By Barry Leonard Werner
The author is an oleh chadash who came to Israel in December of 2009. He is passionate about Israel and the Jewish people.
Israel is the Jewish State, the national home for the Jewish People. In Israel matters of religion are political issues because they have profound social consequences. Any rational observer knows that Judaism today takes many forms and that Orthodoxy is not the only form of Judaism there is. It is therefore a terrible mistake for Israel to give the Orthodox community the monopoly on deciding the definition of Judaism.There ought to be a broadly based Knesset committee of MKs, who are demonstrably personally committed to Israel being a Jewish state, organized to listen to voices from all the various parts of the Jewish community, inside and outside Israel. That committee should recommend the government’s response to matters of religion, such as the definition of what is or is not Judaism and matters of conversion.
Narrowly defined religious parties should be legally excluded from having a place in any government because the inescapable, inherent logic of Orthodox religious political parties precludes their conforming to the most fundamental requirement of public service. Public servants must give unbiased service to all Israelis, irrespective of whether those Israelis conform to the religious doctrines espoused by a particular Orthodox religious denomination. Israel is a democracy; it is not and should certainly ever even come close to becoming a theocracy.
The Orthodox parties are furthering their own narrowly understood religious values rather than the needs of society as a whole. For example, the Orthodox parties believe that the moshiach will come sooner if their children are paid to study Talmud in yeshiva instead of working for a living or serving in the army, and that this would be of such great benefit to everyone else in Israel that the cost of it should be borne by the taxpayer. However, that’s just one of many beliefs peculiar to their religious tradition that most of the rest of us don’t share. Even many (probably most) religious Jews don’t subscribe to that belief. Given the fact that Israel is faced with enormous military, social and education budgetary problems, it is irresponsible for the religious parties in the government to force Israel to incentivize a large segment of the population to be economically unproductive and a financial burden on the rest of society. Such a social experiment represents irresponsible governance in anything other than a theocracy. Not only that, they hold as political hostage other important matters, such as war and peace, in order to get their way.
If members of a particular sect want to define Judaism in their own particular way they should be free to do so but it should be a private affair that affects only those who freely chose to be bound by it, but of course only within the bounds of secular law.