Climate change

It is ironic in the extreme that in the Jewish state, Judaism is the least respected of all religions.

The recent furor over the Hametz Law court ruling and subsequent attempt to legislate the ban on publicly displaying hametz on Pessah points to an issue that is far different and deeper than the relatively narrow (though vastly important) one of hametz itself. That issue is one of climate change - not the weather but rather the mind-set of secular Israeli society, our courts and governmental systems. Observance of traditional laws and rituals is a personal matter and always has been. The Talmud taught us long ago that "all things may be in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven itself." Judaism is grounded and based on the supreme idea that humans have free will and the power to choose - without heavenly coercion - one's actions, behavior and belief according to one's own lights. However, since no man is an island and we all live in a general society that surrounds us, there are certain norms that prevail and therefore to an extent restrict our behavior and choices. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in a famous US Supreme Court decision on the issue of freedom of speech opined that no one has the right to shout "fire" in a crowded theater when in fact there is no fire. There is a certain mind-set, a climate of civility and accepted respectfulness that rules a society. Naturally, over time and circumstance this climate and mind-set may and does change. The question is whether this change is warranted and beneficial to the society or is it merely divisive, temporary and eventually destructive to society. Not every climate change can be seen as beneficial. There were certain norms of respect that once governed Israeli society, even though that society was perhaps even more secular in lack of observance and in its anti-religious ideology than it is today. Marxism was a powerful influence in the Jewish world then, as was its attendant atheism. Nevertheless there was a general consensus of a modicum of respect toward traditional Jewish norms. Maybe it was nostalgia or just good hardheaded common sense that the climate in the country marked Yom Kippur without traffic, Pessah without public displays of hametz, Tisha Be'av without restaurants being open for business. Such was the climate of the times - not one of religious observance but rather one of respect for Jewish history and tradition and for the great section of Israeli society who held these concepts and observances dear. But the estrangement of Israeli society to this type of public climate has been taking place gradually over the past few decades. Respect for tradition and knowledge of the Jewish past are certainly not emphasized and in many cases not even taught in the public educational system. Religious Jews are demonized, albeit subtly but nevertheless constantly, in the main media channels. Sensitivities to neighbors and fellow citizens have become non-existent. Public Shabbat desecration abounds and no one takes into account the damage - spiritual, social, and generational - that springs from this. The climate has changed; no respect for tradition or our past or for the sensitivities of a large and ever growing section of society is present. So it is not the individual issue of public display of hametz on Pessah that is so hurtful. It is rather the indication of how severely the climate regarding Jewish tradition has changed. There are many Jews who are not observant but who nevertheless respect the prohibition of hametz on Pessah. The court's ill-advised decision, which concentrates on the legal tree in front of it and does not take into account the general societal forest that exists, weakens the public's resolve of respect for tradition and sensitivity to generations and other sections of society. If hametz on Pessah were a Christian or Muslim religious tenet I am confident that the court would have ruled otherwise. It is ironic in the extreme that in the Jewish state, Judaism is the least respected of all religions. Unless that public climate is now changed through education, political leadership and commonsense goodwill there will be further divisiveness, erosion of respect for one another and a greater atmosphere of social discontent than exists already. We worry about and debate the problem of environmental climate change - global warming - endlessly. But certainly not enough attention is being paid to the social and spiritual climate change that is so dangerous to the homogeneity of Israeli society and to its unity and future destiny. Global warming may be a climate change that defies our attempts to govern it. But our social climate change is certainly subject to rectification and improvement. The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator.