Israeli Schizophrenia

If you listen long enough to discussions about religious-secular relations in Israel (and I get plenty of that with Tzohar), a paradoxical picture will begin to emerge: On one hand, there’s a sense that there’s a real rift between the two populations, and that in many respects, that rift is growing or at least standing pat. Poltically, the religious are marginalized. Even those areas which are traditionally under religious provenance are being threatened, and the religious institutions are responding by becoming more entrenched and trying to expand their control in those realms.

At the same time, you hear of a ‘thirst’ for authentic Judaism from within the secular population. You hear statistics, for example, that in the army, Shas gets more votes than any other party. On my block, most families built Sukkot – mostly kosher but some not – as what’s probably the Israeli cultural equivalent of a Christmas tree. The overwhelming majority of Israeli couples, according to a recent survey, would opt for a traditional wedding even if civil or non-traditional alternatives existed! Fasting on Yom Kippur is still in the consensus, as is keeping certain basic elements of kashrut. Non-Orthodox schools with strong Jewish curricula – such as the Tali network – are very successful. The list continues.

I’ve chanced upon a distinction which seems to resonate with many people (religious and secular) that I mention it to. It probably will sound weird in English: Israelis are not interested in religion; they are interested in Judaism (in Hebrew – they’re not looking for dat, they’re looking for Yahadut). Anything which is legal, institutional, bureaucratic, etc. is almost automatically discounted from being meaningfully Jewish.

Obviously, reality is much more complicated than that, and I don’t pretend to really ‘get it’. But I’ve found the distinction useful.

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