Separating Synagogue & State in Israel? Is it Possible?

a Political Observation from Jerusalem...

by Uri Marcus

Israeli, unique amongst the nations of the world by design, has, as you might expect, many unique problems and challenges. One such challenge encountered by other western democratic nations and handled with significantly more success than in Israel, involves the mechanics of implementing the separation of church (or Synagogue in our case) and State. Many western liberal democracies for the most part consider this separation basic to their constitution and with almost fanatical commitment, will spare no resource to protect the sanctity of the State from any influence which might creep in undetected from its religious institutions.

But in Israel... could or should this type of separation ever be achieved? If so, would it work to produce benefit fro all of Israel's 6,000,000+ inhabitants? The answer, as I hope you will see, is "NO." Israel cannot divorce its religion from its nationality, or its race from its religion. All three come in one package, inextricably bound together, because they form the basic building blocks of what defines us as a peculiar people. The same leads us to discover the as yet unanswered age-old question, "What or Who is a Jew?" In Israel, democracy must take a back seat to our own identity. Other wise Israel by definition would simply cease to exist. Israel must be Jewish first, and democratic second.

Our most recent elections reflect this phenomenon.


On May 17th, as the whole world knows, Israel held early elections for the office of Prime Minister and his Government. This is the second time there has been a direct election for this office in our modern election history, and whatever newly formed government which might emerge in the coming weeks, it will do so as part of Israel's 15th Knesset.

Ehud Barak of the One Israel Party (a new party primarily composed of the old Labor Party) won a clear victory over incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu. There were originally 5 candidates running. The race was expected to go into a runoff, but because Netanyahu was looking stronger than expected near the end of the campaign, three of the candidates dropped out of the race at the last moment, giving Barak the decisive victory in the first round.

But what will his victory mean for the Messianic Community in Israel? How will it affect our "Democracy," and how will it affect our "Jewish" State. To answer this, we'll need to take a look at some background in the political morass found within the Land...


With regard to the formation of Israel's 15th Knesset, in our last election Israel's electorate made their choices among 32 parties that were competing for 120 Knesset seats. This reveals the degree of splintering and polarization of our ideals which are tearing the very fabric of our society apart.

Because we are a society which as a whole, does not recognize the validity of our own Torah either for ourselves or for the rest of the world (see BaMidbar [Num] 15:16), every man is doing and thinking what is right in his own eyes. In our political spectrum last month, we had everything represented from a "Casino" Party vs a "legalize Marijuana" party to a "National Religious" Party vs a "National Secular" party. I do not believe any other society could withstand the internal strife that this nation is currently experiencing, without totally self-destructing. In fact, the same would be our fate, if it were not for the Word of the L-rd through the mouth of the Prophets to preserve Israel's enduring role in the world, as a nation which cannot be destroyed.

The very existence of Israel "no matter what" brings objective proof to the world of the existence and faithfulness of One G-d, against whom, despite all the forces of hell being arrayed against Israel, cannot manage to destroy the apple of His eye.

Yet, in a baffling display of asynchronous behavior, corruption and "blind" politics in our nation continue to be order of the day. Every means seems to justify the ends, especially if it will produce a greater number of Knesset seats for a given Party.

As an prime example, Aryeh Deri's Shas party increased their representation in the Knesset from 10 to 17 seats at the polls. Yet, this followed right on the heals of Deri's conviction in a 5-year criminal court battle, in which the State of Israel initiated charges of corruption and bribery against him! Deri was sentenced to 4 years in jail, the same which is now on appeal. But to this day, Deri is still a free man, still the head of Shas, and has yet to serve a single day in jail. As icing on the cake, he is currently in coalition negotiations with Barak! If they become part of Barak's coalition, and receive the portfolio of the Ministry of the Interior (which amongst other things controls immigration of Messianic Jews) as a result, as has always been in the past, things will get much worse for the Believers in the Land. But more on that in a moment.

The not-so-funny thing about Israel, is that when it sins, it does so big-time. We do it in such a way that the whole world sits up and takes notice, and it makes front page news in every major newspaper around the world. One day, Israel's righteousness will return and have the same effect. But for now, as if corruption were not enough, the mud slinging which went on between the parties, as expressed in their nationally televised campaign commercials leading up the elections, was unbelievable.

