Religion and Secularism in Modern Israel
By M. Alfandari
The establishment of a secular Jewish state created, in its wake a bitter conflict, a clash of ideologies, disappointment and perhaps a more mature appraisal of sacred cliches, products of a dream world whose creatures are all spiritual, all idealistic, all holy. The paradox of a «secular-Jewish» state is an embarrassment; can Jews be «secular»?
The majority of Israelis look upon the Bible as the supreme contribution of the Hebrew people to mankind. But it is literature, not even sacred literature, inasmuch as the term «sacred» has a theological connotation. Judaism as a religion, was the product of a specific age, filled the needs of a generation which had not been exposed to the challenge of scientific inquiry. Judaism is to them a beloved, noble mythology with little or no relevance in a modern state. It is something which is proudly displayed in the national museums and libraries, a fossil, a monument to something which has died. The marriage between politics and religion in Israel has produced an offspring whose only value is nuisance value. Religion, to the majority of Israel’s Jews, is a question of party coalitions, crude unspiritual bickering and bartering.
To the religious element of Israel’s population, a secular state is the ultimate perversion of the very essence of Jewish history. Jewish nationhood was and is a spiritual nationhood. It was created at Sinai. Our sole claims to the land we now occupy are derived from the Bible. If the Bible is only folk literature, these claims are no more valid than were those of the Assyrian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Crusader, Turkish and British invaders of the past. If the landlord is fictitious, so is the lease. To these Jews, unbelief is treason. To relegate Judaism’s monuments of literature to the level of mere folklore is blasphemy. In order to combat the forces of secularization, any means, even political, are justified. Israel’s moral and unique social raison detre are at stake. Only a powerful religious Jewry can prevail.
But there is another view of the painful situation existing in Israel today. It is the approach of a very small but vital number of persons who see this problem and every other problem in a very special light, the light of Scripture and Prophecy. To those of us who hold this approach to be the only valid one, the Bible is not a product of any specific age nor is it the monopoly of any one «religion». Although it was written in a specific language, Hebrew, and was revealed or delivered to a special people, the people of Israel, its basic theme and purpose transcend time and locale. Its purpose is the ultimate establishment on earth of the Kingdom of the Divine Creator and King, YHVH. This kingdom will envelop all nations and peoples. YHVH, the Divine Architect, using light and shadow, good and. evil, belief and unbelief, slowly and methodically evolves His Kingdom. Man, with his freedom to believe or disbelieve, obey or disobey, build or destroy, is «the only suitable tool, the cunningly fashioned implement with which the Supreme Mind digs the foundations, plans, constructs and perfects His Kingdom on earth. It is He who «forms the light, creates darkness, makes peace and creates evil» (Isaiah 45, 7.) «My thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways, saith YHVH. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts». (Isaiah 55, 8-9). No human criterion is true, no human factor will decide whether Israel is to be a secular or a religious state. Israel’s belief or unbelief, the existence of false religious dogmas and doctrines, the success of idolatry and materialism, the appearance of false messiahs and prophets in every age; all are part of the Divine Plan, which is above all political activity, transcends the limits of human knowledge and understanding. His Kingdom is inevitable. «For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither except it water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; It shall not return unto me void, except it accomplish that which I please, and make the thing whereto I sent it prosper.» (Isaiah 55, 10-11.). We can only bear witness to these truths, remaining faithful to the Way He has delivered unto us through Moses and the true Prophets of Israel. In due time, YHVH will do the rest.
«And He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that is cast over all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and YHVH ELOHEEM will wipe away tears from all faces; and the reproach of His people will He take away from all the earth; for YHVH hath spoken it.» (Isaiah 25,7-8).