“Do you feel closer to a Druze combat soldier in the IDF or an Ultra-Orthodox Jew living in Bnei-Brak?” This was one of the questions on Jewish/Israeli identity I recently posed to the group of IDF soldiers who were accompanying my recent “Amazing Israel” Birthright trip as part of my doctoral data collection.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those soldiers surveyed felt more affinity for the Druze soldier serving the State of Israel. The same subjects responded that speaking Hebrew and serving in the IDF are key components of their Jewish identity. This answer could equally apply to the nationalistic and incredibly patriotic Israeli Druze community. Time and time again in the interviews and surveys I conducted the subjects placed an emphasis on the State of Israel over Jewish religion.
One of the prime reasons for this phenomenon of what amounts to a de facto detachment between the State of Israel and its Jewish identity, according to the soldiers I surveyed, was the tremendous antipathy they feel, as secular Zionist Israelis, toward the State’s rabbinate. They view the rabbinate as a bastion of Ultra-Orthodox, non-Zionist, “men in black,” who alienate the majority of their potential constituents by being both incredibly out of touch and openly antagonistic toward any lifestyle that does not respond to their own. As Daniel Gordis observed: “Israel’s rabbinate lives as if the rabbinic hegemony over Jewish communities continues unchanged from the Middle Ages, as if the Enlightenment and Emancipation had not yet arrived” (Saving Israel, p.207).
If there is to be hope against the creeping trend towards wholesale Jewish illiteracy in Israeli society, in addition to a radical revision of the State educational system to place far more emphasis on Jewish literacy, it is in finding alternatives to the kleptocracy of the rabbinate. One of the many important alternatives is the Tzohar rabbinical organisation. Tzohar is a movement founded by religious-Zionist IDF-serving Rabbis who are more open to the needs of the general public, not just the religiously observant sectors. They call for new guidelines for managing the marriage, divorce and conversion processes in Israel. The Rabbis who volunteer for Tzohar are inspired by the inclusivist philosophy of Rabbi A.I. Kook (the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of pre-State Israel). To paraphrase Rabbi Kook, only when we learn what we have in common, and not what divides us, and share an unconditional love towards our fellow Jews then will we be worthy of complete redemption.