A State for Jews

There’s a tug of war going on in Israel between those who want a country that is Jewish and those who want a secular democracy, a “country of all its citizens.” To be sure, the overwhelming majority are at least traditional and want a country that is Jewish. But the staunchly secular minority enjoys the support of key figures in government and the courts, backed by the media, who use their power to subvert majority rule.

Take, for example, the latest outrage regarding kashrus. Attorney General Yehudah Weinstein ruled that restaurants and food stores may hire private hashgachah in place of that approved by the Chief Rabbinate, as long as they don’t use the word “kosher.”

This obviously opens the door to fraud, since anyone can call himself a Rav and issue a certificate verifying that a particular food establishment is under his supervision. As Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said, “Unlike the protection under law for the title ‘doctor’ or ‘lawyer,’ unfortunately the title ‘rabbi’ does not enjoy the same protection under law.”

Therefore, Weinstein’s ruling would be the equivalent of allowing any doctor to certify the safety of medicines, without defining who is a doctor.

A perpetual flashpoint in the struggle to define Israel’s character is public Shabbos observance. In Ashdod, the BIG mall decided a month ago to open on Shabbos, R”l, to the deep consternation of the city’s residents.

In response, religious members of the city council pressured the mayor, Yechiel Lasri, to use his authority to act against the mall, which was in violation of city bylaws by operating on Shabbos. He claimed that the mall is located beyond city limits and therefore outside his jurisdiction.

Rabbanim and askanim are working ’round the clock to convince the owners of the BIG mall to rescind their decision and honor their customers’ sensibilities and their workers’ basic rights by reverting to their policy of closing on Shabbos. They are using both the carrot and the stick, on the one hand promising that the owners will see brachah if they close on Shabbos, on the other, warning of a national boycott if they don’t.

Ironically, even among the secular there is recognition of the importance of stores being closed on Shabbos. MK Shelly Yachimovich, of the Zionist Camp, is a fierce opponent of Shabbos commerce, due to the fact that this would rob minimum wage-earning employees of a day of rest. Many others agree wholeheartedly that more than the Jews have kept Shabbos, Shabbos has kept the Jews, as even the secular writer Ahad Ha’am conceded.

Another arena in the battle for Israel’s survival as a Jewish state is the missionaries who, inexplicably, are allowed to operate practically unhindered. The only thing they are legally barred from doing in Israel is offering money or some other financial incentive to young people to convert.

That’s why the courts ruled in favor of allowing missionaries to hold a major event last Shabbos at the municipal sports center in Raanana — including mass baptisms, R”l — despite the opposition of local residents and the mayor (who was influenced by religious members of the city council).

To the credit of Yad L’Achim and Raanana’s Rabbanim, led by Chief Rabbi Harav Yitzchak Peretz, the people of Raanana didn’t take the court decision lying down. They held a mass tefillah rally outside the sports center, drawing 5,000 people from all the kehillos in the city, and attracting outraged secular residents as well.

“This huge gathering is a clear statement of our power to vanquish the enemy,” Rav Peretz told the crowd. “Our strength is in our unity… We came to Eretz Yisrael to live as Jews, and the missionaries have no right to convert Jews out of their faith. They have no right to exist in this country.”

Tragically, the missionaries’ next target is Yerushalayim, where they are planning a huge, four-day event over Shavuos. While Am Yisrael receives the Torah, these enemies of the Jewish people will be meeting to discuss “How to improve the dissemination of the missionary message among Jews” — in Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh, of all places!

Conventional wisdom has it that we need chareidi political representation to represent the chareidi public and its vital interests. This is certainly true. With siyatta diShmaya and great skill, these representatives have already succeeded in rolling back decrees against yeshivah students, suspending attempts to legislate weaker conversion standards, restoring child allocations, and more.

But they also have a vital role to play in the overall battle for the character of the Jewish state. The chareidi population isn’t going to be duped by bogus kashrus supervision, but others, residents and tourists, are.

They, too, need chareidi politicians to represent their vital interests.