Feb 5, 2020, The Times of Israel
The Jewish people can rarely agree on anything and we are often our own worst enemies. Our survival and success in spite of this should be enough to demonstrate God’s intervention to all but the most hardened skeptic.
One of the few things that nearly every Jew can agree on is that they don’t want Israel to implement Torah as the law of the land. Those who don’t observe Torah in their personal lives fear a halachic state would rob them of their freedom and impose arcane religious strictures on society, all of which would be to society’s detriment. I believe this is based largely on ignorance and propaganda from anti-Jewish sectors (which unfortunately include many Jews), though their fear of religion is understandable. But strangely enough, and to my great disappointment, many Jews who do observe Torah in their personal lives, who in fact consider Torah an inseparable part of their existence, have no desire for Torah to be an inseparable part of our national existence.
Ugly politics and an agenda-driven media have tarnished halacha in the eyes of many. We are told that a halachic state would make Israel uninhabitable for all but the most extreme religious fanatics. Overworked citizens would be prisoners in their own homes on Shabbos, unable to relax and enjoy life. Religious enforcers would hunt for violators and stone them to death. Women would be oppressed, forced to be maidservants and sex slaves for their male masters. Pork would be banned (the horror!). Torah and Jewish thought would be introduced into the mainstream curriculum (horror of horrors!). Extremist rabbis would take over our lives. Jews might even be allowed and encouraged to pray on Har Habayis — maybe even rebuild the Beis Hamikdash — which would provoke the entire world, and bring about the total destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. So we’re told over and over again.
But is it true? Does the implementation of Torah as the law of the land spell death and destruction for Israeli society, the loss of liberty and happiness, the imposition of a dark age in place of modern enlightenment? Is the Torah that gives us identity and purpose as a people, which has sustained us throughout thousands of years of exile and persecution, which our ancestors fiercely clung to at all cost and sacrifice, something they would have voluntarily abandoned if only they knew what our enlightened politicians and media know? If not, why is the Torah meant to remain within the walls of the study halls when it presents a complete system for how to run a nation? Did we die for a theoretical system? Did we survive only to preserve it in academic circles? What did they really die for, and what do we really live for?
What does it mean to be a Jew if Torah is just another lifestyle choice, irrelevant on the national level? Why even bother? What are we fighting for? Why do we need a homeland? Why is preserving a Jewish majority important? Why is preserving Judaism altogether important? If being Jewish means nothing more than watered-down catchphrases like “Love your neighbor”, it is no wonder that so many Jews find Judaism irrelevant and many Israelis have lost the will to fight. Zionism without Torah doesn’t have much to sell the next generation, and they haven’t been buying it.
I raise these questions as a challenge to secular Jews and religious Jews alike. The former tend to be proud of their identity as Jews, however they define it, yet staunch in their opposition to Torah permeating society. The latter are comfortable living in self-imposed ghettos, happy to ignore the rest of society so long as their religious sensibilities are more or less respected.
Unfortunately, this mutually wary coexistence is not indefinitely sustainable in a Jewish state. Both groups are bound to encroach upon one another, and a struggle for power – with battle lines being drawn and rhetoric poisoning the previously respectful relations – is inevitable.
Many people blame the Torah for this, and argue that religion is the cause of all strife and evil in the world (ignoring the fact that many of the most oppressive societies are decidedly atheist). I’m here to argue that Torah is in fact the solution – the only one. And I further believe that Jews across the spectrum, even many who don’t observe halacha in their personal lives, would agree that a Torah state would be far superior to any other society on the planet, if only they understood what a Torah state really means.
In future essays I will shed light on what it means, and why everyone should embrace the idea. For now, I just want you to consider the above questions and what about a Torah state really frightens you deep down. Leave aside the rancor, rhetoric, and prejudice, and just think about it.
Consider the sacred “status quo”, the hodge-podge of Israeli law, British law, Turkish law, Russian bureaucracy, Western liberalism, and some Jewish tradition that rules the land today. Then consider what a Torah state would truly look like, to the best of your knowledge and imagination. Things would be very different, to be sure. But when you put it all together, would it be worse than what we have now, or even the nightmare the propagandists want you to fear? Can you acknowledge some of the benefits of a Torah society even if you don’t keep halacha in your personal life?
If you can’t think of any, I will provide some interesting examples that you might have never considered. In fact, I believe that once you consider these examples, you might appreciate how, at least in some ways, a Torah state would be the envy of all societies, a true light unto the nations. Be skeptical for now, it’s fine. I understand, and I accept the challenge.
To be continued.