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.