by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
I’ve written on a number of occasions about the societal conflicts in Israel between the very-religious sector and the adamantly secular sector. One of the points I’ve made is this was structured into the founding of the State of Israel by the secular officials forming the first governments who decided to box the Torah followers into a corner and wait for them to fade away (with some help and coercion from the government itself).
While we are now a few generations from those times and that approach, echoes of it appear in government actions and statements on occasion today AND memories of that institutional pressure reverberate throughout the Jewish religious communities in Israel of today.
While I’ve talked about that situation, I was unaware of how much this was a basic founding principle until yesterday…
(Tablet – Raw Deal by Stuart Schoffman) In his book The Imaginary Voyage: With Theodor Herzl in Israel, first published (in French) in 1998, the cosmopolitan Nobel laureate (and currently the symbolic president of the State of Israel) Shimon Peres takes the Viennese visionary on a tour of the modern Jewish state. Along the way, Peres quotes a passage from Der Judenstaat, Herzl’s Zionist blueprint of 1896:
“Faith unites us, knowledge gives us freedom. We shall therefore prevent any theocratic tendencies from coming to the fore on the part of our priesthood. We shall keep our priests within the confines of their temples in the same way as we shall keep our professional army within the confines of their barracks.”
Flowery language stating clearing the founding intention to keep Judaism OUT OF society and confined within the 4 walls of the synagogue. Not to be part of life but just an occasional building visit – which is the antithesis of Judaism.
Schoffman continues… In his new Nextbook Press book, Ben-Gurion: A Political Life, …Peres describes the deal that Ben-Gurion made with ultra-Orthodox rabbi-politicians at the time of Israel’s founding: kashrut in all public institutions, Shabbat as the day of rest, rabbinic control of marriage and divorce, and the exemption of full-time yeshiva students, who at the time numbered only in the hundreds, from army service. This would all seem a violation of Herzl’s vision, but Peres defends Ben-Gurion’s consensus-building move as wise and pragmatic, “because the number of people in Israel who defined themselves as people of faith was large.” …
The author presses Peres, who as a young man was Ben-Gurion’s emissary to the ultra-Orthodox on the conscription issue, on whether they had perhaps miscalculated the staying power of Orthodoxy in Israel. “He (Ben Gurion) wasn’t thinking about what was going to happen later,” says Peres of his mentor. “Anyway, to be completely frank, in negotiating with the venerable rabbis, I felt like I was sitting with my grandfather.” In The Imaginary Voyage, Peres puts it even more frankly: “Whenever I had to make a decision touching upon the relationship between religion and state,” he tells Herzl, “I asked myself whether grandfather would agree with what I’d done.”
After the Holocaust, out of guilt and nostalgia, along with a sense of moral obligation, Ben-Gurion and his secular comrades understandably felt a need to indulge the surviving practitioners of the separatist Judaism that kept Diaspora Jews afloat for centuries. Besides, they probably figured that ultra-Orthodoxy, in a sovereign, modern state, would soon wither away.
Nothing more need be said. The State of Israel assumed Torah Judaism would “wither away”, and as it seemed to be gaining strength the State took some actions to help it along (with withering). They weren’t successful (Baruch Hashem) and Israeli society AND Torah society are dealing with the impact of that poorly considered approach today.
(BTW, the author of the source article continues with a diatribe against Torah Judaism and Israel for not being open to U.S. style conservative or reform Judaism – seriously missing the point of what he himself opened with.)