Virtue Shaming

     Is it time to take a stand?

     A British Court ruled last week against an actress who was fired from the production in which she appeared because the lexical archeologists found a comment from her Facebook page several years ago that referred to homosexuality as a sin. For that breach of today’s immoral norms, she was fired and ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in attorney’s fees for the prevailing side.

     Welcome to the world of virtue shaming, the attempt to denigrate, harass, persecute, cancel and eliminate any person who adheres to traditional morality. It is unacceptable, it has to stop and it will only stop when good and decent people begin to fight back and call it what it is.

     Meanwhile, a saner American court last week ruled in favor of a college professor who refused to refer to a male student as “Miss,” for, among other reasons, the offense to his Christian beliefs. The Sixth Circuit Court decided that Shawnee State University improperly sanctioned him on First Amendment freedom of speech grounds. Simply put, a professor – by extension, any person – cannot be ordered by any official body to defy reason and common sense and refer to a male as a female or vice versa. If it were otherwise, the court reasoned, “a university president could require a pacifist to declare that war is just, a civil rights icon to condemn the Freedom Riders, a believer to deny the existence of   G-d, or a Soviet émigré to address his students as “comrades.” That cannot be. This professor, now authorized to sue his university, was also the victim of virtue shaming.

      How did we ever reach this stage when virtue shaming dominates public discourse? Intimidation of traditional Jews and Christians is rampant, threats and boycotts abound, and rational discussion is impossible.

      Thus it has become objectionable, even deplorable, to speak favorably of a two parent family, of children having a father and a mother, of G-d creating a male and a female, and of the moral norms that guide such relationships. Those moral norms have been the underpinnings of Western civilization. They are being eroded because virtue shaming has become so extant that good and decent people have internalized that they must be doing something wrong. So they cluster in small groups, hide their professions of faith, keep it amongst themselves, endure the deluge of cultural offerings that disparage the beliefs they cherish – or just surrender.

     The external censorship is appalling enough; what is worse is the self-censorship, the tap-dancing around truth, common sense, and time-honored traditions in order not to run afoul of the gods of decadence and amorality. The ideals of “live and let live” and even of tolerance have been turned on their heads. The virtue-shamers want to live but not let us live. They demand tolerance for themselves and revel in the intolerance they direct at others. They seek not just to cancel people but to stifle any discussion of morality. They seek to erase G-d from society, unless it is a god of their own making that, somehow, endorses whatever they want to do and whatever norms they want to abrogate.

     Recently, I was listening to a podcast that involved a discussion by an Orthodox rabbi and his son who had declared himself a homosexual and married. The objective was to enable other families to learn how to deal with this “trauma,” as the father described it, and that goal is fair and important enough. But the moderator at the beginning ruled out any discussion of “the theological implications or policy considerations” of these relationships.  In other words, there was to be no discussion of Jewish law, Torah, sin, right and wrong, morality, or the effect of such relationships on the individual or the Jewish community.

     That is fine per se; there can be parameters to the discussion of any issue. The problem is that no one is ever allowed to rule in any discussion of “the theological implications or policy considerations” of the same sex lifestyle, its practitioner’s place in the Torah world and the problems of same sex marriage. Such discussions are deemed inherently insensitive and repugnant. Consequently, traditional voices that deem homosexual conduct a sin and same sex marriage harmful to society on both religious and secular grounds are always drowned out. There is a pervasive fear of speaking about Torah morality, the ideal family unit, proper and improper conduct. We no longer heed the Talmudic dictum (Masechet Sotah 47a) of “smol dochah v’yamin mekarevet,” push away with the left hand and draw near with the right. Rather than dochah or mekarevet, we are only told to be mekabel, mekabel, mekabel – we must accept, accept and accept, and never is to be heard a discouraging word.

      We are informed by the practitioners of virtue shaming that we are not allowed to speak about sin, overcoming certain predilections or tendencies, or the explicit prohibitions involved – and those who speak about them are insensitive, causing pain and suffering, potentially killing people, and driving them away from the community. We are told that we have to accept everyone on their terms (except people of faith) and that we are guilty of something if traditional values remain divinely ordained and thus meaningful guideposts to our lives. We are accused of being judgmental if we speak of marriage as the precondition to intimate relationships or parenthood. That too is virtue shaming.

