Religion and State

Zionism’s core intention was to create a Jewish homeland/state with a Jewish majority.  Along the path to statehood, Zionism achieved international validation to be a Jewish state. It came in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1922 Articles of the Mandate for Palestine, the 1947 UN recognition of a Jewish state, and the 1948 Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which stated the “establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.” Israel was accepted into the United Nations in 1949.  And yet while international recognition was given, Israeli leaders and successive governments made clear that religious freedom would be a pillar of the country’s social dynamic. Within the Jewish community, Israeli leaders made an agreement with Jewish religious authorities, the Rabbinate, whereby certain aspects of daily life would fall under exclusive jurisdiction of adherence to religious law and practice.  This included orthodox rabbinic authority over life-cycle events including marriage and divorce, public observance of Shabbat, defining ‘who is a Jew?’ and the enforcement of kosher laws in the state’s institutions and the military.  Of particular sensitivity to secular Israelis has been the sanctioned exemption to military service by Orthodox Jews. A similar distaste has evolved among secular Jews for the expenditure of scarce budgetary allocations on religious schools and in settling the territories taken in the June 1967 War.  Numerous times in Israeli history secular and religious Israelis have clashed politically over the prerogatives either enjoys or seeks over the other.  Over the life of the country, Israel’s Parliament and Supreme Court have successfully navigated the stresses and animosities that remain in defining the role of Judaism in the operation of the state. And in times of crises, these animosities dissipate in favor of the state’s defense and preservation.

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