A threat to religious freedom in the only democracy in the Near East

Overall, national religious political parties currently receive about 15% of the vote. And yet as small coalition partners they have gained an astonishing amount of influence. By law there are an increasing number of Israelis who have to live as the minority of Orthodox Jews envisage, although these individuals in part actually reject the existence of a State of Israel and for this reason are for instance freed from military service. This is all the more astonishing since most Jews in Israel do not share in the following laws. This is due to the fact that they are even more liberal than members of Reform Judaism or only nominally belong to their religion, i. e., belong to the religion for reasons of ancestry. Here are some of the laws which have been passed:

Sabbath law: The Sabbath rest is also being more strictly implemented outside of Orthodox quarters by the state. The airline El-Al is not allowed to fly into or out of the country on the Sabbath. A governmental institute is developing robots able to conduct all types of work on the Sabbath that otherwise would be considered sins for people to do.

Jewish dietary laws: Hotels and restaurants have to pay ‘kosher guards’ who are to ensure that foodstuffs are not offered anywhere which do not conform to rabbinic guidelines of ‘kosher’ preparation or which, such as pork, are completely forbidden. These ‘chaplains’ are found in many areas of society, for instance in the army.

Marital law: Jewish marriages may only be conducted by rabbis, and other religious marriages may only be conducted by representatives of the respective religions. There is no such thing as a civil marriage. That is tragic for interfaith couples, of which one always – at least feignedly – has to change religions.

Law of Return: Whoever immigrates and is allowed to become an Israeli citizen is an issue decided according to strict Orthodox regulations. Reform Jews and especially Messianic Jews (Jewish Christians) are often rejected as non-Jewish. Reform Jewish rabbis are not allowed to carry out religious activities, although internationally Reform Jews represent the largest wing of the Jewish religion.

Medicine: Autopsies and transplants are almost impossible according to law.

Archaeology: Excavations are forbidden where Orthodox officials suspect Jewish graves. Important planned excavations in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Tiberius are thereby affected.

This progressive takeover of Orthodox Jewish laws in state legislation is primarily being advanced by ‘Agudath Israel’ and the ‘Schas’ which emerged from it, in which the leaders of the Talmud schools (jeshibot) and Hasidic communities set the tone.

 

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