      But of what do we have to be ashamed? Nothing at all.

     Here, in Israel, the Noam Party is routinely labeled as “extremist…radical…anti-LGBT…anti-Reform,” etc. It is a handy but duplicitous way to characterize its platform, which essentially promotes traditional Torah values, and avoids actually discussing what those values are and their merits. A recent article in Jerusalem Post was typical, castigating Noam for “seeking to amend government protections for women” without even attempting to explain how and why they would want to do such a thing. Instead the article mostly featured invective, diatribes and tirades – and absolutely nothing from a Noam spokesman.

     I have no idea what their objections are. The journalist did not feel it was relevant to include in the article. It related somehow to UN Resolution 1325 (on which an Israeli law is based). Perhaps it was the demand in the Resolution to mainstream women in combat? I have no clue. Some feminists objected to the Resolution as it portrayed women as “perpetual victims.” Maybe that was it? I don’t know. The article was both a poor example of journalism and a perfect example of virtue shaming. Is opposition to women in combat an opinion that is now beyond the pale of public discourse? Is opposition to same-sex marriage an opinion that is beyond the pale of public discourse? Is support for traditional marriage and the family, or recognition of the obvious reality that there are two genders – male and female – opinions that are unworthy of public discussion? If so, then any Jew who faithfully adheres to the Torah is subject to virtue shaming, and its consequence: attempted silencing.

    Here is how to end virtue shaming: every time it happens, call it out for what it is. Make it a new category of victimhood in a world that loves victims (almost as much as it loves catch phrases). When you hear it, or it is directed against you, tell your critic (actually, yell at your critic) “Stop virtue shaming! Stop criticizing people who love the Torah, embrace its morality and try to live according to its precepts.”

     Sensitivity is a two-way street. Those who do not hesitate to trample on the feelings of traditional Jews have no special claim to sensitivity, and especially not when they engage in virtue shaming. But sensitivity is compatible with tradition and faith; it should not be wielded as a weapon of suppression.

     We have values transmitted to us by G-d. We are proud of them. We try to uphold them. Let us not allow ourselves to be shamed by those whose newfangled values are currently in vogue but whose day will also pass. Let’s call out virtue shaming every time it happens, and it will stop.

     And the world will be a better place for all.

Elections Reflections

A few reflections on last week’s Israeli elections are in order.

I don’t recall experiencing an election in which everyone claimed victory. From the parties that barely scraped by the electoral threshold to the largest party, everybody wins in this country. Every campaign headquarters featured raucous celebrations. To be sure, in the United States, we were accustomed to losing candidates putting the best face on their defeats (“I may have lost this particular race but this election was not about me but about the movement that we created together, and that movement can never be defeated.” Whatever.)

It did not matter whether parties did better than expected, worse than expected, or as expected. Everyone feigned happiness, understandable as Israelis regularly register as one of the happiest groups of people on earth. Wasn’t the goal not merely entry into the Knesset but leadership, or at least involvement in leadership? It is as if participation trophies were being handed out. Victory was claimed by all, even if the country is no closer to having a stable government that it was a week ago. Maybe the glee is attributable to the vagaries of the system in which even the smallest party can play an outsized role in forming the next government – even if it just earned 4% of the total vote.

Watching the election analysis on television, it became clear that Itamar Ben Gvir is living rent free in the heads of most journalists and not a few politicians. His name was mentioned almost as frequently as that of PM Netanyahu. Gilad Kariv, self-styled as the first Reform rabbi to be elected to the Knesset (fourth on the leftist Labor Party list) trumpeted the significance of his own election, claiming his new position entitles him to “represent world Jewry” (despite the miniscule number of votes his party garnered) and declaring that his election is a “clear sign that non-Orthodox Judaism is becoming part of the Israeli mainstream.” Really?

