A People Who Live Apart: Jewish Identity and the Future of Israel

Els Van Diggele, Jeannette K. Ringold (translator)

Publisher: Prometheus Books

Fifty years after the founding of the state, the question still remains where the balance between Israel as Jewish state and Israel as democratic state can be found. The Jews returned to Palestine to found a Jewish state, whatever that might mean, but not to establish a pluralistic country or a haven for the persecuted. Judaism in the diaspora maintained itself by the separation of religion and state, but most Jews realized that the return to the old land would change the way of life of the Jewish people as a Jewish community. After all, the establishment of a Jewish state would mean interference of politics in religious affairs. All public buildings and almost all private homes have mezuzot on their doorposts. The Jews are glad about that, not because they all subscribe to the religious meaning of the mezuzah, but because it affirms the Jewish identity, like a flag or a coat of arms.

Israel may be defined as a Jewish democracy, but the question of the true identity of the country and of the democracy (Jewish or Western) is obvious. Is Israel a secular state as in the Zionists’ vision, or is Israel a theocratic state as the Orthodox Jews wish? Is Israel a state for all its citizens, or has Israel actually become a Jewish democracy as was stated in the Declaration of Independence of 1948? And if the latter is the case, can a state in which every fifth citizen is a non-Jew be both Jewish and democratic? And who is a Jew?

All these questions sound abstract, but they have become concrete in the daily lives of Israeli Jews; the secularists and the Orthodox have been fighting about them for over fifty years. In the history of Israel this fight has become known as the Kulturkampf.

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