On February 14, more than 200,000 ultra-orthodox Jews gathered in Jerusalem to protest against the country's courts, which they deem anti-religious. Just down the road, another 50,000 of their compatriots also came together, to counter-demonstrate in favour of democracy and the judiciary.
Israeli society is split on several levels--Arab against Jew, left against right, Sephardi against Ashkenazi. But the divide which a recent survey found the majority of Israelis believed most serious is that between religious and secular Jews. Back in 1948, the founders of the state avoided a highly contentious issue by not formally separating religion and state. At the same time, Israel was established as a democracy.
Religious parties have become increasingly influential in the Knesset, joining ruling coalitions led by one of the two major parties in return for key ministerial seats that enable them to appropriate funds for causes important to them. But even as religious parties succeeded in pushing through, or stopping legislation they felt strongly about, they found the country's courts overruling the legislature, frustrating their initiatives. So their followers took to the streets, amid warnings of a kultuurkampf (culture war).
Where do we fit in all of this; whose side should we take? We respect the biblical faith of the orthodox, while we object to the sometimes violent actions which have made the lives of some Christians in the land difficult of late. On the other hand, we share the democrats' conviction that the rule of law should be upheld, while we are troubled by the secular trends--and the pro-Oslo bent--often promoted by many of the court's defenders.
These are tough questions, with no easy answers. But for today, we take refuge in Psalm 133, and pray for the time when--under the reigning Messiah--men's hearts will truly be ruled by righteousness and peace.
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"