By that reasoning, does the election of Ben Gvir prove that his ideology is also “part of the Israeli mainstream?” Well how can that be, since Kariv asserted that only his election proves that Israel is “not Netanyahu” and Israel is “not the successors of Kahane”? It is because Israel is also not Gilad Kariv. His conclusion is a leap of faithlessness, especially when one considers that undoubtedly more Israelis voted for the Religious Zionist party because Ben Gvir was on their list than voted for Labor because Kariv was on that list.

Certainly the lexical archeologists can dig up phrases that Kariv, Ben Gvir and other Knesset members have uttered in the past to which people object. So be it. Ben Gvir’s biggest “flaw” can be summarized as an ideology that, in the Jewish State, “Jews come first.” One can quibble with a policy or statement here or there, but would be hard pressed to explain why such a philosophy renders a person categorically unfit for service in the Knesset.

Listening to the obsessive references to his name – even terming any government in which he might serve “the Ben Gvir government” – it occurred that Israel’s left has always needed a demon on the right, and even the right wing has embraced the utility of having someone to demonize on their right. It started with Menachem Begin, who for decades was ostracized by the establishment of David Ben Gurion and even called horrible names, including likening him to a certain genocidal Nazi dictator. Eventually Begin was (obviously) vindicated, but his place was taken by Meir Kahane, Michael ben Ari and now Itamar Ben Gvir. Perhaps it would be instructive to note the irony that many nations across the globe view Israel (as a racist, bigoted state) the same way that many Israelis view Ben Gvir. Both are gross falsehoods.

Perhaps we should take a deep breath and realize that there is a place in a democratic Knesset for a Kariv and a Ben Gvir, and for a handful of others who even aspire to leadership of the Jewish State. It is mindboggling, at least to me, that aspirants for the prime ministership of the State of Israel should hold political discussions on Seder night. (It is almost as distasteful as the Jewish owner of the New York Mets negotiating a contract with one of his star players on seder night, at a restaurant, and complaining about the ravioli that was served. Perhaps, and regrettably so, even the seder has lost its attraction among assimilated Jews.)

The other media bête noire was the Noam Party, whose representative won the sixth seat on the Religious Zionist list. Noam was repeatedly described as the “homophobic” party. I searched their party platform and found no overt references to this hot button issue. Their platform focuses on the sanctity of the Jewish family and the need to strengthen it. That sounds reasonable. What clearly grates on the activists is that they have not updated their definition of the Jewish family to include any and all configurations that the human mind can conjure. They seem to be stuck in the ancient past, somewhere, oh, around the year 2010.

That they embrace policies that are not only normative Jewish law and thought but also were normative in the general society just a decade ago shows not how benighted they are as much as it shows how Western morality has utterly collapsed in the last few years and taken not a few Jews along for the ride. Thus their platform calls for strengthening Jewish identity in the land of Israel (how outrageous!) and determining Jewish status based on the prescriptions of the Torah (how novel!). It perceives the IDF as a holy army that should focus on defending Israel and not inculcating Western, post-modern norms. It wants to foster the observance of Shabbat throughout Israel and eliminate the pernicious influence of certain European NGO’s on the curriculum of Israel’s schools. Most controversially, they regard the ideal family as consisting of a father and a mother. Only in the most rabid, partisan and anti-traditional circles is that considered “homophobic.” Only those whose solitary goal in life is the complete breakdown of the societal norms that have shaped civilization from time immemorial would take offense at that. And only those with complete ignorance of the Torah teachings of Rav Zvi Tau would conclude that the political interests of radical, fringe groups in society are a paramount concern of his teachings.

Surely, Noam supporters also deserve representation in the Knesset. Their treatment by the media is nothing less than “virtue-shaming,” castigating decent people for adhering to traditional morality. That is disgraceful and unacceptable.

It might stun the activists and their journalist water-carriers to know that most people do not really think about these agenda issues all that much, differ widely on how certain needs can or should be accommodated in a Western or a Jewish state, but do not want to be lectured to. You can listen to 1000 shiurim or drashot and perhaps one will obliquely refer to these issues by which narrow-minded but passionate individuals define themselves and their life’s purpose.

