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Religious Coercion in Israel?

Translated into: Kfiah Datit.

Kfiah: coercion/force

Datit: Religious.


Israel was founded with the unique challenge of integrating diverse religious communities, primarily Judaism, into a modern democratic state. This challenge has manifested in various ways over the years.


The intertwining of religion and politics has been a complex and contentious issue, giving rise to instances of religious coercion.


The tension between the Orthodox community and the secular parties finds its roots (among many other reasons) in the Status Quo (1947) when Ben Gurion promised the Agudat Israel* party to maintain certain Jewish laws to guarantee the Jewishness of the State.


One of the most notable examples of religious coercion in Israel is the influence of Orthodox Judaism on matters of personal status, such as:

  • marriage,

  • divorce,

  • conversion,

  • Activity on Shabbat.


The Orthodox Chief Rabbinate holds significant authority over these issues, and alternative streams of Judaism, as well as those who identify as closer to secularity, often find themselves subject to the Orthodox interpretation of religious law.


The following examples led to tensions between religious and secular segments of the population.


  • Using cars on Shabbat and holidays in certain areas,

  • Opening businesses and public areas during Shabbat,

  • Working on Shabbat,

  • Selling Hametz (non-kosher food for Pesah) during Pesah,

  • Using Hametz in some places during Pesah,

  • The Kashrut Permission for restaurants,

  • Marriages.


Many secular Israelis, who see themselves as part of the modern working class, find these restrictions particularly coercive since many of them pertain to Shabbat, their sole day off during the week.


The sense of constraining their freedom of movement is strong.


In response to these restrictions, some municipalities are granting specific approvals for businesses to operate on Friday evening and Shabbat.


As for marriages, numerous Israelis opt for civil ceremonies in foreign countries, with Cyprus being a common choice, as a strategy to wed without adhering to Rabbinic Law.


On the flip side, certain orthodox parties discuss "Kfiah Hilonit" (secular coercion). This term refers to the perception that secular individuals discriminate against religious people based on their lifestyle, clothing, thoughts, and a desire to impose initiatives contrary to Jewish Law. There is testimony in Hebrew available on this YouTube link.


Indeed, some secular individuals express a sense of consistently facing restrictions from the religious community, which they feel doesn't actively engage in the economic and defense challenges of the country. One of the most blatant topics mentioned by the seculars is the military exemptions of certain religious groups.


To extend your understanding on that matter, you can read this short article about the full cart and the empty chart, describing the burden-sharing religious and secular visions in Israel.


The delicate balance between religion and statehood continues to evolve as Israel grapples with questions of identity, pluralism, and the role of religion in shaping its future.

*Hassidic party that emerged in the early 20th century.

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