Bennett pushes for more Orthodoxy in public schools

By Rabbi Dow Marmur

Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM–If you decide to look up the word that appears often nowadays in the Hebrew press, הדתה (hadata), you’re not likely to find it in standard dictionaries. It’s obviously connected to the word dat (דת), a Persian term which entered the Hebrew language to mean “religion.” The derivative can perhaps be translated as religionization and used pejoratively to criticize recent efforts by Israel’s current minister of education Naftali Bennett to bring his version of “Yiddishkeit” into Israeli schools.

For years Jews, particularly in the Diaspora, used to complain about the ignorance of many Israelis about matters Jewish. We were shocked to find that Jews born in Israel, particularly but by no means exclusively on secular kibbutzim, had never been inside a synagogue. Some may recall that at the funeral of Yitzchak Rabin, the assassinated prime minister, his son had great difficulty in reading the kaddish, the mourners’ prayer.

We felt it was wrong to leave Israelis with the belief that religion could only mean rigid Orthodoxy, usually described as dat, and implicitly understood as strict adherence to Jewish law as interpreted by Orthodox authorities. To be an adherent was to be dati; the only alternatives were to be chilloni (secular) or dati le’umi (religious nationalist). That’s why we wanted non-Orthodox, non-political Judaism in Israel of the kind you find in Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Israelis don’t find it easy to incorporate these liberal forms into their Jewish vocabulary. That’s why many, perhaps most, whether dati or secular, seem to prefer the Orthodox versions of Judaism to their religious alternatives. Yes, Reform and Conservative Judaism have made inroads in Israel in the last half-century, but they are still a small enough minority for politicians to ignore them in their decision making by labeling them, for example, as stooges of assimilationists in the Diaspora.

The dominant presence of Reform and Conservative Judaism in the United States and in many other countries doesn’t seem to cut much ice with Israeli law makers, as reflected, for example, in the present government’s refusal to honor an earlier commitment to provide egalitarian space at the Western Wall.

Since the attempts by Bennett to indoctrinate students in ostensibly secular Israeli schools, termed in the media as hadata, became more and more aggressive, many secular parents seem to have woken up to this forcible religionization or, rather, “orthodoxication.” It seems, however, that their protests are not on behalf of bringing liberal Judaism to the schools but in favor of returning to the previous vacuum. By all accounts, the minister of education isn’t likely to comply.

Perhaps his efforts wouldn’t be as harmful as some fear were not his form of Judaism a fusion of nationalism and religion of the kind that motivates many, perhaps most, of the settlers in the West Bank. It’s an ideology that claims that the whole Land of Israel must stay in Jewish hands and thus de facto precludes peace with the Palestinians.

We who were appalled that Israel was breeding Hebrew-speaking women and men ignorant of their rich and wholesome Jewish heritage may now be scandalized by their government’s efforts to breed Hebrew speaking and praying bigots who, in their zeal and ostensible piety, threaten the future of the Jewish state and thus endanger the future of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. Now residing in Israel, he may be contacted via [email protected]






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