A Jewish and democratic state

1 Sep

Editor’s note: Welcome again to the Teaching Israel blog. On a regular basis, guest bloggers will offer their thoughts on Israel, Zionism and Israel Education. Please note that the opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of Teaching Israel, but as our website states:

We are a “blue and white” company, which seeks to promote amongst participants a serious engagement with the Land, People and State of Israel. We are also an organization of many colors, which recognizes the multifaceted and variegated nature of Jewish identity and people’s connections to Israel. Put simply, we believe that there is more than one way to have a relationship with Israel. We seek to develop independent and critical thinking amongst our participants, and have them ask pertinent questions, rather than providing them answers. 

by Yefim Pargamanik

I read a blog post about brit milah (circumcision) in which the author claimed that even parents who are indifferent to their Jewish heritage, who care little for shmirat mitzvoth (keeping commandments), except the most basic ethical ones, do care about one thing: brit milah, in strict accordance with Jewish tradition.

The author is, of course, mostly right but not quite right, as everybody who saw The Princess Bride knows that there is a difference between being mostly dead and quite dead. Some Jewish new immigrants (both Halachically Jewish and otherwise) who arrive in Israel, the US or Germany, are not circumcised. Whereas in the US or Germany, this matter is considered to be a private one (after all, how much more private can you get than the phallus!), in Israel the situation is different.

At Israeli schools, uncircumcised boys can be humiliated by their classmates. There is at least one organization which offers discreet circumcision services, free of charge, to Jews. And the state offers subsidized courses for non-Halachic Jews (who were eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return) to convert.

All of this involves immense pressure by Jewish Israeli society. (“Don’t you and your children want to become real Israelis?”) But if Jewish citizens of any other developed country were subjected to such state-sponsored pressure to become really American or German by converting to Christianity (including the opportunity to participate in state-sponsored courses), or if Jewish boys at public schools in these countries were humiliated because of their circumcision, such societies would be considered to be bigoted.

The same should hold true for Israel. The government and public education system do next to nothing to promote the idea that one’s circumcision status, and his religion (or lack thereof), are private and personal matters, and that a fellow citizen should not be judged by them but rather by his personal characteristics.

The establishment and ongoing maintenance of Jewish religious institutions is subsidized by the Israeli government, but not one single non-Jewish religious institution has been established in areas where many Halachically non-Jewish olim chadashim (new immigrants) are concentrated. These people are Israeli citizens and they number in the hundreds of thousands. This is a disgrace and it makes Israel more of a medieval than modern state, finding itself in better company with countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, than with the western world.

Yefim Pargamanik is an Israeli citizen at present, a citizen of the USSR in the past, and a retired computer programmer.

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6 Responses to “A Jewish and democratic state”

  1. Bernard September 1, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    Circumcision is a command that came directly from G-D, this commandment has NOT been retracted or amended by the ultimate authority G-D… You as a Jew should have more respect and honor for Hashem and His commandments. G-D gave this to us knowing full well the benefits we receive from Him. You are leading astray His children…

  2. Erin September 3, 2013 at 1:28 am #

    Nicely written!

  3. Nigel September 3, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    Not sure why an uncircumcised boy’s Israeli classmates should come to know that he is uncircumcised. Maybe more boys should keep their privates private.

    • Ralph Loewenthal September 9, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      Sometimes it is a matter of bladder pressure, and they have no choice but to use the open urinals. We should not judge, but children can be cruel sometimes.

  4. Ralph Loewenthal September 9, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    I feel that a lot of the anti-religious Israelis do not realize that if were not for the Torah there would be no Jews, Israel, Hebrew, Judaism or any other monotheistic religions. BUT whatever we believe it is inconsequential. In these times when practically the whole world is against us or turning a blind eye, and deaf ear we need to forget our differences and unite to form a common front for the world to see we are strong, and are here to stay. We are the only nation that has survived the test of time.

  5. Ralph Loewenthal September 11, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    “The establishment and ongoing maintenance of Jewish religious institutions is subsidized by the Israeli government, but not one single non-Jewish religious institution has been established in areas where many Halachically non-Jewish olim chadashim (new immigrants) are concentrated. These people are Israeli citizens and they number in the hundreds of thousands. This is a disgrace and it makes Israel more of a medieval than modern state, finding itself in better company with countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, than with the western world.”
    This sounds like your own personal agenda. In any case, Israel is the one, and only “Jewish State”. Why should Israel be supporting non-Jewish religious institutions, when our synagogues, cemeteries, and other Jewish institutions have been desecrated and demolished in other countries. This our “Jewish Home”, and we have to maintain our religion to the best of our ability. We do not have any obligation to support any non-Jewish religious institution. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where one can practice whatever religion they like. In France Jews cannot have mezuzot on their doors, or put up personal Succoth for fear of being harassed, and even beaten up or worse.
    We are definitely not medieval, but in keeping our religion, and state strong is the reason we are the only nation to survive the test of time. We do not need to be your kind of “modern state”. We need to be true to our religion, and our state. The two are inseparable.

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