The Future of Combining Synagogue and State in Israel: What Have We Learned in the First 50 Years

By Bassli, Lucy Endel | Houston Journal of International Law, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

The Future of Combining Synagogue and State in Israel: What Have We Learned in the First 50 Years


Bassli, Lucy Endel, Houston Journal of International Law


I. INTRODUCTION

   The government will act to bring the religious and secular closer through
   mutual understanding and respect.(1)

There is no doubt that religion is woven into various aspects of the State of Israel.(2) Religious influence is evident in the symbols representing the government of Israel, institutions supported by the state, and legislation passed in Israel's parliament, the Knesset.(3) There is virtually no protest to religious symbolism or even much protest to government support of religious institutions.(4) What draws the most criticism is the legislation that compels the Jewish citizens to adhere to certain religious practices, such as the Sabbath rest laws.(5) This kind of protest should be expected within a country that still has not clearly defined the role of religion in its government.(6)

Israel, a self proclaimed Jewish Democratic State, has three choices in defining its goals for the relationship of Judaism to the Knesset.(7) Israel can be a state where the majority of its citizens are Jewish, a nation-state that realizes the Jewish nation's right to self governance, or a religious state guided purely by the laws of Judaism.(8) Perhaps it is a combination of these three definitions that has emerged over the past fifty years. This Comment takes a historical look at the role that religion has played in Israeli politics, society and government, and allows the reader to decide where the 21st century will take Israel.

II. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

A. Zionist Movement

   The world needs the Jewish State; therefore it will arise.(9)

Faced with the rise of anti-Semitism throughout Europe, Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, was revived by Theodor Herzl, an educated Western European Jewish journalist and author.(10) Herzl brought the concept of creating a Jewish homeland to the attention of international leaders and politicians.(11) However, Herzel realized that simply writing about the needs of Jews was not enough and that to help the movement, organization and action were necessary.(12) Thus, the World Zionist Congress was convened on August 29, 1897,(13) where the Congress created a permanent Zionist organization through which it could work to achieve its goals.(14) Though the Zionist movement initiated by Herzl was political by nature, there were essentially three varieties of Zionism: Religious, Socialist, and Zionism as refuge.(15) The religious idea is the oldest of the three.(16) One of the central themes of the Jewish religion is the tie between the people and the Land of Israel, as described in the Torah (the Old Testament).(17) This theme has been traced back to the covenant between God and Abraham.(18) The Socialist idea, the principal view among Jews that arrived as early pioneers into Palestine, envisioned a perfect socialist society intertwined with Jewish beliefs.(19) Most of the supporters of this idea were either indifferent, or perhaps even opposed, to religion.(20) Their goal was the rebuilding of the Jewish culture.(21) Finally, the concept of Zionism as refuge viewed the creation of the Jewish state as a solution to "the European `problem of the Jews.'"(22) Jews that found themselves dealing with anti-Semitism would have a place to seek refuge and be welcomed.(23) This idea was well received, but unlike the other two views, it lacked detailed planning of the state-building process.(24) This view was then divided further by the Revisionists and the General Zionists B.(25) The Revisionists were concerned with boundaries and the territory that would be in Israel's control, while the General Zionists B were concerned with countering the Socialist ideology and promoting free enterprise and capitalism.(26)

From the beginning of Zionism there were varying opinions among the Religious Jews. Notwithstanding the religious calling for a Jewish state, many Religious Jews did not support the establishment of Israel and actually condemned it. …

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