Break the fundamentalist stranglehold

In the name of religion, some anti-Jewish Jews are undermining Israel and the Diaspora.

By AVSHALOM VILAN & MAURICE STROUN
September 30, 2007 20:20
3 minute read.
Break the fundamentalist stranglehold

haredi riot flames. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The modern Orthodox Tzohar rabbinic organization is reportedly mulling issuing its own kashrut certificates. This comes in the wake of the Chief Rabbinate's decision to give municipal chief rabbis the option of not honoring the symbolic heter mechira practice this shmita year - a sabbatical during which, according to the Bible, all Jewish-owned fields in the Land of Israel are to lie fallow. There is a larger issue here, of course: namely, the ascendancy of fundamentalist Orthodoxy over the state, which has contributed to the breakdown of solidarity and unity within Israel. It is easy to forget that Israel is a secular state, that there is no state religion; that, in fact, the Zionist movement was inspired by the political principles of the 19th-century Enlightenment movement and by the historical rights of the Jewish people, and not by any demands to create a religious territory. Meanwhile, under pressure from religious fundamentalists of various hues, a segment of Israeli Jews, and many Diaspora Jews, are being disenfranchised. Israel is the only country among democratic states where some practicing Jews are not permitted to follow their religious traditions. For example, any Israeli citizen who follows the Reform or Conservative streams of Judaism - adhered to by the majority of Jews in the Diaspora - cannot marry, divorce or have their funerals officiated over by a rabbi from their own community. FORMER SEPHARDI chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu allegedly claimed that the Holocaust happened because of the activity of Reform Jews in Germany. "Those people [Jews in general] are not to blame, but Reform started in Germany, those who changed the religion began in Germany. And because it is written that God was angered, even He did not differentiate among the righteous; it was done." More recently, in order to overturn a Supreme Court ruling which decreed that those converted to Judaism abroad by Reform or Conservative rabbis must be registered as Jews on their arrival in Israel, the Ministry of Interior - which seems to be permanently in the hands of the fundamentalists - said it wants the law changed so that it does not have to recognize the conversion of any overseas convert (even a modern Orthodox conversion) unless it meet haredi criteria. The situation of non-observant and secular Jews is no better. Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) wants to outlaw the company that operates Israel's only crematorium (a facility which recently came under attack by arsonists). In practice, atheist Jews - atheism was, incidentally, one of the achievements of the Enlightenment - are obliged to suffer religious funerals of one kind or another. An even more serious aspect to the problem of fundamentalist control over the body politic cries out. There are 300,000 people living in Israel who are eligible to become Jewish. The majority of them will no doubt be as irreligious as most veteran Israelis. In this, they will behave like most of the Jews around the world, who celebrate Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Pessah while leading largely secular lifestyles. Throughout Jewish history, there have always been various sects such as the Essenes, Pharisees and Sadducees. Today we have secular, Reform, Conservatives and Orthodox. The presence within the Jewish religion of 300,000 aspiring Jews is of fundamental importance for the future of Israel. Enabling a 5-percent increase in the Jewish population in Israel is not something to be neglected because of Orthodox diktat, especially as, to the fundamentalists, what is important is not strengthening the Zionist state, but the share of their own sect in relation to all the Jewish people in this country. The time has come for the politicians and the political parties who value democracy and secularism to get together and put an end to what amounts to anti-Jewish blackmail by one particular sect that does not embrace the interest of the whole of the Jewish people. The political scheming that embodies Israeli politics, where the fundamentalists wield disproportionate influence, must be overcome for the good of the Jewish people as a whole. Vilan is a Meretz MK. Stroun is a researcher in biochemistry at the University of Geneva.


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