“My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” – Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.
You’ve probably heard of the term “Separation of Church and State”. What does it mean? For many it means exactly what it says: Let each and every religious person (or community) go about their own business. Let the state (or country) take care of the people’s business in general: Education, economy, defense, etc. In short: Don’t mix personal beliefs with the regime.
Is there a separation of church and state in Iran? Most readers would probably say ‘No’. Is there a separation of church and state in the United States, in Egypt, in Israel, or in other places?
In August 2003 there was a big debate in the American media over the federal court order, to move a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court building. Was it appropriate to have the monument there? Hundreds of people demonstrated against the decision to remove it. A quick survey taken by the CNN web site proved the public opinion was more or less split as to whether it should be there.
While it may be argued that the monument simply symbolizes some sort of striving for justice, it’s a little bit more difficult to use the same “symbolic” argument in the case of Israel’s laws of matrimony.
You see, long ago Jewish priests were not allowed to marry divorced women. Since the State of Israel irresponsibly abandoned all formal treatment of matrimony to the religious courts, then at the time of writing these lines (21st century, to remind you), it’s still impossible for people carrying the last name of Cohen to marry divorced women in Israel. In fact, it’s also totally impossible for people who are registered as having different religions (!) to marry in Israel. How do they work around this? Travel to some other nearby country – typically Cyprus – get married there, and return home.
The gluing of church and state in Israel does not end with the Cohens. The very existence of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, sponsored by the Israeli taxpayer, is another clear aspect of the phenomenon. Let alone other religious coercive laws, such as the formal forbiddance of displaying bread for commercial purposes during Passover (it’s still okay to sell it under the table), or the many limitations on raising pigs. Does stopping all public busses in Tel Aviv during the Sabbath make people more Jewish? It probably makes them more pissed off if they don’t own a car, but still it happens.
When Theodor Herzl envisioned the Jewish state at the end of the 19th century, he wrote:
“We shall therefore prevent any theocratic tendencies from coming to the fore on the part of our priesthood. We shall keep our priests within the confines of their temples in the same way as we shall keep our professional army within the confines of their barracks.”
In fact, the pre-birth of the State of Israel was at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, by young Jewish people who abandoned the religious way of life in favor of Zionism. Many of them were shunned by their communities, and often by their own families, for the sin of leaving the religion and heresy.