dinsdag 17 januari 2012


What, up to now, the Palestinians did not manage to get done the Israeli women may at this time succeed in: the initiation of a certain collective self-reflection in the large secular Israeli majority. Indeed, the driving force behind the Israeli actions and demonstrations in recent weeks is the indignation about the status of women in the Israeli public domain.

From that indignation originated the demonstrations held in Beit Shemesh for the eight-year-old girl who on her way to school was spit on because she would be immodestly dressed. And the same indignation is behind the actions of liberal and modern orthodox women against segregated seating on the bus for men (in the front) and women (in the back). Equal rights for women equally is the reason for the efforts of women to to pray with the Torah at the Wailing Wall.

This type of conflict is hardly new, it lurks in Israel for decades beneath the surface already. It goes back to an at the background always-present tension between a secular majority and an (ultra-)orthodox minority, which has a monopoly on defining the Jewish spiritual identity.

The curious thing about this tension is that the secular majority is, to be sure, spiritually far removed from rabbinic thinking, but still allows the religious establishment to prescribe (sometimes literally) the law in many areas. For example on marriage, the construction of cemeteries for the more liberal religious currents, or the separation of men and women on the bus.

On the side of the secularists there always were pragmatic and sentimental reasons to take this position. By sentimental reasons, I mean a certain mental laziness, which tends to leave the control of the Jewish spiritual inheritance to those who dress in the most outdated way and act accordingly. That’s easy, it gives a sort of historical security and appeals to rather vague but at the same time attractive feelings of communal sense.

The pragmatic reasons have to do with the security situation in Israel. It has long been thought that the country could afford no fundamental discussion about the position of orthodox Judaism. That might disrupt the national unity which is so badly needed in the fight against a hostile environment, and even lead to civil war. The idea was: first to improve the security situation, only then to fight the internal battle.

But for some reason it’s happening yet, on a larger scale than before the battle with the religious establishment is entered into. Apparently the country can afford now, people feel safe enough. Or the ultra-orthodox group is now simply too big and too bold and crosses too many borders.

Opposite those border crossings the philosophical laziness of the average secular Israeli is no longer sustainable, whether pragmatically or sentimentally inspired. The situation is forcing many of them now to think for themselves, to determine their own position in spiritual matters.

If this is the prelude to more reflection in Israël on people’s own spiritual identity, that would seem to me very laudable. Resurrection from the lethargic spiritual indifference might then call into question that other Israeli indifference which looms large: the indifference for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the plight of the average Palestinian. Then the order of priorities is just reversed.

Also see The Green Line and the Red Line