Why are millennials against organized religion


Daniel Mahla

Dr. Daniel Mahla is a research assistant at the Chair of Jewish History and Culture at LMU Munich and coordinator of the Center for Israel Studies. Dr. Daniel Mahla has taken over the coordination for this issue.

Two important basic laws define Israel as both a Jewish and a democratic state. The questions of how these two principles are compatible with one another, to what extent religious guidelines should be decisive in public space and how membership of Judaism is defined are lively discussed in a broad spectrum from ultra-orthodox to national religious to secular social groups.

The religious status quo regulates the presence of religion in public space. For example, kitchens in government institutions must be kosher. An inspector checked a catering company in 2016. (& copy Reuters)

Since the beginning of the Zionist project, the relationship between the national movement and the religious aspects and actors of Judaism has been tense and conflictual. This is also due to the character of Jewish group affiliations, which have both religious and ethnic elements. Many of the early Zionists had strayed far from religion and defined their Judaism solely as an ethnic or national affiliation. However, this national identity cannot be completely separated from religious traditions, as it is always based on religious scriptures and concepts - for example from the Hebrew Bible.

The majority of traditional Jews were extremely critical of the young national movement. While a few Orthodox activists in Europe soon joined the religious-Zionist party founded in 1902 in Tsarist Vilna Misrachi ("Spiritual Center"), their opponents created the non-Zionist one in 1912 in Katowice, Silesia Agudat Yisrael ("Union of Israel").

The leaders of the Agudat Yisrael rigorously rejected the idea of ​​a secular Jewish state. On the one hand, classical Jewish end-time ideas reserved such a state for the Messiah. On the other hand, they feared the suppression of religious traditions and authorities in a state controlled by secular politicians. At the same time, however, the plight of the Jews in Europe and their increasing social exclusion in the 1920s and 1930s forced them to support the Jewish settlement system in Palestine. There they politically united with conservative forces in the so-called old Yishuv, the traditional Jewish settlements that had existed in the region for millennia, such as Jerusalem and Hebron.

With the destruction of European Jewry in the Shoah, the representatives of the Aguda their resistance to the establishment of a Jewish state. In the course of the founding of the state, an (in many parts vague) agreement was reached on compliance with fundamental religious principles. They are known today as the religious status quo, all the more important given that Israel does not have a definitive constitution.

The religious status quo
The guidelines of the religious status quo deal with fundamental questions of religious representation in public space. All kitchens in state institutions should be operated according to Jewish dietary regulations and the Sabbath and Jewish holidays should be set as official rest and public holidays. In addition, the continuation of religious education was promised. So to this day, apart from the Arab education system, there is a state-religious and a largely autonomous ultra-orthodox education system in addition to the state-secular one.

Another issue dealt with the jurisdiction of religious courts. According to laws that date back to the times of the Ottoman Empire, Muslim, Christian and Jewish courts of justice are subject to the regulation of civil status and family law. These competencies were retained - and with far-reaching consequences: In Israel there are still no civil, but only religious marriages. However, this prevents couples of different religious origins from entering into marriage. However, as marriages outside Israel are recognized by the state, couples who cannot marry in Israel and many secular Israelis who want to evade the influence of religious courts are increasingly marrying abroad. Another option is the registered civil partnership, which also applies to same-sex couples.

The sovereignty of religious courts of justice also has negative consequences for the position of women. This is especially true for Jewish and Islamic women, as they do not enjoy equality with men. One of the most drastic examples from the Jewish Orthodox area is the fact that, except in a few cases, only the man can initiate the formal process of divorce. This makes wives vulnerable to blackmail or, in extreme cases, binds them to a marriage that they no longer want themselves.

The significance of the religious status quo for Israeli society is judged very differently. While some see this as a lazy compromise that does not satisfy either side, others see it as a social charter which, precisely because of its ambiguity and inaccuracy, enables religious and secular people to live together.

Overall, the status quo has been increasingly called into question since the 1980s. Economic liberalization and individualization have contributed to this, as has the largely non-religious wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union, but also the fact that other Jewish currents are increasingly questioning the orthodox monopoly on religious institutions.