Seth Farber
Rabbi and Social Activist
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The slippery slope toward a monolithic Judaism

Aiming for 100+ changes to Israel's religion-and-state laws, the coalition endangers Judaism's inherent diversity
United Torah Judaism's MK Moshe Gafni (R) and Religious Zionism leader MK Bezalel Smotrich meet at the Knesset, November 6, 2022. (handout photo, courtesy)
United Torah Judaism's MK Moshe Gafni (R) and Religious Zionism leader MK Bezalel Smotrich meet at the Knesset, November 6, 2022. (handout photo, courtesy)

The passing on the first reading this week in the Knesset of the “hametz bill” — even in its watered-down form which gives hospitals discretion to prohibit visitors from bringing leavened products into hospitals on Passover — gives us a taste of what kind of legislation is waiting in line just behind the judicial reform bills. While the legislative reform package — which sees no signs of letting up — is perceived as a threat to democracy, or at least a certain type of democracy, the next wave of legislation threatens to undermine the Jewish character of the State of Israel, something that should worry every Jew in Israel and in the Diaspora, right or left.

Jewish tradition has always celebrated the diversity of the Jewish community. The Talmud in Masechet Brachot 58b notes that just as their faces are diverse, so are their opinions. And this, at least according to the Talmud, is a cause for blessing. In the halachic tradition, the notion that we thank God for our capacity to disagree is codified in law.

But there is a real concern that the new religious legislation seeks to wipe out our differences, and make Jewish tradition in Israel monolithic and monopolistic. Rather than recognize that our diversity is to be celebrated and our distinct paths incorporated in the Jewish tapestry, heresies that have been borne out of a myopic view of Jewish life and a deep sense of entitlement, seek to “cancel” anything other that one man’s view (and yes, we are certainly talking about one man) of Jewish life.

And so the Judaism of the Jewish and democratic state may end up being reduced to a set of precepts, enforced by the power of the stick — something counter to Jewish tradition.

The coalition agreements contain more than 100 clauses that are associated with religion and state. They include changing the way burial is carried out in Israel, transforming immigration policies, the appointment of rabbis, the constitution of religious councils, the right to perform conversions in Israel and the relationship to Shabbat and kashrut in the public sphere. The coalition seems to be determined — at least in principle — to bulldoze its way to a new Jewish world order. And exactly because they’ve shown their cards, now is the time to initiate dialogue and compromise — before the Jewish future of the Jewish state becomes politicized, and no one is willing to back down on their position of the soul of the state.

While religious legislation may not cause Moody’s to change its credit ratings, and hopefully won’t bring multinational or start-up companies to pull their money out of Israel, Israel’s biggest stakeholders — the Jewish people — have a tremendous amount to lose should these legislative moves more forward unchecked. The coming months are not only about balance of power, but about the use of power in enforcing Jewish life. And this is where the world Jewish community has the greatest responsibility to have its voice be heard – for what is in jeopardy is not only the third commonwealth, but also the preservation of a Jewish narrative that until now has been eternal.

Jews around the world need not unite; in fact, quite the opposite. They should be confident in their divine mission through our diversity — to preserve a Judaism that sanctifies the past, blesses the present and forges a way toward a brighter future, and not a darker one.

About the Author
Rabbi Seth Farber, PhD, is Founder and Director of ITIM, an organization committed to making Israel’s religious establishment respectful of and responsive to the diverse Jewish needs of the Jewish people, and a Founder and Director of Giyur K'Halacha, Israel's largest non-governmental conversion court network. He is a recipient of the Nefesh B'Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize, and the Israel Ministry of Aliyah & Integration's Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Israeli Society.
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