A Jewish Voice

Home » Israel » The Jewish State (?)

The Jewish State (?)



My post, “The Question of the Synagogue and the State,” lead to an interesting discussion, with some interesting thoughts, thank you all for participating in it.


Elisheva pointed out what she believes is an error in my post, namely that Synagogue and State is one in Judaism. That is true, she is completely right. According to Jewish religion the society and the religion cannot be separated, they constitute wholeness, as it is also seen in Islam. I did point out though that I was thinking about the modern political construct Medinat Yisrael, the state of Israel, and not the People of Israel or the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael). I am sorry that that wasn’t more evident from my post.

Elon though agreeing that a purely religious state would be problematic, did point out that the opposite would be problematic as well. The purely secular state, where every trace of religion is removed (he uses France as a good example) is as oppressing as a religious state basically is. I agree with him. Though I am in favor, as it is now, for a secular state, it should not be a purely secular state where every sign of religion or religious thought is removed.

David Schacht asks two questions:

  1. What does the Torah say about an obligation – in our days – to establish a Halachic state in Israel?
  2. How can we intellectually define our intrinsic wish for Israel to be Jewish if based on Halachah?

Michael Kay agrees with my thoughts, but – as David – wonders what makes Israel “Jewish,” if not some connection to Halachic principles.



Though I probably should begin from the top, I feel most inclined to save the issue of Elisheva’s responses to another post. It probably will be a little extensive, so no need to focus on too many details here.


Regarding Elon’s objection against the pure secular state, as seen in France, I can only agree. I don’t see a secular state as a state that should become anti-religious or scared of religious expressions, on the contrary. Where I put my five cents is on a state, which can embrace all the different opinions and beliefs, allowing its citizens to believe what they want to believe, as long as it is within the terms of the common good, and not putting some groups above other groups. Here, I would believe, it is obvious that though Judaism denies the marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew (no matter gender) and Islam only allows marriage between a Muslim man and a Christian or Jewish woman (in general), then these rules can of course only apply on a self-accepted basis. I would furthermore state that a rabbi, imam, priest, or what have you, should not be forced to act against the religious principles of his religions, as long as it doesn’t go against the security of the state, but rather the state should offer an alternative for those who cannot accept the religious principles of their religions, for example, in the case of marriage, a civil marriage.

David’s first question will be spared to my reflections on Elisheva’s reactions, since I believe that they are somewhat connected.

But the second question, how relate to Israel as a Jewish state, if not based on Halachah? First off, I think there are two issues to focus on here. Are we dealing with a Jewish state or a state for the Jews? And in both examples we have to ask for further definitions, such as what does “Jewish” mean, and if we talk about a state for the Jews, is it then a state only for the Jews?

For me, when I hear the adjective “Jewish,” then I think about something or someone acting as fulfilling whatever it takes to be a/something Jew, that is, a wish to express one’s feeling of belonging to the common body that constitutes “Jewish.” Here I believe that it is not enough to merely do something that whoever is “Jewish” would do, but rather also having an intention of doing this in order to be “Jewish.” For example, it is “Jewish” to eat bagels with cream cheese and lox, so it would be believed that one who eats bagels with cream cheese and lox is “Jewish,” but what if one merely loves bagels with cream cheese and lox (whether being a Jew or not), can we then define it as “Jewish”? For example, I do love bagels with cream cheese and lox, but I don’t like it because it is “Jewish,” nor do I feel “Jewish” because I eat it. Rather, for one to understand this as an expression of being “Jewish,” one would have to put that sense in it. But that can’t stand alone. If one was the only one giving the eating of bagels with cream cheese and lox the “Jewish” label, then one would stand pretty alone with the sense of the Jewishness in eating bagels and cream cheese. There has to be formed a group, which believes in the Jewishness of bagels with cream cheese and lox. But not even there do I feel that we have come close enough on an establishment of the understanding of the “Jewish” in eating bagels with cream cheese and lox, because everybody could gather a group, which would decide for something to be “Jewish.” Rather, I believe, it would take a general acceptance, both of the group defining this common love for bagels with cream cheese and lox as “Jewish,” as well as outsiders seeing this love for bagels with cream cheese and lox as being “Jewish.”

This would also demand, I believe, that there has to be a conscience behind the identification of whatever value as being “Jewish.” In that matter a state cannot be “Jewish,” though it can be defined as such by a majority of its citizens, who would agree on putting focus on things considered to be “Jewish,” such as celebrating Hanukkah, eating a lot of donuts, which is very “Jewish,” though there without a doubt would be a minority, feeling that they wouldn’t fit into this group of “Jewishness.” They wouldn’t have to, the only thing it takes is for them to consider these acts for “Jewish,” as well as seeing it defining the state as being “Jewish,” since the majority adhere to these acts. The minority would still feel left out, most likely.

But what if the majority decides that the state only can be “Jewish,” as far as the only “Jewish” thing to do is to make Halachah the ruling principle? Well, first of we would find ourselves in a situation where the principles behind what is “Jewish,” suddenly doesn’t go anymore, as well as we certainly wouldn’t have a “Jewish state,” since there is no such principle in Halachah. We would rather have a Torah state or a Halachic state, called by whatever name we decide. Or probably more by whatever name the ruling elite (Sanhedrin or king) would decide, and by that all ideas about anything being “Jewish,” would disappear. Halachah doesn’t talk in terms of things being “Jewish,” but rather accepted or not accepted, suddenly the law decides for us what we are, not taking special care for how we understand ourselves. That’s why I would believe that a “Jewish” state can only be “Jewish” as far as it is secular and as far as we are talking about cultural expressions of belonging in a way, which by all or the majority is considered to be “Jewish.”


But what if we are talking about a state for the Jews? We don’t need to define that state as “Jewish,” we can merely say that one of the fundamental principles of this state is that all Jews should be allowed to live here. We would of course already here encounter some problems, for who is a Jew? How do we decide this? On who feels like a Jew? That is, feeling “Jewish”? Who we believe is a Jew? Who the Halachah says is a Jew? And before we can even deal with the question of whether the state for the Jews should be a state for Jews only, we would need to answer this question.


I don’t know if this answered any questions, or whether it just made people more confused, annoyed, something third. But I’m certainly looking forward to your answers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: