Manual Tradition, Innovation, Conflict: Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Israel

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The Haredim are strictly observant Jews who have struggled to hold on their traditions. They are followers of a range of theologies and many different rabbinic leaders, associated with particular Jewish communities in different parts of the world. The agreement exempted young Haredi men from military duty that is compulsory for other young Israelis, as a way for the Haredi community to study Torah, a practice central to their way of life. And, animosity toward them has also grown over time.

Secular Israelis complain that Haredim take advantage of social welfare but do not contribute to the military or the economy.

Haredim often have large families, and because many of the men are primarily engaged in studying Torah, their wives work to support their families. The families often live below the poverty line. They have called to include Haredim in the draft. Israeli Jewish and Druze men are conscripted for three years, at the age of Women are required to serve for two years. Following mandatory service, the reserve service obligation is up to age 51 for men and age 24 for women.

The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, consists of seats. In order to form a government, Netanyahu needed at least 61 members in his coalition. Thousands of Haredim protested against the bill. What counts as being Jewish in Israel shifts and changes all the time. Many analysts suggest that this was just a political power play on the part of Lieberman. That may be true, but in my view, the issue over which he chose to make this power play is significant. Many scholars think of this situation as a reflection of a broader conflict between the religious and the secular in Israel.

But Israel does not have a constitution , and because Jewishness is both a religion and a nationality, the two have become intertwined. In the United States, secularization means protection of religion from state interference.


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In Israel, however, it primarily means finding ways to prevent religious influence on civic matters. Westerners tend to think of national belonging and religious belonging as separate aspects of identity. A person can be a Catholic American or a Dutch Protestant. There are American Jews and French Muslims.

In Israel, nation and religion are at once separated and conflated in the figure of the Jew. As a result, Israel must maintain a Jewish population. Today in Israel, secular Jews struggle to get married in ways that suit their worldview.

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Only Orthodox marriage ceremonies are officially recognized, so secular couples often travel abroad to get married. Women struggle to pray in public places in ways that reflect their beliefs. At times people struggle to make a living because of state laws that forbid work on the Sabbath. If Jews engage in the labor of milking their cows or goats on the Sabbath, according to the state-sponsored rabbinical authority, the milk produced cannot be sold as kosher.

As I say in my forthcoming book , some people are not considered Jewish enough and are made to convert by the official state rabbinate in adulthood.


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  8. Others, like the ultra-Orthodox, are considered too Jewish, and are asked to study Torah less and serve time in the national army. Most Israelis identify as secular or traditional Jews. Secular Israeli nationalists or Zionists have put their faith in human sovereignty over the concept of one true sovereign of the universe.

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    Tradition, Innovation, Conflict: Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Israel

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