Opinion |

Religious Indoctrination Isn't the Real Threat in Israel

The settlers have caused Israel much more damage than the Haredim, and nationalism is a lot more dangerous than religious indoctrination

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A Jewish man prays in the settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank on December 18, 2016.
A Jewish man prays in the settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank on December 18, 2016.Credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Whenever a Hebrew Bible fell on the floor, we hastened to pick it up and kiss it. To this day, my bookshelves hold a number of copies of the Bible in varying condition that I was given at different points in my life, and which I never dared to toss. In Bible class, and in Mr. Koliker’s (who later changed his surname to Yakir) Talmud class, we all wore a kippa, which was mandatory, and during tests he would sit at the front with a newspaper that had a not-so-hidden hole he would peek through to see if anyone was cheating.

In elementary school, every day began with an assembly at which we would recite the Torah verse of the day. I remember many by heart, since I was often called on to read aloud. I didn’t always understand them so well, but the texts echoed nicely in the schoolyard.

On Fridays, we wore blue and white and had a Kabbalat Shabbat in class. In second grade, we had our first big ceremony, “the Holiday of the Book,” where the principal gave each of us our first Bible.

We never learned anything about Christianity. Nothing, except for reading A. A. Kabak’s “The Narrow Path.” We never even heard of Islam (or the Nakba). For our bar-mitzvahs we were called up to the Torah at Orthodox synagogues, something that went without saying. All this was in Tel Aviv in the 1960s, in a well-regarded public school with a secular student body, some of them, like me, the children of secular parents. When we were given the task of drawing Joseph’s dream about the seven cows, and I cried all night because one of my cows didn’t come out right, my father drew it for me without having any idea what it was about. My father knew Latin well, but he could hardly tell the difference between Purim and Passover.

Naftali Bennett wasn’t yet born, and the Hebrew word hadata (religious indoctrination) wasn’t familiar. We grew up in a more religious atmosphere than we realized, in a country that was more religious than how it sought to present itself. Even now, it is still the most religious country in the world, with the exception of Iran and Afghanistan. A country where even “secular” young people kiss doorposts without a second thought, that is closed down on Yom Kippur and partially shuttered on Shabbat, where nearly all male babies are circumcised and a majority of residents fast once a year, where divorce is only possible through the Chief Rabbinate is a very religious country, even without any hadata.

The outcry by secular parents over hadata is a few generations late. The school system was more religious and coercive back when I was young. These days you don’t have to wear a kippa in Bible class and you don’t recite a daily verse in morning assembly. The revolution that the education minister and his party minions are trying to foment is much more nationalistic than religious, and a lot more dangerous than forcing a kid to wear a kippa. When second-grade glasses are holding celebrations about building the Temple, the objective is more nationalistic than religious.

This is our country. Only ours. We will rebuild the Temple on the ruins of Al-Aqsa. This is the true message of the Temple ceremony. But nationalism arouses much less opposition from secular parents than religious indoctrination does, just as the settlers provoke much less aversion than the haredim. It’s an unfortunate distortion: The settlers have caused Israel much more damage than the haredim, and nationalism is a lot more dangerous than religious indoctrination.

In Israel, the two go hand in hand. Religiosity is employed in the service of nationalism. The deeply destructive sense of being the Chosen People is instilled in us via religion, in the service of racism. Religious justifications are cited for the settlement enterprise for a nonreligious purpose. “Hebron – always was, always will be” is colonialism cloaked in religiosity.

And now parents are upset about a textbook that shows a family with kippas and head-coverings. This is no trivial matter; the fight for Israel’s secularism is important, but the fight against growing nationalism and racism is even more momentous. Bennett doesn’t care if we wear a kippa or not. He wants to establish the second apartheid kingdom, and that’s a lot more dangerous.

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