Have We Lost Our Way?

I have not written for some time and usually only do so at times when Israel is embroiled in an external conflict. But it is not about any external conflict that I write now. I do not intend to write about the situation on the Gaza Border or the escalating situation up north. Israel is very capable of dealing with these external conflicts and I am in no way concerned for the security of Israel from any external source.

What is concerning me now is an internal conflict, which some say is for the very soul of Israel.

I would not go that far. Israel’s soul is intact. It is its heart and body that are under attack.
There is an illness that is eating away at the very foundations of the State itself and an underpinning operation is so very vital.

Last Thursday, July 19, a piece of legislation titled the Nation-State Law came into being. It passed through the Knesset by 62 votes to 55.

I have read the Law word by word and it is not so much what it says that worries me, but rather what it doesn’t say.

At no point is there any reference to the underlying principle of the Declaration of Independence, the principle of equality for all Israel’s citizens. It is this very principle that is the strength of the foundation of the State. According to the Declaration, Israel will, and I quote “…foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture;…”

Without reference to this basic tenet the State flounders and its walls become shaky. Instead of being able to say to ourselves, without doubt and without hesitation, that all Israel’s citizens are equal in the eyes of the law, we need to now rethink our response.

I hasten to add that I am not worried about what the world thinks about us as a result of this Law. My concern is what we think about ourselves.

The Nation – State Law gives power to our status as a Jewish State. This is all very well, but there is no reference to the democratic rules that need to apply alongside it.

Since the foundation of the State, Israel has, without such a law, enshrined in its daily life the very essence of Jewishness. And this Jewishness was, by its very existence, enveloped by democratic doctrine and credo.

As of July 19, the Jewishness of the State has been relegated, in my opinion, to a fact only because it is law and nothing more.

What happens to the personal desires of each individual to lead a Jewish life based on personal belief and action? Who will define, in law, what Jewish life is to be? What happens when a person’s Judaism is not the Judaism of the State?

We have already had a situation of a Masorti Rabbi being arrested, on the morning of the Nation-State Law coming into being, for performing a wedding outside the remit of the Orthodox rabbinic authorities.

Coincidence or design?

Only time will tell.

But whatever it is, it reflects the controlling influence of the coercive and doctrinal orthodox rabbinate over the government of the country.

This is not what Israel is about.

Reflect again on the Declaration of the State of Israel. It does not say any one type of Jew over another.

Per se, I am not against a Nation-State Law. Many countries have one.

What I want is such a Law that has regard to the equality of all the citizens of Israel and provides for self-determination without categorizing which group of citizens is entitled to that self-determination. Self-determination is a matter for all citizens who contribute to the growth of the State. The latter is a prerequisite, but to determine in advance who is included and excluded gives credence to those who choose to withdraw from the process.

Of course, when it comes to self-determination, it is usual for the majority grouping to lead the way. That is how Israel has created a country that is founded on Jewish principles and morals.

It has been argued that the specific wording in the Nation-State Law defining Israel as a Jewish State is there to ensure it remains that way regardless of the majority grouping within the country.

Frankly speaking, in the event that the majority of the population of Israel is no longer Jewish, we have a greater problem than any written law will cope with. No amount of law will deal with that.

If that is the nature of the worry behind the law, the law is no answer.

The answer is to give young Israelis a reason to adopt the very essence of Judaism and adapt it to modern life; to give them pride in their heritage as Jews as well as being Israeli; and to enable them to see a future of self-worth, without coercion by those they consider to be alien to their way of life.

It is because of the latter that so many young Israelis approach the non-Orthodox authorities when it comes to getting married. And why shouldn’t they be able to get married through the Jewish religious authority they choose. There is no monopoly of belief in Judaism, never has been and never should be.

Marriage though is only the thin edge of the wedge. There are many other issues too that push young Israelis away; that makes life for them hard to bear; that makes them leave the country. And they are not only financial.

These are the issues to which our government should be giving attention.

When I commenced writing this, it was Erev Tisha B’Av. Through Megillat Eicha (Book of Lamentations), as written by the prophet Jeremiah, I was reminded of the destruction of Jerusalem thousands of years ago. In his writing, Jeremiah refrains from any remonstration with G-d. The reason for the destruction of Jerusalem, we are told, was due to the behaviour of human beings to each other. Causeless hatred among the people was endemic and a lack of respect of society by society was common.

Are we en route to that situation now?

Have we lost our way?

Are we now in need of a moral WAZE?

The answer is self-evident.

When the body is sick we need to find the cure. And we cannot just leave it to our leadership.

It starts with us.

On the big front, we need to stand as one, and say to our government:

  • Rethink the Nation-State Law. Delete that which discriminates and insert that which underlines democracy as a primary principle.
  • Do not be blackmailed by the coercive behaviour of a rabbinate that alienates the majority of the people;
  • Recognize that Judaism comes in many forms – there is no monopoly;
  • Encourage and award good citizenship;
  • Act as the exemplars that your position demands of you.

And on the road to this big front, there are those things that all of us as individuals should do, on a daily basis. They require no enforcement by law. They are all the things that are encompassed in one single direction from the moral WAZE – “be nice to each other” – love your neighbour as yourself and do not do unto others that which you do not want done unto you.

Judaism teaches us that the world is a work in progress. Judaism is a call to creativity — a call to make ourselves, our society and the world into something better.

We must all participate in that call.

About the Author
Maurice Ross was born in Ireland in 1955. Made Aliyah in 2007, having lived in London, UK since 1965. Former Jewish community Professional and Educator.