Eran Baruch 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Earlier this year, the Central Bureau of Statistics published results from its
annual social survey for 2009. According to the survey, the Jewish population
here is composed of 8 percent haredi, 12% Orthodox, 13% traditional- Orthodox,
25% traditional-secular and 42% secular.
Participants were asked several
questions about any religious leanings and 21% responded that, compared with
previous years, they feel more “strengthened,” to some degree or
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The newspaper headlines screamed: “21% have strengthened in
The “strengthened” are the ones who became more
Orthodox, more “Jewish,” or in Hebrew, hozer b’tshuva
, which literally refers to
a return to the answer. They are strengthened and now have the answers. The
concept “strengthened” immediately brands the other side as “weak.”
non-Orthodox are weak, “Jewish-lite.” If the Orthodox have the answers, then the
secular only have questions.
Orthodoxy’s source of strength stems from
its monopoly on things like marriage, conversions, burials, synagogues and so
on, and its firm affiliation with the state, as determined by David Ben-Gurion
in his “status quo” letter in 1947. The “weakness” of the secular Jews has been
their inability to shake this monopoly and accept alternative, viable modes of
OVER THE years, an antipathy to Orthodox religious
coercion has created antagonism toward anything Jewish, which has deterred Jews
from connecting to their own culture and tradition.
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Since the beginning
of the 20th century, a fierce argument has raged among the founders of Zionism
concerning the manner in which Judaism should be preserved and/or renewed. Y.H.
Brenner ends his influential essay “Al Hizion Hashmad
” with: “We, the living
minority of the Jewish people... whether we fast on Yom Kippur or eat
milk with meat... we do not cease to see ourselves as Jews, to live Jewish
lives, to work in Jewish ways, speak our Jewish language, to be spiritually
sustained by our Jewish literature, work towards a free Jewish national culture,
defend our national honor and fight for our existence in every
Secular Jews, the source of the Zionist enterprise’s strength,
remain the active majority and the carrier of the “burden of mitzvot” of the
Jewish state. This community needs to be strengthened – not by becoming
more observant of Halacha but by becoming more conscious of its Judaism. It
needs to study more Torah, find new meaning in Jewish holidays, adapt a Jewish
lifestyle relevant to today’s reality. It needs to find a way to connect new
immigrants and Jewish communities worldwide to the place that was and continues
to be the center of the Jewish world, to continue to foster the creation of a
liberal and moderate Jewish culture.
The promise of a truly pluralistic
society, one that reflects the richness of a diverse Jewish population, hinges
on the secular community’s success in strengthening its Jewish identity, in
recognizing the strength in asking questions.
As in any leadership
process, the most important aspect is self-image. A secular Jew is no less
Jewish than any other. We need to strengthen secular public education, establish
more secular yeshivot, be proud of our Zionist heritage. In the words of
our national anthem, we must strive to be “a free nation in its own land... our
hope is not lost.”The writer is CEO of The Bina Center for Jewish
Identity and Hebrew Culture.
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