Thursday, November 7, 2013

Israel: Two Visions, One Wall

Continuing from the previous post, I posed a question about what kind of society we want to build in Israel. This wasn't a rhetorical question - it's something we need to put careful thought into. Because there are, as I see it, two distinct visions operating here. Let's call them "V1" and "V2." Sometimes they're spoken out explicitly, and other times they're implicit, operating beneath the surface. In either case, these visions motivate the way people think and act in relation to important issues, and I would say we'd be well-served to keep this in mind as we make our way forward.

V1 - One vision is of Israel as a traditionally religious Jewish society, based on the belief that this is what God wants for us, and indeed expects of us. It's a vision where the society is predominantly Jewish, both in terms of the population and in terms of Jewish commitment - i.e. observance of the mitzvot (commandments). It is an ideal which sees the Jewish State as a continuation of the Biblical and Second Temple eras, and as a transition to the Final Redemption - an era when the Third Temple will be rebuilt, the Sanhedrin restored, the Melech HaMashiach (king/messiah) anointed, and God's will realized for Israel and for all of humanity.

V2 - The second vision is of a Jewish State where Jews can have self-determination, cultural and religious self-expression, and security as a people, never again to be subject to the whims of anti-Semitic governments and pogroms. It is an opportunity to build a free and just society in our Biblical homeland. As the Israel Proclamation of Independence says:
"...The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations..."
That is not to say there's no overlap between these two visions - there definitely is. But there are also points - significant points, points which impact policy and life in Israel - where these visions diverge.

For example, many people who identify with the first vision (let's call them "V1ers") do place a value in the principles of freedom, justice and equality. Even if they don't always come out and say it explicitly, they certainly benefit from freedom of religious expression, living in a democratic society with laws protecting minorities and whose goal is to be just and fair, and equality insofar as being able to enter the political arena and see their interests represented.

However, what I perceive as the difference is that V1ers often view these principles not as ends but as means to ends. And so when they see these principles as posing a threat to their vision, that's where they draw the line.

Case and point: The Western Wall/Kotel. For those who hold freedom, justice and equality as the sacred principles which reign supreme (the basic position of "V2ers"), they would say that the Kotel - which is a public space, a national heritage site - must be open to all religious groups and all forms of prayer. Anything less would be unjust, unequal. But V1ers see the Kotel as representing their vision of a future Israel where the Law of the Torah is king, and all of the Jewish people are following God's commands, and so to allow what they perceive to be "foreign worship" at the Kotel is something akin to allowing an idol to be placed in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. So yes, while they may value equality, all other things being equal, here that's not the case. They feel that introducing what they see as non-traditional prayer at the Kotel is a direct threat to their vision. And maintaining the vision is without question more important than maintaining equality.

Now I just want to make a caveat here. I know that this is a generalization of both V1ers and V2ers. For many V1ers, the concern about Women of the Wall is not that they pose a threat to their vision - and in fact some may even say that non-traditional forms of worship could fall within the Divine plan. Their problem with WoW is instead that 1) they are making it difficult for Orthodox men to pray due to their singing, and/or 2) they are disturbing the peace rather than praying at a different location at the Kotel. Likewise, many V2ers are not "purists" about freedom and equality. They see there being a place to maintain "Jewishness" in the public sphere. Many I suspect would object for example to the Pope coming to conduct a mass at the Kotel. Point being, there are all kinds of shades and gradations of each vision. Still though, there is a question of which set of principles is the "higher" set. When push comes to shove, which trumps which?

So again, I'll leave you with a few questions:
  1. Where do you fall out on the V1 - V2 spectrum?
  2. How do you see a harmony/peace being made between these two visions, if at all?
  3. For practical purposes, how do we create policies with two competing visions operating?

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