Is Jewish a denomination or a nationality


In Israel there is no separation between state and religion. This tension regularly causes discussions. What role does religion play in Israel?

The official emblem of the state shows the menorah, the seven-armed candlestick from the temple.
Photo: Hanna Huhtasaari

The State of Israel defines itself as a Jewish state. "Jewish State" was the title of the book published in 1896 by the founder of modern Zionism Theodor Herzl, who had a liberal nation state and not a religious state in mind. one speaks of a Jewish-democratic state.

As such, Israel is far from a separation of state and religion in the French or American sense. The Jewish state is basically a state of the Jewish people, a nation-state, but religious aspects are undoubtedly also part of that definition. Essential religious institutions (the chief rabbinate, the local rabbinate, the religious councils, the religious-state school system) are state organs. Important areas of life (marriage, divorce, cemeteries) are administered by religious institutions. There are state-religious laws in certain areas of life and the state budget finances religious institutions and services (e.g. synagogues, mosques, state and non-state religious schools, cemeteries and religious baths). In Israel there is no state church or an "official" religion like in England or Norway, but the Jewish religion has a legal and symbolic dominance over other religions such as Islam and Christianity.

The symbolic dominance, which one school interprets as national-secular and the other as religious, is defined in the name of the state, Medinat Yisrael (The State of Israel), in the Declaration of Independence as the "Jewish State in the Land of Israel". Some state symbols are religious in origin. The blue and white flag comes from the blue and white prayer shawl and the state symbol, the menorah (seven-armed candlestick) comes from the Old Testament temple. For most Jews, these symbols have a national and a religious meaning because of the close connection between nationality and religion.

Some state symbols, such as the Israeli flag, have a religious origin. The flag, for example, comes from the blue and white prayer shawl. (& copy Hanna Huhtasaari)

Nation and religion

The connection between nation and religion cannot be overlooked in the Declaration of Independence either. Although it is primarily a national-secular document, this basic proclamation speaks of the "religious" character of the Jewish people, of the Bible, of the "prayers" of the people in the Diaspora, of the "visions of the Prophets of Israel ", and of the" traditional "connection to the Land of Israel.

The preference for the Jewish community as a nation and religion is part of the Law of Return, according to which "every Jew has the right to immigrate to Israel". Since 1970 the definition of the Jew has been mainly orthodox and religious ("A Jew is whose mother is Jewish, who does not belong to another religion or who has converted to Judaism").

Constitutional framework

In Israel, all major religious communities are recognized by the state. Every religious community legal in this sense has the right to internal autonomy and to state funding for its houses of prayer and the salaries of religious officials. The recognized communities are the Jewish Orthodox (but not the Jewish Conservatives and Jewish Liberals), the Islamic, the various Christian parishes (the Greek Catholic, the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Gregorian, the Armenian Catholic, the Syriac-Catholic and Evangelical-Episcopalian) and also those of the Druze and Baha'i.

In Israel there is freedom of religion and worship in the sense that everyone has the freedom to practice his religion freely in the private as well as in the public sphere. This freedom is based on the King's Order in Council (1922) of the British mandate:
    "All persons in Palestine shall enjoy full liberty of conscience, and the free exercise of their forms of worship subject only to the maintenance of public order and morals."
Although freedom of religion is assured, freedom from religion is more problematic. For example, all Israelis - whether Jews, Muslims, Druze or Christians, believers or non-believers - are subject to the religious courts of their communities in marriage and divorce law. Membership in the various congregations takes place by birth, there is no civil marriage and divorce, not even for atheists or dissident believers (e.g. conservative and liberal Jews.)

Controversial issues and laws

The status of conservative and liberal (reform or progressive) currents in Judaism (to which 80% of the large Jewish community in the US belong) is certainly a fundamental problem of the Jewish state. Conservative and liberal reform rabbis cannot perform legally valid marriages and divorces, cannot serve as dayanim (judges) in rabbinical courts, and are also excluded from the military rabbinate. The conservative and liberal communities are also not financed by the state.

