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Who’s Disappearing?

David Ben Gurion knew that one of the most difficult problems that would face the reborn Israel would be the reconciling of the religious and secular communities. Just months before the founding of the state in 1948, Ben Gurion reached an agreement with the religious parties which the secular party accepted. It guaranteed the observant that certain minimum standards of a religiously oriented society would be maintained. This became known as the “Status Quo.”

Neither group was happy, but both sides accepted it thinking that it would only be temporary and within a short time the other side would disappear. Haim Shapiro, an Israeli journalist writes, “The secular believed that in a free Jewish state, the religious would cast off their old superstitions, while the religious believed that in a truly Jewish state, the secular would see the error of their ways.”. . .

Though the political establishment generally maintained the status quo, in the last few years the secular activists have taken their fight to the Israeli Supreme Court. Though they have won many of their cases it did not produce the results they were after. If the Israeli bureaucracy did not frustrate the ruling of the courts, the religious parties succeeded with new legislation that effectively neutralized the opinion of the judges. . .

The religious parties have supported the major players in the past based on the promised concessions they would make to the religious community demands. If current trends continue, it is not inconceivable that the religious coalition could become the leading party in the nation within the next ten years.

Signs of Change

Signs of religious renewal in Israel are by no means confined to the political spectrum, which in itself could be very suspect. There are two major sectors of the Israel-Jewish community that present strong evidence of what is happening. They are the military and the sports/entertainment world.

The military presents the most dramatic evidence of change. The image of the Israeli soldier until now was the Zionist pioneer with his sun-darkened skin, who sacrificed everything to reclaim the land and at the same time was willing to lay down his life in repelling the hostile Arab armies. In contrast there was the pale-faced yeshiva student, personifying physical weakness, living in his own spiritual world and refusing military service.

A report from the head of the Israel Defense Forces manpower division changes this picture. It declared that “the motivation of religious soldiers far exceeds that of their colleagues.” It also said that an increasing percentage of officers and those serving in the elite combat units are religious. . .

Several of Israel’s leading entertainers were among the first public figures to declare their return to the observant life of Judaism. Now several of the top sports stars of the country are studying in yeshivas and seeking to move sporting events from the Sabbath to other days of the week.

Religious rallies, which could be seen as the Jewish version of a Billy Graham crusade, are being held monthly from the northern border to the Negev. They are held in the largest stadiums and auditoriums to overflow crowds. One journalist wrote, “Something significant is happening to the role of religion in the State of Israel,” and another declared, “Something is stirring."