From Pluralistic rights to What is a Jewish movement to Chiloni rights…. and back.

In the true spirit of the Socratic Dialectic…


Will it be better for Progressive Jews (reform, conservative, reconstructionist – all that good stuff…) in Israel to be accepted by the state as legitimate Jews, or should the true pluralist struggle in Israel be to separate the state from religion all together? What I mean is that there will be no committee that will decide what’s considered a legitimate Jew by the state, rather Israel will just be called a “Jewish state”, and Israel, as a state, will have no say in what’s considered a Jew? Are Progressive Jews in Israel struggling for the wrong thing? Should Israel be, if you will, like the US in this matter? Should Judaism, by this model, just be considered a “culture” or a “people”, and not a religion? Should this be a part of the struggle to allow non religious (Chiloni) weddings in Israel legal? Is Chiloni a legitimate stream of Judaism as well in this struggle?

I would love to hear any comments.



Before you even attempt to discuss what role religion has in the State of Israel, I belive that you have to recognize that the entire discussion depends on how you define Judaism / Jews / Jewish / the Jewish people…

Avram Infeld if famous for his passionate statement “Judaism is NOT a religion. It is a PEOPLE WITH a RELIGION.” I think this is a good starting point. But we need to go one step further. I believe strongly that the most basic definition we can arrive at is that there is this identifiable group of people (Jews) that in addition to the cultures and customs of its peoplehood, happens to have a religion (Judaism) that was instrumental in solidifying its peoplehood-ness {is that a word?!}. It’s this instrumentality that must be recognized and is vital to this dicussion.

Yes, we were a nation before we had a religion injected into our people… but it was that religion which solidified our peoplehood-ness and has allowed us to remain intact for so many millenia. To remove the religion from the people would be a disaster. In short… You can take the people out of the religion, but you can’t take the religion out of the people. (This is a topic for another discussion… not enough room here to delve into it)

With this in mind, I believe that Israel, as a Jewish state, MUST have a certain aspect of religiosity in it. Yes, Israel should be able to rule on who is considered a Jew… but they must do it CAREFULLY. I know this is a somewhat contentious statement. First, let me say what I believe would happen if Israel didn’t have a say in this matter.

If Israel promulagetd a cultural notion of Judaism, it would be very easy for anyone to claim “Hey! My version of Judaism is equally legit” Even in the Reform movment, we strongly denounce Messianic Judaism, Jews for Jesus, and Secular Humanism. I believe that these expressions of Judaism are misguided and do not have a place in Israel. I know that this is similar to the argument that the ultra-orthodox use against the Reform Movement, however I believe that there’s a big difference between the two. Even the Reform Movement draws lines somwwhere… a cultural notion of Judaism in Israel would blur or alltogether erase these lines.

Secondly… If Israel were to espouse a cultural notion of Judaism, it would make it very easy for anti-Zionists and those with anti-Israel sentiments to argue against the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Without the biblical claim to Eretz Yisrael, it becomes very easy to say “Ok, the Jews are a people… but why do they have to have the land of Israel?” or “You know what, without a religion… the Jews really aren’t a people.” Reform Zionism, as a form of religious Zionism, is grounded in some understanding that theology has an influence on our Zionism. (What exactly that theology is… man, I have had some serious debates on that. I think that’s another topic for discussion)

So how does the State maintain some aspect of religiosity, without being discriminatory? It’s a very delicate balance. To be truly democratic, Israel must recognize the three (four?) major movements in modern Jewry and invite them to the table in determining what the religious policy of the State should be. NOW… I’m not naive. I know that the reality of such a discussion taking place is slim to none – thanks in great part to the fracturing divisiveness of the ultra-orthodox. But I do believe that if Israel is to remain democratic, while acknowledging the necessity of some dose of religion, such a discussion is painfully necessary.

Perhaps there should be both a political knesset and a religious knesset. A religious knesset wouldn’t have unwavering powers, but it would at least provide a forum for discussion and a system of checks and balances in religious matters.