Those who would never give back the Land cursed those who would, and vice versa. Netanyahu cursed Barak and Barak cursed Netanyahu... publicly! The secular public cursed the religious public, and vice versa.

If Barak's newly formed government, when it becomes a reality, does end up giving back parts of the Golan, Yehuda and Shomron (Judea/Sameria) and Aza, it wouldn't surprise me because in the past G-d has judged our nation's grievous sins by reducing the size of our borders. Is it not written in our Torah "Do not curse G-d and you shall not denigrate (or defame) the ruler of your people" (Shm'ot [Exodus] 22:28)?

One thing is for certain. The G-d of Israel must drive this nation to our knees so that we will repent and seek Him and His wisdom and His strength. It may be that the only way to accomplish this will be through the inevitable results of our own corruption... the terrible judgment of trading Land for so-called "peace."


In the midst of our judgements, the Torah still graciously speaks. It beckons a call back to our Husband and Master. It bids us to take hold of the protection we so desperately need.

In our Torah Portion this week "Korach" (BaMidbar 16:1-18:2), read and studied in synagogues the world over, the story of Korach's rebellion is retold. The same haughty confusion couched in terms of spirituality and "social sensibility" (i.e. "liberal democracy") which was voiced by Korach and his followers, is afoot today in Israel in no small way, as our so-called leaders each compete for the loyalties of the nation. The common denominator is that today, just as in desert 4,000 years ago, the rebellion wants desperately to unseat Moshe, and do away with G-d's Torah. "You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the L-RD is with them. Why then do you set yourself above the L-RD's assembly?" (BaMidbar 16:3), Korach cried.

Korach correctly understood that one day, as the Talmud teaches, human development will resemble a circle in which everyone will be equidistant from G-d, with no need for a Chief Rabbi or leader to teach us about G-d (Yermiyahu [Jer] 31:34).

Tractate Ta'anit in the Talmud relates "In the days to come, G-d will hold a circle for the righteous. He will sit in their midst in the Garden of Eden, and everyone will point with his finger towards Him..."

The only problem is that Korach didn't realize that this stage of "circularity" is reserved for the world to come, during the Messianic Age. In the meantime, we are expected to pay attention to the Divine Revelation at Sinai which places society on a lineal path instead. Korach mocked Moshe because he could not accept Moshe's timing and prerequisite (Torah Instructions) which points the way to the new circular reality that G-d will reveal and bring to pass at the end of days.

Israel today has likewise been trying to circumvent this prerequisite ever since our days in the desert, even despite the ill-fated end that awaited Korach. Various "religious/charismatic/political" figures in Israel would claim today that the circular model has already been enacted and therefore the linear Torah can be seen as superfluous, having already been superceded.

It is no secret that much of Christianity today makes the same claim with regard to our Torah (which is also yours whether you realize it or not). But, the fact is that they, as well as the Jewish People today, are still in the desert. We are surrounded by a linear reality replete with successes and failures, progress and retrogress, leaders and followers, the righteous and the sinners. The operative commandment for us today is "you shall become Holy." ViYikra (Lev) 11:45.

We are a people of becoming, not yet of being. Moshe understood. Korach did not.


After 51 years of living in a state-of-war in which 25 of the 27 moslem nations of the world still refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist, the Israeli people, though desperate for peace, will not achieve peace, except by direct intervention of our G-d and His Mashiach. The call for repentance must go forth, so that the G-d of Israel will be issued this invitation to intervene.

Pray, therefore, how you might support the Believing Remnant in this Land so that they might muster all of their resources, and even the ones which they do not yet possess, so that this work can continue unimpeded. The Nehemiah Fund stands as a channel through which your support can reach the Saints in Jerusalem and through-out Israel. If you don't already know about us, write, and we'll give you details about how you can take part in this most urgent mission.

As time marches on, the key and the crux to the whole conflict is, and has always been--Jerusalem, the City of the Great King. HaSatan desperately wants to get this real estate out of Israeli hands, and rid it of the presence of the Believing Remnant, which will thus delay the plan of G-d to have the Mashiach return to Jewish soil, and be seated on the Throne in Tzion, from where He will rule the whole earth. Politicians may present their best attempts to divide Yerushali'im, but these attempts will fail in the end, as the Prophet Zechariyahu has already foreseen (Zech 12-14). Since the ultimate lines will be drawn around Jerusalem, we may not be far from chapter 12:2-3, when all the nations will march against Jerusalem.

