Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How to bring Judaism to Israel

Sometimes the stupidity of religious leaders makes my blood boil. Two articles in Haaretz provide a perfect example of good and bad approaches to religion in Israel.

In the first article, we read how Eli Yishai, minister of Trade and Industry, (and a leader of Shas) will enforce Shabbat laws to stop the sale of the new and final book of Harry Potter this Shabbat! to quote:

Yishai said he intends to issue indictments and impose fines on local distributors of the book who violate the Hours of Work and Rest Law.... Yishai said yesterday that "there must be a limit to the desire to be like other nations."

In a different article we read how three non-Orthodox Rabbis go to visit Ehud Olmert. Their concern? - They are devastated as to the ignorance of Judaism amongst the Israeli public. They go to Olmert to discuss how Israelis can become more knowledgeable about their tradition. Here is Rabbi David Ellenson, President of HUC:

"During his visit to Israel, Ellenson had a hard time getting over the depressing impression made by senior Israeli figures a few days before his departure from the United States at an international gathering of university presidents. On Saturday night, he related, a rabbi recited Havdalah [marking the conclusion of Shabbat] for all the participants, and Ellenson noticed the Israelis. "One of them, the president of a very large university in Israel, told me he had never seen such a service and never even heard of its existence." He was greatly saddened, said Ellenson. "I hate the word ignorance, I prefer to be more gentle, but I know that's how it is. What does it mean that an intellectual doesn't know what havdalah is? How would you describe it? And he is not the only one among the Israelis."

Now, I ask you the question. Who has the attitude that may bring more people in the Secular world closer to Judaism? Who is thinking in positive ways here?

Now you may argue that Shas who are uncompromising, and reach out to the lower classes in ISrael, and educate many about Shabbat and Judaism, have in fact brought many people to Orthodox observant Judaism. The Reform Movement on the other hand may teach people about Havdalla, but how many of their congregants really keep Shabbat or Kashruth in their private lives? How successful are they in stemming intermarriage?

So that is an important point.

BUT do we have to always see religious politicians getting people's backs up? engaging in acts of provocation? Are these politicians looking Israeli society in the eye, and trying to make a mark? Why do we persist in our sectarian approach? Israelis DO want Judaism. But they do not want Haredi Judaism. If we provide them with a Judaism that is serious but intelligent, moral, compassionate, dignified, then they will be attracted to it. The forces of religion do not always need to appear to be militant, coercive and primitive. They should be setting forth ideas whereby Israelis will seek to incorporate more religion in their school curriculum, home lives, life-cycle rituals. The way to go is not by banning sales of Harry Potter!

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