MK Michaeli: The Role of Secular Jews in the Jewish State & Nation

In this important video (05:23), MK Merav Michaeli responds to the 2017 Western Wall and conversion controversies with a strong message about the essential role that secular Jews play in Israeli society and the Jewish people. She criticizes the ultra-Orthodox influence on Israeli politics and praises secular Judaism as the largest and most successful stream of Judaism, arguing that the Torah and the State of Israeli belong to all Jews equally – regardless of their level of religious observance of where they live in the world. The Hebrew speech is accompanied by onscreen English subtitles, and a full English translation can be seen below from The Times of Israel. Merav Michaeli is a Knesset member in the Labor Party and a former journalist, TV anchor, radio broadcaster and activist.

MK Merav Michaeli Addresses the Essential Role of Secular Jews in Jewish State & Nation

Dear Friends,

For a week now, the country has been raging over the crisis around conversions and (prayer at) the Western Wall. When was the last time we talked about Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Jews, and about secularity, conversion and the Western Wall for an entire week? Because this time, Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox have really got ahead of themselves. Beyond compare. Canceling the new, mixed area of worship at the Western Wall, which was already a bad compromise that left the Western Wall to become an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, canceling all of the conversions that are not done by the Rabbinate, practically saying that there’s no becoming our people unless you go through ultra-Orthodox rabbinical judges from the 15th century? Really got ahead of themselves.

For the past week, we’ve been discussing intensely the roughly five million non-Orthodox Jews in America, and how the Israeli government spat in their faces by making decisions that basically told them to get lost.

But we haven’t talked enough about us. Us secular Jews. We are also a stream in Judaism, which, in Israel, is, in fact, the biggest and most significant stream and the Torah belongs to us just as much as it belongs to them, just like the Western Wall; And when I say, “secular,” it doesn’t mean not believing in God, or not fasting on Yom Kippur, or going to synagogue or lay phylacteries if one wants to do so. I mean, people who decide for themselves how to live their lives, and how to practice and experience their Judaism.

But the ultra-Orthodox establishment doesn’t think so. As far as the ultra-Orthodox establishment — where women are not allowed to pray at the Western Wall and also not allowed to run for parliament — is concerned, we’re a historical accident, a mishap. A report published yesterday examined over one hundred textbooks from the Israeli ultra-orthodox educational system. Briefly, the textbooks say that women’s role is to serve men, the Enlightenment movement and the Zionist movements are a sin, Herzl is evil, the founding fathers of the state of Israel are assimilated Jews whose purpose is to destroy Judaism, and today’s secular Judaism is empty, shallow and treacherous, and will pass soon enough from this world. This is also why they’re currently trying to impose religious content into our schools and kindergartens, as though we are not Jews ourselves.

Frankly, I feel sorry for them. This is exactly what they would call “Tinok shenishba” (“Captured babies”). Captured, and don’t recognize Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Barbra Streisand, Karl Marx, Ben Gurion, Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Golda Meir, Jabotinsky, Paul Simon, Heinrich Heine and also Mark Zuckerberg and the founders of Google – I can go on and on for hours naming great Jews who gave us our name as “the smartest people in the world.” We are the ones who revived Hebrew, our wonderful language – Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and Leah Goldberg and all of our many great writers and poets. The same Hebrew that is spoken today by MK’s Litzman and Gafni and their followers.

Do you know the essence of the Enlightenment and Jewish secularism? Within a span of 150 years, we turned from a persecuted, weak and exiled people into a strong, advanced democratic and unified nation or solidarity. Yes, solidarity. Every Jew around the world has a home with an open door for them/ I mean they still have that open door, as long as we don’t allow Netanyahu to slam it in their faces.

Netanyahu, yes, Netanyahu. Because the problem definitely isn’t the ultra-Orthodox public, it’s the secular politicians who sell us out to ultra-orthodox politics. Selling us for “Nezid Adashim,” for a chair.

The lesson to be learned from what happened this week is that we must raise our heads up high. We always take the moral high road, giving up for the sake of the common good. But it’s time that our schools start teaching about the links between the Jewish Enlightenment movement and the Zionist movement, so that it’ll be impossible to teach that Zionism is only defined by a return to the land that God gave Abraham and Naftali Bennett.

It’s time to understand that secular Judaism is the biggest and most successful stream of Judaism, and we won’t let anyone take that away from us, the same way we won’t let anyone take Judaism away from us. Because the Jewish world is not a 15th century Polish “Shtetl.” The Jewish world includes everyone that defines themselves as Jewish, and all the different ways of being Jewish. Without this diversity, there is no state of Israel and there is no Jewish people. And we won’t let anyone destroy the Jewish people and the State of Israel for cheap politics.