And here is a wild idea. There should be a law (passed by referendum, as the Knesset never would) that any election that does not result in the formation of a government that lasts at least one year serves to bar any member of that Knesset from running in the next Knesset election. All 120 members, from the Prime Minister on down to the backbenchers, would have to sit out one election cycle. We would be pleasantly surprised how quickly governments would be formed and how long they would last.

Finally, it should be obvious that as long as Binyamin Netanyahu runs for the Knesset – notwithstanding that it is his right – there will be no stable government in Israel. But there is a way out of this morass in the short term. You can take any five or six parties and they will agree on roughly 80% of how this country is to be governed. The other 20% is the flavor in the gum – sometimes contemptible, like hatred of a particular group; sometimes noble, like advocating for traditional morality. If some amalgamation of parties could set aside its passions and prejudices, even for one election cycle, and focus on what we share jointly – security, defense, the Iran threat, the economic recovery, help for the disadvantaged, and an educational curriculum that instills Jewish pride – than a stable government is possible.

Indeed, that would make all of us winners.

The Forecast

     The likeliest outcome of this week’s election in Israel is that there will be no outcome. It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that it is insane to do the same thing again and again and expect a different result. I am excited to be a new voter; by the next election – oh, perhaps after Succot – I will already be a veteran voter.

     That being said, there are certain points worthy of mention. The campaign has been devoid of issues except for one: “for Bibi” or “against Bibi.” It is as shallow as it sounds. The working assumption is that the Likud will again be the largest party. PM Netanyahu’s base is solid and its support for him is personal. It deems the endless media attacks on him and his legal woes as venomous fabrications. It is a populist support that should sound familiar to any American.

      Netanyahu’s run has been remarkable. On May 9, 2021, he will have served as prime minister consecutively longer than FDR served as the American president. But in a parliamentary democracy, that is astonishing and almost without parallel in the world. Angela Merkel has served as Germany’s Chancellor since 2005 but they hold elections every four years, like clockwork (it is Germany, after all) and the choice is binary. Italy, a fractious democracy like Israel, has had seven prime ministers in the twelve plus years that Netanyahu has been prime minister of Israel. He has “won” seven straight elections.

     That is not just a testament to his political skills, which alone could educate less gifted politicians. Timing the election so that Israel both acquired the Corona vaccines and distributed them flawlessly – an election on the cusp of a return to normalcy, springtime is here, Pesach days away – is exquisite, a case study in political management. And he projects an aura of leadership both because of his personal qualities and his longevity. Israeli teenagers have known no other prime minister. That is astounding.

    Timing, in life, also requires knowing when to step aside, and the longer Netanyahu has served the more vehement and angry his detractors have become. What infuriates them is that Netanyahu’s tenure has been marked by notable successes – a booming economy, a dramatic decline in terror, peace agreements with four Arab states, pressure on Iran, the relative absence of war, increasing integration of Haredim in the army and the work force, low unemployment (pre-pandemic) and others. What should infuriate others are the missed opportunities and the political zigzags that are products mostly of opportunism and unscrupulousness. Netanyahu has never failed to reach out to left-wing rivals who had condemned him during the campaigns to avoid forming a right-wing government. He has usually perceived his right-wing ideological allies (especially the Religious Zionists in whatever political form) as expendable, and only useful if his sole alternative is political oblivion. Those non-right wing saviors have included Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and others. His only stable alliances on the right have been the religious right – the Haredi parties whose interests are parochial and frequently mercenary.

     And the missed opportunities are legion. Hamas and Hezbollah are not vanquished but are stronger. They have recovered from all the skirmishes and their threats loom on the northern and southern borders. What else? Extending Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria in whole or in part, and even applying civil rather than military administration to Israeli residents there; reining in the excesses of the Supreme Court by limiting their jurisdiction (now infinite) and their authority to review and reject Knesset legislation (at least until such time as Marbury and Madison make aliya); preserving Jewish identity in matters of conversion, marriage, divorce, aliya, the Kotel, etc., instead of just kicking these cans down the road; giving secular American Jews veto power over Israeli initiatives, not recognizing that their own houses are in disarray and, as such, it would be disastrous to import their ideology and ideas to Israel; allowing housing prices to so escalate as to price the average Israeli out of the housing market. And there are others as well, engendering the conclusion that Netanyahu has often talked more boldly than he has acted and his default position has often been passivity, letting problems fester rather than taking a position and risk angering some group or another.

