Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Natterings-on about church 'n' state הגיגים על דת + מדינה

My dad recommended I read this well-written editorial condemning ultra-Orthodox violence as engaged in by the modesty patrols. I eagerly went online, and as I read, my heart soared: Finally a public condemnation of ultra-Orthodox violence from a member of the ultra-Orthodox community. Then I reached the end and read the bio line; my heart sank: The literate, articulate author is dean of a yeshiva in…New York. But of course, I told myself after the initial disappointment. What did you expect?

Why “of course”? What did I know intuitively that I didn’t even know I knew? That despite their insularity, when all’s said and done, the ultra-Orthodox abroad are still better-educated, more worldly, and have more respect for democracy than their counterparts in Israel. My buddy Dena Shunra explains it thusly:

"The practice of Jewish religion, especially by the Orthodox, has taken a flying leap out of being observant and into actual insanity. Quite seriously, I believe that the trigger therefor is precisely living in Israel. Our entire religion used to have the constraining force of living under the legal systems of other people, which helped keep it down to human size. With the advent of the state of Israel, the constraints were removed, and each crazy idea is met with people saying 'Gee, yeah. Let's try that one!'. It is not, overall, a positive development for Judaism (see Shabtai Zvi and other false messiahs for the likely eventual outcome, I'm afraid)."

Therefore, in my book, Horowitz’s condemnation just isn’t the genuine article. Admirable as it is, I'm as yet waiting for any ultra-Orthodox within a 3,000-mile radius of Maalot Daphna to join his or voice to Horowitz’s. If any readers hear of such, do let the rest of us know.


In discussions of church and state here in Israel, the term “the state’s Jewish character” always comes up as a defense of all sorts of coercive, theocratic laws. I, who advocate complete separation of church and state, am confident that as long as lots of Jews live here, should Israel (please, God) go the civil route, we are in no danger of losing our Jewish character.

Case in point: Yesterday a friend told me that Italy has the lowest birth rate in Europe despite its being the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, which opposes birth control. I looked it up in Wiki, and indeed only Germany’s birth rate is lower than Italy’s. It would appear, then, that while most Italians choose not to follow the teachings of the Church, amazingly, Italy manages to retain its Italian (and even Catholic) character.

To paraphrase Prof. Gadi Taub, Italy isn’t a sovereign state because God promised Italy to the Italians, but rather because it’s where the Italians’ story begins. Likewise, Jews have a right to live in Israel, but not on the condition that leavened products not be sold during Passover and public transportation not run on Saturdays; I live here because it’s where my story begins and I want to be a part of that story. I do not need Jewish practice as defined by a particular group and used to take the rest of us hostage, to justify my aliya.


  1. Wooohooo! You are, again, right on Yam Erez. Yashar koach!

  2. Dena Bugel-Shunra wrote:
    Leavened products are the least of it, dear. The absence of checks and balances upon the power of religion has given rise to the sort of
    travesty described by my friend Laila in this post: http://a-mother-from-gaza.blogspot.com/2009/04/i-was-born palestinian.html.
    When the practice of religion is unbounded by
    constraints of reality, you get things like Crusades and the insanity that kept Laila and her kids from reaching Gaza, where she was born. At that point, the practice of Judaism stops being merely a matter of nuisance-to-Jews.

  3. Just one more comment - I did not say "our religion" - that must have snuck in when you retyped my email to you.

    I disown and repudiate the Jewish religion - I have no patience for it, after the destruction it has wrought in my family and to many of my friends.