Can Anyone Prevent a Split?


© Jerusalem Post

(February 19) - Will Jews learn to live together - or are they destined to break into separate groups like the Saducees and Pharisees?

Amid the shofar blasts and prayers rising from the haredi demonstration this week in Jerusalem, and the music and speeches emanating from the nearby anti-haredi demonstration, at least one bystander thought he could hear the sound of a hammer on a church door. The totally conflicting views on religion and state triggered an image of Martin Luther nailing up his 95 theses in Wittenberg on his long journey out of the Catholic Church.

The clashing world views and pent-up anger reflected in the competing rallies raised the question, with greater urgency than ever, of how the Jews will live in peace with each other after they've made peace with the Arabs. For some Jerusalem scholars, history lent perspective.

The historical memory evoked for Prof. Daniel Schwartz, an authority on the Second Temple period, was not of Luther's hammer but of the stillness that fell over Jerusalem 2,000 years ago after the Romans settled the dispute over religion and state in Judea by putting an end to the state.

"The Romans said to the Jews, 'You take the religion and we the state,'" said Schwartz, of the Hebrew University. "They would have allowed the Jews to continue worshiping in the Temple."

The Romans even extended extraterritoriality to the Temple, permitting the Jews to put up signs on the Temple Mount in Greek and Latin warning gentiles - including the Romans themselves - of death if they entered the holy precinct.

The Sadducees, from whose ranks the priests were drawn, were prepared to accept the Roman terms separating religion and state. More militant elements, however, insisted on fighting for a Jewish state on the grounds that God's sovereignty brooked no competition. Except for a brief interval during the Hasmonean period, however, the Jews were not really sovereign, notes Schwartz, despite the illusion created by the existence of the extraterritorial temple.

"Today also," he says, "it looks like there is a Jewish state and we call ourselves a Jewish state. But the fact of the matter is that we're not a Jewish state because there are a lot of people living here who aren't Jewish, and because there is a large percentage of Jews who don't see Judaism as a source of authority."

The haredim today wish to conjoin state and religion as did the militants of the Temple period, while the secularists object. This makes for an odd parallel, suggests Schwartz, between the Meretz Party - high priests of modern secularism - and the Sadducee high priests of the Second Temple, who accepted a separation of religion and state.

A DIFFERENT historical parallel is drawn by the rector of Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Yehuda Friedlander. "What we are seeing today is a continuation - a direct and even boring continuation - of the 'kulturkampf' in 19th-century eastern Europe between Orthodoxy and the Enlightenment."

It was a battle that the Enlightenment won, notes Friedlander, as Jews left the confines of the ghetto in large numbers to make their way into the modern world. The haredim, however, not only survived, but have emerged today as an astonishingly vibrant and rapidly growing entity.

If the haredim were to win this round of the culture war, says the Orthodox scholar, it would lead to the loss of much of Diaspora Jewry. "What right do we have after Hitler to tell millions of Jews who have more liberal views that they don't belong to the Jewish people?"

The haredim do not merely disagree with non-haredi Jews, he notes; they deny their legitimacy. "Conservative Jews, for instance, accept the authority of the Halacha but dispute its interpretation. Instead of having a cultured debate, the haredim undertake total war against them."

The ranks of the haredim have been swelled by Shas, notes Friedlander, giving them greater political power than their numbers merit. "Despite all their political success, the Sephardim have an inferiority complex vis-a-vis Ashkenazi scholarship, as if all the Torah greats were Ashkenazim. What has traditionally characterized Sephardi scholarship is erudition. What characterized Ashkenazim was disputation (pilpul). I don't believe that the erudition of Sephardi rabbis is less worthy than the pilpul of Ashkenazi rabbis."

The answer to the haredi-secular split, says Friedlander, is near-total separation of religion and state. "If this reduces the hostility of non-religious Jews toward religion I am willing to pay the price."

Separation would put an end to listing religion on one's identity card. "A man who wants to make sure that he is marrying off his daughter to someone who is Jewish makes his own investigation in any case into the groom's background," says Friedlander. "He doesn't need to see this stamped onto an identity card."