      His coalition choices have shown him to be so malleable that, given his outreach to Arab Israelis in this election in order to offset his loss of some right wing votes to Gideon Saar’s party, it is within the realm of reason that to reach the threshold of 61 mandates to form a government, he will reach out to the “moderate” Ra’am Arab party if they enter the Knesset. That would be a first, earth-shaking, but quite possible. Of course, it bears recollection that just in the recent past Netanyahu supported the expulsion from Gaza and then opposed it, supported the two-state illusion and then opposed it, so where he winds up in any term on any particular issue is somewhat speculative.

      There are other nuances that characterize this election. Each election finds some new parties competing, and this election’s flavor of the month is Gideon Saar’s “New Hope” party. It is as if “hope” alone is insufficient, but his electoral prospects are already diminishing. The leftist parties are in danger of disappearing, simply because their ideology speaks to fewer and fewer Israelis and their proposed concessions for “peace” even fewer. Yair Lapid’s “Yesh Atid” (“There is a Future”) party has endured more than a decade because, among other reasons, he presents the most compelling party name: “There is a Future.” That logic is irrefutable. Avigdor Lieberman’s “Yisrael Beteinu” has morphed from an anti-Arab party to an anti-Haredi party. Give him credit for honesty: he makes no effort to conceal his hatreds. But it is jarring to see his advertisements which our negative without even a glimmer of positivity or platform: “a government without Haredim.” That is disgraceful.

      The oddity of the Haredi parties is their seemingly fixed share of the electorate even as their percentage of the population escalates, to the chagrin of Lieberman. From four seats in 1977 (Agudat Yisrael), to seven in 2013 (as UTJ) to seven today with projections either seven or six seats in this election, they don’t seem to mobilize their base and certainly not attract any support beyond their base. Granted, I personally witnessed last week amusing signs in Meah Shearim prohibiting any Jew from voting in their “impure Zionist elections” but I don’t that influences more than a relative handful of people. Nor do their voters respond reflexively to the mandates of their rabbanim, the mythology of the seculars notwithstanding. Where are those voters?

     An analogous but somewhat more comprehensible enigma is the struggle of the Religious Zionist parties in increasing their share of the vote – even crossing the electoral threshold. As noted here, the religious Zionists are victims of their own success in integrating themselves and their values into the Israeli mainstream, even if they frequently tend to moderate or suppress those values on occasion. There are religious Zionists in a half dozen political parties and the RZ voter is not easily pigeon-holed. The most cherished values of Religious Zionism are not necessarily shared by every religious Zionist. People content themselves with being generally supportive, 80%, but that missing 20% can make the difference between having a truly Jewish state or just a gathering place of Jews.

     Thus, the capable Naftali Bennett, who has always drawn Netanyahu’s ire, is attempting again to reach out to the general voters while retaining his RZ base, a neat trick if he can pull it off. The danger has always been that he then presents his party as “Likud B,” which lures potential voters back into the camp of “Likud A.” The only truly RZ party defiantly calls itself for this election “the Religious Zionist Party,” so there should not be any doubt about it. And even that party, led by the talented Betzalel Smotrich, has its RZ critics because it linked up with even further right wing parties so those votes should not go to waste, an entirely plausible proposition that seems to trouble those who seek ideological purity.

      That too remains the outstanding feature of this election, so humdrum because of its redundancy that it has attracted little international interest. Every party except for Naftali Bennett’s Yamina has underscored with whom it will not sit, leading to a macabre game of musical chairs in which, when the music stops, not enough people are sitting and so there is no government. If only more parties and people here would adopt Ronald Reagan’s aphorism: “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.”

