Israel is and must continue to be a Jewish state, but does that mean it must be a religious state?
We pose this question because Israel’s religious bodies, and how they interpret Judaism, is causing some serious rifts in Diaspora relations. Fundamentally, these two communities are at odds: Judaism in Israel is overseen by an institution, the Rabbinate, that is formally associated with Orthodox Judaism. Diaspora Judaism, is pluralistic, encompassing a variety of denominations with no one denomination having much of a say of what happens in another.
How to reconcile these two approaches?
The ideal, it seems, would be if Israel could parallel developments in some European countries that are still very much Christian, but the Christian church has very little to almost no jurisdiction over people’s lives. For example, in England, the Anglican Church is led by the Queen and is the official religion of the state, but the only legal jurisdiction it seems to have is over the marriages and divorces of nobility. There, too, religious holidays are often public holidays, including some you may never have heard of, like Whitsun. And that Anglican Church does receive government support. Could that be a model for Israel? The only issue there — and it’s a big one — is that this type of religious secularism (how’s that for an oxymoron) took centuries to develop, and Israel is only 69 years old.
Israel was founded on the Zionist dream: A state for Jews. Yet, with the way things are going, Israel is running into the danger of sending the message that it’s not a state for all Jews, but a theocracy. That’s not a message it can afford to send.