Judaism and the State of Israel
Competing claims of religion and secular statehood are fought over daily on the political stage. Expelled from Spain, Jews found safe haven in Turkey and elsewhere. But the scourge of anti-Semitism and the need to reconcile religious and secular demands continue to challenge Jews.
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Among orthodox Jews to whom the past is centrally important, the creation of the State of Israel is viewed in many different ways. Some ultra-orthodox believers see the state as an abomination, a heretical attempt by man to tamper with God's timetable for the Jews.Skip to next paragraph
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Others regard the birth of the state as the beginning of the Jews' redemption. Still others do not believe the state has any religious significance at all.
At Hartman's synagogue, for example, Israel's independence day is marked by four different services, catering to four different levels of commitment to the state that prevail among the congregation.
For Professor Leibowitz, although he supports the normalization of Jewish life that statehood allows, Israel's existence has forced Jews to face religious problems that have so far proved insuperable.
Two Jewish families cannot intermarry, for example, if one is observant and the other is not, he points out. And although that holds true in the Diaspora, too, "there, they would both be conscious of their Jewishness, making them different together from the rest of society. In Israel, everyone is a Jew, so the fact they cannot marry is a dividing factor," Leibowitz argues. "The cleavage is more pronounced. This is a great crisis of the Jewish people and of Judaism."
Israel's existence also poses the danger that while historically Jews identified themselves by their religion, now they can do so by their nationality alone. State as 'threat to Judaism'
"In the Diaspora, without the synagogue you don't have a sense of community," says Hartman.
"Here the sense of connectedness with a people is given by the state. And the state is thus the greatest threat to Judaism because it offers an alternative identity."
Leibowitz agrees, pointing out that the laws of Israel are passed by the parliament, not laid down by the Torah. "This is the state of the Jews, not a Jewish state," he insists.
Hartman says he believes that most Israelis nonetheless do attribute historical-religious significance to the state. They are almost unanimous, for example, in their insistence that the ancient city of Jerusalem should be their country's capital, rather than the deliberately modern and secular Tel Aviv.
Hartman says that, despite all the dangers and problems, Israel's existence is positive for Judaism, since it "creates a framework for a culture that allows total Jewishness."
"It invites greater responsibility and initiative on the part of the community," he wrote in his book "A Living Covenant."
"Jews in Israel are given the opportunity to bring economic, social, and political issues into the center of their religious consciousness," after centuries of exile, when they left such concerns to gentiles. Finding the highest value
To do so, however, a way must be found for the timeless precepts of religious law and the temporal concerns of modern statehood to mesh. But, as Leibowitz points out, "this is a profound religious problem. Is statehood the highest value, in which case you have to change the law to accommodate the needs of the state? Or is religion the highest value, in which case conflicts between religion and statehood cannot be avoided?"
Whether the Jews of Israel can resolve that dilemma, and how they might take total responsibility for the affairs of state within their religious tradition "is still working itself out," Hartman says.
"That is very healthy for Judaism, because it is alive, still experimenting," he adds. "Israel offers the most powerful conflict between tradition and modernity anywhere in the world."