Furthermore… if a Jew in Israel chooses to be secular… so be it. As long as they’re not espousing beliefs antithetical to Judaism (i.e. messianic Judaism, Jews for Jesus, etc.) that decision is theirs to make. I may not disagree with the choice, but it’s not my choice to make. If the state should recognize the major worldwide Jewish movements (which it must), then it also needs to recognize that the vast majority of its Jewish constituents are secular. It needs to stop disenfranchizing these Jews and find a way for them to feel comfortably Jewish within the Jewish state. Non-religious Jewish weddings must therefore be permitted (as long as it’s two Jews getting married… if it isn’t, then it should be a secular wedding).

Should “chiloni” be considered a legitimate movement in Israel? That’s a tough question. Should “apathetic” be considered a legitimate political party in Canada or the U.S.? I know it’s an option on facebook, but… No, I don’t think being secular should be considered a legitimate movement. By that, I mean that while those who choose to be secular shouldn’t be disenfranchised of rights, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they automatically get official recognition as a religious movement. I think it’s similiar to trying to create a non-political political party. It’s anachronistic. Yes, the chiloni are an identifiable group of people within Judaism, but are they a religious group of people? Choosing to be secular is a religious choice, but does making that choice automatically entitle you to the status of a religious movement. My inclination is to say no, but I’m not entierely sure yet.

Wow. I know that was a lot. And I know that some of what I said is potentially controversial and provocative. And that’s good. Please challenge me on these things, and if I’ve been unclear in anything, it’s only because I didn’t want to add even more to my posting. If I’ve been unclear, please ask me to elaborate on what I’ve said.

I feel better now dumping that all out of my brain. I’ve been mulling over this for a while. And I think I’ve found the topic for a master’s thesis

Balance… it’s all about balance.


In recent years, there have been more and more “chiloni” batei midrash in Israel – these are people, regular secular Israelis, who are interested in learning about the roots of their religion and customs. This is not a reform bait midrash – it’s people caring about their religion, but choosing to either not believe in it, not practice it, or not be a part of any “movment” type religion. Is this a stream in Judaism in your opinion?

Last year I helped lead Shabbat services for an unaffiliated Taglit group. We did a Reform service (Guitar and all… I even wore my nice shirt…). As you probably know, each Taglit group is accompanied for a few days by Israeli soldiers. After services three soldiers came to me SHOCKED about what they just saw. Up until that point they were having fun with the group, but the service they just saw was wrong and not Jewish for them. They were all secular Israelis, never go to synagogue in their regular lives, but could not except Reform Judaism as legitimate Judaism. They saw it as a sin. Now, of course, this is a big educational challenge for us (and the for the IMPJ) and it reminds me of a common saying amongst Israeli Reform activists: The problem for them is that the Shul most Israelis don’t go to is an Orthodox one – that is to say, they may not be religious, but they are definitely considering themselves Jewish and respect the (Orthodox) religion. In a few years when they will (be’ezrat hashem 🙂 ) get married – they will probably do an orthodox wedding. They probably won’t understand what they are saying or what the Rabbi is saying, but it will be a legitimate Orthodox Jewish wedding. Do you see this type of Israelis as secular (just reminding you – they never go to shul. Not even on high holidays!) or orthodox?


To me, a secular beit midrash is not unlike the classes I take in university.

I’ve studied Tanakh and Near Eastern Literature, Rabbinic Judaism, Sex & Violence in the Tanakh, Feminist perspectives of the Tanakh, Biblical Traditions, Jewish History, Jewish Symbiosis…. just to name a few.

Because these classes are not taught with a theological or religious thrust (rather, through a socio-historical, literary, philosophical, and cultural paradigm), I would assume (correct me if I’m wrong) that they are approached in much the same manner that a secular beit midrash would teach these topics.

It’s important to care about your history and culture. But unless you believe/practice some form of religious Judaism… I don’t think you can classify what you do as a movement. (I’m using the general “you”)

I’m back to what I said before… just because a large group of Jews does the same thing, it doesn’t make them a religious movement. If a large group of Jews decided to adopt Buddhist meditation practices, would that make Jewish-Buddhist practices a religious stream?

