The Jewishness of the Jewish state

All we have to do is enshrine the Israel Declaration of Independence into basic law.

June 15, 2017 16:05
Israel's Declaration of Independence

Israel's Declaration of Independence. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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A nation-state bill is now before the Knesset, sponsored by the government, to clarify what is meant by defining Israel as “a Jewish and democratic state” and giving preference to Jewish over democratic. The exact terms are still under discussion, but it seems to me that in order to discuss them at all, one should know what we mean by “Jewish.” What indeed is the essence of Jewishness?

An ancient sage, Rabbi Simlai, made an interesting attempt to do just that. He began by saying that Moses was given 613 commandments, but that in subsequent generations attempts were made to condense these into smaller numbers that would express their basic meaning. In Psalm 15 David reduces them to 11, in Isaiah 33 the prophet condenses them into six. Micah reduces them to three: “What does the Lord require of you? Only to do justice and to love mercy and walk modestly with your God” (Micah 6:8), Isaiah to two “Observe what is right and do what is just” (Isaiah 56:1). Amos reduces them to one, “Seek Me and you will live” (Amos 5:4) as does Habakkuk “The righteous will live according to his faith” (2:4) (Makkot 23:b).


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