Nobody has a right to dictate to religious clerics – Jews, Christians, or Buddhists – what to believe in, how to interpret their religion, and what to say and do. If the rabbis violated criminal laws banning incitement, they should be indicted like any secular fascist who preaches hatred and racism. Yet we cannot force them to interpret their religion in a certain manner. If the rabbis refuse to convert in a certain way, we cannot force it upon them.
Conversion is a religious ceremony that brings the convert into the group of faithful. The converting rabbi operates in line with his beliefs. No secular institution can tell him what to believe in, and it’s none of the business of any secular institution whether to recognize or not to recognize conversion.
The religious public is absolutely right to raise a hue and cry over state interference in religious affairs. I, a devoted atheist, also object to this. However, this whole issue is entirely unnecessary. These problems are wholly artificial and stem from confused terms that have turned into law.
Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, the visionary of the state, was an atheist; this is why almost all great religious leaders at the time cursed him. In his book he proposed to “hold” the rabbis in synagogues, while declaring that the Jews are a “nation” – certainly a secular term. He would not have imagined that joining this nation would require one to join the Jewish religion through a religious process. A person who arrives in Israel and wishes to tie his fate to ours is our brother.
According to Herzl’s doctrine, any young man or woman arriving from Russia, and even more so if they serve in the IDF, are Jews in every way. Max Nordau, Chaim Weizmann, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and David Ben-Gurion thought the same.
All the problems we’re facing today stem from the fictitious belief that Jewish nationality and religion are one and the same. This fiction has turned into official law, and it is precisely this fiction that must be buried. The simple and decisive answer to this whole mess is complete separation between religion and nationality and between religion and state. No other solution, and certainly not another Lieberman law at the Knesset, would solve the problem. As long as the basic assumption doesn’t change we’ll be facing more problems.
Now that we are again discovering how mixing up religious and secular principles brings the absurd to a peak and prompts us to take giant steps in South Africa’s direction, the time has come to separate religion and state. Following the separation, everything will be simple.
As marriage will be civil, there will be no need to convert through a deceptive ceremony in order to wed. Only those who truly wish to join the Jewish religion would convert – that would be their problem. The rabbis would preach for certain interpretation of Jewish law? That’s their problem. They will not have an official status and will not draw a salary from the taxpayer. As long as they do not violate the law, it would be fine. Those who wish to follow their rulings will do so – it would be their problem. Those who wish to disregard these rabbis would also do so.
The secular majority would no longer fear that rabbis may take over the state and put an end to democracy. The religious will no longer have to fear secular institutional attempts to dictate to rabbis what to do. It would be good for the State, good for religion, and resolve the problem.
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