Some of this might be semantics, but I think we have to be very careful about what we classify as a religious movement. We can’t be universalistic and just toss a name out to every group of people that starts doing something.

I’m liking this discussion… it’s got me tossing out a lot of stuff I’ve been pondering for a while.


If you get out of the “traditional” way of looking at a “movement”, that is, an organized organization (the Reform movement = the Union for Reform Judaism), but look at it as a phenomena, will it then be something you would call a movement. If millions of Jews in Israel believe in this “Chiloni Judaism” (which is really nothing like your typical secular Jew in North – America, is it?), will you ignore it by saying its not an important enough ACTUAL MOVMENT OF PEOPLE, that needs its own treatment? Will you look at them just as “non religious Jews”, or are they more then that?

Just a side note – I remember a columnist a few years ago wrote that when she needs to consult her Rabbis, she goes to the “Admori”m” of the “Chilonim” – A.B. Yehushua and Amos Oz…

I’m glad you like this discussion, so do I. It is for sure things I need to think about more. And for that matter – I guess like you, I’m not necessarily saying my definite opinion, I just do what I always do – Just raising the questions…


By movement, I do mean phenomena. The organizational attachement (i.e. URJ, USCJ, OU) isn’t necessary to be considered a movement. Jews for Judaism are a phenomena. Jewish-Buddhists are a phenomena. Messianic Jews are a phenomena. Jews who agree with Meir Kahane are a phenomena. Where I start asking questions is when we start calling certain phenomena a “religious” movement.

By virtue of the fact that the chiloni call themselves “non-religious,” I don’t beleive they can be considered a religious movement. I go back to one of my original statements – what would it be like if a group of political apathists got together and organized themselves. This would certainly be deemed a phenomena. But are they a political movement?

Even the choice to be apolitical is a political choice. Likewise, even the choice to be non-religious is a religious choice. But there are no apolitical political parties. It’s anachronistic and an oxymoron. Likewise, a non-religious religious movement is anachronistic.

So even once I get away from the traditional way of looking at a movement, I still find that the chiloni cannot be considered a religious movement. They are most certainly a phenomena (with no insult intended whatsoever in saying so) but I would not group them in with other religious movements; organizational, or otherwise.

This all being said, I would not ignore the people themselves or consider them unimportant. Does the chiloni phenomena need its own treatment? I’m not sure why they would. I’m not sure what type of treatment they are seeking.

But I would not group the chiloni phenomena/movement in with the other religious movements, as I belive that it would be somewhat of an oxymoron (I need to find a better word) for the reasons I’ve laid out above.


One thought on “From Pluralistic rights to What is a Jewish movement to Chiloni rights…. and back.

  1. Sarah W says:

    hi, i’m sarah, first of all, and i got to your blog from david singer/aaron taylor/the new york people. i’m a long story. also, i met dotan a couple of times when i was on EIE last semester (spring 06). the shaliach, nachon?
    i’m not sure i understand why it’s so important to you to distinguish between a religious movement and a jewish movement. if the chiloni are a jewish movement (movement being defined in the phenomena, not organizational sense), i believe that in a JEWISH state (my ultimate goal for israel, as opposed to a religious jewish state) they should have equal rights not related to the shul they do or do not go to. i agree with you that jewish religion has been instrumental in maintaing strong jewish diaspora communities for 2000 years. now that we have modern israel though, i am lost as to why religion MUST be an element of that state. i think that a “secular jew” where i live now in minneapolis, MN is a whole different creature from a secular jew on kibbutz tzuba- conciously choosing to be a part of a jewish community that manifests its jewishness culturally and in its ethics rather than its observance of shabbat or prayer routines…and i think that a jewishly educated chiloni “movement” in israel should be the ultimate goal for the current chiloni who seem to be either lost or bitter towards or disinterested in jewish religion whether or not it is something they would want to practice anyways.

    okay, that could be more well thought out. does the basic idea come through?

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