Esor Ben-Sorek
Esor Ben-Sorek

Religion vs. democracy: which one will win the battle?

Of all the many battles we have fought and won, the newest promises to be the most difficult.

On 14 May 1948 the then Prime-Minister-to-be, David Ben-Gurion, read aloud the Declaration of Independence. In it, he declared the newborn nation was to be called “the State of Israel”. It was not declared “the Jewish State of Israel”. It was not necessary. The entire world knew that Israel was a Jewish State. Unlike some countries, i.e. the Islamic Republic of Iran, etc., it was not necessary to place an ethnic identity before the name of our State.

Now it has been decided to publicly proclaim our republic as the Jewish State of Israel. It is said that it would be both Jewish and democratic. Who is dreaming? Such a thing is not possible. We cannot be both a theocracy and a democracy.

Presently we have no genuine Jewish religious freedom. Not to choose Orthodox, Conservative or Reform synagogues or rabbis. Not to choose the rights to civil marriage or civil divorce. Not to choose the opportunity of public transportation on the Sabbath or buying groceries or enjoying a coffee or ice cream at a café in Jerusalem on Saturday.

We are not governed by democratic law but rather by religious law which has been enforced upon us by medieval clergy who are still steeped in a sixteenth century mind-set somewhere in the ghettos of Lithuania.

We are a nation of secular Jews, Orthodox Jews, ultra-Orthodox and Haredi Jews. Chassidim, Christians, Muslims, Samaritans, Druze, Karaites and Circassians. One law cannot suit the needs of an entire population.

There is now and will always be a conflict between organized religion and democracy. The two cannot truly live in harmony. Either there is government by democratic law or government by religious law. “Never the ‘twain shall meet”.

Our national flag bears the Shield of David in its center, a totally Jewish symbol. How then can non-Jewish citizens of Israel pledge their allegiance to a flag which does not recognize their ethnic beliefs?
To be truly a democratic nation based upon Jewish ideals of freedom of religion, our flag would need to be re-designed. In the center, the Shield of David would remain while in the upper corners there would be a smaller crescent and a smaller cross. The three monotheistic religions would be recognized in the land where the three faiths were born.

We, in Israel, have no Constitution. Only our Basic Law protects our rights and our freedom. To amend the Basic Law by including the word “Jewish” to the State of Israel would spell the death to democracy and the grave dangers of an unwanted Jewish theocracy.

All the world knows that we are a Jewish State. And we will forever be one without adding one word to our Basic Law. If something is not broken, it need not be fixed.

In the battle of Religion vs. Democracy, which one will win?

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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