What does it mean to be a religious Jew? I am probably one of the last people to ask. I have no idea. There is a wide variety of religious people in my family, observant in differing ways. They are all good people and I don’t use the word good lightly. They are moral, honest, generous, caring human beings. They observe the mitzvot. Tikun Olam is important to them as they strive to make the world a better place for all mankind. They respect people who observe in ways other than theirs and they respect those who don’t observe (like me). In my very humble and unorthodox opinion, these are the truly religious Jews.
Living in Israel, I see what religion means to many who call themselves “datim” and I find myself totally unable to understand what it means to be an observant Jew. I see the letter of the law superseding the spirit of the law. I see criminals sporting kippot and kissing mezuzot as they enter a courtroom. I see sex offenders, pedophiles and rapists protected by religious communities who totally ignore the suffering and pain of the victims.
Does a religious person have the right to live off others? Does a religious person choose not to work while being supported by those who do? Does a religious person who lives in a country where there is compulsory military service refuse to serve? No parent wants to send a child into battle, but no parent has the right to expect others to do so while forbidding one’s own child from serving.
Does a religious person lie and cheat when it serves his own interests? Does he disobey the laws of the country in which he lives? Does he support corrupt politicians only because they are religious?
And what about attitudes? What about the “religious parties” that sow hatred for anyone who is different, be they Jews or non-Jews? Is it permissible and perhaps considered worthy to destroy the property of Arabs because a hilltop youth wants the land for his own? Are members of the LGBT community to be ostracized and dehumanized? Are women to be debased, excluded from the public space and destined to remain voiceless in the political arena?
I know that I have spoken in generalities. I have no doubt that there are many truly upright, moral people in religious communities. Yet their voices are largely unheard. Isn’t it possible for religion in Israel to coexist with liberalism, morality, respect for the other and Tikun Olam?
I am pained because of my love for Israel. I am pained because the schisms in our society are deepening and may become insurmountable. I am pained because our leaders are nourishing these divides rather than mending them. Love, whether one human being for another or love of country must be nourished with more than empty words and meaningless declarations.
So please, what does it mean to be a religious Jew?