Three Ladies, Three Lattes: The shrinking secular

You ask the questions, the three latte ladies provide the answers!

(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

I’m a recent (secular) immigrant to Israel from London, and it seems to me that I’ve come to a tinderbox. It looks like everyone is furious with everyone else, and there is great fear of the religious among the secular. Will there still be a place for the secular here in the future if this government succeeds in staying in power – Concerned in Modi’in

Danit Shemesh:

When presented with the fear-driven narrative, I understand your question. You feel the vulnerability of our beloved state, and fear for your place in it. 

Secular and haredi perspectives are diametrically opposed. Yet the majority of Israelis voted for the present government, which advocates a Jewish democracy. Can there be such a thing? Let’s decouple those two concepts. Democracy upholds individual will, whereas Judaism propounds God’s will. From the very outset, these concepts clash. Our behavior comes exclusively from that holy epicenter, which is the polar opposite of yours. 

However, ask the average haredi, and he/she will say that theocracy is not possible unless the whole nation chooses it. Active Judaism comes from the concept of bechira chofshit (freedom of choice). God’s wishes are positioned at the center, and it’s up to the individual whether to plug in or not. 

If we were to circumvent the rhetoric and truly try to understand each other, can we see that the secular are the guardians of democracy and the haredim are the guardians of Judaism? That is how we can achieve a Jewish democracy. However, if the secular crave democracy without the Jewish component, one like other nations espouse, then the conversation is entirely different, and this state may not be for them.

Israel heads to another round of elections on November 1. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel heads to another round of elections on November 1. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

I repeat: The country voted in Jewish democracy. The “Jewish” is no less integral than the “democracy.” If the army were to weaken, we would be in danger; so, too, if the Jewish front were tempered, the whole enterprise of the state would be endangered.

There is a place for the secular – they protect democracy. We [the Orthodox] look after the Jewish aspect of the country. 

Tzippi Sha-ked:

I’m no prophet, but one thing I know: If there’s no future for the secular here, there’s a grim future for the Dati Leumi (DL), National Religious. Like the secular, the DL also fear a haredi takeover. Should the secular vote with their feet and leave, the bulk of military and other responsibilities would fall squarely on the shoulders of the DL. Recently, the representation of the DL in one elite combat unit was 90%. Is this a glimpse of the future, where the religious will protect the lives of the shrinking secular?

Natan Sharansky recently voiced concern that we no longer speak to one another. Ironically, in our very own column, one of us often considers quitting, as she finds it impossible to dialogue with those who believe that God is on their side. 

We need to stop the verbal abuse and not succumb to the resentments and hatred we see brewing. In the words of Nelson Mandela: Resentment is like drinking poison, and then hoping it will kill your enemies. Let us stand together for our joint freedoms through dialogue and legislation. 

Before the state, the question was whether there was a future for Jews in Palestine. What a state we Jews built! The building is ongoing. In a country with rising haredi numbers, DL and secular both need to fight to stay relevant. The DL can’t afford to have the secular leave, not only for selfish reasons. We value their contributions. There was, is and will be room at the table for all.

Pam Peled:

Danit has triple the number of children that I do; Tzippi has almost double. Demographics are decisively against the secular. 

I guess it wouldn’t matter if we were outnumbered in years to come; there are 335,000 Jews in Canada, for example, out of a population of nearly 40 million; nobody questions their future.

In Canada, however, secular Jews don’t support the rest of the population, and in Canada nobody stops secular Jews from hopping on a bus on Shabbat. In Israel, the secular (with help from the National Religious) sustain the haredim: Our children fight to keep them safe, our taxes fund their multitudinous children and pay for their boys to study endlessly in yeshivot. 

The scary part is that as they get more numerous, they get more powerful. Politics and religion cohabit in Israel; the resultant mess is toxic. The Chief Rabbinate determines who can marry and divorce, and it oversees burials and conversions. Religious constraints in the coalition dictate that infrastructure should not be improved on the holy Sabbath; huge traffic jams on weekdays don’t disturb haredim, who never drive to work. 

I believe that when Danit says the “secular guard democracy” and the “haredim guard Judaism,” the subtext is that the secular guard the haredim’s right to take all and give nothing. 

Religious coercion and downright bad behavior are turning some secular Jews into antisemites; what a tragedy. But I see a change ahead: I believe the days of doling out money to cultists are coming to an end. We need to reclaim our hijacked heritage, decouple church and state, stop paying people not to work, and continue flourishing in our land like our secular grandparents did before us. And we will. Watch this space.  

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