It is no secret that there is a war going on between the religious and the secular. As I have noted earlier the secular Jews are very upset that religion is in control of marriage, divorce and conversion. It is personal for them. This anger causes them to lash out at religious symbols such as the settlements. And the chasm grows larger.
I, for one, empathize with them. There should be civil marriage and divorce in Israel for anyone who wants it. Religion should be a matter of choice. In the rest of the world, civil marriage and divorce exist and the orthodox have found ways to maintain their distinctions. The same should apply in Israel. The same goes for conversion. Many people are prepared to become traditional Jews but not orthodox Jews. They should be accommodated.
Haaretz comments on these issues in The ball is in the secular public’s court and asks
The proposal to establish religious courts to serve as an alternative
to those of the Chief Rabbinate comes up repeatedly in various
conversations. An interesting question is why the disputes on the
issues of shmita (the sabbatical year) and conversion, which set off
harsh reverberations this year, provoked a far stronger reaction than
that aroused by the religious courts’ long-term harassment of women who
are refused a get - a religious decree of divorce.
The answer is apparently related to the fact that the religious Zionist
rabbis have a more consolidated viewpoint on these issues than on the
issue of women denied a get.
Therefore, along with the attempt to establish an alternative system, we would do well not to give up the struggle for official governmental recognition of a lenient concept of conversion. An
interesting and worthy trend of thought in this area can be found in
the covenant drawn up a while ago by Prof. Ruth Gavison and Rabbi
Yaakov Medan, a document that could solve most of the problems
concerning relations between religion and the state.
On the question of “Who is a Jew,” the two propose that Israeli law adopt a new definition: not “Jew,” which is a term with a double meaning, both religious and national. Because of the double meaning the rabbinate demands exclusivity for the religious meaning. Instead, Gavison and Medan proposed “a member of the Jewish people,” in other words, a definition of identity based specifically on nationality. According to their proposal, “a member of the Jewish people” would apply to anyone who is the child of one Jewish parent ?(father or mother?) as well as anyone who has joined the Jewish people and leads a Jewish lifestyle ((a sufficiently broad definition to include all the denominations of Judaism?).
This proposal gives all the parties most of what they want. On the one hand it solves the problem of those who want to be a part of the Jewish people without accepting the burden of observing all the mitzvot. On the other hand, it leaves in the hands of Orthodox Judaism the right to claim that it does not recognize these people as Jews when it comes to religion, and so will not marry them. This means, of course, that there is a need for a marriage arrangement for those who cannot marry in the rabbinate or are not interested in doing so. And in fact, the covenant provides for such an arrangement.
Evidently there is support from segments of the religious community.
The proposal also has a public-relations advantage because of the very
fact that Rabbi Medan is a signatory. Medan, the head of the hesder
yeshiva in Gush Etzion, is an Orthodox rabbi who is not among the
“Meimad liberals.” Politically he belongs to the central stream of
religious Zionist rabbis. Medan is strongly identified with the right,
and was even among the rabbis closest to the Yesha Council during the
struggle against the Gaza disengagement. Nobody can claim (as has often
been maliciously claimed about rabbis identified as liberals) that he
bends halakha or religious values to find favor in the eyes of the
secular left. If he has signed the proposal, even its opponents will
not be able to dismiss or overturn it.
The ball is in the secular court.
Religious Zionism today has a significant branch that is willing to
deal with these issues courageously, and to propose reasonable
solutions. But if the secular public continues to accept the Haredi
coalition veto, there will be no chance to implement any of them.
If flexibility on all sides is forthcoming, it will do much to remove the anger of the seculars and result in less opposition to settlements and Israel as a Jewish state.
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