Prof. dr. Menachem Lorberbaum is senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, has a doctorate in philosophy from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is founding chairperson of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Hebrew Culture Studies. He specializes in questions of political theory and the religion-state-politics relations in the Jewish tradition.
At the Opening of the Academic Year 2005-2006, on 4 September 2005, Menachem Lorberbaum gave a lecture with the title Can Israel be both a Jewish and a Democratic Society?
Below you will find an essay by him in which he extensively gives the arguments why he answers “Yes” to the question in the title of his lecture. He also demonstrates how these ideas can be put into practice.
RELIGION AND STATE IN ISRAEL
The problem of religion and state has plagued the politics of the state of Israel since its creation. It has been a constant source of destabilization of Israeli coalition politics, given especially the tiebreaker role assumed by Orthodox parties such as the National Religious Party, the ultra-Orthodox Agudah and more recently, Sephardi Orthodox Shas party. The disproportionate power amassed by Orthodox parties, and their manner of wielding it in terms of budgetary allocations and legislation, have long been perceived by secular Israelis as political blackmail. But the coalitional politics of religion in Israel are indicative of a much deeper cultural rift. Indeed, the cultural divide in Israel is rooted in the very foundational moments of the Zionist movement and its pre-state congresses. Zionism was a movement of Jewish national rejuvenation initiated by mostly secular, yet nationally committed, Jews. The very legitimacy of secular Zionism, and by extension the very legitimacy of its progeny – the state of Israel conceived of in worldly, not religious terms -has been an anathema to many religious Jews (regardless of denomination) for decades. It is the crux of Jewish identity politics.
Read the complete text (pdf).