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לימוד תורה

State and Religion and a choice in life

The Parasha in our everyday life- Parashat Nitzavim - Rosh Hashanah 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - Head of the Hesder Yeshiva 'Meir Harel' Modiin

One of the main issues in the public discourse is the relation between state and religion. This takes place all the time, but it becomes more and more intense during the election period, while the parties refine their messages, each towards their public.

For many years now the debates on the state and religion issue have been conducted almost in a regular format in a kind of 'role play'. The attacking and accusatory side claims that the religion limits life, the state and its citizens, even impairs the possibility of public movement and commerce on Shabbat, deprives its citizens of the right to marry whomever they want - not necessarily Jewish, sets restrictive stipulations on the issue of conversion, and strictly adheres to properly monitored kosher supervision. There are even claims from this side about 'religious coercion' and organized and institutionalized 'religionization'.

On the other hand, the defensive and justifying side, which asserts, mainly, the importance of preserving the long-standing 'status quo' and the need to preserve the identity of the Jewish state, its religion and symbols. This being the infrastructure for a common life in the state for all sections of the public, in a way that does not harm the faith and lifestyle of the religious community. Among them there are those who refute the claim of 'coercion' and 'religionization' as a matter of fact, and point out that in the people's privacy everyone can lead their lives as they wish. There are others who this accusation makes them 'try to please', and are willing to 'give up' and compromise on some of the principles of the Jewish state's identity.

This circle of 'public discourse' has been spinning on its axis, without a way out, for many years, only its intensity and the argument level change, according to the changing public circumstances.

The beginning of a new year is an opportunity for change, personally and publicly, in a variety of areas. It has also been suggested to make a change in the format of this 'dialogue'. In its form and in its content. From a conversation of two sides: one blames and one justifies, to a clear common conversation, where the common denominator of all the participants in it, is the desire to live in a better reality. A discourse that puts question marks on basic assumptions. For example: Does Judaism really limit the public space more than any other social or economic mindset or religion? Because if we examine in depth, even in a democratic world there is no way a society can exist without some kind of ideology at the base of its existence. The very existence of this value-system limits those who do not share opinions. Judaism, in this matter, is no different from any other viewpoint. It is not intended to limit, but rather to guide the conduct according to its special posture, of combining holiness and values ​​with a full, progressive, successful and happy life. Also, according to the opinion of those who demand public transportation and commerce on Shabbat, etc., will their existence actually improve the living conditions of the general public?! Is their existence going to have a negative effect on other circles of life, which are usually ignored, such as the need for a valued day of rest, the need to provide equal opportunity, and more?!

And on the side of those who justify, isn't it time to change the position from accepting Judaism as a standpoint that limits life, “we have no choice because it is the Jewish religion', to a position that emphasizes the empowerment of life, family and public that exists in Judaism. The approval that is reflected in all the parameters that are examined in recent years in Israel (if they are examined objectively and not in a trending manner). The empowerment of life that can be the common denominator on the public level even with those who are not religious, whose manner of application will not be by coercion but only through dialogue and agreements.

In our Parasha, we see the choice between the Torah and Judaism and the choice in life:

רְאֵ֨ה נָתַ֤תִּי לְפָנֶ֙יךָ֙ הַיּ֔וֹם אֶת־הַֽחַיִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַטּ֑וֹב וְאֶת־הַמָּ֖וֶת וְאֶת־הָרָֽע׃ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֣י מְצַוְּךָ֮ הַיּוֹם֒ לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת ה' אֱלֹקיךָ֙ לָלֶ֣כֶת בִּדְרָכָ֔יו וְלִשְׁמֹ֛ר מִצְוֺתָ֥יו וְחֻקֹּתָ֖יו וּמִשְׁפָּטָ֑יו וְחָיִ֣יתָ וְרָבִ֔יתָ וּבֵֽרַכְךָ֙ ה' אֱלֹק֔יךָ בָּאָ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּ֥ה בָא־שָׁ֖מָּה לְרִשְׁתָּֽהּ... הַעִדֹ֨תִי בָכֶ֣ם הַיּוֹם֮ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֒רֶץ֒ הַחַיִּ֤ים וְהַמָּ֙וֶת֙ נָתַ֣תִּי לְפָנֶ֔יךָ הַבְּרָכָ֖ה וְהַקְּלָלָ֑ה וּבָֽחַרְתָּ֙ בַּחַיִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן תִּֽחְיֶ֖ה אַתָּ֥ה וְזַרְעֶֽךָ׃

"See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I command you this day, to love Hashem your G-d, to walk in G-d’s ways, and to keep G-d’s commandments, G-d’s laws, and G-d’s rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that Hashem your G-d may bless you in the land that you are about to enter and possess… I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live.” (Devarim 30:15-19)

"For you understand yourselves that your destiny has been handed over to you as you choose, for the good and the best part. The ‘life’ mentioned here and in the continuation, is not just a purely physical life. It includes the general healthy and adequate development of the individual’s physical, spiritual and moral personality as well as the nation’s. And the opposite of this is ‘death’. A general collapse in all these respects. The ‘good’ is the complete happiness that follows as a result of this ‘life’, while the ‘bad’ is the complete breakdown that follows the ‘death’” (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch ibid).

This is also our Rosh Hashanah prayer, general and personal, for a good life:

"בְּסֵפֶר חַיִּים בְּרָכָה וְשָׁלוֹם, וּפַרְנָסָה טוֹבָה, וּגְזֵרוֹת טוֹבוֹת, יְשׁוּעוֹת וְנֶחָמוֹת, נִזָּכֵר וְנִכָּתֵב לְפָנֶיךָ אֲנַחְנוּ וְכָל עַמְּךָ בֵּית יִשְֹרָאֵל לְחַיִּים טוֹבִים וּלְשָׁלוֹם, וְנֶאֱמַר כִּי בִי יִרְבּוּ יָמֶיךָ וְיוֹסִיפוּ לְךָ שְׁנוֹת חַיִּים. לְחַיִּים טוֹבִים תִּכְתְּבֵנוּ אֱלֹהִים חַיִּים כָּתְבֵנוּ בְּסֵפֶר הַחַיִּים. כַּכָּתוּב וְאַתֶּם הַדְּבֵקִים בַּה' אֱלֹקיכֶם חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם הַיּוֹם"

"In the book of life, blessing, peace and abundant maintenance, good decrees, salvations and condolences, may we be remembered and inscribed before You; we and all Your people, the House of Israel for a good life and peace. And it is said: “Through me [the Torah], shall your days be multiplied, and increased for you will be the years of your life.” For a good life, inscribe us, living G-d; inscribe us in the Book of Life, as it is written: “And You who cling to Hashem, your G-d, are all alive today."

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