Israel Today

Religious or secular? Israel is becoming more and more embroiled in an internal struggle for the soul of the nation

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Israeli society is hard to decipher. Being at once both intensely secular and intensely religious gives the impression of a society divided beyond hope. The difference between secularists and the religious, however, is not as simple as one might imagine. 

Polls show time and again that secular as Israeli society might be, the vast majority of Israelis believe in God. 

Many who oppose religion continue to eat kosher food, rest on Sabbath and almost all Israelis circumcise their boys. Many from the secular part of society attend synagogues from time to time, and many participate in the ever-growing forums for Torah and Talmudic studies.

The dividing line becomes fuzzier when considering the increasing number of religious people that resist certain aspects of Jewish tradition, and secular people who are turning more religious. Notable among the latter are the many artists who are becoming religious. 

Israeli artists are perceived as left-wing human right activists who oppose religion, occupation and whatever else that is on the menu of the radical left. But Israel’s ynet news portal has brought attention to the fact that this is a false impression.  According to Dan Ben-Hakoun, director and producer of the documentary series “Returning Forward,” some 50 percent of Israeli artists are in the process of becoming religious.

I recently discovered a most vivid expression of this complex reality while walking down Rabin Street in the center of Tel Aviv. Almost unnoticed, written on a concrete pillar stained with urine, was a graffiti poem entitled “Porn.” It spoke of a person yearning for redemption while waiting on the download of an HD porn movie. 

The poem read: “HD quality porn film, weighs four gigabyte, is downloading now. While waiting for the film, there is an expectation of redemption. There is concern. And tension. Sexual tension. Between me and the film, and between the film and myself.”

This extreme tension between two opposing forces is experienced by many Israelis today.


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