democracy vs Jewishness in Israel

The fundamental paradox at the heart of Israel's civil society is its desire to be both a democratic state and a Jewish one. I strongly support the right of Jews to have a homeland, but I think that abandonment of the concept of the separation of church and state is a step backwards. The supermajority of Judaism amongst Israel's population exacerbates rather than mitigates the need for Synagouge-state separation there, because the rights of the minorities are even more at risk, and because the superficial homogeneity of the majority is broken by the internal divisions - especially secular vs Orthodox.

Cases in point: voices calling to end the Orthodox rabbinical monopoly over legal marriage in Israel face a chilly reception:

Speaking at a rabbinical conference in Jerusalem, Bakshi-Doron urged the repeal of the law stating that marriages in Israel must be conducted according to religious law.
The other rabbis at the conference greeted Bakshi-Doron's statement with silence, but later, many described it as a "bombshell."

In his speech, Bakshi-Doron gave several reasons why he thought the rabbinate's monopoly on marriages must end. First, he said, the law has become irrelevant, as growing numbers of Israelis are choosing to marry in civil ceremonies either abroad or in Israel (the state recognizes civil marriages conducted overseas, but not those conducted locally). Second, he said, the law encourages hatred of the rabbinate, since it is seen as the primary expression of religious coercion in Israel.
"I know this is a taboo, because the law is perceived as one of the symbols of the state," he said. "But unfortunately, it's a symbol without content."

Tsohar, an organization of young religious Zionist rabbis that hosted the conference, stressed that Bakshi-Doron's views did not represent those of the organization.

Meanwhile, baby steps towards misogynistic social customs are being taken in Orthodox strongholds:

Last week notices were posted on Admor Mevishna Street in Bnei Brak announcing that men and women, boys and girls, must now walk on opposite sides of the street, regardless of the direction in which they are walking.

The signs declare that rabbis of the Vishnitz Hasidic court had decided on the new arrangement because the crowded, narrow street led to immodest contact between the sexes.

The street is located in a neighborhood where most residents are members of the Vishnitz community.

The comments on that Maariv article are revealing - a general sense of "well, if the women don't complain, then who are we to judge?" That's almost pathological in its refusal to accept the universality of human rights and the very meaning of liberty. I had considered Diana's comments about the docility of Israeli women (sorry, permalinks broken) to be hyperbole, but the women in Bnei Brek are proving her right.

Note that Israel has an advantage of a democratic structure, which should theoretically allow for the secular voices to exert influence over the direction of their nation. The influx of non-Jewish immigrants, primarily laborers, also adds to balancig societal pressure (though not much political capital). However, the fact that Israel's very definition rests on a Jewish identity means that the Orthodox will wield disproportionate power over the process. And their birthrates are higher.

This is not a problem unique to Jews, the same sectarian dynamics are at work within the United States (by the conservative, evangelical non-majority of Christians, esp in the South) who are waging a culture war against homosexuals and women's rights, and in Islam with the struggle between moderates and fanatics (and the latter get all the press, of course, while the former suffer the consequences).

Ultimately, the problem arises from allowing religion into the political sphere. Religion cannot accept compromise (and nor should it), and therefore it is forced almost by default down the road of extremism once it tastes electoral power, by sheer inexorable logic of what is right and wrong. The act that God's law transcends man's law is acadeimic; rather, religion seeks to mirror God's laws in the mortal realm, and the invariable result is a dramatic reduction in the freedom to excercise reason that lies at teh heart of any honest religious belief.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

I've always had the odd notion that religious coercion detracts from Israel's Jewishness, because it reduces the diversity of Jewish cultures and practices available to Israelis. But I'm an old Shinui supporter, so what do I know?

Jonathan Edelstein