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David Ben-Gurion's Original Sin

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Jewish worshippers gather before the traditional priestly blessing prayer on the holiday of Passover, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday.
Jewish worshippers gather before the traditional priestly blessing prayer on the holiday of Passover, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

The AM:PM chain of convenience stores isn’t selling oat milk this week. People who are lactose-sensitive or who simply avoid animal products are invited to shop elsewhere. Veganism and allergies are apparently illegal here during Passover. And that’s in a 24/7 chain whose very name boasts maximum availability.

The aspiration for universality never felt so provincial. In Tel Aviv, one can still find plenty of alternatives; in other places, much less so. A guy who wants to enjoy a glass of beer poolside at the Israeli hotel for which he coughed up a month’s salary to take his family on vacation for Passover will have to just forget about it. He can start a support group for Israelis who wake up Saturday in the same hotel, any week of the year, with a hankering for espresso or an omelet.

My South African cousin texted me this week: I’m landing in Israel Friday night on a flight from London. Will there be trains or buses? I had to tell her we live in a country that purports to be a modern, “startup nation,” but it doesn’t have public transportation on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

One day, the Greater Tel Aviv metro and subway will be completed – a project costing billions – and it too won’t run on Shabbat and holidays. It’s still under discussion, but you can be sure that at the moment of truth, the Idit Silman or Nir Orbach of the moment will proclaim to secular Israelis that this is akin to an absolutely inviolable commandment (“This is karet! – a transgression necessitating divine punishment and excommunication for all time, as Silman declared in an interview about her resignation from the coalition, supposedly over concern for Israel’s “Jewish identity” and pitas in hospitals on Passover, though she received lavish promises of a guaranteed Knesset seat and top positions in return).

The Orthodox religious establishment’s stranglehold on the lives of Israelis, from birth through marriage and divorce and until death, is insane. The infringement of individual rights is grave. Secular folks are so numbed and beaten down by now that it is hard to rouse them to really grasp their situation and to fight.

Among them is also a large crowd of “traditional” folks with an instinctive understanding and affection for religious coercion, and in the past decade, trends of self-deprecation in the face of the Orthodox establishment have emerged among thoroughly secular folks.

On the right, it happens because of a political affinity with Haredim, Zionist or not; on the left, guilt feelings and self-loathing that have developed in “multicultural” and “progressive” circles. (These lines, too, will be reduced by some to nonsense along the lines of “Once again, the privileged Tel Avivians are whining about oat milk for their cappuccino while the world burns.”)

The root of all this evil, the original sin of David Ben-Gurion and company, was the failure to separate religion and state. In the ultimate historical reckoning, all of Zionism’s strategic accomplishments – the founding of the state, the victories in the wars for survival, the absorption of millions of immigrants from European and Arab states, the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan – may end up paling in comparison.

This sin of the non-separation of religion and the state is at the root of the entire destructive concept of what constitutes acceptable behavior in public: the chutzpah of imposing religious strictures in the public sphere, of determining what a person can eat and intruding into their personal life, of deciding whether they may ride a bus on Shabbat or be married or buried in the absence of the approved clergy. I haven’t heard of any Jews in Brooklyn, London or Antwerp demanding that trains not run on the weekend, or that bread be kept out of hospitals on Passover.

It’s hard to ignore the obvious connection between all this theocracy and the cyclical madness of the kind that’s happening now with the Temple Mount and the coincidence of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Passover holiday, in which the peace and security of an entire nation become dependent upon the lunatic fringes of both Islam and of Judaism. It is disappointing, it is infuriating, it is thoroughly exasperating.

Sane Israelis are doomed to live their lives under the constant threat of the next reckless outburst of violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque or Joseph’s Tomb, places to which they cannot feel a true emotional connection, and to look on aghast as the magnificent, modern edifice that their ancestors built here slowly but surely sinks due to the mental illness known as organized religion.

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