Much as I love Israel, sometimes I despair at the lack of vision of some of its electorate. It’s noticeable as an outsider that so many Israelis are disillusioned with the religious establishment in general and the Haredi political parties in particular. So, from a distance away, electing someone like Minister Azoulai to the Knesset is like putting a TV evangelist in the White House.
From my own goyische perspective (all Orthodox can stop reading now, since I clearly know nothing), to suggest that only people who follow Jewish law to the letter — italics mine — can be described as Jewish and described non-Orthodox streams as “people who try and falsify” the Jewish religion isn’t just stupid. It’s short-sighted to the point of ridicule, because it suggests that he’s right and everybody else is wrong. The clear implication being that only the prayers of the ‘righteous’ are heard and the harder you try to keep the Law, the more weight your prayers have. Don’t fire him. Laugh at him.
When I lived in Israel, despite the fact that I am a ‘believer’, I got on best with the ‘secular’ Jews, the ones who wore Levis and had a sense of humor. The black-and-whites — sorry, but I don’t know the proper denominational names — with all those confusingly different dress codes, mostly just crossed the road whenever they saw me, eyes down, weak with study. I assumed that my worldly aura must be floating above my head, like the trident of Beelzebub and, if they actually met my eye, they’d catch something unpleasant.
In fairness, the Christians too have had their share of unctuous fatheads but at least they weren’t in the Government.
In 1980, Oklahoma pastor Bailey Smith, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, made this ‘off-the-cuff’ comment: “It’s interesting to me at great political battles how you have a Protestant to pray and a Catholic to pray and then you have a Jew to pray. With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew. For how in the world can God hear the prayer of a man who says that Jesus Christ is not the true Messiah? It is blasphemy.”
‘All due respect.’ Right. ‘Dear people.’ OK, then. Dressing up your stupidity, Reverend, still means that you, like Bottom, are wearing an ass’s head. A figure of ridicule in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. At the same event, dear old Ronnie Reagan had to smooth things over for him.
Religious denominations are both inevitable and, indeed, desirable because our faith is like a fingerprint, shaped by the unique contours of our soul and the tension and counterplay of prayer forms part of its inner fabric. They are inevitable because if we all thought exactly the same, we’d all be in love with the same woman. They’re desirable because how else are people to be encouraged to think, reason and debate in free societies, thereby making progress? Karl Barth, the great Victorian theologian wrote at length about the ‘otherness’ of God, by which he meant that the behaviour and attributes of the Creator could not simply be explained by childish anthropomorphism; instead the Creator reveals His essence through an ongoing work of rescue — a shorthand for redemption or salvation — outside of and sometimes apart from ourselves.
I’d further ask — if God declines to hear the prayers of non-Haredi Jews, where does that leave the rest of us, believers, idolaters, triers, failures, sinners all? I’ve never much liked how people try to categorise prayer, thereby adding to or subtracting from it; from the petitionary Janis Joplin ‘Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz’ to the exaltatory poetry of the Psalms. In their different ways, they are representative of the same thing, the unseen bridge, the gap between the hand of God and Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
And, yes, Minister. God hears the prayers of the goyim, too, along with all the rest of the hangers-on. All God’s chillun. People like me. Or, I certainly hope so.