Israel – United and Divided as One

September 28, 2016 by Adrian Treger
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Every year, as with thousands of other Israeli’s, I am called up for my IDF reserve duty…writes Adrian Treger.

Adrian Treger

Adrian Treger

As with many other units, a hodgepodge of modern orthodox, secular and even chareidi individuals arrive to make a well-trained, cohesive and effective fighting force.  As with all other units, while in the field or during patrols, we huddle around the gas burner boiling water in a small metal pot sharing the steaming black Turkish coffee in small paper cups.  Inevitable discussion, at times argument, pops up about religion or politics but… we also share pictures of our families and other news and, I can genuinely say, we truly love and care about each other, willfully putting our bodies in harm’s way so that others can live safely in Israel.

How can it be that back in civilian life the religious divides between us are so great that the camaraderie is lost and anger and frustration prevail? The major issues that face us today are the wide gap that exists between institutionalised religious bodies and their influence on individual citizens in Israel.  We have been witness to a growing resentment between the general secular community, and in many cases religious community, and the Rabbinate, which has an effect on the average citizen in this modern liberal democracy.

One may ask, “For decades Israelis lived with this reality, why is it an issue now?” A fair question.  The first decades of the State saw Israel literally battling for survival facing overwhelming enemies and incredible economic challenges.  The Jewish identity of Israelis was by and large unified and the influence of the rabbinate was less intrusive.  Over the last 30 years Israel has seen a diminishing of an immediate existential threat from our neighbors, unprecedented economic growth, increase in personal expression and growing encroachment by the rabbinate.

Today we find ourselves thrown into a conflict where the stakes are the viability of the future for Israel as a Jewish state and the impact that will have on world Jewry.

Couples are choosing to marry outside of Israel so as to avoid the frustrations and harsh – and sometimes ludicrous – rules set by the Rabbinate, leading to many more weddings performed outside of halacha. Converts to Judaism are often made to jump through hoops in order to prove that they are worthy and willing to be part of the nation of Israel. Even some who have completed the conversion processes outside of Israel and have been living for years as Jews are denied their Jewish identity upon making aliya.

The public is fed up with the political games that are being played with their lives.

Three distinct strategies have emerged as this conflict rages on.

Strategy 1:  To maintain the status quo.  In my opinion this is faulty for the obvious reason that the status quo has led to the rift in Israeli society that has yet to be mended.

Strategy 2:  To live life externally from the Rabbinate.  Marry in civil ceremonies overseas or live together outside the institution of marriage.  While this can serve the immediate needs of those individuals, it will create a future generation of Israeli society that will not be able to prove their Jewish lineage.

Strategy 3: Open up the national religious institutions to free market competition. Challenge those in the current position of power by creating a social revolution demanding change while being true to the spirit of the halacha.  Remove the stringencies that are not in place based on halachic rulings, rather just used as power plays.

I recently read an article by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks where he quoted Alexis de Tocqueville who defined individualism as “a mature and calm feeling which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends,” leaving “society at large to itself.”  Tocqueville believed that individualism encouraged by democracy would result in people leaving the business of the common good entirely to the government, which would become ever more powerful, eventually threatening freedom itself.

It is incumbent upon us to stand by our brothers and fight the over encroaching hand of bureaucracy and political infighting that is removing the Jewish people from their beloved Judaism. We must work to positively influence those who are responsible at a governmental level to service the Jewish people in Israel properly, to warmly and lovingly strengthen the Jewish people’s Jewish State.

I wish everyone a wonderful year, an easy and meaningful fast and achdut amongst all Am Yisrael – shanah tovah.

The writer is the Regional Resources Manager for Tzohar in Australia, South Africa & the United Kingdom. He is South African expatriate married to an Australian.



3 Responses to “Israel – United and Divided as One”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    Adrian; flicking through Elie Wiesels Memoirs his sensitive thoughts are very much in line with what you’ve written
    He had a great love for the sons and daughters of Israel such as yourself doing your duty to be called upon in the time of need.
    You may like to read it sometime….

  2. michael kuttner says:

    Shalom Ron

    Obviously you have no idea of what is actually happening on the ground in Israel. Take a look at what Tzohar is doing and they are just one of many such groups. My son goes with others to a secular kibbutz/moshav and helps conduct use friendly services for Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. This is a place where secularism reigned supreme but where now there is a demand for a Bet Knesset and an interest in Judaism. There are lots of examples like this. There is an amazing transformation taking place in Israel which is why the die hard secularists are making loud noises. The fanatics on both sides do not represent what is happening. Your talk of a civil war is complete nonsense.

  3. Ron Burdo says:

    You are missing something.

    The debate between secular and religious Jews In Israel these days is not about religious cohesion by law or about religious bureaucracy, but about the presence of Judaism in the public arena and the presence of observant Jews in high positions, even if they are results of free choice and merits.

    For example, the recent cancellation of the public Selichot concert in Tel Aviv, just because it was destined at both religious and secular patrons and hosted male singers only; I cannot imagine this happens in Australia.

    The secular Israelis of 1960 appreciated the Bible, had a strong Jewish identity in the national sense, and created their own version of Jewish tradition and holidays. The secular Israelis of 2016 – at least their influential elite – rejects anything which is connected with Judaism. They demand abolishing any Jewish education at schools, promote intermarriage and even do not define them as Jews but as Israelis.
    On the other side of the Israeli social spectrum, there is radicalization of the national-religious population in Israel, both in religious strictness and in views about democracy and the role of Halachic laws in modern Israel.

    This growing gap of perceptions and identity cannot be bridged by abolishing the Rabbinate and moving its authorities to the communities (an idea which is not bad at all). We are in a situation, in which secular Israelis and Jews (in any level of observance) are becoming two separate peoples with two disjoint identities, which are hostile to each other. A long shared history and a common language is not strong enough to keep these two groups together.

    The solution? No solution. Israel seems to deteriorate towards a civil war.

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