The Great Divide

Politics in Israel can get very complicated. There are many parties and each represents a different agenda or ideology.

By Arthur Schwartzman |
An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man speaks with with a non-religious person during a demonstration in central Jerusalem. Monday, Aug 01, 2011. More than a hundred protesters marched tonight (Monday) in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and called for strengthening public education. In Jerusalem called dozens of teachers and community activists to stop the privatization process. Photo by Kobi Gideon / Flash90. *** Local Caption *** ???? ??????? ???? ?????? ???? ???? ??? ????? ???? ???? ???? ????? ????? ?????? Photo: Kobi Gideon/Flash90

Broadly speaking, there are 2 big camps, the political right and the political left. Within this divide lies another – the secular-religious divide. We recently have seen that religion in Israel is not a left vs. right issue, but that it can sometimes split the right from within. In this article I will try to briefly explain the fundamental roots of this divide.

Zionism has risen as a reaction to anti-Semitism, but some of the harshest things that were said against the Jews were uttered by the Zionists themselves. As much as secular Jews sought to unshackle themselves from the authority of the gentiles, they also sought to break the yoke laid on them by the rabbis. Paradoxically, Zionism sought to create a new Jew by means of stripping themselves from anything Jewish. The Zionist critique of the Jew was a critique of character. The Jew was viewed as weak, submissive, and sometimes pathetic.

The halachah (Jewish law) is said to be fluid, ever-changing, adapting itself to the passing times. When modernism took over Europe, with it’s new science, politics and values, many Jews started forsaking their Jewish heritage. Judaism saw these modern advances as an attack and preservation became prime and center in the halachic legislation. This brings us to the inception of the modern state of Israel. David Ben Gurion made a deal with the religious factions in the Land not to thwart diplomatic efforts with the UN to establish a Jewish state, as majority religious were anti-Zionists, and in exchange they would get authority over the “Jewishness” of the state.

In order for there to be a Jewish state, Ben Gurion had to give up the secular nature of the state he envisioned, and so the Zionists found themselves bound to the same authority they were trying to shake off. Today we can see how polar the seculars and the religious are in Israel; the datiim are becoming more enclosed and encapsulated with advances of western culture, and on the other hand you see the rebellion of the hilonim growing increasingly stronger as they face restrictions of the religious element in their lives.

There is, however, a 3rd way. The poet Hayim Nahman Bialik talked about the importance of the Sabbath, and the secular application of halachic law, whilst Essayist Ahad Ha’am wrote that the new secular Jew ought to engage with Jewish literature in order to unify with his Jewish roots, no strings attached to rabbinical authority. On the religious end, more and more are starting to see that Judaism needs to open up to novelty and integration. Now that Jews abide in the land, they are not in a position of weakness and dependency, but a position of strength and power. The fear that froze the halacha in it’s place in the diaspora should disperse, and bring forth change and diversity in Jewish spirituality.

With the elections underway all we can hear on the news are polarized views of this divide, and the conversation is likely to get heated as the day to cast a ballot approaches. The Messianic Jews are in a peculiar spot in this divide, as they clearly don’t share a secular worldview, but they also stand in opposition to the religious sector from obvious theological reasons. If the authoritative grip of the rabbinate will be loosened, seculars will have nothing to rebel against and Judaism would become something to enrich their lives and culture. On the other end, the religious would drop their fears of dissipating into the gentiles as they realize that they’re home and have nothing to fear. When they aren’t playing the tyrannical role of the enforcer, discussion of halachic law might open up, and things could be discussed, like the inclusion of women in synagogue worship and prayer, ethnic Jewish superiority, and to the hopes of many – inclusion of Messianic Jews as a branch of their tree.

The state of Israel is in it’s infancy, and it will continue to evolve and change. Messianic believers should stand on the forefront of the developing Israeli culture, effect it and become an integral part of it.


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