Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Encouraging Observance

I don't recall where I saw this before (maybe Rafi G's blog) but there is an interesting phenomenon to take note of when it comes to religious observance and Israelis.  To wit, the more the government enforces a particular halacha or area of Jewish law the more non-religious Israelis struggle to break those rules.  So for example the chiloni public constantly works to avoid Shabbat restrictions or find ways to eat chometz on Pesach. 
On the other hand, those areas where the State chooses not to intrude show very high rates of participation among the secular population.  The vast majority of Israeli males have a bris milah. Most Israeli families light Shabbos candles and make a seder every year. 
This is one of the ongoing problems of having a Jewish state where the Torah is not the law of the land and the non-religious population is the large and governing majority.  There is an ongoing dance between running a secular democracy and running a Jewish society.  The ones doing the dance can never have a happy result.  Push the secular democracy angle and the religious get upset over the diminishing Jewish nature of the society.  Push the religious agenda and the seculars shout about coercion.
But perhaps the two opposite phenomena above point towards a different way, one that the Religious Zionist community might be encouraged to push for at the national level.
The ultimate goal is to turn the first flowering of our redemption into the final flowering, after all, and no way is better than by moving Israeli society towards greater observance.  I would venture that most secular Israelis would welcome such a move as well if it were presented in the right away.  The "you're all sinners if you're not like us!" method clearly has had little effect.  Furthermore the kiruv movement works but only on a small scale and nowadays seems to barely be balancing the traffic out of observant Judaism.  What we should want is a society that embraces Torah observance out of love and desire to connect to its religious and historical roots.  Legal or social pressure are absolute contraindications to achieving this.
Perhaps then it's a good thing that Bayit HaYehudi is encouraging an electoral slate not exclusively composed of Religious Zionists.  The old Mafdal party failed for precisely the reason that the Chareidi parties continue to succeed.  Chareidi voters are sectoral, interested only in their own community's welfare so they choose the party that will best represent them whether or not such representation has a positive effect on the country as a whole.  Dati Leumi voters care about the State as a whole so a party limited to their community that doesn't have a holistic platform isn't as interesting.  If the Likud or Yesh Atid offer a better vision for the individual Religious Zionist then they would get the vote.  Bayit Yehudi needs to avoid that trap but without losing its Dati Leumi character.
What Naftali Bennett has to do is create a system in which non-religious Jews and even non-Jewish Israelis feel that they can be part of Israeli society while maintaining that Israeli society must have an underpinning of halacha at the government level.  This means proposing a government that publicly observes Shabbos and Yom Tov restrictions while granting a bit more liberty at the societal level to reduce the onerous pressure that drives people away from observance.  Perhaps a balance like this will move Israeli society in the correct direction.


Chaim B. said...

Daniel Gordis in one of his books (I'm paraphrasing) makes the point that religious observance will increase only through persuasion, not through legislation.

(I'm not sure he's right. In the US, civil rights was advanced in large measure through legislation first, and only then did social mores begin to change. Is the push back in Israel a sign of a stubborn condition not likely to change, or is it just a bump in the road that will pass in short time? That's the key question.)

RAM said...

Some people resist mitzvot to the degree that they think these are compulsory. But if these were voluntary, would they be mitzvot?

Garnel Ironheart said...

The civil rights issue was pushed through due to a pressing need to correct obvious dysfunction in society. Look at the race riots of the 1960's, for example. Something had to change or everything would fall apart.
Unfortunately people don't see Shabbos observance and kashrus with the same urgency in Israel. People have to feel that those things are missing from their lives before they'll consider adopting them.

jrs said...

the idea of Israel legislating any sort of halachic compliance is a very scary one. Find ten frum jews who honestly agree about all what is, and what is not essential to a frum lifestyle.
(beyond shmiras Shabbos & kashers)

The only people who think living in a theocracy is wonderful are, by definition, people of other religions---who we mostly dismiss as lunatics or at best severely misguided (i.e. Islamists)---and frum Jews who have never lived in a Jewish theocracy, but insist that they "yearn for" something they've never actually had.

Of course, we're all supposed to look forward to such a day---but people who act as if they miss something they really cannot fathom are being silly.

No one, especially, who grew up free & unrestricted in America, can know what it would feel like to live under a king's (even Shlomo haMelech!) command, or subject to some Grand Rabbi's approval of your level of observance.