Sisterhood Blog

Israel, A Democratic Orthodox State?

By Noga Gur-Arieh

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Michal Fattal

On Monday, 10 women were detained for participating in prayers while reading from the Torah and wearing religious garments at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. There are many wrongs in this event, but unfortunately, it will probably happen again until a major change occurs.

Israel is by definition a Democratic Jewish state. Ever since it was determined as such in 1948, the Orthodox rabbinates have held a lot of power. As a case in point, marriage and divorce can only be legal if performed by the official rabbinate of Israel. This means that some parts of the law discriminates against women. For example, if a husband dies before he and his wife have brought any children into the world, his brother must marry the widow — unless she approaches the rabbinate of Israel and requests a “Halitsa” ceremony. This biblical rule still exists in 2013.

I was born and raised in Israel, and unfortunately this means that although I disagree with the Orthodox rules that apply to all Israelis, I have learned to live with them. When it is my time to be married, I must take part in Orthodox ceremonies I do not agree with, such as the Mikveh, being “purchased” by my husband through a Ketubah, and more. This harsh reality cannot be changed, and I have reluctantly learned to accept it. But what I still cannot live with are the small things some very dark people with lots of power believe they are allowed to do.

The fact is this is 2013. The world has changed since Biblical times, which means Judaism has grown and developed. Since Orthodox Judaism remains in the dark in some aspects, Reform and Conservative Judaism emerged, allowing people to be connected to Judaism without feeling any less Jewish. The problem is that these changes never applied to the small group in charge of the “Jewish” part of Israel’s definition. Nowadays, I do not call Israel a Democratic Jewish state but rather a Democratic Orthodox state. If it were still just “Jewish,” then it wouldn’t be a problem for women to pray however they want to at one of Judaism’s holiest places. If it were still just “Jewish,” all streams and types of Judaism would have been fully accepted and recognized by the law.

Nowadays, we are moving towards a minor change, due to the official acceptance and government recognition of some non-Orthodox rabbis. But this small step forward does not match the huge steps backwards wherever women are being discriminated against just because of their gender. I believe that all people — Orthodox, secular, Jews, Christians, Muslims and any others — should be able to live their lives freely, in any way they want, without forcing anyone or being forced to do anything.

Luckily, most Israelis do not stand still when such things happen. When a small group of rabbis tells followers serving in the IDF to leave a ceremony in which a woman sings, or when women are arrested for praying at the Kotel, or when a small group of dark people threaten to take over Israel’s Democratic side, the voice of the people rises. Most Israelis are modern, enlightened people who understand the concept of freedom of religion and will stand up against any attempt to eliminate it. Thanks to most Israelis, our country remains in the light, even though the shadow sometimes covers it. I find this point worth mentioning, because when looking from the outside, relying solely on foreign media, it sometimes seems that the shadow sits on the throne here, and that Israel as a whole follows dark rules, unable or unwilling to become a bit more modern and accepting. This is how we are sometimes presented. I remember fellow counselors asking me what Israel is “really like” when I was an Israeli delegate at a Jewish summer camp a few years ago. The picture drawn through the lens of foreign media can sometimes be very far from the truth.

Even though sad, unacceptable, unthinkable behavior towards women occurs in Israel, this does not represent us. This is not who we are, and it is something we wish to change. Our battle against this small group of dark extremists is far from over. I believe that light will win, even though it sometimes seems like nothing but a dream, because of the amount of power the extremists hold in their hands. I am glad Israelis still believe in liberalism of life, and are willing to fight to keep Israel in the light.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Women of the Wall, feminist, Sisterhood, Orthodox, Kotel, Jewish Women, Israel

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