In the shadow of the coalition limping along with 61 members in the Israeli government, Culture Minister Miri Regev tried in vain to pass a piece of legislation entitled the “Loyalty in Culture Law.” According to the law, government funding would be suspended from cultural institutions that negate the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incite to violence, terror or racism, or support acts of terror against the state.
One can certainly understand the logic behind Minister Regev’s criteria: How can an Israeli artist funded by the state generate anti-Israel culture, mock the state and speak words of incitement against it? It certainly sounds off-base. But first, let us understand what, exactly, is Israeli culture?
When Teddy Kollek came to Yerushalayim, he announced: “I will transform Yerushalayim into Rome.” In time, when Ron Chuldai came to Tel Aviv, he said a similar thing, but his dream was to transform the city into Paris. Rome was apparently out of vogue; Paris was the in thing. And so forth: Every mayor seeking to up the value of his city looks for a model in one of the European countries and uses that as a guide as an example.
That, in a nutshell, is the secret of “Israeli” culture: It has nothing of its own, it only tries to imitate, and not always so successfully. The State of Israel is so poor in cultural figures that it has borrowed artists from other nations. Thus, Israel has made itself a mockery among the nations: Even when it wins international competitions, the winner turns out to be a Scandinavian gentile who was hired by an Israeli team — or something similar to that. How embarrassing.
As believing Jews, we have nothing to do with this warped and distorted sensibility. The imitation Israeli culture is bankrupt. The feigned effort to copy the nations of the world, “K’chol hagoyim beis Yisrael — like the other nations is Yisrael,” the free cultural behavior that lacks all limits and boundaries — is galloping in huge strides towards the abyss, to the culture of sinners.
In these days of Chanukah, we remember the victory of light over darkness, of the Chashmona’im over the Yevanim, the Jewish culture over Greek culture. Greek culture is what brought heresy upon the world. It was the first to heretically question the existence of Hashem in the world. And it is that culture that they wanted to impose upon Am Yisrael: “Write on the horns of your oxen,” the Greeks demanded, “that you have no share with the G-d of Israel.”
If Minister Regev wanted to fight the culture war, she needed to channel it to the right place. Instead of fighting with artists and their views, it would be preferable first to teach Israelis about the real Jewish culture that has been passed down through the generations, a culture that hasn’t changed in form and flavor for the past 5779 years.
As long as we promote and value Western culture — and continue to imitate it and the life of the Greeks — we will not be able to increase the value of the original Jewish culture, our real culture.
Let us remember that Am Yisrael has a rich and glorious age-old culture unmatched in the history of mankind. Instead of basking in it and cherishing it, the members of our nation seek further afield, in broken pits, and for that we must lament.
It would be better to enact a “Loyalty to Judaism Law,” and to cry out loud “Mi L’Hashem eilai” to illuminate the public sphere with our age-old, beautiful culture, the sooner the better.
A happy and illuminating Chanukah!