Another legal problem is the status of women in the religious or quasi-religious area. The "Law on Equality for Women" (1951) says that the law prescribes equality between men and women in all areas of life, but this promise remains unfulfilled in civil matters. In divorce law there is de facto no equality - e.g. a woman abandoned by her husband is considered aguna if she has not received a get (consent to divorce) from her husband. She cannot remarry in this status, although the opposite rule does not apply. A clause in the law on equality for women, which states that "this law does not interfere with legislation on matters of marriage and divorce", legalizes this clear departure from the principle of equality. Nor can women serve as judges in rabbinical courts, although these judge on issues that are of paramount importance to women.

Other controversial religious laws include "The Prohibition of Pig Breeding" from (1962), which prohibits the breeding of pigs in Jewish and Muslim (but not Christian) localities. Another change in the law (1990) extended the ban to the sale of pork, but this change in law is not followed in almost all secular neighborhoods and localities. Another law prohibits the public sale of Hametz (leavened) - e.g. bread, pizza, cakes - during the Pesach holidays. An attempt to "seduce" someone with money to convert to another religion is considered a criminal offense. This law (1977) was passed mainly against the Christian missions.

Also the definition as a Jewish-democratic state (in the "Basic Law - Dignity and Freedom of Man", "Basic Law - Freedom of Profession" and in the "Political Party Law", all passed in the years 1992-1994) has the tension between a secular and a religious definition of the state not resolved. There is no doubt that the ultra-orthodox definition of a Jewish state, in which the Halacha (divine religious legislation) is the state law, collides with the secular-liberal definition of a democratic state. Some of the laws in Israel that follow Halacha are certainly problematic from a western liberal democratic standpoint. There does not have to be a collision between a Jewish state in the national-Zionist sense and a democratic state. A Jewish state in the national-Zionist sense is a state of the Jewish people, whose identity is based primarily on a common history, on the memory of the persecutions in the diaspora, on a common pluralistic culture and on the Hebrew language. In this sense, there is also no necessary collision between a demographic definition of a Jewish state (a state with a Jewish majority) and a democracy. In this sense Herzl spoke of a "Jewish state", not a "Jewish state", certainly not a Jewish state in the religious sense.

The role of religion in politics

The division of Israeli society into orthodox and non-orthodox groups, which have completely different worldviews when it comes to the relationship between state and religion, is of great political importance. About 30 percent of the Israeli population is deeply religious in the sense that they adhere to a strictly religious way of life, send their children to religious schools and live mainly in religiously homogeneous neighborhoods.

The Orthodox neighborhood of Bnei Brak in Tel Aviv. (& copy Hanna Huhtasaari)
These Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews would like to see Israel as a Jewish state in which the Torah (the five books of Moses) form the state constitution and the religious regulations are the basis of state law. Around half of the Orthodox (approx. 20% of the population) and almost all ultra-Orthodox (approx. 10% of the population) regularly vote for the religious parties (four of which are currently represented in parliament, the Knesset). The other half of the Orthodox vote predominantly nationalist-traditionalist parties of the "falcon camp." [1] The Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox parties have 17 seats (out of 120) in the Knesset elected in 2006 - another 10 Orthodox Knesset members represent other parties.

The orthodox parties define themselves mainly through religious questions. But the NRP (National Religious Party), today part of the National Union Fraction, is as much an Orthodox party as one of the most determined hawks. The NRP is also clearly a Zionist party. The ultra-orthodox Yahadut Hatorah (Torah Judaism Alliance) and SHAS (abbreviation of Sephardic Guardians of the Torah) are much more extreme in their clerical-theocratic positions. In terms of foreign policy, however, they differ from the NRP: They form the middle between the camps of the falcons and the doves [2]. Another point of difference between the NRP and all other Jewish parties is their rejection of Zionism. Ultra-Orthodox Jews do not recognize the Israeli state as a Jewish state and also rejected its establishment by the Zionist movement. In their opinion, only the Messiah and not Zionist heretics would have the task of reestablishing the Jewish state. The base of the Yahadut Hatorah with the two parties Agudat Yisrael (The Unification of Israel) and Degel Hatorah (The Flag of the Torah) are Ashkenazi voters, while SHAS is a Sephardic party in terms of its self-image and program. The NRP (founded in 1956) is an amalgamation of a bourgeois Zionist Orthodox Party (Mizrahi founded in 1902) and a Zionist Orthodox Workers Party (Hapoel Hamizrahi founded in 1922). AY also has deep historical roots that date back to before the First World War. SHAS was split off from AY in the eighties (1984) for ethnic-Sephardic reasons.

