Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Religious State of Israel?

How secular is the State of Israel? Most people would say that since about 80 percent of the population is secular then it is basically a secular state. But as an article in Ha’artez demonstrates this is not the case.

The article was written by a secular Israeli in response to Yaakov Ne’eman’s perceived comments as desiring an Israel governed Halacha. Mr. Ne’eman has since mostly clarified his position and from what I have been given to understand, he is an honorable man whose goals in this respect are in consonance with my own. Mr. Levy’s understanding about Mr. Ne’eman is therefore wrong.

Nonetheless Mr. Levy, takes issue with the very notion that Israel can be classified as a secular State. It is obvious from the article that he is a secular Jew. His perspective might even be classified as anti-religious. In his own words:

The country is too religious. Neeman just wanted to take this one step further, something one can and must come out against...

He however quite correctly sees the religious nature of the State of Israel as it exists now. Here are some of the facts he delineates:

*From birth to death, from circumcision to funeral, from the establishment of the state to the establishment of the last of the illegal outposts in the West Bank - we are operating in the shadow of the commandments of religion.

*There are no civil marriages or divorces, and there are almost no secular funerals. The Law of Return and the definition of who is a Jew - the most fundamental and significant of Israeli precepts - are based on halakha

*Only 44 percent of Israelis define themselves as secular

*A mezuzah on the doorpost of almost every home, and the …custom at almost every one of those houses of kissing it.

*Eighty-five percent of Israelis hold a Passover seder

*Sixty-seven percent fast on Yom Kippur

*The absence of bus or train service on Shabbat

*The observance of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) in every public institution, and Sabbath elevators in every hotel and hospital

*A bar-mitzvah for almost every boy

*Matza in nearly every home on Passover and the kiddush blessings

*Torah sages of various kinds make decisions on fateful political issues.

*At the homes of miracle workers, magicians and those passing out amulets - and the lines outside their doors are growing, made up mostly of those who argue they are fervently secular.

*In the Bible study of our youth, we put on skullcaps.

*When, God forbid, the Bible fell on the floor, we would kiss it, with great reverence - secular people like us, as it were.

*The quotation of the day (in schools) is from the Bible.

*None of us had ever heard of the New Testament, and no one would have dared teach it as part of the education.

*The Western Wall is holy to everyone - who has not placed a note with a wish in its crevices?

*Most Israelis' reasoning for the continued occupation of "holy" East Jerusalem is also based on religious faith …Most of us (secular Jews) believe it.

All of this says a lot about the secular side of Israel. It is not all that secular. This should give pause to those who constantly say that Israel is an anti religious state. Or that its secular leaders are out to destroy Torah. Sure - there are some like that. But they are a small minority. It seems that the vast majority of even secular Israelis observe some Halacha and they do so proudly.

Those who make a habit of regularly bashing secular Israelis ought to think twice next time they get the urge to do that. The secular Israeli is not as secular as you might think. Instead of separating from them we ought to be integrating with them in an effort to show them more of the beauty of the Torah lifestyle and emphasizing its pleasant ways. And delegitimizing its Meah Shearim unpleasant ‘protesting’ ways. Because the Torah lifestyle is a path - to one degree or another -many secular Israelis are already upon. We ought to try and keep them there.