Once the coalition and establish of Barak's new government is solidified, then the pressure will begin. Since Arafat will demand everything, and no one will be able to satisfy his demands with regard to "a piece" of Israel (since he seeks nothing short of the total annihilation of the Jewish State, which his speeches in Arabic clearly call for), at some point a line will be drawn which he cannot cross. He will undoubtedly resort to some sort of violent maneuver. President Clinton, in this scenario, will jump on the bandwagon from Washington, the UN and NATO will join in, and the pressure will be on the Elect from all sides. Its already begun. Reported recently in the Hebrew Press was the following:


Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak's draft guidelines for governing Israel include both a commitment not to build new Jewish communities on disputed land, and not to dismantle those already existing.

The document states that "until the status of the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is determined in the framework of a final peace accord, no new settlements will be established and existing ones will not be harmed."

And Yet, the call for an end to economic benefits available to Jewish residents of the settlements [of which myself and my family are entitled to, as residents of the Judean community of Ma'aleh Adumim] has already been placed on the agenda when the new Knesset convenes.

Many of the draft guidelines are generalized and vague, reflective of the fact Barak's coalition is not yet formed. But, one of the more specific items refers to the low-interest mortgages and tax breaks currently available for some of the 180,000 residents of the Jewish settlements.

Yehudit Tayar, a spokesperson for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea-Samaria and Gaza, whose Hebrew acronym is "Yesha," said in an interview that if Barak were to pursue this guideline, it would fly in the face of his stated intention to unify the country.

"If these benefits are removed only from Yesha [residents], Barak will be excluding us from society," she said. "How can he then talk about unity?"

Tayar said Yesha was the "heartland" of the Jewish people, and that Barak was threatening to "disunify the country on this vital issue."

"A house divided cannot stand. He should strive to unify the country."

No Israeli government would survive the complete dismantling of these communities and evacuation of their inhabitants.

But Palestinian officials reject the continued presence of Jewish Israelis in the areas they want for a future State. This view enjoys support in the wider Arab world too.

"It is a life and death issue," wrote a columnist in the semi-official Jordanian newspaper AL-RAY last week. "Peace, which is now the Arabs' only option, cannot co-exist with settlements."


The new Left-leaning government to be formed is seen by many to have been, among other things, a rejection of religious coercion, increasingly prevalent in Israeli life. The three major religious parties, i.e., Shas, National Religious party and United Torah Judaism, will now have a total of 27 Knesset seats. This is a combined increase from their previous 23 seats.

It has become apparent that the religious parties will insist on legislation adverse to Messianic Believers. The threat is that this will be set as a condition to entering into a coalition agreement. Evidence of this has already come to light.

Last year, a bill was introduced to Knesset for the Prohibition against Preaching to Change Religion (174c). Anyone who preaches with the purpose of causing another person to change his religion would have been liable to three years' imprisonment or a fine of NIS 50,000. However, the bill got lost in the Knesset shuffle, but it is sure to be found again, when the new government is formed.

This represents the luming threat of religious censorship in Israel. The mere consideration of such measures brought into question the freedom of religion guaranteed in Israel's Declaration of Independence. But once again, this would not be out of character for a Nation which considers itself Jewish first, and Democratic second.

With the election of a new Knesset, prominent members of the religious parties have openly declared their intention to introduce further legislation of this type until Messianic Jews will no longer be able to legally practice the moral dictates of our faith in this country. Further, they have threatened to condition their participation in any government on the inclusion of this type of legislation in the next coalition agreement currently underway.

Those who are determined to silence our voice will undoubtedly continue to persecute the Messianic Believers here and threaten life and property to accomplish their goals, as has been their modus operandi to date.

Therefore, do not cease with your prayers and tangible support which can only assist the efforts of the Community of Faith in Israel.

May your week be filled with His presence for good and for blessing,

through Yeshua HaMashaich,

Uri Marcus

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations --Isaiah 58:12

Uri Marcus
The Nehemiah Trustees Covenant Fund
P.O. Box 64
Ma'aleh Adumim, 98100 Israel

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July 10, 1999

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