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JewishJournal.com

June 12, 2008

Does military service make an Israeli a Jew?

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/does_military_service_make_an_israeli_a_jew_20080612/

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The ultra-Orthodox, who often opt out of compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces, better hope not. A survey published yesterday in Ynet found that most Israelis thought military service was a greater show of a sincere conversion to Judaism than religious observance.

This is shocking because for a few thousand years, aside from being God’s chosen, the most important element of being Jewish was practicing Judaism. Who is a Jew? That’s a tough question to answer. But how a Jew lives? Until maybe two centuries ago, that was a lot clearer. (Think “Fiddler on the Roof” before “Fiddler on the Roof” and the subsequent “Jewish Century.”)

Of course, times have changed. For the first time in almost 2,000 years, Jews have political sovereignty in Israel, something they have handled less than stellarly. Jews no longer wear kippot and peyot (sidelocks) en masse, davening every day, avoiding treyf and keeping Shabbat. They are Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and, yes, Orthodox. In Israel, many aren’t religious at all. Living Jewish is as much about social values and cultural appreciation and social affiliation as it is about practicing Judaism. And I guess now we can add to that list of defining characteristics the silly notion Michael Chabon fictionalized in “Gentlemen of the Road” (nee: “Jews With Swords”).

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