Thursday, February 10, 2005

I spent a very interesting evening with a group of influential rabbanim who identify with various branches of the haredi world. We were discussing the appropriate haredi response to the various initiatives to write a constitution.

At first, they were carrying on in the customary manner about the Shulchan Aruch being the only legitimate constitution yada yada yada. Eventually, I managed to engage them in discussion on specific issues and it was possible to get past the cliches. The idea they found appealing was that those who are opposed to secular Zionism should have no more interest in using the Israeli government to enforce religion than they have in using, say, the American government to enforce religion.

They still had many practical concerns, such as that the government not recognize fake conversions. I suggested that if the Law of Return simply be amended to permit immediate patriation of Jews as well as non-Jews satisfying given criteria, there would be no need for the government to involve itself in defining who is a Jew at all. This solution seemed perfectly acceptable to them. They even saw merit in ending the Rabbanut's monopoly on marriage, provided that it retain control of divorce for those who are halachically married. Saw merit isn't quite the same as agreed to, but they did agree to take it up with Rav Elyashiv et al.

I think in the end, it will be possible to reach an agreement on religion and state that everybody can live with. Of course, Agudah will shout and vote against it regardless but possibly with a wink. The Mafdalnikim who still believe that the state has religious significance and that, therefore, its agencies have religious obligations, will be harder to please. (In any case, the really hard issue is elsewhere: how to check the absurdly exaggerated power of the self-appointing Supreme Court.)

One side note: the meeting was held in the home of a young and charismatic Rebbe (Admo"r) who was raised in a modern Zionist home. In this respect he is a counterpart to the Kozhnitzer Rebbe and the Boyaner Rebbe both of whom come from a similar background. All of them have a special charm that is no doubt attributable to not having been brought up with Rebbishe gaivah. (And MOChassid's Rebbe has it too [the charm, not the gaivah], even though he doesn't have the name of an Eastern European town prepended to his name.)

5 Comments:

Blogger dilbert said...

nice post. Nice to hear something good about the chareidi world for a change.

3:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The idea they found appealing was that those who are opposed to secular Zionism should have no more interest in using the Israeli government to enforce religion than they have in using, say, the American government to enforce religion."

Doesn't a majority Jewish population change the halachic ramifications starting with issues of lifnei iver and moving on?
I'd always thought that was what their problem was, unique to a Jewish state.

4:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have a working models of the State, as it would have been, had the religious won out in the beginning. They are called pre 2001 Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, or at best Pakistan. The reason is that, even though the religious leaders are of average or above average intelligence, when they do not have to extend respect, and when they do not have to explain their ideas, in short when they are in full control, then they revert to the position with which your post begins, government by platitude. Platitudes are mostly an annoyance in a discussion, lecture or debate, but they are downright dangerous when you are trying to run a country.

A quick example of the dangers of platitudes would be early generations attitudes toward doctors. According to a substantial percentage of the Jewish world at one time, going to a doctor was sign of waning faith. This was a platitude with life and death implications. One is hard pressed to find this attitude, even in the most frum communities, nowadays. Over the centuries, people challenged the platitude and rationalized that G-d provides doctors with knowledge, etc. But in earlier times, this logic was lost on very famous Rabbanim. Moral of the story: Yada yada is fine for banal discussion. It is useless in dealing with real world issues. Rabbanim will only face this when confronted with obvious specific cases. Only when true reason allows no other option, religious attitudes will reinterpret and will correct to square with reality.

12:34 AM  
Blogger Doctor Bean said...

Fascinating discussion.

Can I ask a question? Are all Rabbis in Israel government employees? Are there any that are supported by their congregation like in the Diaspora? Are there any voices in the religious Israeli world calling for “privatization” of the Rabbinate, meaning ending gov’t employment of Rabbis?

The American founding fathers thought self-rule was only possible if a secular gov't ruled over a largely religious people. I get the impression that secular Israelis see their case as an inversion of this: religious laws over a largely secular people… I’m neither secular nor Israeli, so I might be wrong, nevertheless I have to believe that Rabbis would become more relevant to the greater Israeli population if their income depended on it, and that Israelis may be less hostile to Judaism if their government was silent on the issue. That is not to say that the legislature should not have the power to legislate on religious issues, it is simply to say that it would be better for Judaism if they refrained from doing so.

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Doctor Bean's post:

The American founding fathers thought self-rule was only possible if a secular gov't ruled over a largely religious people. I get the impression that secular Israelis see their case as an inversion of this: religious laws over a largely secular people…

What you describe is a civil war waiting to happen. When religion's realities are placed upon people who do not willingly share in those realities, and you have religious authorities, no matter how benign in any particular point in history, enforcing religious statutes, you have the makings of three things:

a) religious holy war on infidels
b) popular rebellion against religion and ingrained hatred of religious authorities
c) corruption at the highest levels

In short, theocracies do not work in current practical reality, only in Messianic utopia. If Israel is to exist, religion should be fully privatized and removed from government as Ben implies in the post.

7:06 PM  

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