces of impurity (“In short order, all the lies and persecutions will be revealed to everyone, and all the plots will evaporate”) thus reinforces Noam’s decision to back him. Maoz explained that “the regressive postmodernist monster is trying to harm us all, beginning with Prime Minister Netanyahu, as the representative of the majority of the nation, which wants a Jewish state.” In other words, tell me who the monster is trying to liquidate and I will tell you who God has chosen.
In a January 2020 message to Noam supporters, Maoz wrote about “the overt, ugly persecution by the ‘rule of law’ authorities against a prime minister who is one of the most talented and most loyal to the people of Israel whom we have ever known. It is clear to every sensible person that this has nothing to do with justice. The prime minister is being subjected to an unprecedented attack by the arms of the ‘deep government,’ and the coming election could be critical for his ability to cope with them and fight back.”
Support for Netanyahu, then, is support for the struggle against the “deep government” of the forces of impurity. Indeed, at the Noam convention held this past August, Maoz stated explicitly, “A direct line links the [legal] framing of the former Prime Minister [Netanyahu] and the attempt to blur personal identity, dismantle the family and tarnish the holiness of the Western Wall.”
About a month ago, in an interview with Channel 14, Maoz also presented loyalty to Netanyahu as one of his party’s tenets. Adding that he “holds the title of the first Bibi-ist,” he told the interviewer that in 1985, during the campaign to free Sharansky, he met with Netanyahu, who was then Israel’s UN ambassador. “He outlined for us the strategy, the plan, how to liberate [him]. It went like clockwork.”
Beginning of beginnings
In recent year, Rabbi Thau and his circle came in for harsh criticism emanating from within the religious public. Their insularity, boycotts and general unwillingness to engage in dialogue with anyone unlike them prompted many to view them as arrogant, isolationist and pernicious. Even leaders who harbored a worldview similar to theirs were also fiercely critical of their metaphysical discourse and of the declaration of all-out war by Thau’s circle against their enemies. The author and columnist Yoav Sorek, for example, noted that he shared some of the anxieties of the Yeshivat Har Hamor group, but that he was also appalled by what he saw in Thau and his milieu – namely “an assault rife with the frustration of blind zealots, which can at most engender a heroic picture of suicide.”
The Hardali (a term referring to Haredim who are also nationalistic) rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed, who heads the yeshiva in the Beit El settlement and founded the Arutz Sheva platform (Israel National News, which identifies with religious Zionism), also railed against the Noam party. He related that a group of people from Har Hamor had shown him a presentation surveying the Education Ministry, “and the pamphlet contained page after page with photocopies of agreements with Reform organizations, pictures of Christianity and the like, which were in the Education Ministry.” Melamed (the father of Rabbi Eliezer Melamed) said that his wife looked into the allegations and discovered that “there was not one true thing” in them.
According to Melamed, Thau’s circle has an approach by which “for ‘the sake of heaven,’ one doesn’t actually have to be precise about things. For example, they reported that Haaretz wrote that Naftali Bennett once made a remark supposedly in favor of the LGBTQ people, so of course the whole Yamina party is disqualified because of that remark. Why not also publish everything else that Haaretz wrote about Bennett? Dozens of articles about how Bennett was introducing religiosity [into the state schools]… You can’t go around shouting and distancing people more than you draw them close.”
Today, individuals who were once considered marginal have become legitimate to large segments of the public. Itamar Ben-Gvir is now a national hero of sorts and a ranking minister in the new government, and Avi Maoz is accepted by his partners in the party and their voters as the great warrior on behalf of the Judaism of the state, and as the person who will stand in the breach and save Israel from perdition. His political ambitions are theological. As Rabbi David Jiami, from Har Hamor Yeshiva, stated at a recent Noam party convention, “Avi Maoz would prefer to learn a page of Gemara than to sit in the Knesset, but he acceded to a divine call… for our people, for our Lord’s cities, [to] charge ahead.”
Maoz is ready for a protracted battle and he’s here to follow it through to the end. He delivered a clear message to his followers at a party gathering in the wake of an earlier election: “This is only the beginning of the beginnings. We are continuing ahead from here with added strength and heads held high to reveal the soul of our state more and more, and to stand as a fortified wall against all those who seek to desecrate it and drive it to perdition.”
Avi Maoz entered politics in order to foment change, and he has no intention of compromising or changing direction. “I do not revise my views,” he said. To those who think holding responsibility may soften him, he says, “We came for the principles, for the ideology.” He knows that the path might be a long one, but he asserts, “We have patience, even if it takes time, even if it’s step by step.”
Mordy Miller is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Jewish Thought of Ben-Gurion University.