For many years, Israeli society dealt with the question of "who is a Jew." Religious and coalition crises revolved around that question, which touched the raw nerve of Jewish identity – after all, who has the right to determine who is a Jew? Who has a monopoly on Judaism?
It appears that this question has not quite been on the agenda in recent years, as it gave way to a new question – who is religious? A recent survey indicated that some 80% of Israelis say that they believe in God, further highlighting the difficulty.
If we ask people on the street what’s “religious” or “who’s religious,” I assume that the answers will be along the lines of “a person who upholds the mitzvahs.” However, another question will then emerge: What does upholding the mitzvahs mean, and what kind of mitzvahs are we talking about?
For example, a man who put on tefillin in the morning, but later spat at an 8-year-old girl because she wasn’t dressed modestly enough in his view – is he considered to be upholding the mitzvahs? Or a man boasting sidelocks, a beard and a large kippah, who faces an IDF or police officer and calls him a “Nazi” – is he religious? Why, because he wears a yarmulke?
And on the other hand, a man who did not lay tefillin in the morning, did not wash his hands before eating bread, and even shaved with a blade, and then left his home to visit the elderly, make repairs at their homes, listen to them, run errands for them and bring them medicine – doing all this voluntarily, every day, for 30 years. Is such man less religious than a man who calls a female soldier a “whore?”
Superficial, irrelevant criteria
One could say that a religious person is one who acts for the sake of God, based on love for the Creator and not only based on humanism or the desire to live in an enlightened society. My question then would be: Do you really think that the Creator, on whose behalf you do what you do, will be happy to see a girl spat on, a female soldier cursed at, or an officer humiliated?
Didn’t you just humiliate and hurt the children of the very same Creator whose honor you have so much concern for? Would a father be happy to see one of his children being spat on or one of his daughters being called a whore? Do you really think God’s wish is for you to sow hatred and violence among the people of Israel?
How simplistic and shallow it is to define “religious” and “secular” based on superficial, irrelevant criteria. We got so used to the stereotype whereby anyone who has a beard and sidelocks is automatically religious, not to mention a rabbi, while the guy with the ponytail or earring is automatically classified as a secular.
Protecting God's state
One who spits at a girl isn’t religious. One who voluntarily takes care of the elderly every day is much more haredi than the former. Soldiers, young officers and combat unit commanders who don’t see their families for long days and holidays, because they are with their soldiers in the field, or who leave their wedding in order to fight and are willing to sacrifice their lives for Israel’s security, are the real haredim – as they are concerned for the safety of God’s state.
Indeed, we can assume that God would be happier with those who protect His land than with those who spit at his children.
The events of the past year highlighted the question of religious definitions and shook up Israeli society’s notions that a man with kippah and a beard is religious while one who wears nothing on his head is a secular. The time has come to mature and leave this childish approach behind.
A religious person is one who defines himself as a person committed to the Torah and its mitzvahs. However, a religious person is also one who knows that manners come before the Torah.