Tuesday, June 19, 2018 -
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Israel: Jewish but not religious?

Rabbi David Lau, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, speaking in Berlin, Germany in 2013. (Sean Gallup/Getty)

Rabbi David Lau, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, speaking in Berlin, Germany in 2013. (Sean Gallup/Getty)

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.

2 thoughts on “Israel: Jewish but not religious?

  1. Danielle Rice

    Basically, the divide between the pluralistic (as you name it) Diaspora communities and the populace in the current modern State of Israel, is so far apart, not just on religion (in which even most secular Israelis, most of whom now hail from traditionally observant Orthodox Sephardic/Mizrachi traditions), but also culturally (the concept of ‘open’ and ‘pluralistic’ acceptance is simply not a tradition in the Middle East), and sociologically (Western notions of feminism, egalitarianism, new types of non traditional family structures, etc…) are simply foreign and even, in some cases, an anathema to most.

    How does one bridge such a divide? The simple answer is, that it’s simply not possible. If there was a mass Aliyah of the 5-6 million Jews of America to Israel….perhaps over time….there would be slow change. That is, although highly desirable in my opinion, highly unlikely.

    The most likely scenario, unfortunately, is that with the high birth rate and intransigence (which is totally understandable from a religious Halachic perspective) of the Orthodox observant community in Israel (the Haredi sector itself expected to surpass the minority Arab sector by 2050 per most demographic studies), and their increasing influence via Israel’s multiParty system of proportional representation in the Kineset, its highly unlikely to change policy nor lack of acceptance towards pluralistic Liberal streams of American Judaism anytime soon, if ever.

    Counter this scenario, with the 70%-78% intermarriage rate among nonOrthodox American Jews, and the lower birth rates, the end result is obvious to anyone willing to be honest with themselves.


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