     The formation of a government will rest on a very narrow margin – a seat or two or three – but there is no reason to assume that there will not be another election in the fall, as long as PM Netanyahu heads the Likud ticket. If Moshe himself found his people ungovernable, what are we to say? At least let us find the common ground that unites us and build on that.

Jewish and Democratic

      Israel has long identified as a Jewish and democratic state (or democratic and Jewish, depending on one’s preferences). It is a point of distinction and pride, and notwithstanding that the definitions occasionally collide and sometimes co-exist uneasily, it is an admirable aspiration. They are certainly not incompatible although care should be taken to fully understand the areas of tension. The sources of law of each are different. A Jewish state contains within it some element of religious coercion even as a democratic state contains within it even a larger element of secular coercion.

     A key societal debate is the question of which definition will prevail in case of conflict: will Israel’s Jewishness be whittled down in order to accommodate its democratic yearnings or will some principles of democracy be minimized in order to maintain its Jewishness? This is a worthy debate that is almost never had.

     In fact, it is assumed by the elitists that democracy is the greater value. Their desire is that Israel be Jewish but not too Jewish, Jewish enough to distinguish itself from the rest of the world but not too Jewish that the practices, ideals and true values of the Torah should be incorporated in the governance of the State except in some loose, platitudinous way. In other words, Jewish in name but not in fact. Great care is taken that the “Jewish” part of the equation does not dominate and encroach on the “democratic” part, and that is a persistent interest and endeavor of the High Court. The State’s Jewishness, and its effect on the citizenry, are constantly measured.

     It is the “democratic” element that is rarely assessed, and that bears some analysis.

     We should be mindful of Winston Churchill’s aphorism that “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Nevertheless, clichés aside, it is certainly true that we are subject to “rule (kratos) of the people (demos)” in some form. The repeated elections foster the illusion that the people are ruling when in fact we are just voting, not ruling. The elections are usually inconclusive and there is no guarantee that the party we vote for will maintain its platform or principles once the election has passed. (Ariel Sharon’s “the fate of Netzarim is the fate of Tel Aviv” is only the most egregious example of a campaign promise not just violated –that always happens – but literally turned on its head.) It is merely being pointed out, without commenting on the merits, that despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s campaign assertion that the other parties similar in ideology to his “will form a coalition with Lapid,” to date he is the only prime minister to actually “form a coalition with Lapid,” something he did in 2013. Again, this is not a comment on the merits, just on the facts.

     It is also true that people’s patience for democracy wavers with the results. The ubiquitous protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu always call him a “threat” to democracy, perhaps unmindful, certainly unappreciative, of the fact that the demos keeps returning him to power. That is democracy, like it or not. Which is not to say that such a result is actually democratic, for the reality is that because of the vagaries of the parliamentary system of government, the Likud ruling party in the last election received less than 30% of the vote. That means that more than 70% of Israelis preferred someone else as prime minister, one reason that fuels the endless demonstrations.

     The more important breach of democratic norms occurs in the disproportionate power wielded by the judicial branch of government. The power of the Attorney-General is almost unbridled. He and he alone can decide whom to prosecute and for what crimes, which ministers can serve in the Cabinet, which laws should be passed by the Knesset and which laws he will overrule and many other vital aspects of governance. Proposed Knesset legislation is often quashed without a vote being taken for fear that the law in question will not pass muster with the AG, who after all is unelected to his position. He sits in judgment of Cabinet decisions and Knesset legislation. That is undemocratic.

      If the real source of power is unelected and irremovable, then democracy becomes a cliché and not a reality. On some level, it makes these incessant elections superfluous. We would be better off randomly choosing 120 teudot zehut numbers to serve in the Knesset and voting on who should be the Attorney-General as the kratos – the real rule and source of authority – rests with him. That is undemocratic.

