Respect for religion

Netanyahu tweeted: “You don’t have to wear a kippa to understand the importance of our tradition and the future of our people. It is the essence of our existence.

June 3, 2018 04:15
3 minute read.
Reading a torah scroll

Reading a torah scroll. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)


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What is happening to Israelis’ respect for religion and tradition? While they might not be indicative of a larger trend, two recent videos raise our concern.

The first was a segment on the prime-time, hit Israeli satirical show Eretz Nehederet. The actor who impersonated Education Minister Naftali Bennett was shown wearing tefillin on his head that mimicked the ponytails of Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai.

While the skit might strike some as funny, the country’s religious leadership, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Nentanyahu, did not appreciate the joke.

Netanyahu tweeted: “You don’t have to wear a kippa to understand the importance of our tradition and the future of our people. It is the essence of our existence. It is what distinguishes and strengthens us.

I am in favor of satire, but there are things you just don’t do.”

The second video came out this week. It was taken at Ben-Gurion Airport and showed an Israeli woman berating a Chabad rabbi as he helped another man don tefillin.

The woman, whose actions were captured on a cellphone video posted on Facebook, mocked the men, laughing and screeching as they engaged in the religious act. “Move, because you are bothering me,” she told them. ”Why are you doing this here? There are people here.”

Several people in the terminal asked her to tone down, but instead she became louder and then started to simply laugh in a way that appeared aimed at trying to disrupt the prayer ritual.

The video, which has had more than 300,000 views since Monday, was posted by Gad Kaufman, the businessman who put on the tefillin with the help of the Chabad rabbi who was manning a booth at the airport.

“An amazing incident took place this morning at the airport, when I was politely asked by a Chabad man if I wanted to put on tefillin,” he wrote. “I said ‘Yes,’ and then a woman with a crazy look jumped up and started cursing, harassing and disturbing! It is really shameful that being a Jew in this country means being persecuted by leftist Bohemians. If I were a Muslim or a Christian, would it be more legitimate for her...?” The woman was identified as Pnina Peri, a visiting assistant professor of Israel Studies at the University of Maryland. Peri, who formerly taught at Israel’s Sapir Academic College, is reportedly an expert in multicultural theories. That apparently does not include respect for Judaism.

Are these two incidents indicative of a larger trend in Israel of declining respect for religion? We certainly hope not, however, there is data to show that this might be happening.

In 2016, for example, a Pew study found that secular Jews in Israel are more uncomfortable with the notion that a child of theirs will marry a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jew than they are with the prospect of them marrying a Christian. At the same time, an overwhelming majority of haredim (95%) said they would be uncomfortable if a child of theirs someday married a secular Jew.

This division within the Jewish people should not be something that is simply accepted. It is perfectly natural for people to want to build families with other people like them. But this trend, combined with the recent mocking of tefillin and the feeling of alienation among progressive Jews in Israel – due to the conversion bill and the cancellation of the Kotel deal – show that something is not working when it comes to the status of religious affairs in Israel.

The fact that there is no separation between religion and state in Israel does not help. On the contrary, it politicizes religion and turns many people, who might otherwise be open to religion, off from it.

Jews should respect one another and tolerate difference, even when there are practices that to some might seem anachronistic. There are enough problems the Jewish people need to deal with. Mocking someone for wearing tefillin should not be one of them.

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