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Who’s afraid of separating church and state?

A mainstream, politically influential columnist of the Israeli religious right speaks favorably of the idea -- and you can't read it in English

If you don’t read Adi Arbel’s weekly column in Makor Rishon, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s a short but very smart commentary from the Israeli religious right on topics that make their way into the public discourse each week.

Alas, much of the Israeli right’s serious work on economics, security policy, cultural critique, etc., is in Hebrew. Adi’s column is no exception.

This is unfortunate, because English-language press coverage in Israel tends to assume — what else could we expect from the negligent, ignorant writing that too often passes for journalism in this region? — that the Israeli right is either stupid or crazy. (It doesn’t help that some of the English-language writing that claims to speak for the right tends to be simplistic and detached from reality.)

But back to Adi: Here is a case in point for a deep-thinking religious right-winger, an analyst working in the orbit of Strategic Affairs Minister “Bogie” Ya’alon.

His excellent column this week related a debate overheard at the World Council of Jewish Communal Service’s 12th Quadrennial Conference that took place in Jerusalem this week. (Yes, an Israeli columnist writing in Hebrew about a Jewish organization. Like I said, welcome to the thoughtful Israeli right.)

He writes:

One of the speakers at the conference was Anat Hoffman, who is a leader in the struggle of Women of the Wall and other public campaigns that advance the values of the Reform Movement in Israel. On her panel, Hoffman faced criticism that her strategy of appealing to the High Court to get equal state funding for Reform rabbis went against the Reform Movement’s values of separation of church and state. Hoffman didn’t deny the charge, but explained that the current strategy would continue as long as the state continued to fund religious services. Hoffman also revealed that the Israel Religious Action Center, which she heads, plans to demand the appointment of a Reform woman rabbi as chief rabbi of Tel Aviv.

Then Adi offers his comment on Hoffman’s revelation:

As long as the High Court continues to acquiesce to the demands of the Reform Movement, I wouldn’t be surprised if the haredim themselves initiate the privatization of Israeli religious services, and the separation of church and state altogether.

And posting his column to Facebook, he adds: “I’m not at all sure that would be a bad thing.”

There you have it. A mainstream, politically influential columnist of the Israeli religious right speaks favorably of the idea of separating church and state in Israel. And you can’t read it in English.

About the Author
Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.