There are many symbolic comparisons that combine the election season and the festival of Hanukkah. The age old expression of Jewish independence in the land of our Forefathers, and the modern day realization of Jewish democratic sovereignty on that very soil. For me, living in Modi’in, the city of the Hasmoneans, this is brought evermore sharply into focus as I attempt to explain to my children the magnitude not only of the miracles of our salvation from the Greeks, and the rededication of the Temple, but of the seemingly endless chain of miracles that has meant that over 2,000 years later, we have the freedom and ability to live here in the very home town of the heroes of those days.
And considering that deeper meaning of Hanukkah – the preservation of Jewish sovereignty as well as Jewish law – it is clear that this election holds perhaps even greater significance. In Temple times, the Priesthood represented the Jewish faith to the people. Though by the time of the story of Hanukkah, the High Priest was a role bestowed by foreign rulers upon those they wanted to serve as local representatives or governors.
Because of this corruption of the Jewish establishment, the Hellenistic rulers were able to pass laws that forbade Jewish rituals and religious observance. And so up rose the historic, heroic and of course miraculous revolt of the Maccabees. They restored Jewish practice to the Temple, and rid the Holy Land of its Hellenistic Greek rulers and pagan worship.
Today, the Jewish establishment once again needs rescuing. However, not from those external to the faith, but indeed, from those within. The Ultra-Orthodox’s continued domination of key positions in the Rabbanut, specifically in the fields of conversion and marriage, has left many mainstream Israelis ostracised from religion and antagonistic toward the very involvement of faith in key moments of their lives. If the Hanukkah story teaches us anything, it is that our traditions surly do deserve zealous protection – a message reinforced throughout history as foreign powers have sought to destroy our people. As such, I understand the Ultra-Orthodox parties’ desire to maintain control over the Jewish establishment and religious offices, and of course ensure funding for their method of Torah learning and lifestyle. However, in doing so, they have forgotten the essence of Jewish law and tradition – that being the connection between G-d and His people, and the realisation of that connection living as a free people in the Land of Israel.
The Jewish establishment must be guiding not controlling. It must be prepared to stand up for halacha, yet able to understand the challenges and opportunities of the modern world. In its current form, the Ultra-Orthodox led Rabbanut falls shamefully short of this key goal.
And what role does the political establishment have to play in this? A big one. It may surprise you that a party perceived as deeply secularist, Yisrael Beytenu, has as one of its key goals, the return of the Rabbinical establishment to the Modern Orthodox or Da’ati Leumi. Indeed during the outgoing Knesset several pieces of legislation have been proposed by members of the Yisrael Beytenu faction which promote a more open access to Jewish services without compromising on halacha. Further still, Yisrael Beytenu are fervently against the separation of religion and state, with the key belief that we need not be ashamed that Israel is a Jewish state and that Judaism is key to the character of country. It is for this reason that members of Yisrael Beytenu have sought to support organisations such as Tzohar, and have spoken out in favour of individuals such as Rabbi Druckman when he was lambasted by the Ultra-Orthodox.
With the demographic equation weighted heavily in favour of the Ultra-Orthodox, time is running out for these vital pieces of legislation to pass, and for the Da’ati Leumi to step up to the plate and ensure that the religious apparatus of the state is open and accessible.
Sadly parties that define themselves as Da’ati Leumi have failed to play a key role in the implementation of proposals to restore the National Religious leaders to the top of the religious establishment, or speak out on key issues such as conversion or marriage. As smaller parties, they are constrained by political and coalition concerns. There is only one way in which these crucial voices will be heard, and that is with stable majority led coalition. Hence this election, poses an historic opportunity. With more and more parties submitting candidates at each election, the political spectrum is become increasingly fractured – leaving the window during which such important moves can be made as continually shrinking.
So as we remember the Hanukkah miracle, and enjoy this special celebration of Jewish traditions and sovereignty, let’s also look ahead to January, and an election that offers us the opportunity to follow in the steps of the Maccabees, and seize the chance to rededicate Judaism, and return it to the people.