By Dan Illouz
(JULY 28, 2023 / JERUSALEM POST) For many years, one of the most burning issues in the State of Israel has been the relationship between religion and state.
Most of the discussions have seemingly revolved around the divisions between the secular population on one side, and national religious and ultra-Orthodox on the other.
However, most polls show that the largest self-defined group in Israel is the traditional, known in Hebrew as Masorti.
What does it mean to be a traditional Jew?
To be a traditional Jew is to love Judaism and the Torah, but stand against religious coercion.
To believe deeply in the mission of Israel as the indigenous and ancestral national homeland of the Jewish People, with a strong Jewish identity, but one that allows each Jew to decide how they practice their Judaism.
Some, who define themselves as traditional, like myself, keep Shabbat, kosher, and other aspects of the Jewish legal tradition, but we also love our brethren who don’t.
Some will make Kiddush on Shabbat before watching a game of soccer and pray that their favorite player will score a goal. Others put on tefillin every morning, but walk around without a head covering the rest of it.
Traditional Israelis accept Jewish law as it was transmitted at Sinai and evolved according to our sages for thousands of years, without seeking to abrogate it, even if they do not keep all of its precepts.
They concern themselves more with their own struggle in keeping the laws rather than who else is or isn’t keeping them.
To be a traditional Jew is to love the people of Israel so much that they can accept others who think, dress, and act differently from themselves.
At the traditional Jewish Shabbat table, no one is prevented from joining. There is a place for all to sit together, where the ultra-Orthodox will sit next to someone from the LGBTQ community, people who espouse a left wing worldview sit next to those with a right wing worldview, and everything in between.
THIS IS not because traditional Jews do not hold strong opinions, of course we do.
It is because, first and foremost, we believe in unadulterated love for our people.
The debates that take place at the traditional Jewish Shabbat table are more interesting and impassioned than the famed debates at Oxford University.
The traditional Jew feels passionate about serving in the Israel Defense Forces, and sees it as a holy mission, even while accepting that to learn Torah also serves lofty goals.
The traditional Jew wants every Jew to feel proud of their roots, regardless of whether they are from Yemen, Morocco, Poland, or Iran, but know that their true heritage is in the Land of Israel.
The worldview of the traditional Jewish community, rooted in the classic Sephardic tradition of moderation, peaceful solutions, and a focus on the “bigger picture,” can help us solve many of the outstanding problems and challenges facing Israeli society. Not just on issues of religion and state, but in all arenas where our people feel pitted one against the other.
Ideas, such as the Talmudic principle koha de hetera adif – the power of leniency is greater than the power to forbid and is therefore preferable; or the Golden Mean, primarily associated with the Rambam which extols the virtues of following the middle path and avoiding extremes, are desperately needed today.
Perhaps the greatest example of this particular philosophy was laid out by Hakham Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, the first chief rabbi of Israel, who sought to create a righteous nation, utilizing the highest moral and ethical standards for all societal and individual situations, nourished by the latest philosophical, innovative, and scientific ideas.
Rabbi Uziel wrote a national charter for the Jewish people, which is “to live, to work, to build and to be built, to improve our world and our life, to raise ourselves and to raise others to the highest summit of human perfection and accomplishment. [Accomplished by following] the path of peace and love, and being sanctified with the holiness of God in thought and deed.”
This is the dynamic worldview of the Masorti people, that can act as a remedy for our current societal ills. A worldview that seeks to unite, rather than divide, that seeks peace over fracture, and one that does not divide between religious and secular, and holy and worldly, it is all one.
It is my firm intention to bring this worldview to the center stage of Israeli society and its representative institution, the Knesset.
Dan Illouz is a Member of the Knesset for the Likud Party, and is the former ZOA Israel director.This op-ed was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and can be viewed here.