Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Jewish State

Shalom everyone...

            I said to some fellow chaplains the other day that if you asked ten Jews what the implications of the term “Jewish State” were, you would get 11 opinions.  The senior chaplain in the car then asked me what my understanding was.

            I have never thought about it.  I always took the concept of a Jewish state for granted.  Now I have to answer the question.

            First and foremost, it is a state for Jews.  It is a state to which Jews can move, permanently, for good reason, to fulfill the Zionist dream, or on a whim. 

            Second, it is a state that holds itself to a higher standard of behaviour.  This is not because of the UN Haman Rights Committee.  I like to think it is an unconscious manifestation of the idea that Jewish law forbids bringing a bad name on the Jewish people.  I do not know whether or not the state’s behaviour meets the highest standards at all times.  I do know that the fact that so-called human rights organizations spend more time focused on Israel than they do on Syria suggests to me that Israel will never meet world scrutiny.  That, however, is a different discussion.

            Third, it is a state that actively seeks to allow all to observe their own religions.  The Greek Orthodox Church owns the property on which the Knesset rests.  The Mormons have a major centre in Jerusalem.  The Bahai have a major centre in Haifa.

            Fourth, it is a state that excels on an intellectual level because of its Jewish roots.  Judaism does not frown on modernity.  I think that Jewish mindset provides a safety net for Jews, whether they realize and accept it or not.  It has taught us over the years that  there is always a safe point to which we can return.  Safety allows for venturing.  Another note on the intersection between the intellectual and the traditional is in order.  Some of the greatest minds in all of the varied areas in which Israel excels go home every Friday to make Kiddush.  As well, yeshivot in Israel have people in them at all hours.  The same mindset that feeds the intellectual areas of the country also feeds the Jewish parts of the country.  The same academic discipline that Israel can apply to its modernity is also applied to its Judaism.

            In short, it is a Jewish state because Jews are safe and welcome there.  It is a Jewish state because it meets a higher standard of behaviour.  It is a Jewish state because non-Jews are welcome practice their religion.  It is a Jewish state because the study of the ancient and the study of the modern live comfortably together, supporting and influencing each other.



  1. I'm sorry-- but the more influence the haredi have in Israeli politics, it seems to me, the further the current (and future) State is from the ideals you're setting-- almost every single one of them.

    And I'm not seeing any sign that the increase in their stranglehold on the Israeli political process is lessening.

  2. With warm regards to my friend, I must disagree. It seems to me that the primary thing at which the Haredi segment of Israeli society seems to succeed is the ability to garner bad press. True, they have taken over the Rabbanut. The result of that is that there is a Zionist rabbanut that has sprung up. As well, just in the last few weeks, the government decided to start funding non-Orthodox rabbis. There is a marked increase in the number of non-Orthodox synagogues. The political will to support those synagogues is developing on the grass roots level, with local city councils seeing those non-Orthodox synagogues as a defence against extremism. My beloved bride can speak to this more. R/SCG

  3. Your lovely wife posted something on the topic a week or two ago which was in the back of my mind when writing that.

    I think that this is a case of "time will tell"-- either the Haredi have overstepped their bounds and the body politic will reign them in or else they will continue to be the deal makers for majority in Knesset and they will continue to get what they want.

    And what they want, more and more, looks like less legitimacy for any non-Orthodox branch (your point number one), increases in non-moral settlements (point number two), and a focus on study of Talmud to the exclusion of all other intellectual pursuits (point number four).

    I don't know their position on practice of other religions so I can't speak to point three.

  4. Of course time will tell, as it does always. Still, the influence of non-Haredi groups is growing. More and more Israelis are getting involved in Masorti & Reform congregations.

    Further, while some 65% of Israelis define themselves as secular, yet over 50% say they light Shabbat candles each week. The numbers for Kiddush are just slightly lower, and 70% keep kosher at home. These are not all Haredi and they are not all Orthodox.

    Time will tell, but the future is promising.