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Will Israel cease to be a Jewish state?

Israeli flag in Jerusalem's Old City (Photo: Taylor Brandon/Unsplash)

It is mostly during this High Holiday period that many columnists take a crack at an article with more spiritual content than what is normally seen throughout the year. One such offering was from Avi Mayer, the editor of the Jerusalem Post who began his reflections by citing six scriptures on the topic of God remembering His covenant with the Jewish people.

He says, “In the Jewish tradition, covenants are endowed with tremendous power.  They set the tone and the terms of the relationship… between the Jewish people and God and bind them to one another for eternity.” In fact, he claims that “Even when the people stray from their divinely ordained path…God can calm His wrath and secure forgiveness…because of the covenant.”  

It is from this vantage point that Mayer looks back, on this past year, recalling the impetus of what caused a number of citizen groups, who felt disenfranchised, to protest. Oddly enough, he doesn’t name the usual suspects (secular, left-wing and minorities). No, his list includes the right-wing, religious and Mizrahi Israelis (referring to Oriental Jews from Communities of the Middle East and North Africa). He says it is actually these individuals who feel that they’ve been left out of Israel’s court system, which is largely dominated by Ashkenazi Jews (those of European descent).

After that, he moves on to the secular Israelis, some of whom marched in one particular Tel Aviv ultra-Orthodox enclave, protesting the military exemptions, which are still in effect for the young people in their community, as well as the insufficient education that is provided by their schools, rendering them unfit to participate in the Israeli job market.  

Mayer then laments over the thousands of army reservists who are unwilling to continue their voluntary service, given the looming threats of the proposed reforms. Finally, he pivots to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which he claims embodies “Israel’s Jewish and democratic character,” yet, one which has been “undermined and weaponized.” 

It is, at this point, approaching the end of his article, that Mayer claims that this “domestic crisis” that has dominated Israel, over the last year, seems to have culminated in the question of whether or not Israel will remain a Jewish state, claiming there is a great concern on this issue. In fact, he wonders, out loud, stating that “if Israel continues down a path of being less of a democratic and Jewish state,” it’s likely that people (apparently those outside of Israel) will “just give up, throw up their hands and walk away.” 

It is probably because he sees Israel, through its nationhood, as being in a covenant relationship with worldwide Jewry, that he believes there is a grave danger posed to the future of the Jewish state. To him, the enormous cracks and fissures, which are evidenced by the divisive irreconcilable ideologies of our citizens, threaten to tear us apart. Consequently, his best advice is to return to the covenant we made with God and one another.

While that is good advice, is it practical or doable for two sides, who in the absence of any common ground, have no desire to unite?

If we look back at when and why the protests began, we can clearly link it to the emergence of an extreme, right-wing, government fueled by religious ideology and the desire to impose their values and lifestyle choices on citizens who, up until that moment, made those decisions independently. 

In fact, as these radical coalition members boldly began to declare their proposed agendas, a sudden uneasiness began to develop more and more, as the non-Orthodox population started to internalize what these things would mean for them on a daily basis.  

The concern that the public school system would undergo a major overhaul scared many parents who worried whether their kids would be subjected to indoctrination rather than real education. Then there was the threat of overriding court decisions by a Knesset that overwhelmingly leaned one way. Those two things provided enough pause to realize that we were in uncharted waters that could get rather choppy. 

Add to that, an extreme religious ideology and how that could permeate just about every area of what was already a very pluralistic Israeli society.  

And despite that pluralism, it’s clear that Israel’s citizens are not against keeping the homeland “Jewish.” The problem is how that ethnicity is defined and whether or not there can be a variety of adaptations and renderings for that all-encompassing term which is not one-dimensional. Herein lies the real problem!

To the ultra-Orthodox community, an ideal Jewish state would be one wherein all of its citizens are partakers and observers of Orthodox Judaism, as prescribed by today’s rabbinate, which has established its interpretation of the faith, based more on revered sages and their ancient writings, as opposed to the scriptures from which they were extrapolated and then recreated.  

The rabbi's version of everyday life rejects most outside influences, open discourse and independent thought. It means allowing someone else to choose your spouse, eating and dressing under strict guidelines and rules and following lockstep with the many dictates of the community.

In contrast, a Jewish state, to the non-Orthodox crowd, means commemorating our biblical and national holidays, making the choice to rest or not rest on Shabbat, choosing our own life partners, (most seeking those from their own ethnicity), having independent thought, making our own food choices and still, as a whole, choosing to marry in our own country, circumcise our children and praying from our heart rather than from a book of prescribed ritualistic prayers.  

While it may not encompass the Almighty’s complete plan for His people, it is also not a coerced, feigned allegiance, which generally comes from a sense of obligation or social pressure, rather than personal choice.  

But since there are promises for Israel’s destiny, within the context of remaining the Jewish people, we probably needn’t worry that Israel will cease to be the Jewish homeland. In fact, Avi Mayer, himself quotes one of those promises from Ezekiel 16:60 where God assures us: “I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will fulfill it for you as an everlasting covenant.”

Everlasting means without end! Unquestionably, Israel will not cease to be a Jewish state – at least as it’s defined by God and how He will fulfill that covenant with us!

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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