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Israel as a Jewish state
Visiting Bar-Ilan University academic Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Hayman talks to Shira Sebban about his vision of Israel
ISRAEL should be a moderate religious state based on authentic Jewish rather than borrowed western values, a visiting Israeli educator said this week.
"Separation of church and state is a Western concept based on the assumption that Judaism is a religion, Bar-Ilan University Jewish education and Talmudic studies lecturer Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Hayman told the Australian Jewish News.
"But that's false," he said. "Judaism is our national identity and Halacha is the Jewish national legal system. Israel's system of government is borrowed from non-Jewish nations.
"If China was told to borrow its system from the United States, it would regard the suggestion as ludicrous. Jewish society is spiritual and its goal is to be value-oriented.
"If Israel doesn't develop its public Jewish identity, its right to exist in the Middle East should be questioned. Our claim to the Land of Israel is based on the fact that our Jewish identity asks us to create a highly ethical Jewish society, not just another secular democracy."
But Dr. Hayman stressed that Judaism is not repressive, advocating that a Halachic society be implemented gradually in Israel "so as not to shock anyone". One way would be to follow the recommendation of a group of academics that a second house of parliament be set up in the form of a Sanhedrin, which would work with the Knesset to pass legislation.
In Australia as the guest of the Friends of Bar-Ilan University, Dr. Hayman, who went on aliyah from the United States nine years ago, described Bar-Ilan as "a bridge-building institution which creates a laboratory for sensitive relations between religious and non-religious, Sephardis and Ashkenazis".
Although Yigal Amir - who assassinated Yltzhak Rabin - was a student at Bar-Ilan, no institution should be judged on the basis of one of its members and an external commission had given the university a clean bill of health, he said.
Dr. Hayman accused the Israeli media, which he said was unfairly critical of Bar-Ilan after the Rabin assassination, of being "extremist secularists", trying to destroy the image of Israel's religious population because it felt threatened.
Much of the talk of a religious revival in Israel is media hype, he charged. "When it wants to portray Israel's religious community, the media seeks out extremists. It never portrays the moderate religious majority, which is made up of responsible, balanced individuals."
He was equally scathing of extremist elements within the Charedi community which portray the Zionist state as anti-Jewish. "Charedi society is the flip-side of the secularists; the extremists on each side cause extremism in the other camp, but balance each other out," he said.
"The majority of Israelis have a healthy approach to Jewish identity. The new government was elected in response to the outrageous anti-religious approach of the previous administration, particularly within Meretz. Israel is slowly growing up."
In his capacity as director of Bar-Ilan's Lookstein Centre for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, Dr. Hayman is concerned with the creation of a school system which teaches children to absorb Jewish values. The Centre develops curricula and trains teachers for Jewish schools throughout the world.
"The rotting of Jewish communities around the world is so great that even if there were 10 Lookstein Centres, 10 Melton Institutes and 10 Jewish Agencies, there would be more than enough work for all of us," Dr. Hayman said.
Dr. Hayman took part in last week's Fourth Biennial Conference on Jewish Education in Sydney and this week's public education forum at Kimberley Gardens.