As a point of fact, the State of Israel is a country governed by religion and as a result it cannot meet the 21st century’s definition of fair and democratic. The State as it is today is far from being the Israel envisioned by Herzl and is on the same trajectory as the other Jewish States of history for almost the same reasons.
In the May 14th, 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence, it was clearly defined that the State of Israel “…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.” Fast forward nearly seventy years and you have a country without a constitution that does not provide true freedom of religion, conscience and culture to most of its inhabitants, and there is systemic discrimination based on race and sex. The problems in Israeli society today are a direct result of the intermingling of religion and government and the placing of civil responsibilities in the hands of religious groups.
The debate over who is a Jew has gone on for years and it will continue to go on. But Israel is a nation state of the Jewish people and not every Jewish person practices Judaism as a religion. One thing is for sure, when you move to Israel (Aliyah), you do not become Jewish, you become Israeli, so why can’t someone marry under Israeli civil law and skip the Jewish ceremony? In other Western countries, anyone who wants to marry needs to register their marriage with the civic authorities, some seal the deal in the eyes of their respective lords but that is inconsequential to the validity of their marriage in the eyes of their government.
The 9th day of Av is coming up in a few weeks; this is the date that many Jews observe as a solemn day to mourn the loss of the Temples over two millennia ago. Religious tradition has it that the Temples were destroyed because of corruption amongst the priests in addition to a host of cardinal sins. The leaders failed the people due to greed and hunger for power and failed God by not heeding the warnings of his prophets. The Scriptures point to a steady decline in adherence to the laws and even with warnings from prophet after prophet the ancient leaders never learned.
The recent comments by David Azoulay, the Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs regarding Reform Judaism’s illegitimacy demonstrates that the religious have not learned from the mistakes of history and the Jewish people as a whole are as fractured today as they were at the breakup of the Kingdom of David into Israel and Judah. Over the past ten years the debate over civil marriage has raged on and yet many Israeli’s cannot get married in this country because the process is controlled by the Rabbinate. If the man in government overseeing the Rabbinate establishment believes that an entire group of Jews are not really Jews, imagine the state-sanctioned discrimination that can (and does) occur.
What is amusing (and at the same time quite tragic) about all this is that many of the religious ministers and Knesset members do not even believe in the State of Israel as it exists today. Many of the devout in this country believe that only God can decide when the Jews can have their own country again, that God’s punishment of exile is not over even though the Jews have returned to the land and control it. They are not Zionists. They do not celebrate Independence Day. They actively seek to exempt children of their brand of Judaism from army service and riot when the government no longer looks the other way. They are not loyal to the country and yet they control so many aspects of the society. Corruption is widespread and those politicians who are caught and convicted are held in esteem within their communities and coalition gerrymandering allows them to return to power.
The Jewish promise was that we were to be the light amongst the nations. We were to live a moral and decent existence as individuals and as a collective. We were to set examples of tolerance and redefine justice to be fair and based on laws. Here we are in 2015 with no constitution, no true laws on the books of the State for judges to consider. The Jews were a nation before they were a religion and yet it is the people who claim to know what God really wants from his people that are the least tolerant of a majority of them. Unfortunately, these are the same Jews who hold so much sway in government and a large part of the reason why a constitution was never created in line with the self-imposed October 1, 1948 deadline.
The devout believe that God drove his people from their land two thousand years ago because those who were charged with the spiritual health of the nation were corrupt and often cheated the nation to enrich their class. According to this religious belief the clock is ticking on modern State of Israel. Perhaps on this upcoming 9th of Av, some of the faithful in leadership will internalize the words read in the Book of Lamentations (Megilat Echa) about a Jerusalem that destroyed itself before any invader ever set foot inside the gates.