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It's almost amusing to discover, when talking with former chief Sephardi rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron, that he, of all people, defines the country's secular citizens as "free." It's a shame that most of the secular citizens, who are evasive when it comes to defining their attitude toward religion and the issue of the relationship between religion and the state, do not adopt this excellent definition for themselves. Neither do they take upon themselves the right and duty to fight for the identity of Israeli society as a distinctly civic society. Only a few insist on rescinding the Marriage Law, which constitutes blatant intervention on the part of the state in the life of the individual, and forces the majority to accept wedding and divorce rites that are alien to it as a prerequisite for the status to be recorded in one's identity document.

But lo and behold, the initiative has come from the mouth of Bakshi-Doron, who served indeed in the national-religious establishment, but in many regards prefers the ultra-Orthodox viewpoint. Do the secular citizens even understand its significance for them and for the shaping of the character of the state?

Apparently not. Many secular citizens have for some time been ignoring the Orthodox marriage arrangements, and, like many others around the world, prefer other alternatives - cohabitation, civil ceremony, legal agreement, and more. Even the state has come to terms with this change, and therefore, recognizes a civil ceremony performed abroad as a marriage for all intents and purposes. Nevertheless, anyone who has gotten married in Milan's City Hall and wishes to get divorced will not be recorded as a divorc� in his identity document unless he gives his wife a get, the Jewish bill of divorcement in keeping with the Law of Moses and Israel. This coercion is causing more and more couples to evade the civil ceremony too.

Secular citizens believe that their tactic of evasion is creating a new reality that annuls the rabbinical hegemony and allows the silent majority to live as it pleases. This is a grave mistake. Reality is conducted through the records of the Interior Ministry. Moreover, secular citizens are convinced that now, with Shas and United Torah Judaism no longer in the government, and Shinui in their place, the ultra-Orthodox have been defeated; and if the ultra-Orthodox have been defeated, the seculars have won. This is an even graver mistake.

The tone-setters among the ultra-Orthodox are not interested in the general public in Israel, or in the future character of the state. If indeed there was need for any more proof of this, then it was Bakshi-Doron who provided it. As far as he is concerned, let the "free" live as they wish - as long as the halakha, Jewish religious law, which takes the Jewish marriage ceremony very seriously and views the woman as the one who is directly responsible for preserving the family framework, is no longer shamed, as it is today, by the rabbinical establishment, which, according to the ultra-Orthodox viewpoint, is filling Israel with mamzerim (bastards). If this means separating religion from state, then let it be so - for the sake of the dignity of the halakha.

The ones who are willing to do anything and everything to prevent a severing of the tie that binds the rabbinical establishment and the state are the national religious, or their political leaders at least. They are fighting for the "public image" and the "Jewish character of the state," and are prepared to cut any corner in the halakha in order to refrain from forgoing their true dream of establishing a state based on Jewish law.

The wearers of knitted skullcaps have made efforts to be incorporated into all the executive spheres and take up positions of power and influence; but they have not relinquished the hope that the state will become less civil-democratic and more "Jewish." Indeed, almost every viewpoint can be found along the broad spectrum of the national-religious public - from tolerant liberalism in the vein of Yeshayahu Leibowitz, through to the messianic fantasy of the hilltop settlers. Nevertheless, it is only among this public - across its entire spectrum - that one hears a debate over the cultural identity of Israeli society. The seculars remain silent.

Why don't they pick up the gauntlet? Why don't they understand that the annulment of the Marriage Law is the key to shaping the character of civic Israel? Perhaps because most of them prefer, by force of bad habit, to leave the handling of spiritual matters in the hands of the religious, who will leave them alone to live what they perceive to be "the good life." If this is the case, don't be surprised to find that the vast void that many secular citizens are leaving in the hearts of their children - the void that should be filled with a search for meaning and a struggle for the creation of the new Hebrew identity - is being filled by the various peddlers of spiritualism and marketers of miracles and charms.