Nor is there need for a state rabbinate or for religious councils any more than there is in other countries, where Jewish communities organize themselves quite well without these institutions, Friedlander contends.

In order, however, to permit the broad religious community in Israel to live alongside the secular community, Friedlander would continue a number of policies first introduced by prime minister David Ben-Gurion: separate religious courts that would deal with matters of personal status, kosher food in the IDF and in public institutions, and preservation of the Sabbath in public places.

During the Lebanon War, when his son and son-in-law were serving across the border, Friedlander was appalled to read a haredi newspaper column saying that proof of the superiority of the draft-free haredi yeshivot over the national religious 'hesder' yeshivot was that hesder students were being killed in Lebanon while haredi students were not.

Haredi youths must be subject to the draft, he says, and the bloated financial expectations of the haredi community whittled down by firm legislation. "They are not as strong as they pretend."

LIKE Schwartz and Friedlander, Prof. Avi Ravitzky falls into the category of modern Orthodox - those who dwell in both worlds. "Every nation has extremes," says Ravitzky. "Our problem is that we let the extremes determine the national agenda."

The extremes, he makes clear, lie in both camps. "Among the religious, there was always both aggada [the narrative portions of Oral Law] and Halacha. There was philosophic thought and sometimes there were rabbinic rulings. In recent years, there is no philosophic thought. There is no ambivalence, no duality. Everything is black or white."

A relatively recent phenomenon, says Ravitzky, who is chairman of the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University, is the widespread application of da'at torah, where questions not directly addressed by Halacha - even medical or political - are answered by strict rabbinic rulings.

An almost identical phenomenon is occurring in the secular camp, Ravitsky notes. "Everything there becomes a matter for the High Court of Justice. The widespread notion of 'creative judicial activism' is an exact parallel of da'at torah. Where there is no precedent, you, the judge, create."

There is far too much legal involvement, he believes, in both camps. "Torah and philosophy and secular literature and aggada should engage in dialogue. But when you lay down a religious law or a High Court ruling there is no room for dialogue. There are no grey areas. Knife meets knife and you have sparks.

"If you fill up the world with [secular] legal rulings or with religious law you leave no place to meet. No one will free up place for the other and what results is conflict.

"I said once at a symposium in Judge Barak's presence that according to Lurianic Kabbala even God had to make place for the world. I say that both the High Court and the rabbis have to withdraw a little to make place for culture, for literary creativity, for dialogue.

"However, the secular and religious judges aren't so much to blame. It's their publics that want final decisions."

There is a broader consensus in Israeli society on matters of religion and state than the tone of the public debate would suggest, Ravitzky believes. Close to 80 percent of the public, he maintains, would support a covenant which was drawn up by Meimad, a party of religious moderates on whose board Ravitzky sits.

"The covenant advocates deepening Jewish studies in secular schools and humanistic studies in religious schools; permission for cultural and entertainment activities to be held on the Sabbath but continuation of the ban on commercial activities on that day; and civil "pairings" for those who cannot be married by a rabbi, such as 200,000 non-Jewish Russian-speaking immigrants.

ALL three scholars believe that the haredim can be obliged by society at large to accept new rules to the game. "As long as they can get away with good things and exploit others, they'd be stupid not to, even if it means lack of self-respect," says Prof. Schwartz.

When it becomes politically possible, however, the haredim, he believes, will be obliged to assume some of the responsibility for their own social welfare, an obligation that implies working for a living. The haredim themselves have begun to recognize the need for this, he says.

Friedlander sees with considerable enthusiasm the possibility of a national unity government being formed in June that would not depend on the haredim.

"A government without haredim could be the first step toward a renaissance in the development of Judaism for both the religious and non-religious," he says. "If a non-religious Jew doesn't fulfill mitzvot [religious obligations] but appreciates Judaism as a culture, the bridge is built."

The haredim will not triumph today any more than they triumphed against the Enlightenment, Friedlander believes, and they themselves will slowly adjust to the modern world. If pressed to carry their own weight, says the professor, they will in the end prove amenable "or they will move to Brooklyn."

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