Synagogue and State: Good Ideas That Don’t Mix

I’ll be participating in a special New Israel Fund webcast on Sunday:


Religion and State: Fundamentalism or Freedom?

With Naomi Chazan, Frances Raday, Jafar Farah and Gershom Gorenberg

Sunday May 18

8 pm Israel time, 1pm EST, 10am PST

Please join us then.

2 thoughts on “Synagogue and State: Good Ideas That Don’t Mix”

  1. Although I am Orthodox/religious and do no pray in non-Orthodox synagogues, I do think there is merit in reducing the connection between religion and state in Israel. I do not believe total separation is a good idea, but having come from the United States I have learned that having too close a connection between religion and state is not a good thing.
    Religious life in the United States, where there is separation between religion and state, is much more vigorous than it is in Europe where there are state churches.
    For religious leaders to grant unqualified support to a state apparatus on relgious grounds is very dangerous. Religious leaders need to be in a state of constructive tension with the state….in other words, not to negative the importance of the state and national identity, but on the other hand, to be at the forefront of criticism where the state infringes on the rights of the people or their welfare. The best example of this is someone who was not a Jews, but rather a Christian—Reinhold Niebuhr in the United States. He was at first a pacificst and socialist and he also defended the rights of exploited workers. However, with the rise of Fascism, he changed his views and said the world should stand up to this threat and he supported the US participation in the Second World War. He also opposed Communism and was a big supporter of Zionism.
    I think eliminating the religious parties and giving some sort of recognition of non-Orthodox trends in Judaism would only benefit the Orthodox/religious community. In New York, for example, there are no Jewish “religious parties” yet the Orthodox there have a lot of political clout. Such moves would help push along a badly needed democratization of Israel society. In the early years of the state, the MIZRACHI Religious Zionists supported authoritarian tendencies in the gov’t, thinking it would keep out the non-Orthodox trends, but the world has changed. These authoritarian tendencies are now damaging the Orthodox/religious community, such as the restriction of radio stations, preventing many religious groups from getting their opinions across, or restricting gov’t financial aid to those who have political connections even if there is a larger public following to those who lack such connections. Thus, I believe that non-Orthodox synagogues should be entitled to gov’t funding, if they can show that they have community backing. I would also allow Rabbis of all trends to come into the public secular schools to explain Judaism to the students, and to have debates between the different Rabbis so they could clarify the positions of the different trends to these students.
    Of course, we then run into the problems about conversion and divorce, and I would expect the non-Orthodox to defer to the Orthodox in these matters so that there is a common standard that all can live with.

    To tell the truth, I don’t believe there is any chance of the reforms I am talking about being implemented, but we can at least dream. No one who has power is voluntarily going to give it up, but the Orthodox Establishment should understand that the world is more pluralistic than it was 60 years ago and fresh thinking would only help the Orthodox themselves. How can they object to having secular Israelis being exposed to more Judaism in a free, non-coercive form, even if we don’t agree 100% with those who are doing the talking?

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