Israel: the issue of Radicalized Torah vs State

Recently, to minimize disruption to traffic and commuters, construction upgrading a train station in Tel Aviv was carried out on Shabat; and more work on Shabat is scheduled. According to SOP, secular and Khareidim promptly squared off; each condemning the other. And, as usual, the question was again raised concerning how Israel should address the issue of “separation of church and state.”

Obviously, Israel’s problem isn’t the reductio ad absurdum borrowed description of separation of state from any church. While some have refined the problem somewhat to “separation of religion and state,” this phrase, too, is too simplistic to enable a solution to Israel’s unique conflict between modern law and Dark Ages rabbinic superstition and casuistry parading as “halacha.”

Only recently, however, has anyone apparently thought through the problem with sufficient objectivity and clarity to question how to refine the definition of the problem more precisely specific to Israel in order to target the actual problem rather than remain stuck in the endless repetitions of the same misdirection (commenter Michael Davison,,7340,L-4855600,00.html)–the key to recognizing and enabling any resolution to this apparent dilemma.

Any discussion of democracy inevitably raises comparisons to America. America is suffering from long-held and widespread public mis-assumptions surrounding the principle of separation of church and state; somehow convoluting it into “separation of Christian-state vs other-religions”–NOT what the Constitution requires. Witness the unavoidable implication that Islamic Sharia has the same right to be in-your-face as Christianity. If Islam cannot be in-your-face in America, then neither can the church impose Christian beliefs, doctrines, culture, holidays, traditions, etc. on the general American populace. In-your-face Xmas, for example, is prohibited in the U.S. by the Constitution no less than Sharia or any other religious belief.

Unlike America, Israel’s relationship with, indeed our historical Biblical origin in, and national definition by, our Tan”kh makes separation from Tan”kh, beyond abandonment of our spiritual heritage and raison d’être, an unavoidable self-negation as well as a self-implosion of any historical right to this land. There is no distinction between Israeli Jews and “the people of Torah.” There is no space between to create a distinction, much less a separation.

Yet, it will always remain impossible for Israel to harmonize modern state law, regulating modern Jews–even intelligent and educated Torah-practicing Moderate Orthodox Jews–with radical Dark Ages rabbinic superstition and casuistry parading as “halacha.”

The key is to build the definition of separation not between state and church or religion, but between state (modern laws) and Dark Ages rabbinic superstition and casuistry parading as “halacha.”

Modern Israel law and Israeli Jews CAN be harmonized with a logical and scientific interpretation of Tan”kh that rejects Dark Ages rabbinic superstition and casuistry parading as “halacha”! And therein is made a necessary space enabling the solution.

The gnarly puzzle is to define, unlike Constitutionally defined dis-religious America, a Tan”kh-prone state of Israel that defines national basics (e.g., the weekly day of rest, national holidays and other such fundamentals that are accepted virtually universally by Jews everywhere–otherwise, if not limited, leaving open the Pandora’s Box), while excluding impositions of, or–perish the thought–continued rule by, Ultra-Orthodox rabbis hopelessly stuck in Dark Ages mentality peddling superstition and casuistry as “halacha.”

Certainly, there is no church problem threatening the Israeli definition. Nor is it a “religious” problem. Nor even a Torah, nore even a (logically and scientifically interpreted) Halakhah problem. That introduces yet another facet of the problem to be examined: Ultra-Orthodoxy. (See related:

Examination of this aspect disrobes the specter of the ceaseless threat of Ultra-Orthodox radicalism returning to rule. Why has no one considered what drives this fanaticism? Why is such fanaticism integral to rabbinic rationale? Why does it, seeming inevitably, always recur? Why? And why does Ultra-Orthodoxy lead to unending focus on tinier and tinier details and, too often, then lead to total and irrecoverable loss of faith?

The answer to this hinges upon figuring out why so many find moderate Orthodoxy unfulfilling. It is the neglect to address this failing of Moderate Orthodoxy to satisfy the nephesh that has fueled the radicalism of Ultra-Orthodoxy, the despair of Ultra-Orthodox who discover that fulfillment isn’t in Ultra-Orthodoxy either, and the attraction of some unfulfilled Jews to Christianity. Finding that missing, fulfilling, ingredient is key. Yet, finding that key threatens Ultra-Orthodox thinking at its core (otherwise, Moderate Orthodox would remain Moderate and tolerant) and, thus, the question remains forbidden in Orthodox circles. Without that key, Ultra-Orthodoxy will remain a permanent barrier to any Tan”kh-prone Israeli democracy and the confrontation will only deepen.

But Ribi Hileil, as well as his protégés, Raban Gam’liyeil and Ribi Yehoshua, demonstrated a working intimacy with this key. The first principle of Torah / Halakhah is to love your fellow Moderate Orthodox Jew (Christians miss the reality that they were all talking to exclusively Jewish audiences). Everything else is supportive of that primary directive–including Shabat (which didn’t involve today’s prime determinant, electricity, BTW). The declaration of Ribi Yehoshua, that “Shabat was made for man, not man for Shabat,” expresses that logical implication.

The supportive role of all other mitzwot to the primary directive implies that the mitzvot are not intended to convict for imperfection but, rather, to urge Jews toward unending improvement. Crucially, except when harm or danger is caused to others (requiring mortal intervention and judgment), this is measured by one’s internal competition to improve oneself–NOT by any rabbi or mortal judge. Torah requires that the individual does one’s best. That is all.

Asking no more than your best effort, י‑‑ה then promises (!) kipur in return. A wrong turn here is where never have so many gone so wrong over so little; and not just the Christians. Keeping more mitzvot, or keeping mitzvot better than your neighbor or up to your rabbi’s dictate, doesn’t bring kipur (which is a beneficence solely of the khein of י‑‑ה).

If you’re doing (not merely studying about) your best to satisfy this Prime Directive of Torah in accordance with Torah‘s guidelines, then י‑‑ה is happy with you, granting you kipur–and further commands that you not only be satisfied and content, but happy and fulfilled with that!

But when this simple formula is clouded and subverted by the imposition of endlessly trivial details of mortal (versus logical) interpretational casuistry and nuances of rabbis, then the race turns into an obsession, pushing the Prime Directive of Torah aside, to obsess over “I need to do more mitzvot better and I’ll feel fulfilled and merit (!) kipur“–contradicting the Prime Directive of Torah! No one ever merits kipur! And THIS APOSTASY that contradicts the Prime Directive of Torah is what drives fanaticism and radicalism, needing and obsessing to do more mitzvot in ever greater fanaticism–expressing itself as Ultra-Orthodox.

Thus, it is the APOSTASY of Ultra-Orthodoxy contradicting Torah‘s Prime Directive, NOT Moderate Orthodox practice of Torah (which inextricably defines us at the core), that sabotages and blocks democracy, modern law and governance. The obstruction precluding harmonizing Moderate elements of Israeli Jews is exactly Ultra-Orthodoxy, not “religion” nor Torah.

Lastly, Khareidim are only one of several categories of Ultra-Orthodoxy; all of which suffer the same apostasy of putting ever more detailed mitzvot before the Prime Directive of Torah (which they’ve totally lost sight of). Getting this backward is the real foreskin that must be circumcised in order to present a more Torah-perfect, internally homogeneous, Am Ekhad. To achieve that requires not ever more endless detailing of mitzvot but, rather, the tolerance that derives from the self-limiting discipline of logical, scientific, interpretation respecting Torah‘s Prime Directive rather than rabbinic casuistry that idolatrously uplifts Prime Rabbis.

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