Israel and Judaism

Since Judaism is some 5,000 years old and Israel is some 70 years old, it is an interesting question as to how a 70-year-old can influence a 5,000-year-old?

Gol Kalev marries Yocheved Rindenow in Jerusalem on October 4 (photo credit: LEVI DOVID PHOTOGRAPHY)
Gol Kalev marries Yocheved Rindenow in Jerusalem on October 4
How coincidental is it that two prominent magazines, Moment, a liberal publication in the United States and The Jerusalem Report, a newsworthy publication in Israel, should both publish articles within the same month dealing with the effect Jewish religion has on the State of Israel?
The Moment magazine article was a survey under the heading “Has Israel Changed Judaism?” and the question was responded to by rabbis of all denominations. Their answers were, in the opinion of the undersigned, relevant, in some cases, and irrelevant in others. As a result, I wrote and submitted to the editors an article replying to the initial question, which the editors chose not to publish nor did they respond to a letter asking them why they would publish a survey question and then not publish discussion from readers about the survey? I thought this question to be particularly relevant when the banner on the cover of the magazine is “The Next 5,000 Years of Conversation Begins Here.” Obviously it doesn’t. Nevertheless, the essence of the undersigned’s article reads, in part, as follows: “Tacked to a bulletin board over my desk is an old and weathered definition, source unknown, which reads, ‘Judaism is not solely a religion; it is a culture, an ethic, a lifestyle and a people.’” I believe in what it says. That is my definition of Judaism, a multifaceted jewel.
Since Judaism is some 5,000 years old and Israel is some 70 years old, it is an interesting question as to how a 70-year-old can influence a 5,000-year-old?
Going back to the original question, I asked if you are willing to accept the definition of Judaism, old and weathered as it may be, then Israel is the living embodiment of Judaism. It contains all of the facets of the multiaceted jewel. If you do not wish to accept that definition and deem Judaism to be only a 5,000-year-old religion, then asking whether Israel has changed it is a somewhat meaningless question. A nation-state cannot change a religion other than by force; they are not equal; they are not on a par; their conceptual existence is different. Perhaps the question should have been is Judaism changing Israel?
Now we go to the recently published article by Gol Kalev in The Report’s July 8, 2018 edition entitled, “Is Israel abandoning its secular roots?” How shall we compare the two articles? Does an answer lie in the Moment magazine question, “Has Israel Changed Judaism?” or can we find an answer in the abandonment by Israel of its secular roots?
The latter article itself is, in the opinion of the undersigned, as we say in Yiddish, nit milkhig un nit fleischig – neither dairy nor meat. It makes no strong argument in answer to the question asked in the headline. Historically it is true; the original settlers of the kibbutzim and moshavim were, for the most part, secular. But the article then goes on to say, “But today a secular Israeli can engage with Jewish religiosity while staying secular.” What does that mean? It attempts to prove that assertion with the argument that even the secular Israeli “felt a strong connection to the Jewish religion.” It goes on to say that this manifested itself in belief in God, fasting on Yom Kippur and participating in religious ceremonies. Then what made him secular? As a further example of the article’s position, the same speaks of an individual emerging from a religious event and not being concerned or embarrassed by the fact that, although secular in belief, he is still wearing his kippah. On more than one occasion, when emerging from a funeral or other service, my wife has reminded me that I am still wearing my yarmulke. An oversight, not a change in convictions.
Finally, the article ends with the words, “Indeed, Zionism has now turned into the vehicle by which Israelis are coming home to Judaism.” Coming home to Judaism? Where did they live before? Was Zionism not the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people? Neither secularism nor religion was a cornerstone of Zionism. Those who made aliyah had a choice to practice their religion or to remain secular. We must therefore conclude that the author of the article feels that those people who wear their kippahs in the street after leaving a religious service reject the definition of Judaism as set forth above, which defines it as more than a religion.
The Israeli people, kippah or not, aside from the Haredim and those politicians who have to compromise their principles in order to stay in office, are aware that Zionism, the established nation-state of Israel must continue to have a secular foundation, if it is to remain a democratic society. The freedom to practice your religion is a cornerstone of that democracy and no one should abridge that freedom nor should the practice of religion ever overtake democratic principles.
In conclusion, neither article makes its point. The subject of both articles, similar in nature, is ill-defined. There is no doubt that
ultra-Orthodoxy can change a government; we see that in the offensive and dictatorial governments of Israel’s neighbors. May it never come to that in Israel.
The writer, who will be 90 in November, lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.