In Tel Aviv, the former residence of David Ben Gurion has been converted into a small apartment-sized museum, with a dimly lit library as its main hall. It’s not the most sensible setting for announcing a political platform that is intended for a large audience.
But Alan Feld, a well-known investor in Israel’s thriving tech sector, insists that no other location is more appropriate for the unveiling of a new social charter that he organized on Sunday and that he and other cosignatories hope will help resolve the unresolved issues surrounding the place of Judaism in the Jewish state.
The crux of the dispute that has separated Israel for the past nine months, according to Feld, 61, a Canadian native who has lived in Israel for 30 years. “This festering issue dates back to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which Ben Gurion coauthored,” he added.
We’re going back to the drawing board to finish this work, said Rabbi David Stav, another charter signatory and head of the influential Tzohar rabbinical organization, which many see as a viable alternative to the fervently conservative Chief Rabbinate. “Ahead of the High Holidays and a fateful week for the State of Israel,” he added. Stav was referring to a Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday that could provoke a constitutional crisis since it involves the capacity of the government to constrain the court’s jurisdiction.
The new constitution is included in a 650-word pamphlet titled “The Principle of Consensual Judaism in the State of Israel.” Along with secularists like Polly Bronstein, an activist opposing the right-wing government’s judicial makeover, and the leader of a left-leaning organization, Darkenu, moderate Orthodox rabbis are among its 51 signatories.
The document’s 11 points include a few that are likely to annoy many ardent secularists. Its authors see it as a compromise between devout Jews who worry about Jews being separated from their heritage and secular Jews who fear religious coercion.
According to a section, Israeli Jewish teenagers will be “Jewishly literate, including on the Jewish religion, history, and culture.” Another claims that the state is the national home of the Jewish people, that its institutions “will respect halacha,” or traditional Jewish law, and that its symbols will be Jewish.
The charter also contains provisions that many pious Jews would find objectionable, such as the equality of non-Orthodox Jewish groups and the sovereignty of every “city or region” with regard to Shabbat observance.
A reference to the exemption from military service enjoyed by tens of thousands of Haredi yeshiva students, which started with a dispensation that, when Ben Gurion agreed to it in 1948, related to just around 400 persons, is made in the provision that all citizens will do a two-year mandatory national service.
Additionally, it disapproves of any effort to “legislate religious laws through coercion.”
One of the about 50 people who were invited to the launch was a young social activist named Eilam Leshem. He patiently waited through the presentation to ask a challenging question during the Q&A portion of the evening. “They’re legislating democracy away right now,” he declared. I believe that stopping the undemocratic legislation should be the top priority right away before trying to resolve some of this.
Many of the judicial overhaul’s detractors think it violates democratic ideals because it aims to weaken the court and make it the government’s slave. Supporters of the revamp disagree this, arguing that the judiciary has accumulated too many powers and that democracy calls for additional checks on the court as well as more electoral accountability for its judges.
Feld said that this conflict is “tearing at the fabric of Israeli society,” yet political science is not at issue in this conflict.
“It all comes down to our idea of a Jewish state, which we haven’t really articulated. The major legal disputes concern religious-related topics instead of labor regulations and corporate policies, such as sex-segregated buses and yeshivah student conscription. The Supreme Court has filled a void that our society created when we failed to define what it means to live in a Jewish, democratic state or even what it means to be Jewish, according to Feld, who spoke to The Times of Israel.
During the ceremony on Sunday, a few of the presenters made an effort to explain what Judaism means to them.
The siren on Memorial Day, not Yom Kippur, is for me the most Jewish time of the year, according to Bronstein, a mother of two who is not religious. She claimed that certain members of the secular left have “an exaggerated animosity, some of it due to perceived coercion, to anything that smells Jewish.” She stated that in order to make Judaism more accessible to them, less force must be used.
Many Israelis believe that rules intended to protect religious sensibilities—such as those prohibiting travel on Shabbat, creating distinct bathing times for those who prefer sex segregation in public pools, and others—are coercive. On the other hand, many religious individuals believe that their right to freedom of religion is violated when their communities allow for vehicular traffic on Shabbat or when their taxes are spent for activities that they believe violate the holiness of Shabbat.
The charter does not specify what makes a Jewish state. It instead lays out a few extremely broad ideas. The section on governmental recognition for all Jewish denominations, for instance, doesn’t even include a list of them, potentially leaving room for contentious streams like Messianic Jews, who many Jews view as Christian missionaries.
The document’s 51 cosignatories, who include a diverse group of individuals such as several retired generals, tech executives, Prof. David Gliksberg of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Law, and Adina Bar-Shalom, the eldest daughter of the late former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef, the audience made no attempt to learn more about the document.
Feld responded to The Times of Israel when asked about the problem of listing Jewish denominations: “There will be limitations surrounding this issue as well. The goal is to create a larger, more accepting Jewish community in this nation.
Can such a change occur in a modest space with only 50 individuals present?
Feld, a devout Modern Orthodox, stated, “Maybe I’m naive, but if so, I’m proud of my naivete because that’s the only force that ever achieves change.” “We can be pessimistic and express what we don’t want, but in order to coexist peacefully with one another, we need to be naive and demonstrate what we do want to do.”