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Separation of Church and State In Israel – Has its time come?

There are many arguments we can make for a movement toward separation of church and state in Israel. Living in a country that goes to great length to ensure the separation of the two can certainly lead to a bias, but that does not mean we should ignore the question.

Some of the reasons for separating religion and government have to do with one group’s religious imposition on others. Interestingly, in Israel, the only group that suffers from the lack of separation of religion and government are Jews. Israel does not impose any religious laws on its Christian or Muslim citizens, just its Jews.

Therein is the rub, at least for liberal western Jews because the current standard of Judaism within the Israeli government is ultra-Orthodox.

We have seen controversies related to conversions, marriage and even burials. The ultra-Orthodox have complete control and autonomy over these issues as well as issues like kashrut and prayer at the kotel.

Attempts by the courts to circumvent the Rabbanut are met with sneaky ways of punishing businesses and institutions. A hotel that allows a group of Reform or Conservative Jews to use its synagogue for egalitarian prayer might suddenly find it has lost its kashrut supervision contract.

This week, in anticipation of Passover there was an interesting article about a court case related to hospitals in Israel. In Israel most hospitals’ main kitchens are kosher so they can accommodate all potential patients both religious and secular. During the year no one stops family members from bringing in outside food to their family members who are patients in the hospital. But for the last couple of years on Pesach the security guards at the entrances to hospitals; normally there to protect people from terrorists, have been asked to check bags not for bombs, but for chametz.

When the hospitals were challenged in court by secular Jews and non- Jews over this policy, the courts sided with the hospitals. To be honest I am not really sure how I feel about this. Is this yet another example of one version of Judaism imposing its restrictions on others or do the hospitals have a fair and logical basis to ban chametz even from those for whom it does not matter or even apply?

What do you think? There is a link to the article below.

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