Dateline: Haaretz | 12/04/2009
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz Correspondent
A few days after tens of thousands of Israelis raised their eyes to the heavens at dawn to honor “the return of the sun to the place it stood at creation,” and millions of Israelis joyfully read out praise in the Passover Hagaddah for genocide – jihad by means of horrific plagues and drowning infants – it’s time to admit it: We live in a religious country.
That’s the case during this holiday, when in some places it’s impossible to find leavened products, when the rabbinate seeks to install special computer programs at supermarkets to prevent the sale of leavened foods, when Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger asks Rabbi Yaakov Israel Ifergan to get his follower Nochi Dankner to install the program at his supermarkets, and when the cows of our country are on a leaven-free diet.
We must admit that this society has rather dark religious aspects. Foreigners landing in Israel might ask themselves what country they’re in: Iran, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia? In any case, it’s not the liberal, secular and enlightened society it purports to be. Thieves’ hands do not have to be hacked off or women’s faces covered to be a religious country. Just as an occupying state, which controls 3.5 million people lacking basic civil rights, cannot call itself “the only democracy in the Middle East,” so a country that has no bread for a week because of its religion cannot call itself secular and liberal.
Actually, there has been increased openness in recent years. More entertainment venues and supermarkets are open on Saturday in some of our cities than ever before, like before the Heichal movie theater riots in Petah Tikva. The dead can finally be buried in a civil ceremony in exchange for a fistful of shekels. But that’s not enough to be able to call ourselves a secular society. We must not delude ourselves: From the cradle to the grave, from marriage to divorce, almost everything is still religious.
In no other country are there streets without buses and tracks without trains on the Sabbath. No other airline but El Al sits idle one day a week. Cold platters on the Sabbath in hospitals and hotels are also something not seen elsewhere. Roads on pillars because of ancient burial sites – a kind of pagan ritual to those on the outside looking in – and the separation in certain buses of men and women are also unknown in democratic countries. Religion has never been separate from the state here; hand in hand they oversee our way of life.
Orthodox society and its leadership should not be blamed for this. The Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox have the right to do everything they can to impose their faith on the secular majority. It’s the secular who are to blame. Just as it’s not yeshiva students’ fault that they are not drafted, but rather the fault of the secular majority that allows this, so it is with the other aspects of our lives. We, the secular people, are to blame for all this. We’re the ones who give in. Just as with the tyranny of another minority, the settlers, who terrorize the majority, so it is with the tyranny of the ultra-Orthodox: The tyranny exists because the secular majority has chosen to obey it.
So don’t come complaining to the religious people. The secular are the majority, and the power to change the picture is in their hands. If the majority were to stand up and not surrender to the minority, buses would run every day and bread would be sold on Passover. So it could be we are much more religious than we are willing to admit. We may maintain the image of being secular, but we are religious in our essence.
If only we were willing to admit this and stop pretending to be secular. All the same, a society that pretends to be Western and enlightened cannot delude itself while maintaining such a religious and unenlightened lifestyle. Not much has changed since our school days, when we were taught to kiss a Bible that dropped on the floor. So let’s enjoy the taste of the matzah and let’s not try to pull a beer bottle out from behind the ridiculous nylon on the supermarket shelf, and let’s admit it: We are (almost) a state governed by religious law.