This below started out as a comment responding to a couple of folks who commented on my last post (the quote one, below.) But it got so long-winded that I just decided to post it up here.

I think he’s talking about the fact that in Israeli society, there are generally understood to be two ways of being in relation to Judaism: secular, or dati (religious, ie what we would call traditionally religiously Orthodox.) There aren’t really–with any significance or weight–other Jewish options here. The Refom and Conservative movements have a handful of congregations each, but neither enough to be a real presence, and most certainly are not considered a meaningful option for the vast vast majority of Israelis. And other streams, like Recon or Renewal? Yeah, right. Most people have no idea what Reform Judaism is about (it’s really not taken seriously–it’s erroneously thought of as, like, the rabbi eating a ham sandwich on the bimah at Yom Kippur, some stupid watered-down lame American import) and have never even HEARD of the Conservative movement, (here, called, unfortunately, the Masorti movement–masorti (“traditional”) has a connotation of people who are, shall we say, very casual about observance. It was imho a mistake to use that word to describe Conservative Judaism, esp. if they wanted to be taken seriously here.)

I think he was right about the fact that the Conservative movement would appeal to a lot of Israelis if they knew about it. Because of how religion is parsed here–not because there’s anything wrong with actual Reform Judaism. But nobody knows about it.

What’s significant, I think, is not whether specific denominations get play, but that the denominations represent a more pluralistic understanding of how one can be religiously Jewish. Religion, in the popular imagination here, means (among other things) that men and women pray divided by a mechitza, that women have to be covered up and that they cannot do things like wear a tallis, that being religious means you have to be strict and in denial, that God hates fags, etc. etc. If people had a more American (shades-of-grey) understanding of Judaism here, quite naturally those shades would find their way into practice.

It’s interesting that H. used the phrase “Protestant”. Because someone–I forget who–said famously, and I think that this is right, that Israel is a Catholic country. There’s a big monolithic institution (here, the Chief Rabbinate, and to a lesser degree, Your Local Orthodox Rabbi) that sends out absolutist messages, runs marriages, divorces and the like, and dissent isn’t considered part of the program–you don’t like what you’re being offered, you can leave the yeshiva, you can consider yourself a “hiloni” (desecrator, the common word for secular here), you can get married in Cyprus. American Jews are Protestant–there’s a much more individualistic sensibility and a greater feeling of choice.

Some interesting statistics:

The big stat that I’ve heard cited often is that the country is 20% religious and 80% secular.

There was another survey, though. Asked more nuanced questions, and we find 13% identify as secular, 27% as Haredi/Dati (religious/ultra-Orthodox), 30% as traditional/religious, and 30% as traditional/secular.

Where is that 60%? It’s reasonable to posit that a lot, if not all, of them might be very spiritually happy spending time in a genre of Judaism that does not have whatever it is that keeps them far from Orthodoxy, whatever it is that makes them identify as “secular” when given the choice between “religious” and “secular.” But they’re not at Reform or Conservative shuls, not at home-grown lay-lead egalitarian minyanim, not at study sessions and mostly not making any communal connections of this sort. They just don’t bother showing up. Not-religious equals secular. I don’t have an agenda about making people identify with a particular movement. But I think the numbers are reflective of a more pervasive mentality, and that’s the part that’s so sad. Like when secular Jews think I’m wearing tzitzit to say f-you to the “real” Jews, and not because there are lots of ways to be a Jew, and I’m engaging in one of them.

I think that’s what he meant by pre-denominational. There isn’t a sense that there are things that one might choose from, a sense that there is anything but dati Judaism. Something about needing to know that you have choices and what those choices are before you choose, you know?

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