Interesting recent Q&A at Rosner’s Domain with Leora F. Batnitzky, Chair of the Department of Religion at Princeton University and author of “How Judaism Became a Religion: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought.” One topic of conversation, how Judaism is heavily politicized in Israel and depoliticized in Israel.
How does the Jewish State change the relations between religion, nationality and culture in the Jewish world? Are we witnessing two contradictory interpretations of Judaism - namely, Israeli Judaism and Diasporic Judaism?
I do think we are witnessing two different, though perhaps not entirely contradictory, forms of Judaism in Israel and the diaspora. I’d say they are two sides of the same spectrum. Put far too simply, Judaism is highly politicized in Israel and highly depoliticized in the diaspora. In Israel, Judaism is matter of public, national concern, while in the diaspora Judaism is largely relegated to the private sphere. However, these two forms of modern Judaism do share important features with one another (which is why they remain on the same spectrum).
First, Israel is a modern nation state. Arguments about the role of Judaism in Israeli public life as well as controversies over the power of religious authorities in Israel take place within the framework the modern state which, in theory at least, protects individual rights as well as the rights of minorities. So long as Israel remains a democratic state, there will always be a productive tension between highly politicized forms of Judaism and the political reality of the state.
Second, the largest diaspora community in the world today exists in the United States, which is different from the modern European context that gave birth to the idea of depoliticized Jewish religion. In the U.S., religion enters public discourse in many messy ways. This can make some forms of American Judaism less private, and more public.
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