Religious Freedom in Israel is a Fantasy

We have been living under a delusion that religious freedom exists in our country. Religious freedom for who?

It is a fantasy. Worse than that it is a lie. There is no freedom of religion for non-Orthodox Jews in Israel.

Non-Orthodox rabbis are not recognized, do not receive salaries from the Ministry of Religious Affairs as all other clergy receive. Marriages, divorces, conversions and burials by non-Orthodox rabbis are not recognized nor considered valid or legal.

Religious freedom exists only for the observant among the Jewish population. Conservative and Reform synagogues and practices are not recognized. So Jews who wish to observe Judaism in non-Orthodox practice are denied and deprived of the freedom to do so.

Horrendously, Jewish young vandals have for many years disrespected the property of Christian churches and monasteries. They have defaced the property, burned religious buildings, desecrated Christian bibles and prayer books and have written hateful anti-Christian graffiti on the church walls.

Today Jewish youth vandalized the Christian cemetery, holy ground, of the Salesian monastery in Bet Jamal, west of Jerusalem. They have defaced tombstones and destroyed several dozen Christian crosses marking the burial sites.

If Christians had defaced or destroyed Jewish religious sites the world would shout loud and clear… Anti-Semitism.

But no one seems to be shouting Anti-Christianity. Our government offers casual words of protest but does exceedingly little to capture the vandals and bring them before the bar of justice.

Police and Shin Bet Security Services have a good track record in hunting down and arresting Arab terrorists but are very unsuccessful in attempting to round up Jewish perpetrators of hate. We know where they live. They are not in Tel-Aviv or Nes Tziyona or Ra’anana or Herzeliya. But they are in the settlements of Judea and Samaria.

Little sincere effort has been made to apprehend them. If it were so, many of these Jewish terrorists would have been arrested long ago.

Christians and Moslems are citizens of our country. They are entitled to the full protection of the law and the right to observe their religious faith and practices without obstruction. Our police force should post a patrol near every church and monastery to offer protection and to apprehend Jewish vandals on a mission of hate.

Have we Jews in Israel no shame? Anti-Semitic acts, desecration of Jewish cemeteries worldwide would hear the condemnation of the Jewish world with demands for arresting the criminal vandals. But in Israel, the holy land for all three faiths, voices are silent or are whispered in tones too quiet to be heard.

Either we are a nation which guarantees freedom and protection of religion to all our citizens of all faiths or we are not. It’s time to permanently end the delusion of freedom of religion, for Jewish religious authorities to condemn the vandals and to make amends by offering restitution for the damages done to non-Jewish holy places of worship and burial. Words and platitudes are not sufficient. They are meaningless.

“Lo midrash ha ikkar ela ha maaseh”… it is not what one says that matters, it is what one does. Deeds speak louder than words of apology.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis are ignorant of Christian teachings of tolerance and respect. Their anti-Christian beliefs prevent them from learning. They have no need and certainly no will to learn about principles of other religions. If they cannot respect non-Orthodox ordained rabbis, how can we possibly expect them to respect clergy and practicioners of other faiths?

I call upon all decent Israeli Jews to raise up loud protests about the desecration of the cemetery at Bet Jamal. I call upon our security services to provide more security to non-Jewish religious property.

And finally, I call upon our government to put into practice the freedom of religion for all which is guaranteed in our Declaration of Independence. Guaranteed, yes. But practiced, definitely not.

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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