The separation of synagogue versus state in Israel

The phrase “separation of church and state,” though commonly used in terms of the United States government, is not even found in the American constitution. Originally coined with the intention of keeping the government from interfering in the church’s business, the phrase has evolved to mean that the church should not have a say in matters of the state.

Israel is not exempt from this contentious topic. Being the only majority Jewish state in the world, the concept of “church” is replaced by “synagogue” — and a recent poll has found that more than 50 percent of Jewish Israelis are calling for a separation of synagogue and state.

On July 9, the Israel Democracy Institute published the findings of its most recent survey that show some 46 percent of Israeli Jews who consider themselves religious, support a change to the status quo, which in Israel refers to a 70-year-old ruling put in place by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. The status quo pertains to a political understanding between secular and religious Jewish political parties and controls basic facets of life in Israel including marriage, divorce, citizenship, commerce laws on the Sabbath, kosher licenses and burials among other things. A majority of Israelis believes that the current arrangement and these issues are construed through ultra-Orthodox values.

Despite the ever-widening gap between those who want the Orthodox version of Judaism to dictate the governance of Israel, and those who don’t, the status quo has prevented any drastic changes from being made in all these decades. And the statistics show that the Israeli public have had enough.

According to the article, the survey showed that a 57 percent of Israeli Jews believe that the status quo reflects a religious domination, 18 percent feel that the traditional sector is represented while 12 percent say that the secular population are fairly represented. The poll showed that 55 percent of Jewish Israelis think that the state should change the way religious issues are handled while 33 percent said there should be no change.

The report showed that every single secular person who took part in the survey wanted to see a change to religious life in Israel with a complete separation of religion and state.