Monday’s riots in Jerusalem following Rabbi Dov Lior’s arrest were a wakeup call for those still clinging to comforting slogans of Jewish unity. The State of Israel at this time is home to distinct population groups that are drawing further apart. The gap will soon become unbridgeable; some say we are already there.
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The hundreds of religious rightist protestors who blocked the entrance to Jerusalem, burned tires in the capital’s streets and raided the Supreme Court, made their views clear: The Torah, as they interpret it, takes precedence over law and order. Israeli courts have sent a former president to jail and are currently hearing a case against our former prime minister, but a rabbi is above the law, we are now told.
Secular Israelis would not imagine the possibility of staging riots in the capital because of an “unjust arrest.” At most, they would launch a Facebook protest against the rising prices of cottage cheese. But some of the Jews living in this country, and an increasingly sizeable group at that, are committed to other rules. The fact that on Monday they were being led by Knesset Member Michael Ben Ari is even more frightening.
Rioters in Jerusalem were chanting “Torah has been arrested,” implying that a human being, Rabbi Lior, symbolizes the essence of Judaism. For a religion that throughout history sanctified traditions, ideas and God, rather than people, this is a tragedy. Just look at Moses, arguably the greatest figure in Jewish history, an imperfect, stuttering man who was not glorified despite leading the Jews from slavery to freedom. We do not worship Moses, yet today some of us have taken to worshipping rabbis.
Intolerance and fanaticism
Indeed, the Jewish religion that for so long symbolized wisdom and humanism is increasingly sinking into darkness, crude intolerance and boorish fanaticism. One illustration of this is modesty becoming a focal point of Jewish belief here, as if one dress code or another is what Judaism is all about. Religious youth groups that were once mixed are now gender segregated. Religious soldiers walk out of performances as not to hear a woman singing. In some neighborhoods, women are confined to one side of the road. Segregated buses have become the norm. The list goes on and on.
The last time Israel’s secular public felt threatened we saw a secularist party, Shinui, sweeping 15 Knesset seats, becoming Israel’s third-largest party and keeping Shas out of the government. Times have changed since then, Shinui is long gone, but the sentiments that led to its rise are again brewing under the surface. This time, the outbreak of frustration and anger may be much worse; this time, both sides may be more reckless than ever.
It is still too early to tell where Israel is headed, but a secular-religious clash - the kind we had not yet seen in this country - may gradually become inevitable. If Monday’s events in Jerusalem are any indication, we may indeed be in for a very hot summer. May God grant us the wisdom to change course before it’s too late.
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