Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yam Erez Takes On Yair Sheleg and Religious Coercion כפייה דתית

This is one of the more convoluted arguments for religious coercion I’ve read yet. Hebrew link עברית I’ll take it on point by point:

“Judge Tamar Bar-Asher Zaban’s distinction between public and private space with regard to the sale of chametz during Passover may sound reasonable in a legal sense, but the main issue here is not the legal one but rather the public one: Is it appropriate for Israel’s lawbook to include a law prohibiting the sale of chametz [leavened goods] on Pesach? My decidedly unliberal response to that question is ‘Yes’.

”When discussing ‘religious legislation’ [why the quotes? Also, I think it’s more correctly referred to as “religion-based legislation”], it’s important to distinguish between two types of law: those that interfere with private actions, which are unacceptable; and those that seek to shape Israel’s public sphere, which are legitimate and even desirable, i.e., no to imposing religious marriage and circumcision, yet a resounding yes to prohibiting commerce on the Sabbath or the sale of chametz during Pesach.”

I still don’t get the distinction. All of the following are private actions: having an abortion; shopping on the Sabbath; riding a train on the Sabbath; getting married or divorced, circumcising or not circumcising my son. In no way are any of these “felt” by the Orthodox community. If they were, I’d ask what exactly the Orthodox person was doing at the mall on Saturday.

“A society has the right to use legislation to help shape its core values, and in this regard prohibiting the public display of chametz on Passover is no different in principle from legislating the closure of restaurants and movie theaters on Holocaust Remembrance Day or on Memorial Day.”

Perhaps that shouldn’t be legislated either. Better to let peer pressure and the market decide whether the movie theaters stay open on those days. If the society truly cherishes what those days mean, it won’t frequent those businesses on those days. I grew up in a society wherein such businesses are open on Memorial Day, and I never heard anyone suggest that it indicates disrespect for fallen soldiers.

”The comparison to the hypothetical imposition of circumcision is out of place here; the reason that brit milah is not mandatory in Israel is not because that would be ‘religious legislation’, but rather because such a law would constitute acceptable interference in people’s lives.”

Actually I’ve always felt it was inconsistent that circumcision isn’t mandated here. If sperm donation and organ donation can be regulated, how come circumcision can’t be? Moreover, the prohibition against public transportation on the Sabbath isn’t acceptable interference in peoples’ lives?

“By the same token, it’s not the Matzot Law that leads many Israelis to eat chametz on Pesach.”

Who said it was? And supposing they do?

“The proof is that there are many Israelis who oppose religious coercion, yet who nevertheless avoid eating chametz on Passover.”

And this proves…what? Only that those Israelis choose to observe those commandments absent of any legislation. Which supports what the late Presbyterian pastor Reverend Doctor Robert H. Meneilly wrote in the New York Times about religious coercion: “No religion―not even Christianity―is worth practicing if it has to be legislated” [can’t cite directly; searched but couldn’t find it. I believe it’s from 1998].

“Not eating chametz on Pesach or pork at any time and not engaging in commerce on Shabbat are not only religious values. Because of their centrality in Jewish history, they have long been fundamental values of national Jewish culture. That’s why even non-Orthodox Israelis observe them. Indeed, if everything were a matter of individual rights and core values had no significance, then the day would soon come when a restaurateur or theater owner would petition the High Court of Justice for permission to open her place of entertainment on Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day, and the court would not be able to find a solid legal reason to prevent it.”

And that would portend…the sky falling? See above. Not to sound crass, but I don’t see our society crumbling because some people go out to eat on Holocaust Day. And if it crumbled due to that, then it wasn’t strong to begin with.

“If there were no core values deserving of legal protection, then there would also be no basis for destroying the grand monument in Kiryat Arba to Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron. After all, the monument was hidden from public view much more than restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that serve bread during Pesach. It’s also difficult to argue seriously that the erection of that monument represented a ‘clear danger to public security’."

Why not? Erecting a monument to a terrorist seems like incitement to me. If not, why they sure had me fooled.

“In the same spirit, it would be difficult to justify the imposition of a common school curriculum for all sectors, such as that known as the "core program."

Again, why is it difficult to justify a core curriculum? Every state in the US has one, and it applies to all schools, even parochial. At the very least, if schools don’t adhere (examples are Amish schools and some Evangelical schools), they forego state funding. What’s the problem? The Orthodox wanting to have their cake and eat it too? I suppose that’s a core value?

”It is precisely this point that is the locus of the joint problem of the ultra-Orthodox and of the stridently secular populations: Each one wants to fight for the imposition of its own core issues while opposing, with the same intensity, the imposition of the core values that are important to the other.

“Yet principles cannot be split into halves. Secular Israelis who oppose the prohibition against selling chametz cannot demand the imposition of civil-democratic core values (at most, they can insist on criminal prohibitions against harming others). Ultra-Orthodox who reject the imposition of democratic core values in the name of each sector’s right to act in accordance with its own lifestyle cannot expect the Matzot Law to be enforced.”

It is precisely this attitude (“maintenance of the status quo”) wherein lies the problem. As long as a law is on the books, it can theoretically be applied, which is a much greater threat to society than its opposite. Let’s look instead to another model, that of Twin Oaks, an income-sharing community in Virginia, USA whose core values are democracy, equality, and non-violence. The way TO members judge whether their income-sharing is threatened is using an unwritten index called “In Your Face”. Under this index, any item can be owned that can fit into a member’s room. If a member wants to own a Harley-Davidson and is willing to give up the space, she may. However, if a member were to insist on wearing a diamond tiara to work, this would be considered “in your face” and unacceptable. A diamond ring? Less so, but the wearer would be expected to acknowledge that it may offend others’ sensibilities. And so on and so forth (my apologies to TOers if I botched this explanation. All are welcome to correct it).

And herein lies the key: Your sensibilities, religious or otherwise, can’t be offended if you aren’t there to see it. It offends you that people are at the beach on Yom Kippur? Solution: Don’t go to the beach. Or, if you should for some reason find yourself at the beach, then I would hope that your devotion to the Torah would gird you in overcoming any temptation or revulsion found thereon. Ditto for seeing Ploni buying bread when you’re doing your grocery shopping during Pesach. By the way: Supposing that Ploni isn’t even Jewish?

It is for this reason that we have a thing called “zoning”, a system whereby strip joints and pool halls generally do not spring up next door to churches and schools. Zoning is therefore the only expression of protecting the religious public’s sensibilities that I accept. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel with ridiculously concocted Matzot Laws.

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