Thursday, May 26, 2005

Religious Liberty in Israel?

Take a look here.

This is Hofesh. An Israeli organization founded to fight oppression and religious domination within the State of Israel. Unfortunately, there is no strong separation between synagogue and state as there is in America. And because of this there are a number of religious laws passed which bind the entire state and force the less religious and non-religious to follow them.

Examples of some these according to Hofesh are:

- It is illegal to grow pork in Israel, and many municipalities forbid selling pork.
- It is impossible to get married in Israel by a civil ceremony.
- There is nearly no public transportation in Israel on Saturday.
- It is illegal to open a business on Saturday.
- Hurting someone's religious feelings is a criminal offense.
- Orthodox religious women and many religious men are exempt from military service (which lasts for at least 3 years for men and nearly 2 years for women).
- Religion lessons are mandatory in all Israeli schools.
- You cannot buy non-Kosher goods in major food chains (with the recent exception of Tiv Taam).
- A class in a religious school has on the average 26 students. A secular class has close to 40.
- The State does not fund non-religious burial ceremonies.
- Some of the main streets in Jerusalem are blocked every Saturday, because the orthodox people want them to be.

I spoke to a friend of mine about this issue. He's a religious guy but still aware of and willing to accept some aspects of secular knowledge (though he claims to be a YEC I'm not entirely sure if that's what he "really" thinks, but I don't know) and while he said that he wanted a religious state in Israel he did recognize the validity of my view of the issue as he values civil rights, freedom of religion and the wisdom in separating church and state.

He saw the issue of the Haredi and Hiloni as trying to force each other to do what they want. But I explained to him that that only goes one way. The Haredi are the ones trying to force their views of religious obligations on the rest of the population but the Hiloni just want everyone to do what they want. Religious people can believe what they want and do what they want, just don't force others to do it too. This isn't an equal battle. It's a fight between those who wish to force their views on others vs those who wish to follow their own path and have no problem with others doing the same.

As far as I'm concerned, Israel should be a distinctly Jewish state because otherwise there's no point, but also a secular state. While religion is an important segment in our Jewish heritage it is far from alone. Most Jews are _not_ religious and even fewer are Ultra-Orthodox. There's a lot more to the Jewish people than religion and the path of our people should not be dictated by the religious demands of a small minority.

11 comments:

Hayim said...

Very good post.

I happen to be reading at the moment "Real Jews" from Noah Efron, and I enjoy it immensely.

It never occurred to me before (p. 54), although it seems obvious now that he pointed it out :

"Since 1977, the ultra-Orthodox have held the deciding votes in every election. They are perfect candidates to be kingmakers because of their basic antipathy toward, or alienation from, the issues of mainstream Israeli politics. About most things that parliamentarians lose sleep over - budgets, tariffs, social programs, diplomacy, the environment, and so forth - the Haredi parties don't give a damn. Their active interests are so highly circumscribed - money for religious education, the upholding of halakha where possible - that their votes are more fungible than those of anyone else. They amount to a big special-interest group, and outside the realm of their special interests, they're easy. They can govern with the Right or the Left ... support any program, as long as the check is in the mail".

Anonymous said...

> A class in a religious school has on
> the average 26 students. A secular
> class has close to 40.

Of course, the religious school gets less than half the state funding the seculat school gets -- AND the parents of the religious school pay tuition.

Chana said...

Why must every country be another America? Simply because we believe in certain things, all countries must do so? If there is less of a seperation between religion and state than in America, and this is working, why the need to stir up trouble...

Israel is known as the Jewish state to most. By nature of that, of course there will be less religious liberty, if the religions followed are mostly Islam or Judaism. Who is it that can decide that America's "got it right" and therefore we should decide what is correct for Israel?

Note: I'm not disagreeing with what you said, merely asking by whose right one can decide what constitutes secular liberty in other countries.

Orthoprax said...

Hayim,

Sure, the haphazard way through which Israeli government coalitions are built are easy prey for a single interest minority party to take advantage of. They call out pledging fifteen votes to whichever side comes closest to their demands.

Anon,

As far as I know the state-religious schools do not have any tuition requirements as bound by The Compulsory Education Law of 1979.

You must be thinking of the private school system.

Chana,

Far be it from me to force other nations to do what I want, but generally it's a good idea to keep church and state separate as it just causes trouble - as we do see in Israel today.

The mix of synagogue and state in Israel is not "working" well for everyone. And some people, like those of Hofesh, have no recourse.

"Israel is known as the Jewish state to most. By nature of that, of course there will be less religious liberty, if the religions followed are mostly Islam or Judaism."

How does that follow? Most people in Israel are Jews but also most definitely do not want their religious rules forced on the entire population. A significant majority in Israel are liberal on this issue and greatly wish to reduce religious power and dominance in their lives.

Chana said...

Touche and quite right! I'll include this quote simply because I like it, and perhaps you will. It's somewhat off-topic.

In an interview with Einstein, someone asked:

"But don't you find any discrepancy between your previous somewhat anti-religious statements and your willingness to be identified publicly as a Jew?"

