A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Nationality law (“Le’om”) and how it puts me, as a non-Jew, in my place in this country, a position which is at best, as a tolerated guest. Israel is the home of the Jews and only of the Jews. Or is it?
Apparently, there are Jews and there are Jews. And the question is who decides. Ever since the formation of the State of Israel, with the enactment of the “Law of Return”, the issue of “Who is a Jew” has been hotly debated, and the question of who decides who is a Jew, even more. The Orthodox establishment, which has been given almost complete power over Jewish issues in Israel, has vehemently opposed anything beyond Orthodox Jewish doctrine and Reform and Conservative Jewry have been treated with disdain and contempt.
And, since in Israel the real political power is in the hands of the Religious parties who have held the option to make or break a political coalition almost always, the State has capitulated against Orthodox demands with as a result that millions of people, who live as Jews, consider themselves Jews but only have different ideas about how to experience their Jewishness, are vilified and discriminated against in Israel.
Last week the Orthodox religious parties again made it clear to everyone who is the boss and two issues were pushed through that (maintain) established Orthodox supremacy. The first one is the Conversion Law, which defines who is allowed to convert people into the Jewish faith and the second one is the prayer section at the Western Wall for Reform and Conservative Jews who prefer to pray men and women together. Both issues are of crucial importance to Reform and Conservatives Jews the world over, the Conversion Law because there is a direct link between the right to immigrate to Israel and recognition of Jewishness, while the Western Wall prayer section is the desire to express their Jewishness the way they understand it and the controversy explicitly shows Reform and Conservative Jews that they are not real Jews, at least not as far as Israel is concerned.
Of course the main problem here (again) is the Separation between Religion and State.
With freedom of religion (which in Israel exists, more or less) the State cannot dictate to religious leaders what decisions to make regarding religion and they should be entitled to exclude anyone they deem not fit for whatever reason. Religion should also be allowed to express their beliefs in ceremonies and behavior of their choosing.
The problem begins when these decisions and expressions are used to create rules and regulations regarding civil State-related issues.
If Israel decided to enact the “Law of Return”, stipulating that Israel is the ancestral home of every Jew and every Jew has the right to Israeli citizenship, it MUST determine what constitutes, under the Israeli CIVIL law, who is a Jew. By not doing so, the State leaves people who are seeing themselves as Jews at the mercy of the Orthodox stream in Judaism and denies them rights that they might have been entitled to if the State chose to take a clear standpoint on the issue of Who is a Jew. The situation as it is now maybe comfortable for the State most of the time, since there is no need to explicitly exclude Reform and Conservative Judaism and thereby make them turn away from Israel and losing their support, both political and financial; while on the other hand there also is no need to include them explicitly into Jewish life in Israel, which would create severe political problems with the religious parties, which can make or break coalitions.
So in everyday life we now have the real Jews (Orthodox), the tolerated ones (depends on who you ask) the recognized and unrecognized Jews, and the goys. The situation brings to mind the racial laws in Apartheid South Africa, where people where categorized as White, Black, Eastern and mixed. And clear rules would determine to which group a person belonged, based on their ancestry, resulting in “gradations of White” much like we now how gradations of Jews.
The situation surrounding the Western Wall is even more absurd. The religious parties scream that the Western Wall belongs to the Jews, and they mean of course to Orthodox Jews. However, the Western Wall is a National Monument and it belongs to the State. It is up to the State to decide what will happen there and the State must make decisions on the expressions of religious practices. The moment this is left to one religious stream, it will entail discrimination of others, and by allowing this the State allows religious coercion.
Leaving things in the air serves politicians well since only every now and then the controversy will erupt and will have to be dealt with. In the current round of animosity, extreme efforts were made to placate everyone, that things are not like they seem or are made to look and that stalling, postponing and establishing committees goes a long way in cooling off things and not deciding nothing until the next flare up. And such chicanery is way preferable than any clear decision making, because you will have to deal with the consequences of those decisions.
Even though, in the words or President Reuven Rivlin, the Israeli public looks at diaspora Jewry as a source of money, (which I am not so sure should be taken too much for granted), isn’t it high time that Israelis take their (religious) lives into their own hands, and wrestle it from the claws of a few Orthodox powerbrokers whose main aim is to control and dictate the lives of others and who are totally intolerant of anything that falls beyond their worldview. Israel is meant to be the home of the Jews, no? So force the political system to finally make clear-cut decisions on rules and regulations as to whose home it really is! And live with the consequences of the decisions that will be made.
And maybe, on a personal note, if the Jews decide finally whose home this really is, they will feel more comfortable allowing others to call it home also………..