Earlier this July, the city of Ramat Gan, Israel passed legislation that would allow public transportation to operate on Shabbat, the Jewish holy day of rest, a day traditional Jewish practice teaches it is forbidden to drive. The move drew large rebuke from Orthodox politicians.
Many of Israel’s official laws are based on religion. Israeli laws sanction private entities with heavy taxes for violating Shabbat and they require businesses to be issued work permits if they want to operate on Saturday. There are some in the Israeli parliament that envision a state which forbids non-kosher food or any other violation of Jewish law.
Tel Aviv, the cultural center of Israel, harbors the most anti-religious sentiments in the country. It is the most liberal area of Israel and is one that constantly challenges the Orthodox religious establishment.
When I was in Israel earlier this summer, I saw some artistic graffiti in Tel Aviv. There were many beautiful pieces including murals, cartoons and patterns. But the one piece that most caught my attention was a graffiti line that read, “if I forget you, Jerusalem, it is because of Tel Aviv.”
The graffiti is a parody of Psalm 137, one of the most famous verses in the book of psalms: “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand cease to function. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I don’t remember you.” The verse is read aloud in every Jewish wedding. It reminds Jews to never forget their roots and to constantly recognize their Jewish identity.
So what is the message of the parodied graffiti? One interpretation is this: the greatest danger to the Jewish religion is not an external threat but rather an internal one. The fear is that Judaism will seek to exist because Jewish secularism will overtake the Jewish religion. It’s a reasonable fear to have. But the remedy to alleviate this fear is not to impose religion. In fact, forcing the practice of religion is a catalyst for ensuring this prediction will come true.