Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Druze Jews: Israeli Jew or Jewish Israeli?

“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.

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order: