The proposed Jewish nation-state law, whether or not it passes, highlights the fact that Israel must eventually decide on its national identity. Is it a democracy first and Jewish second, or vice versa? In case of a conflict between Judaism and democracy, for example a situation where secular lawmakers want to give people the right to do something that Judaism explicitly forbids, or they want to forbid something that Judaism explicitly requires, which side should prevail?

Democracy means rule by the people. Citizens choose their own leaders, and issues are resolved by majority vote. Democracy offers a large number of personal freedoms and is usually associated with modern values and a culture that enables scientific, social and economic progress.

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But it also has a lot of weaknesses. The biggest problem is instability. Its success depends on the willingness of all political factions to compromise. When factions begin to hold their own agenda higher than democracy itself, and refuse any compromise on their goals, the system quickly becomes paralyzed and dysfunctional, at which point it's likely to descend into either anarchy or dictatorship. Another weakness is that democracy has no permanent values, because all values are subject to vote, and even long standing values can be overturned arbitrarily and capriciously. Things that were considered evil yesterday can be declared good today, and vice versa.


Judaism on the other hand is based on the premise that the world is governed by a Creator who made a covenant with the Israelites many years ago, in which He promised to make them a leader among the nations, protect them from their enemies and enable them to live in peace in the land that He promised them, so long as they continued to obey the laws that He gave them, which are based on eternal truths that cannot be changed by Man. The goal of these laws is to elevate human souls and make us fit to stand before our Creator, which is considered much more important than the temporal goals of amassing wealth, power and creature comforts. The main difficulty in implementing Judaism is that many people deny the entire premise of it and will fight with all their strength to avoid being bound by its restrictions.

The conflict between Judaism and other ideologies is nothing new. As we celebrate Hanukkah this month, we recall the battle between the Hellenists (the modernists) and the Maccabees (the traditionalists) over 2000 years ago, at a time when Israel was under the control of foreign occupiers. The Hellenists were the majority party and controlled most of the power and wealth, and they bitterly reviled the Maccabees, who they regarded as fanatical religious extremists who were sure to spoil Israel's relations with the international community and drag the country into a war it couldn't win. The debate was very similar to the one going on today between those who say Israel’s continued existence depends on settling the land, versus those who say it depends on retreating from settlements. But as the Hanukkah festival attests, it was the Maccabees, not the Hellenists, who drove foreign invaders from the land, reestablished Israel's independence and possibly saved Judaism from extinction.

Today, Israelis must again make a choice. Will they choose to emulate the Hellenists or the Maccabees? Israel, and indeed the entire world, is waiting to find out.

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