Write down the name of a religious cult that lists people as followers without asking for their consent and then forbids them to be excluded. Most likely you did not write “Judaism”, but this is exactly what you should have written.
Some years ago I submitted a modest application to the Israeli Ministry of Interior, which is officially in charge of denomination listings in this country. I asked to omit the adjective “Jewish” from my record. It goes without saying that in any democratic country in Europe or North America such step is technical. No state clerk would force anyone to remain Jewish, Christian, Buddhist or Adventist against the person’s will. However, the policy in Israel shares more similarities with Democratic lions such as Dubai and Egypt. There, leaving Islam is impossible by law; here, leaving Judaism is hell by practice. After the Ministry of Interior ignored my application, I appealed to the Supreme Court (“Bagatz”) asking for its intervention. Three years later, the case is still undecided.
Do I ask to omit only a certain religious faith from my record or also to make a change of nationality? In my view, Judaism is solely, or at least mainly, a faith; otherwise, Orthodox Jews who reside in Brooklyn and declare day and night how proud they feel to be Americans cannot be so proud. Yet, even if I am wrong, I am still listed as “Jewish” by religion in the population records kept by the Israeli Ministry of Interior. This is the record that I want to change and this is the ministry that ignores my request without providing an explanation.
Let’s try, nonetheless, to guess out the reason: One possibility is that this ministry tries to follow ancient biblical customs that regard apostasy a grave sin whose punishment can be as severe as death by stoning. I tend to be optimistic that this is not the case, not only because stoning has been out of fashion for ages but also because the policy was not different when the Ministry of Interior was kept in the hands of the most secular parties. Another explanation which makes more sense to me is that Israel would do everything to keep the percent of Jews in society as high as possible. This way, the “demographic threat” would seem less threatening.
Obviously, there is nothing democratic about keeping people locked in some religion against their will, but I can’t think of any religious state that is also democratic. Israel adjoins a list of Theodemocracies comprised mainly of Muslim states like Malaysia, Indonesia and even Iran that adhere to some democratic principles like free elections while keeping religious dictums and leaders in supervision. This is not the most respected list of nations– but that is where we are.
Last but not least – the answer to the complex question “why do I insist not to be listed Jewish” is actually quite simple. At heart, I don’t feel Jewish. In practice, I don’t believe that Jews are a “chosen nation”. I don’t feel connected to Jews worldwide. I certainly don’t keep Jewish traditions or religious customs. I only hope that the ministry of Interior or at least the Supreme Court will eventually find a way to respect my atheist non-denominational feelings.