Among the non-Orthodox, around 70 percent of the population, there is a wide range of views on the synagogue and the state. Only a minority of liberal or downright secular Jews believe that religion is a private matter and should not exert any influence on the state. The majority (approx. 50%), on the other hand, are "traditionalists" who follow and sometimes disregard religious regulations and support the status quo (as the shaky compromise is called, which recognizes, for example, the higher constitutional status of the secular Knesset, but not a civil one Marriage enabled).

The non-Orthodox parties have different positions on the "religious question". These positions are of paramount importance to many Israeli voters. Voting behavior is not only determined by foreign, economic and social policy.

The non-Orthodox parties cover a wide spectrum on the "religious question". The Likud and other right-wing nationalist parties generally hold traditional positions and often agree with the Orthodox parties on the religious issue. They do this because nationalism and religiosity have a common denominator - the emphasis on Jewish particularity and a skepticism towards a secular, universal and liberal worldview. Most Likud voters are Jewish traditionalists from the Arab world and a significant minority of their voters are Zionist Orthodox. The Avoda (Labor Party) and the newly founded (2005) dominant party in the center Kadima (Forward) take pragmatic positions. Although their leadership is secular-liberal and although a large part of their voters are western-liberal Ashkenazim ("western" Jews from Europe - especially Eastern Europe), they take pragmatic positions for coalition reasons to enable the formation of a government with orthodox parties. Avoda and Kadima are parties that were government-building parties for years (Avoda in 1948–1977, 1984–1990, 1992–1996, 1999–2001 and Kadima 2006–2008) and pragmatics (others would call it opportunism) is part of them Become "ideology". It should be noted that a considerable minority of their voters are traditionalists who would reject a clear secular-liberal position. Left parties (such as Meretz) represent liberal-secular, anti-clerical positions - separation of state and religion, civil marriage and divorce, abolition of religious laws, equality of all currents in Judaism (orthodox, conservatives, reform liberals). Their voters are liberal-secular - the majority Ashkenazim - and the "religious question" - alongside foreign policy - is a major reason for their behavior at the polls.

Religion also plays a major role in foreign policy. The majority of the ultra-nationalists and the 200,000 settlers in the occupied territories (West Bank, Golan Heights and, until 2005, Gaza Strip) are Zionist Orthodox. They see the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians (and Syrians) not only as a national-ethnic or territorial dispute, but emphasize the religious component (on the other hand, Islamic movements such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah take a similar position). For Israeli-Jewish fundamentalists, the West Bank is the biblical Judea and Samaria, the "Holy Land" promised by God to the Jewish people, the "land of our fathers", which was "liberated" and not "conquered" in the Six Day War (1967) . The Jewish fundamentalists deny the right of any Israeli government, even a government that represents a majority in parliament, contrary to God's command, to return parts of the Holy Land to "strangers" (Palestinians, Syrians) within the framework of a land for peace agreement. A fundamentalist Orthodox Jew assassinated Prime Minister Rabin in 1995 for pursuing a policy of peace and territorial compromise under the Oslo Accords (1993). The religious ultra-nationalists are represented in parliament (especially in the National Religious Party and the other parties of the National Union) and have a very strong extra-parliamentary lobby (Gush Emunim, the "bloc of believers" and Moetzet Yesha, the representative of the settlers in Judea , Samaria and Gaza).

The orthodox ultra-nationalists, whether in government or in opposition, make it difficult for any government to make the compromises necessary to achieve lasting peace.

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