Opinion

Will Secular Israelis Be Left Alone in the Dark?

File photo: Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, Israel, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The vending machine at Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava contains various types of snacks including the famous Israeli brands Bamba, Bissli and Beigale. Most of the time it works perfectly, but if a customer tries to use it on Shabbat, it refuses to release its wares.

A video posted on the Facebook page Haduchan Hahiloni – which basically means the Secular Snackbar – clearly shows the machine taking its return to religion very seriously. The coffee machine and the soft-drink machine next to it also stand silently on this day, when the cafeterias are also closed.

>> Read more: Hadassah Hospital rabbi told ER to prioritize religious patients ahead of Shabbat ■ Analysis: Shabbat costs Israel billions of dollars every year ■ Opinion: Israel’s Passover law a la Saudi Arabia and Iran 

The petition against the ban on bringing leavened bread products into hospitals on Passover is still awaiting decisions by the High Court of Justice. But already, some people have found new ways to abuse non-Jewish and secular people visiting the hospitals, one of the most sensitive public venues of all. After all, Sabbath-observant Jews won’t use the machines if they consider their use forbidden on Shabbat.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern has asked the city’s mayor, Moshe Leon, to order the removal of the rainbow flags hung along the route of the planned Gay Pride Parade. “I know that legally, the mayor has no power to prevent the parade,” Stern wrote. So he merely asked Leon to stop the flags from flying so that he would “remove this shame from among us.”

Needless to say, there’s nothing harmful about the flag itself. Its rainbow stripes are merely the logo, the visual representation, of an idea the rabbi disagrees with. But he has no tolerance even for this symbol, because ultimately we’re talking about something that’s “forbidden by the Torah.”

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 29Haaretz

In the schools, as Channel 12 News has reported, the warmer weather is once again putting the focus on dress codes for girls. Now, the boys, to measure the length of their shorts, aren’t being asked to stand straight with their hands at their sides. They aren’t being asked “to respect the religious students” or not “to stir the interest of members of the opposite sex,” as one 12th-grade girl, Re’ut Beit Halachmi, told the Mako website.

And now, the post of justice minister has become vacant. The chairman of the National Union party, Bezalel Smotrich, is demanding that the prime minister give him this job, one of the most important positions in Israel’s democracy, so he can make far-reaching changes to the judicial system.

“Israel, the state of the Jewish people, will with God’s help once again be run the way it was in the days of King David and King Solomon,” he told the public radio station Kan Bet. “The Jewish people is a special people, a people that received the Torah and must live a Torah life.”

These are four examples just from the past week. To borrow a phrase from my colleague Ron Cahlili in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition this week, this is what “bogus religionization” looks like, though he added that “diehard secular people must understand that they aren’t the crown of creation. They’re just another tribe in the Israeli mosaic, and if they want to force their views on the entire Israeli public, they’ll remain alone in the dark.”

But there’s no such thing as secular coercion. Nobody forces his neighbor to eat nonkosher meat, travel on Shabbat, eat on Yom Kippur, eat leavened bread on Passover or get married without a rabbi. Coercion has always been a one-way street.

The darkness you warn of is indeed worrying. It’s descending slowly on the Jews’ state and threatening to turn it into a Jewish state, plain and simple. Traditional Jews are the ones who must wake up before we all find ourselves alone in the dark.