Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Necessity of State Religion

Israel is not a state like all other states. The recent treatment it has received at the United Nations where it was condemned for daring to defend itself from terrorist attacks shows to any decent person that despite the best hopes and dreams of secular Zionism, Israel has become and firmly remains the "Jew" amongst the countries of the world.
If that is the case, then Israel needs to play to its strength. Unlike any other country in the world, Israel cannot just exist because it exists. Such a reason for political continuance is fine for Canada, Britain, Egypt and China. Israel, however, seems to need to constantly justify its ongoing existence.
Is it as a secular democratic state in the Middle East? There hardly seems to be a point to that. After all, no other state in the region fits that model and although it's nice to know there's one country where freedom of religion, speech and the press ranks high on the list of priorities, few in the world would say that it was absolutely necessary for it to be there.
Is it as a lifeboat for Jews around the world? Florida would probably do the job just as well and with less headaches.
Israel's only purpose to continue as a Jewish state and for that to be, it needs to practice Jewish values. Unfortunately over the past few decades the worst in Jewish values has convinced most non-religious (and quite a few religious) folks in the Jewish world that the worst thing for Israel is a role for religion in the public square.
However, this does not mean that there should be an absolute separation of shul and state. In fact, such a separation would be disasterous for a country that could not survive without a special reason.
That's why I must disagree with this article by Uri Regev. On one hand, he raises relevant issues:
Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens cannot marry in Israel due to state law, including numerous Russian olim, all non-Orthodox converts to Judaism and native-born Israeli Jews who want an egalitarian marriage ceremony. Israeli democracy is enlightened and progressive in most respects, but in the area of religious freedom it lags all Western democracies.
On the other hand, his solution is one that can only hurt Israel. Without Judaism at its core, Israeli culture cannot survive. After all, the world does not need and hardly wants to have around "the Israeli". What's more, in many countries like those in Asia's far east where secular Israelis go after finishing their army experience, they have created a reputation so toxic that they have become unwelcome in many places. For the first time, justified Jew hatred exists in many parts of Asia based on the behaviour of Jews detached from the Torah.
That's not to say that the behaviour of many Jews who consider themselves attached to the Torah is much better. As Naomi Ragen's recent article on mehadrin buses notes, there are too many in our community who are primitive and barbaric while insisting that they are the ideal of the Torah lifestyle. Their existence has given Torah and religion a bad name in Israel, something no thoughtful person can debate.
Despite that, Israel needs Judaism to survive. Surrounded as it is by enemies who are convinced of the lies their leaders have told them about a mythical state and people that never really existed, Israel's moral and courage to continue must be based on its genuine claim to the land. We are not in Israel because we had nowhere else to go in 1948. We are not in Israel because we thought the land was available. We are in Israel because we are Jews and Israel is the land of the Jews and we know that because the Torah tells us so. To cut Jews off from that leaves no real reason to fight for this particular piece of real estate.
What is needed then is religious leadership that can bring halacha into the modern arena and ensure a practice of Yehadut that is compassionate instead of fanatic and that can show the people the beauty of a Torah lifestyle which they can feel proud of. While it is a lot to hope for, it is still a goal we must strive for daily.

7 comments:

Religion and State in Israel said...

"What is needed then is religious leadership that can bring halacha into the modern arena and ensure a practice of Yehadut that is compassionate instead of fanatic and that can show the people the beauty of a Torah lifestyle which they can feel proud of."

How would one characterize the "arena" of a Jewish and democratic state? Is this the legislative sphere? the public sphere? or the private one?

How does one "ensure" the practice of Judaism in a democratic society? Is this the role of the government? the Rabbinate? or of non-governmental bodies?

Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel
@religion_state on Twitter

SJ said...

If you put religion in government it will become fascist and drive everyone away. This already happened to an extent with the chief rabbinate.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Actually Joel, those are all excellent questions. I'll try to address them in a future post but in short, I think this is where the Dati Leumi community can find new footing and relevance after marginalizing itself over the last few decades and watching the Chareidim take over the institutions of religious life in the country.

Religion and State in Israel said...

Great. I'll look for the future posts. Good point about "new footing and relevance". It might take going out and getting a pair of those mountain-hiking shoes that come with metal spikes!

Bartley Kulp said...

The problem with state religion in modern Israel is that there is no tent that can hold all of the various shittas. We see this between the Ashkenasi chareidi, Sefardi and Dati Leumi duking it out. That is just one issue and then it gets worse.

Bartley Kulp said...

The problem with state religion in modern Israel is that there is no tent that can hold all of the various shittas. We see this between the Ashkenasi chareidi, Sefardi and Dati Leumi duking it out. That is just one issue and then it gets worse.

Shalmo said...

Historically a Jewish state has never lasted without civil war for more than 400 years.

But please do bring on a torah based israel; we'll see how long it lasts this time