What is a Jewish state? What does it mean to be a “Jewish state”? There are as many answers to that question as there are different political, religious and philosophical approaches to Judaism and Zionism.It may be easier to say what it should not mean. It should not mean using the state to force the observance of Jewish law on the unwilling. In this day and age in which the Jewish people consists of many variations and interpretations of Judaism, and when many Jews do not see themselves as observant or bound by Jewish law, the State of Israel must not become the enforcer of observance.Obviously, the Jewishness of the state means that Israel is a place where all Jews have the right to live, but it should go beyond that. It should also be a place where Judaism in its many varieties can flourish, where a true renaissance of Judaism can take place. It should be a place in which the best moral and ethical standards of Judaism are allowed to set the tone for life.I use the phrase “the best moral and ethical standards” advisedly because Judaism over the centuries has given rise to many different attitudes, some of which are unacceptable by current moral standards.Considering the history of Jews, the persecution that we underwent by both Christian and Islamic states and the anti-Jewish teachings that were promulgated then and still exist in some quarters, it is no wonder that these ideas developed within Judaism. For example, within the vast panorama of Jewish writings one can find ideas of Jewish superiority and of non-Jewish inferiority that are totally unacceptable.Unfortunately, some of these ideas are being taught today by recognized religious leaders. They must not be allowed to become the predominant ethos of Israel. On many issues such as these one finds contradictory teachings within the corpus of Jewish thought, and must choose which ones are worthy of being passed on.Fortunately, the Torah is filled with concepts that we can proudly teach today to all Jews: the concern for the poor and the underprivileged, the importance of mercy and of justice, the sacredness of human life, the love of others and the love of the stranger. These are only some of the great ideals that are taught there, and that can serve as the basis of a truly Jewish state. Rabbinic writings are also a great source of ethical norms. For example, when Hillel the Elder was asked by a non-Jew to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot, he replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. All the rest is commentary. Go study,” (Shabbat 31a).This was his Aramaic interpretation and elaboration of the verse, “Love your fellow as yourself,” (Leviticus 19:18). It is truly remarkable that Hillel did not characterize the Torah by speaking about belief in one God, or about observance of rituals. Rather, he stated clearly that the essence of the Torah is in the way you treat your fellow human being. Everything else in the Torah is commentary on that, teaching us how to do it.A century or so later, Rabbi Akiva, the greatest sage of that generation, also taught that the most important general rule underlying the entire Torah was that very same verse, “Love your fellow as yourself” (Sifra 89b). Of all the verses in the Torah he chose that one, and not “Love the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 6:5) or “Be holy” (Leviticus 19:2), or anything else. We know that Akiva was extremely careful about observing all the rituals of Judaism, and lived his entire life according to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” He died trying to fulfill it. Yet Akiva knew and taught that acting lovingly toward other people was the greatest rule of the Torah. All else was subservient to that. All the observances and beliefs the Torah teaches are aimed at creating one who fulfills that verse. Without that, nothing else is of value.The Jewish state should not be an enforcer of Jewish practices but a place in which the magnificent values of Judaism, such as those mentioned, are inscribed on its gates, taught to its citizens and serve as the basis for its laws and statutes. That will truly bring glory and admiration to Judaism and its teachings. The writer, former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, is a two-time winner of the National Book Award. His latest book is The Torah Revolution (Jewish Lights).