How Jewish should the Jewish state be?

Sergey Ponomarev / NY Times)
The question shadows the upcoming Israeli election.

By David Halbfinger | The New York Times | Sep 12, 2019

This election was supposed to be a simple do-over. . . . Instead it has become what Yohanan Plesner, president of the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute, calls ‘a critical campaign for the trajectory of the country.’

For years, the resentment had been building.

In Israel, Jewish men and women are drafted into the military, but the ultra-Orthodox are largely exempt. Unlike other Israelis, many ultra-Orthodox receive state subsidies to study the Torah and raise large families.

And in a country that calls itself home to all Jews, ultra-Orthodox rabbis have a state-sanctioned monopoly on events like marriage, divorce and religious conversions.

A series of political twists has suddenly jolted these issues to the fore, and the country’s long-simmering secular-religious divide has become a central issue in the national election on Tuesday.

In a country buffeted by a festering conflict with the Palestinians, increasingly open warfare with Iran and a prime minister facing indictment on corruption charges, the election has been surprisingly preoccupied with the question of just how Jewish — and whose idea of Jewish — the Jewish state should be.

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