The latest news from the one and only Jewish state: Israel’s minister of religious services says that Reform Jews are not Jews. The report is from Isabel Kershner of the New York Times:
“The moment a Reform Jew stops following the religion of Israel, let’s say there’s a problem,” the minister, David Azoulay of the Shas party, said on Army Radio, adding, “I cannot allow myself to call such a person a Jew.”
Kershner notes that the Israeli president also has said he doesn’t believe that Reform Jews are Jews:
President Reuven Rivlin infuriated American Reform Jews with remarks he made in the 1980s, when he was a member of the Israeli Parliament. After attending a service at a Reform synagogue in New Jersey, he told an Israeli newspaper, “This is idol worship and not Judaism.”
So what about Theodor Herzl? He was the founder of political Zionism, beginning with his 1896 book The Jewish State. He died in 1904, but his portrait rose above the declaration of Israel’s establishment in 1948, as the picture shows.
In 1895, he was asked by a journalist, “What is your relation to the Bible?”
“I am a freethinker, and our principle will be: Let everyone seek salvation in his own way.”
The Jewish journalist who posed the question said, “You must be the martyr to this idea [of Zionism]. The orthodox Jews will join you but consider you a bad Jew.”
Actually not a bad Jew: not a Jew at all.
Herzl celebrated Christmas. December 24, 1895:
I was just lighting the Christmas tree for my children when [head Vienna rabbi Moritz] Gudemann arrived. He seemed upset by the “Christian” custom. Well, I will not let myself be pressured! But I don’t mind if they call it the Hannukah tree–or the winter solstice.
More of his freethinking in his Diaries, 1895:
Shall we… end up having a theocracy? No! Faith unites us, science makes us free. Therefore we shall permit no theocratic velleities [inclinations] on the part of our clergy to arise. We shall know how to restrict them to their temples, just as we shall restrict our professional soldiers to their barracks.
Herzl’s disbelief in religion fostered one of his most important political ideas: “my plan to extraterritorialize the holy places [in Jerusalem], to make them res sacrae commercium gentium [holy places above the trafficking of the nations]. That would be a great symbol… La Gerusalemme liberata.”
The Israeli government today honors none of these secular principles, of separation of church and state.
How long before Israel tightens up the Law of Return? Jews will have to chant their haftorah before Israel lets them immigrate, and prove that they have been attending an Orthodox shul.
And David Ben-Gurion in the picture above, Israel’s first Prime Minister. He was a religious person, but something of a theist, according to Wikipedia; he was not devout; some even classify him as an atheist.