We need to take back our Judaism and save our democracy
The Jewish people are an ideological people. The Jewish State is an ideological state. For as long as the State of Israel aspires to be a Jewish and democratic state, those who control the Judaism will control the democracy.
This is not a religious statement. This is a political statement. Yitzhak Rabin, who devoted his entire life to defending and strengthening the Jewish State, was eventually murdered by someone who put the Judaism above the democracy of the State.
If Israel is to remain both Jewish and democratic, we will need to take back the ownership of our Judaism.
To those of you living outside of Israel, this might sound odd. I was born in the U.K. and was always taught that Judaism and democracy lived in harmony. This was common sense. In the U.S., too, there is little tension between Judaism and democracy. America does not appear in the Bible. You cannot claim to be a better Jew by promoting a non-democratic system of government. The separation of religion and state means that Jewish values expressed in the public sphere must still be put to the test of the voter.
In Israel, by contrast, there is a huge temptation to prioritize Judaism over democracy. Our borders are defined by some according to modern realities and by others according to the Bible. You can claim to be a better Jew by promoting halakhic life administered by rabbis over democratic life administered by the people. And the joining of religion and state enables the leadership to use the power of the state to enforce religious life.
For three generations, the mainstream of Israel, the Secular, Masorti and National Religious Jews who study in the mamlachti system, all of whom work and serve in the army, have outsourced Judaism to the ultra-Orthodox.
The national religious have capitulated on almost every halakhic issue to the ultra-Orthodox and failed to appoint their rabbis to the official institutions of the state. Secular and Masorti Jews have outsourced even more of their Judaism to the ultra-Orthodox in Israel. From brit milah to bar-mitzva, from weddings to funerals. Secular and Masorti Jews rarely manage the most important events of their lives.
In short, the Israeli mainstream has focused on democracy at the expense of Judaism. We let haredim teach Judaism to our kids, marry our sons and daughters, and bury our loved ones. Why?
In Israel, the solution is not to import American solutions to American problems. We need to develop authentic Israeli solutions to a uniquely Israeli problem. We have huge advantages: Hebrew as the national language, the Jewish calendar as the national timeframe and much of the Biblical homeland as the national territory. The start-up nation needs to rise to the challenge. We face a generation that has grown up on the internet in which they choose what content they read and reject. We need our Judaism to be powerful, relevant and sticky.
Our founding fathers started the process of translating Judaism into modern Israel, but the process has stopped. From Kiryat Malachi to Los Angeles, from India to Peru, wherever we may be, we need to renew it again. This is the task of our generation.
Terry Newman is Chairman of the MCC Group and Isramarin Construction, a co-founder of the Tel Aviv International Salon, a member of the World Jewish Congress Diplomatic Corps, and an adviser to BINA, the Israeli social-justice organization that sponsored this article.