Sunday, 5 July 2015

Israel Must Abolish Its State Religious Institutions

The Israeli government has just struck down reforms put in place by the previous government that were supposed to make conversion to Judaism easier.  This isn't a surprise since cancelling the reforms was part of the coalition agreement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made with the two Haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism (see: Government strikes down conversions reform).  What I want to know is, why should the state be involved in regulating conversions in the first place?      

The State of Israel is the embodiment of the Zionist ideal that the Jews are a people rather than simply a religious group.  Yet Israel's government seems to be more preoccupied with safeguarding Jewish religiosity, or at least a certain narrow-minded view of it, rather than Jewish nationhood.  Yes, I understand that Jews and Judaism are significantly intertwined, but they are not synonymous.  The role of the state in Israel should be to protect the Jews as a people, not a religious denomination.  The state should only intervene in Jewish religious affairs in order to ensure that adherents of Judaism continue to have access to their holy sites and can practice their Judaism in any way they please.  Therefore, I would argue for the immediate abolition of the Chief Rabbinate, the rabbinical courts and all other religious institutions or regulatory bodies controlled by the state.  The Jewish community in Israel should be able to conduct its religious affairs privately, without state interference or sponsorship, just as Jewish communities do in other democratic countries.  I would also advocate dismantling the state-sanctioned institutions of Israel's other religious groups.

Abolishing Israel's state religious institutions and regulatory bodies would of course open the door to what many non-religious Israelis have wanted for decades: freedom from religious coercion, especially in regards to matters of personal status, such as marriage and divorce, which are now the exclusive domain of state-backed religious authorities, such as the Chief Rabbinate.  I don't know about you, but I don't want some rabbi dictating to me how to be Jewish or telling me who I can and cannot marry, and I'm betting that many Israelis feel the same way.               

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