“Religion ought to be a beautiful thing, not a political thing” – Israel and the Religious Hurting Judaism

[OPINION] – By David Suissa/JNS.org – reprinted in part without explicit permission

Israel’s Religious Parties Hurt Judaism

On the surface, the fact that Israel is headed back to an election only weeks after the last one looks like a system failure. It’s never happened before in Israel. The Israeli government will now have spent the bulk of a year in election mode rather than governing mode. There’s something wrong with this picture.

And yet, if we look at the reason for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to cobble together a coalition — one party’s refusal to kowtow to religious parties — this “do-over” election presents a unique opportunity for a political upgrade.

Israel’s religious parties crave political power because it enables them to fulfill their religious agenda, from refusing to enlist in the IDF to forcing Torah laws on the public. Over the years, because Netanyahu has desperately needed their seats to form a majority coalition, he has tolerated their demands.

He probably figured the same thing would happen this time around — but one man stopped him. Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beiteinu party, decided he had had enough and refused to compromise on a bill to draft haredi(ultra-Orthodox) Jews into the IDF.

JUNE 7, 2019 11:08 AM
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Normally, Netanyahu is able to pull things together at the last minute, because Knesset members are loath to jeopardize their positions by going to new elections. In this case, it didn’t work. The religious parties threw a few bones of compromise, but Lieberman held firm, sticking to the original draft bill.

This dispute is rooted in the founding of the Jewish state, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made the fateful decision to exempt ultra-Orthodox men (only a few hundred at the time) from enlisting in the IDF. A well-known modern Orthodox rabbi in Israel once told me that this decision did more to turn off secular Jews to religion than anything else.

This makes sense. If you’re an Israeli parent whose children are risking their lives to defend the state, why should ultra-Orthodox citizens be exempt? And if you see ultra-Orthodox leaders fighting to keep their community out of the army, how would that make you feel about religion in general?

There are countless other ways that political power in the hands of ultra-Orthodox parties has become corrosive.

 

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