      Ditto the imbalanced power of the Supreme Court that rules Knesset laws unconstitutional without there being a formal constitution. Those are the laws that are passed by the people’s house, the one true element of pure democracy. But the people’s house has been neutered. The unlimited standing rules give almost immediate access to the Court to anyone with a grievance. It allows the Court to sit in judgment of military decisions, budget issues, traffic patterns, matters of halacha, Knesset legislation, political appointments and a host of other matters not generally within the purview of a nation’s highest court. It is also unelected and for the most part, despite efforts to reform it, its members still have undue influence in appointing their successors. Politicians who question this setup often find themselves under investigation. That has stifled reform efforts. Prosecution becomes persecution when it lasts for years and years and is applied capriciously. There are no checks and balances. Power is in the hands of the unelected. The people get to vote again and again –but nothing changes. This too is undemocratic.

     For all the fear on the left of the Jewish state becoming too Jewish, there is not enough attention paid to the democracy becoming undemocratic. The ease with which individual and civil liberties were stifled in the past year in many democracies across the world, including in Israel, is actually mind-blowing, frightening in its scope and implications. Destroyed businesses, lost jobs and income, shuttered schools and shuls, troubled homes and children, home confinement and inability to travel all came from the heavy hand of government – all in the name of safety and all with uncertain results, as the latest literature confirms. Places without Draconian lockdowns fared as well or even better than places that drastically curbed their citizens’ freedom of movement.  All the while, the political class largely did not feel itself bound by these same regulations, routinely took liberties, and when caught apologized profusely but without real consequence.

     It is as if it is enough to extol “democracy” without actually being one, just like it is enough to declare we are a Jewish state without actually being one. It was Ahad Haam who first pointed out the difference between a Jewish state and a state of Jews. The latter is a refuge; the former is the fulfillment of the prophetic vision. How then do we ensure Israel’s success as a Jewish and democratic state?

     Power must be restored to the people, first by passing the Override Law that limits the Supreme Court’s review of Knesset legislation. Second, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court must be rigorously defined and unlimited standing curtailed. Not everyone with a grievance should have access to the highest court in the land but only those with “cases and controversies,” people directly affected by legislation or an official act and not just those who are offended by something. Third, the existence of both an Attorney General and a Minister of Justice is redundant and, under present conditions, just enables the mischief of the former – whoever he or she might be – in the form of unchecked pronouncements and power grabs. If he is to be the most powerful person in the land, then let the people vote on him.

     Israel’s definition as a Jewish state also needs to be reinforced.  With fundamentals of Judaism under assault in Israel – the sanctity of Shabbat and the definition of Jewish identity are at the top of the list –  Israel is becoming less and less a Jewish state even as it is becoming less and less a democracy. Shabbat must be observed in public as that is an essential definition of Jewishness. All organs that have a state imprimatur rest on Shabbat. Certainly, a government that closed stores and malls for two months for health reasons of dubious validity can close malls and stores every Shabbat for spiritual reasons of proven validity. What people do in private should remain private, the province of each person, nor should the state restrict anyone’s public enjoyments. Those are matters of conscience. 

     Matters of Jewish status must, of course, be controlled by Torah, not secular, authorities, as those are based on the Torah and not on legislation or court rulings. And a Jewish state – and not just a State of Jews – would have delayed the start of summer time until two days after the Pesach seder and not two days before it. (Whose idea was that?)

     Above all, a Jewish state fulfills G-d’s declaration that “This nation, I created for Me; it will relate My praise” (Yeshayahu 43:21, this week’s haftarah). It evaluates each deed, legislation and diplomatic venture on the basis of its furtherance of G-d’s praise. It elevates above all the purpose of life as the essential objective of statecraft rather than just revel in the appurtenances of life. Certainly this involves respect for Torah study and observance of mitzvot but also care of its neediest citizens, humanitarian assistance to others, the development of technology that benefits all of mankind, and an effective military that focuses exclusively on defense and not at all on social engineering.

      It is not that Israel is neither Jewish nor democratic today. Perish the thought. It is that both definitions can be enhanced in ways that better the lives of our citizens in all spheres and bring glory to the Creator who has afforded us, after almost two millennia of exile, this wonderful opportunity to reclaim our sovereignty, assert our uniqueness, and perfect the world according to His prescriptions.