Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Sometimes Less is More

An empty street - Shabbos scene in Jerusalem (JTA)
A short while ago, the Knesset passed a law that keeps supermarket business closed on Shabbos. Some have protested this as yet another example of the stranglehold Charedim have on Israeli society.

I have always had the view that one cannot shove religion down anyone’s throat. You can’t force people to be religious. Trying to do that doesn’t work and only makes people angry. Which is why any time I read a story about new legislation designed to increase observance at the expense of extant secular freedoms in Israel- it upsets me. It is counter productive.

Does that mean that Israel should become a secular state whose creed is religious tolerance? Much the same as the United States is? In theory, I suppose that would be a good idea. After all it works great here. Orthodox Jewry benefits greatly from that. There has never been a time in history where the Jewish people had so much freedom to practice their religion as they wish. If it works so well here, why not do the same thing in Israel?

There is one major difference between the US and Israel that stops Israel from doing that. It is the reason for Israel’s very existence. Israel is a country that by definition is supposed to be religious. It was created by God for exactly for purposes of serving Him. The modern state of Israel should reflect that. abandoning Halacha completely would eliminate Israel from being a Jewish state. It would undermine the very rationale for Jews living there. Sans its definition as a Jewish State Jews need not live there. They can live anywhere and be free to practice their religion freely. What about survivors pof rhe Holocaust? They could have gone to Ugnada. Why Israel?

One may answer Jews have a historical right to live there? But why should ancient history have any relation to our world today? A lot has happened since the 2000 years we lived there as a soveriegn nation. Why bother living in a place so hostile to Jews?

David Ben Gurion - a Jew that who was not observant  - realized this. That is why explained our rights to the land being based on the Torah when he declared Israel’s independence as a Jewish State to the world. Those other reasons pale in comparison to the religious one.  Which is one reason he agreed to maintain something called the status quo agreement: Keeping the religious status of the country as it was when it was founded.

None of this is new. It has been discussed here many times. Which brings me back to my original question. Why not change Israel from a Jewish State to a secular one? The only real way to keep it Jewish is the same way the Jewish people have survived throughout centuries of persecution: Following the Torah through Halacha. And yet that has to be reconciled with my belief that one cannot shove religion (Halacha) down the throats of people that don’t want it. Aren’t these differences irreconcilable?

Well, yes and no, This is what compromise is all about. And I think this is what most Israelis want too. They don’t want to be forced to observe Halacha. But at the same time many of them do observe some of it by way of various traditions. Such as the fact that most Israeli Jews fast on Yom Kippur. And most observe Pesach. And Sukkos.  I believe that most Israelis observe some form of Kashrus too.

What this means to me is that what was agreed upon early in modern Israel’s history seems to work. It keeps the country identifiably Jewish and gives secular Jews the right to be almost as secular as they want.

The key word there is ‘almost’. Therein lies the problem and the controversy. How far can the Charedi world go in insisting that the state follow Halacha before it goes too far? I beleive that was settled by the status quo agreement. It was agreed upon that whatever level of observance that existed during the creation of the state be maintained. And that there should be no push by the state toward more observance or less.

We end up having is a state where Shabbos and Kashrus is observed by all state run institutions – supervised by an official rabbinate. And all matters religious must be in their control.

While there may have been some abuses by the rabbinate, that – in theory is what the status quo agreement was supposed to accomplish. So that a city where Shabbos was observed would retain that status while a city where Shabbos was not observed would stay that way. Jerusalem and Haifa are examples of both.  Buses run in Haifa on Shabbos but not in Jerusalem.

Occasionally the  left tires to push their agenda... and the right theirs. But the best way to proceed is that both sides honor the status quo agreement.

Unfortunately there is is a lot of grey in that agreement – leaving it to interpretation. Given that, how should the religious world proceed? The answer is compromise.

In my view if there is an area of contention there should  give and take - ad not a winner take all appraoch. As a Orthodox Jew I would love noting better than to see a state governed by Halacha. This would not produce a Taliban type government as some fear. It would just produce an environment where there would for example be no Chilul Shabbos. The  public atmosphere would be one of observance.

No one would be forced in our day to keep Shabbos or Kashrus. That is not only unrealistic, it is counterproductive. Which is why the religious parties should stop pushing the religious envelope more than the status quo allows them to and even concede to the secular in some cases. But so too should the secular side back off trying to secularize the Jewish state to the point where Shabbos would be completely ignored in the public sphere. 

Those of us that want to convince our secular brethren about the value of following Halacha, must try and do so with love. Not force. As I have said many times You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Trying to infuse more Kedusha into the land by shoving religion down everybody’s throat may in the end up reducing it.

Just my two cents. Again.