First some commercial: If you’re on Facebook and you’re interested in interfaith discussions between Jews and Muslims, which are conducted with a good and respectful attitude, then I encourage you to visit the group “Jihadi Jew.” I can’t emphasize enough how important it is with a respectful dialogue between Jews and Muslims, and how rare it is to find a place offering it. Jihadi Jew does just that. It is created by a Jew, Lee Weissman, and moderated by two Muslims, Heshke (who occasionally comments here, even though I’m not so good at responding lately, sorry Heshke), and Marc.
Please check out the group (You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/jihadijew/)
I’m not making commercial for it without reason though. There is an ongoing discussion in there on the question of state and “church” (church more being synagogue or mosque in this discussion), and one of the participants asked me for my opinion. I promised an answer earlier, but I have to admit that I’ve simply been pondering on it for some days now, not feeling that I could formulate an answer clearly, which would express my thoughts, without it getting way too long for the thread in there.
So I’ll try to formulate an answer here, BE”H, since it might also interest some of you out there.
First off, my premise for dealing with the world and other human beings is based on two ethical teachings, both being expressed by the Jewish rabbi, Hillel, Z”L, though at least one of them (known in differing forms, by the name of “the Golden Rule”) has been expressed by other spiritual teachers as well.
The first is found in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a, being presented as an answer to a man partly wanting to mock him by requesting him to recite the whole Torah while standing on one leg: “What is hateful to you, don’t do to others!” The whole sentence includes “this is the Torah, the rest is commentary, now go and study!”
My approach in context of my expectation to others and my behavior in the meeting with my fellow being is based on this, not to act in a way or demand things, which I in return wouldn’t appreciate from the other person. And this is indeed Torah, as Hillel states, but it is also a very basic wisdom of life, which I believe that all should accept and strive for. True, I’m not perfect and I at times act in a way, which I wouldn’t appreciate very much myself, but not being perfect doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t strive to get better.
The second sentence is found in Pirqei Avot (1:14): “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” He teaches us to take responsibility for ourselves, for if we don’t do it ourselves, then who will? We need to be focused on our own needs, to attempt to improve our lives and our manners. But if we only focus on ourselves, then what are we? We can’t stop with the self, we also have a responsibility to relate to our fellow human beings (don’t do to others what is hateful to you, don’t ignore the needs of others, when you yourselves would hate to have your needs ignored. We are not alone in this world, human is a social being). And we need to act now, in this moment. We don’t know what the next moment will bring.
These are the basic teachings in my relation to the world. I keep them as guiding principles, attempting to follow them in each choice I take. Another teaching of his I also attempt to follow, but which isn’t so crucial for the understanding of my approach to the question of synagogue and state, is “Be among the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them close to Torah!” (Pirqei Avot 1:12).
When I consider the question of synagogue and state, then a number of opportunities come to mind. By now I have lived in two countries who both have official religions, Denmark and Israel, the one Christian (Lutheran) and the other Jewish. The extent of the religious influence is way bigger in Israel than in Denmark, where religion at times are shunned by the population, and where the population are deciding for the religion, more than the religion is deciding for the population, whereas it is the opposite in Israel.
I wonder how it is to live in a country, where the church and the state is totally separated? I don’t know. In Denmark it seems like the religious are beginning to ask for this, at least some of them (when I say “religious,” I’m thinking about the practicing Christian part of the population), though that definitely isn’t consensus yet. The motive behind this wish for separation is a wish to keep the state out of church matters, something that I fully understand, since the state is basically trying to define theological questions. And it isn’t without a sense of irony that it has to be pointed out that the minister for the ministry of the church is a Hindu, who is trying to force the church to accept homosexual marriages. Whether I’m for or against this is not the issue here, personally I don’t care much for church matters, but the motive behind this attempt is clear. The church is a popular church, a church for the people, and since the people isn’t only consisting of practicing Christian heterosexuals, then it should not only be for them. That is the motive, it is not necessarily my thought.
In Israel it’s the opposite. Since Israel is a Jewish state (whatever that means) then it is in the belief of the ministers of religious affairs, that Judaism (rabbinical Judaism) should be the defining norm, relating a range of questions to the matter of Jewish religious law (Halachah). And since the Jews in Israel are citizens in a Jewish state, then they are also (more or less) forced to accept this law. Whereas the church of the people in Denmark is defined (to a certain extent) by the people, then the synagogue of the people in Israel is defining the people.
It has to be said here that non-Jewish citizens are under the authority of whoever is accepted/elected as their representatives. In that matter Muslims are not married according to Jewish religious law, but rather according to Islamic law and practices. The same goes for Christians and so on.
But this mean that if a Jew and a Muslim is falling in love (a Jewish man and a Muslim woman) and want to get married, then they have no opportunity to get married in Israel, unless he converts to Islam or she converts to Judaism, no matter how secular and irreligious they might be. Whether they are spending their Shabbats in front of the television, the nights getting drunk, and they are eating pig for dinner, then they still have to be married either as Muslims or Jews. Of course, they can go to Cyprus and get married there, a marriage which then is accepted by the Jewish state (though not by the religious authorities). And you can forget being a homosexual wanting to be married here.
Let me point it out very clear for everyone: I am a practicing Jew who believes in the Torah. I accept the Oral Tradition and believe that it goes back to Moshe Rabenu, A”S, as well as I believe that we should follow Halachah (we being the Jews). But I also believe in the ethical teachings of R. Hillel, Z”L, and therefore I don’t want to do to others what is hateful for me. I don’t want to force rules or laws on people, which isn’t decided by the general population (there will always be those who disagree no matter the law or decision). Therefore I don’t believe that Halachah should be forced on people who don’t believe in its higher level of spirituality, compared to secular law and our own faulty decisions. Yes, I do believe Halachah to be Divine, and I do believe that the perfect society would be following Halachah, but it would do it from an understanding of the necessity of the Halachah, not because they are forced. And – to be honest – by establishing a Halachic society with Torah as the foundation, we would need a true righteous leader, one who would be the example for the others to follow. And he simply doesn’t exist, his time hasn’t come. And since that is the case, then I can’t support any state as being lead by Halachah, but rather want to encourage each Jew to accept it in his or her life for themselves. Only by acknowledging and accepting it themselves, would it be able to fulfill its Divine purpose in our lives.
That said then I do believe it needed for the societies to offer the opportunity for people of any faith, to live according to that faith, as far as they participate and accept the laws of the country. We have an expression in the Talmud, Dina Malchuta Dina, the law of the land is the law (Bava Kama 113a, Bava Batra 54b-55a et.al. The extent of the principle is discussed among the Rishonim (the medieval rabbis), some stating that it is only related to financial matters, where others state that it is in general where the law doesn’t go against the Torah), at least so far as it doesn’t force people to go against the Torah. For example, should ritual slaughter be prohibited in Denmark, it wouldn’t mean that the Jews in Denmark would have to eat unkosher meat, though it would make it hard for them to find and achieve kosher meat.
So, to conclude, I’m not for a state synagogue. I am for a secular society where there is room for the believers of each faith (or lack) to live and fulfill their religious beliefs.