Friday, October 22, 2010

Secular Israelis

Israelis have a kind of a lock on secular Judaism. It’s actually their national religion, at least for the time being, institutionalized the way that secular Christianity is institutionalized in the USA (think about Christmas trees in public places -- skip thinking about the Tea Party and what they want to do here).

Ongoing fights perpetually pit secular, orthodox, and fanatic authorities against one another – but what could be more Jewish than fights? The minority religious parties have played a pivotal swing-vote rule from the beginning, with increasing success. I'll pass on discussing the current effort to put a Jewish loyalty oath in the Israeli citizenship/residency test.

Israeli school and national holidays, for example, follow the Jewish religious calendar, but the practices observed by the mainstream are secular, with a sort of odd glance at the growing Orthodox movement in Israel. That will come up throughout the calendar. It’s confusing because some branches of US religious Judaism get ideas from Israel for modernizing their completely non-secular practices. Maybe a victory if there is such a thing for secular Judaism. If there's such thing as victory.

Ironically Israelis also have a lock on legal definitions of who is a Jew and for what purpose -- in the sense that no other country has a legal definition at all. If you arrive in Israel as a Russian refugee, false papers about a vague Jewish grandmother get you in. But if you are an American who wants to get married there, the officially-recognized Israeli rabbinic establishment can question whether your grandmother’s Jewish wedding in New York in 1926 was sufficiently kosher to let you in the tribe. Civil marriage, divorce, or burial do not exist in Israel, despite most of the Jews there being secular Jews. The Israelis either like it that way (they all unite in  hating Reform Judaism) or they are too busy with endless war to work it out in their complex political system.  

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