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WHOSE STATE? WHOSE RELIGION?

Esra ULUDAĞ

The drive for the return of the Jews to “Eretz Israel” (the land of Israel) was rooted for centuries within the values of Jewish religious tradition. Before the Zionist settlement, the Jewish population was largely poor, living on charity from their brothers abroad. Zionists dreamed the establishment of their own Jewish state. Their ideology, zionism, is a national and political movement that supports the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel and it is opposed to “the Messianic Redemption” in Judaism and divided the society.

The first concept that creates controversy between the two sectors is the establishment of the State of Israel. The parties never agree on this issue. In the First Zionist Congress (1897-Basel), Zionists defined their aim as secure a homeland for Jews in Eretz Israel. Even sharing the goal with the religious zionists who took an active role in developing the land, there was no such consensus existed between ultra-Orthodox Jews and Zionists. As Menachem Friedman clarifies “…the establishment of the State of Israel – as a totality of a cause and effect expressing the great ‘rebellion’ against the unique essence of religious Judaism” (166). In other words, early Zionists were non-believers (mostly atheists or agnostics) and ultra-Orthodox Jews were against them because only the God can lead them to establish a Jewish state in promised lands when they forgiven by the God. Consequently, the God may punish them at any-time, as they punished before with the Holocost. From anti-zionist perspective “…Zionism constitutes a denial of the hope for Messianic Redemption and is based on negation of the religious uniqueness of the Jewish people” (Friedman 173). In other words, the clash of ideas that divide them have emerged at the very beginning of the state and it continues with greater social conflicts.

It can be observed by the documentary ‘Tkumah’ that Israel has an nonhomogeneous population with serious fundamental differences, as opposed to what is generally perceived from the outside. ultra-Orthodox Jews now lives a separate and isolated life in general from other layers of the society. As the documentary shows, this ideological rift can be examined during the practicing Sabbath which is the one of the Ten Commandments and obligated to practice by the Jews. During Sabbath, secular Jews who ride their cars or go to the cinemas are warned by the ultra-Orthodox Jews. As this situation increases the tension between the two groups some secular Jews prefer to move to more secular places than the religious city of Jerusalem. Even Jews who violate the Sabbath in public considered as apostate by ultra-Orthodox Jews (Friedman 170). As it can be understood by this gradual rift, dialogue is almost impossible between secular jews and ultra-orthodox jews.

On May 15, 1948 David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, opened the ceremony and he read out the declaration. The Declaration of Independence contains these words of “…it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”. Although the equality of all sexes was clearly promised by the Israeli State in the Declaration, as the documentary indicates by the real-life examples, women are not equal to men before the law. One of the most crucial reason for the inequality caused because of the ‘Status Quo Agreement’. Since the Israeli government did not please the ultra-Orthodox Jews to make a suitable constitution, Status Quo agreement was made between David Ben-Gurion and the leader of Ultra-Orthodox and certain part of the wishes of the religious people were met by this agreement. It gave the religious a large measure of control matters like Jewish dietary laws, marriage, divorce, burial, education and funding of religious institutions. These privilliged rights of ultra-Orthodox Jews, damage women’s rights in contrast to the equality given by the declaration. As documentary explains, in order to be divorced, ta man should be willing to do; otherwise there is nothing to do for a woman. Also, a woman whose husband has disappeared must show to proof of his death, if not she cannot marry again.

In conclusion, it can be obviously observed from ‘Tkumah’ that there are very serious cultural and social differences between Zionists and Ultra-Orthodox Jews after this division which has become more visible in recent years. Both sides expect the others to disappear. While the religious saw the secular zionism as temporary aberration, Zionists saw ultra-Orthodox Jews as a parasite to the state by taking religious education instead of working. If the two parties continue to focus on the differences between them instead of the similarities, these problems are likely to continue in the coming days.

Esra ULUDAĞ
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REFERENCES

Friedman, Menachem, “The State of Israel as a Theological Dilemma”, in Baruch

Kimmerling, ed., The Israeli State and Society: Boundaries and Frontiers (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989), pp. 165-215.

Tkuma (Revival: The First 50 Years). Dir. Dina Zvi – Riklis.

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