Einstein answered:

"Not necessarily. Actually it is a very difficult thing to even define a Jew. The closest that I can come to describing it is to ask you to visualize a snail. A snail that you see at the ocean consists of the body that is snuggled inside of the house which it always carries around with it. But let's picture what would happen if we lifted the shell off of the snail. Would we not still describe the unprotected body as a snail? In just the same way, a Jew who sheds his faith along the way, or who even picks up a different one, is still a Jew."

I had forgotten that when I wrote my original statement. Hurrah Orthoprax!

Orthoprax said...

Chana,

I've seen that Einstein quote before. He's one of my favorite historical figures.

He's practically one of everyone's favorite historical figures. It's the hair for sure... ;-)

Sarah said...

While I do agree with most of what you're saying, I'm not sure that everyone is as angry as some people would like us to believe. As a huge proponent of the separation between church and state, I believe wholeheartedly that the enforcing of religious rules on others is wrong, but I also think that the argument should be based on the principle of the matter, not because it makes people angry, becuase it may not be the case.

Most Israelis, while not religious, still will not define themselves as Conservative or Reform. Historically, those movements have not taken root in Israel the way they have in America. This is because many of those Israelis have no ideological or theological reason against Orthodoxy - they merely feel that they don't need to be so religious because they live in a Jewish state. But, they also don't mind living by the standard Jewish rules of Kosher and Shabbat on a public level, because they recognize those as the standard signs of the Jewish religion.

Whether or not you or I believe in it, I think that a majority of Israelis see a value in certain public forms of Judaism being enforced by the country. However, any of these issues brought to the Supreme Court will probably result in a U.S.-like decision ... all it needs to do it be brought to them.

Last note ... I think the fact that certain UltraOrthodox men are exempt from army service is a dispicable thing. Living there, there is absolutely no reason in the world why they shouldn't have to perform the same service that everyone else in the country does. What makes it even worse is that they now justify it through Zaka, saying that they perform their duty through that -- Zaka is a great organization, but the fact that a few Charedim pick up the pieces after a terrorist attack is no reason to be exempt from the army.

Regardless of one's view of religion, at least I think that everyone in Israel has respect for the Hesder kids - guys who even though they want to pursue religious study and life will postpone university even more just so that they can do the army service as well. As for girls, none of them have to do army service -- many girls do national service as well ... again, no reason Charedi girls shouldn't be doing it as well, although I don't think it falls into quite the same category as protecting the country.

Orthoprax said...

Sarah,

"I'm not sure that everyone is as angry as some people would like us to believe...I also think that the argument should be based on the principle of the matter, not because it makes people angry, becuase it may not be the case."

I don't think I gave the impression that the whole country is angry at the religious impositions, just that some, like those at Hofesh, are significantly disturbed at the status of religious freedom in the State of Israel and strongly wish for change. Although, it also happens to be true that a majority of Israelis are for change in that regard too.

But, sure, I agree that it should be based on principle not just on how people are disturbed by it.

"Whether or not you or I believe in it, I think that a majority of Israelis see a value in certain public forms of Judaism being enforced by the country."

I don't know. That could be. But from a recent opinion poll of Israelis, they do want less than there is now.

"Last note ... I think the fact that certain UltraOrthodox men are exempt from army service is a dispicable thing."

They justify it as saying that learning Torah protects the country (as it makes God help out) far more than an actual physical army helps. Us rationalists find that far less convincing.

Sarah said...

"They justify it as saying that learning Torah protects the country (as it makes God help out) far more than an actual physical army helps. Us rationalists find that far less convincing. "

It makes me absolutely nauseous, especially when the Torah they claim to learn so dilligently contains so many descriptions of the wars which were fought to conquer and protect Israel.

It reminds of when one of my Rabbis came into class shaking his head one day last year, because he had just come from passing through Meah She'arim. He firgured he'd stop by to pick up a book for his little son, and was flipping through a picture book of Yehoshua. How was Yehoshua depicted? As a charedi - complete with bekeshe, peyes and a Talmud. A. The talmud wasn't even written yet! But, as my Rabbi said, of course you update picture books for the time you're living in so that the child will understand. Nobody expects the clothing to be historically accurate. But at least be honest to the story! They completely manipulated Tanach!! Yehoshua was a fighter - that was his purpose. If you're going to update him to present standards, he should be in a Tzahal uniform! He wasn't the guy sitting in the beis medrash, thinking that his learning would save the Jewish people. He was the one out protecting his people and fighting for the land. I find it so distgusting that they're willing to change everything around just to do what they want and to avoid their duty.

Anonymous said...

Sarah: despite your rightous indignation on this topic, surely you are aware that when the United States (or any other civilized country) has a draft, yeshiva or other religious students are exempt?

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

If you're studying full time to become a rabbi, then your draft could be deferred in the US. And a practicing rabbi is exempt.

Sitting in kolel, for its own sake, doesn't count.

If Israel stuck to that rule then all those guys who later become rabbis but don't practice would enter the armed forces a few years later.

But the haredi in Israel would take advantage of that and they'd all be studying to become rabbis and as rabbis they'd all be "practicing" and thus exempt anyway.

The issue isn't that those studying should serve, but that they're _all_ studying so that they _don't_ serve.