Thursday, March 14, 2013

Concerning Church (Synagogue) and State

On Monday March 13, there were two major events of religious significance.  The first being the election of Pope Francis to head the Roman Catholic Church.  Of course it was significant in part because Pope Francis is the first pope from the Americas.  As an outsider and as a religious moderate, I do have many thoughts about the challenges facing the Church, its institutions, and its hierarchies.  But I will have to leave that for another day.

The other major event of historical significance was that Prime Minister Benjamin "BiBi" Netanyahu, of whom I share a nickname with, came to an agreement in order to form his coalition government.  What is significant about his agreement with Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Naftali Bennet (Habayit Hayehudi) is that the ultra-Orthodox for the first time in the last decade will be excluded from the coalition government.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel's government is based on a parliamentary democratic model.  So unlike our system here in the United States, the Prime Minister has to form a coalition of disparate groups in order to be able to have a functional government.

The results of the last election were striking however in that there appears to be a striking rebuke of Netanyahu's failures to oversee domestic issues.  And because of this, Yair Lapid garnered 19 seats in the Knesset.  With this surprising result Lapid is working to refocus the government on issues like draft exemptions for yeshiva students, reforming the educational system of yeshivot, and other important issues.  

Yair Lapid
According to the Israeli Newspaper HaAretz, "Yesh Atid is expected to receive the Health Ministry for Yael German, the Social Affairs Ministry for Meir Cohen and the Science Ministry for Jacob Perry. Yesh Atid MKs will also head the Knesset’s prestigious Education Committee, the Immigrants Absorption Committee and the Committee for Women’s Status."

Bennet, whose Jewish Home Party, is made up primarily of Religious Zionists and settlers.  Their main focus is on annexing more of the West Bank, which would make any Two State Solution with the Palestinians even more challenging.

Naftali Bennet
The long and the short of it, according to the New York Times is, "Writing in the Israeli daily Maariv, Shalom Yerushalmi said the new government “will in fact be two governments” — one of foreign policy, led by Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman, and one social-economic, led by Mr. Lapid and Mr. Bennett, whom Mr. Yerushalmi called “the big winners.”

How long the government will hold is anyone guess.  It is going to take some major work on Netanyahu's part to hold this government together and to hold his position as Prime Minister.  If there is anyone who can do it, it is Prime Minister Netanyahu.  

But in the meantime for us religious moderates, this does represent a chance for us to push for more openness and inclusiveness of Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jews in Israel. It is a chance to open religious observance especially with regards to the Western Wall and life cycle events such as weddings, funerals and conversions.  As a Jewish State, Israel needs to join the 21st Century in terms of recognizing all branches of Judaism, and not just of those who wear black hats.  And if Israel is capable of modernizing in terms of its religious observance, perhaps there is hope for the Catholic Church as well.  But again, I'll save that for another day.

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