The Basic Law of the Jewish State

The New Knesset’s Mission

Recently, calls for a review of the status-quo in regards to religious matters have been voiced. Indeed so! The time has come to deal with the issue of the Jewish character of the State of Israel, and to regulate the fundamental principles underlying the status-quo in legislation.

Some people maintain that Israeli society is gradually distancing itself from the religious principles that guided the individuals who fixed the status-quo, and in our day and age, it is no longer fitting to impose religious practices by means of legislation, as in the past. However, taking a look at the list of the new Knesset, it is evident that the process is exactly the opposite – society at large understands the need to strengthen the Jewish identity of the State, and the various political parties complied with their wishes by adding religious candidates to their ranks. As a result, there are nearly forty religious Members of Knesset today, and out of several others who are not regarded religious – many consider themselves to be traditional, and openly declare that the Jewish identity of the State is extremely important to them.

Regulating the Jewish Identity of the State in ‘Basic Law’

The time has come to pass a ‘chok yesod’ (Basic Law) regulating the status of Shabbat observance in all government and public frameworks. It is inconceivable that Shabbat, a value so central to the life of our nation, receives expression simply in interim agreements, or municipal bylaws. Just as the value of ‘kavod adam v’heruto’ (human dignity and liberty) is regulated in ‘Basic Law’, and not dependent on the goodwill of each and every decent and moral individual, so too, Shabbat must be regulated in ‘Basic Law’.

Presently existing laws concerning the status of marriage and divorce, according to which family relationships or their annulment are determined by ‘halacha’ (Jewish law) in Rabbinical courts, should also receive the superior status of ‘Basic Law’. After doing so, solutions can be found for personal and exceptional issues in various regulations, but such issues cannot interfere with the State of Israel regulating the sanctity of the family in ‘Basic Law’. Presently, due to personal and exceptional issues, the Supreme Court gnaws away at the status of the Rabbinical courts and Jewish family values, in the name of the ‘Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty’. Regulation of marriage and divorce laws in ‘Basic Law’ will prevent this dangerous erosion.

The well-known ‘Law of Return’ must also be regulated as a ‘Basic Law’, seeing as it is one of the most distinct signs of the State’s Jewish identity, and because it is not a ‘Basic Law’, the Supreme Court gnaws away at, it in the name of democracy.

The observance of ‘kashrut’ (Jewish dietary laws) in government and public institutions should also be regulated in ‘Basic Law’.

The Jewish character of the I.D.F. must also be regulated in ‘Basic Law’, thereby allaying many of the concerns of the hareidi community.

The status of Torah study in yeshiva’s should also be regulated in ‘Basic Law’, as being one of the most essential values of the spiritual rebirth of the Jewish nation in its return to Zion.

Judaism and Democracy

Many representatives of secular society constantly claim that the State of Israel is “Jewish and democratic”. If so, it is unimaginable that the democratic side of the equation receives backing and significance in ‘Basic Law’ and in various other ordinary laws as well, while the Jewish side receives only limited and inferior expression in ordinary law. This imbalance creates a situation in which all legal conflicts between secular, liberal values and Judaism – Judaism is at a disadvantage.

It should be remembered that our Knesset still has the status of a ‘Constituent Assembly’, and consequently, it has the authority to enact Basic Laws, similar to drafting chapters to a constitution.

A committee of distinguished rabbis and legal representatives should be established to prepare a set of basic and ordinary laws, in order to legally regulate the Jewish character of the State of Israel.

The United States and Israel

Some people argue it would be better if all matters concerning Jewish identity were subject to freedom of choice, consistent with the principles of separation of Church and State in Western countries. The most prominent example of this is the U.S., where there is complete separation between religion and state, and at the same time, religion occupies an important place.

In actuality, the U.S. is a completely secular country. True, religion has an important place in the lives of the individuals living there, but as a country, it is secular. This is because the U.S. is a land of immigrants of different nationalities and religions, where the only common denominator is citizenship, and not nationality or religion. In contrast, the State of Israel was established by the Jewish Nation, out of the anticipation of generations of Jews to return the Land of Israel and build there a Jewish state, as envisioned by the Prophets.

The Individual and the Collective

Some people claim it is preferable for all religious matters to be left to freedom of choice, and as proof for this, they bring up the mitzvah of ‘brit milah’ (circumcision), where there is no law requiring one to do so, but nevertheless, over 90% of the public circumcise their sons out of free choice. Their claim, however, is based on a mistaken comparison between the individual and the collective. The mitzvah of ‘brit milah’, as well as ‘Leil ha’Seder’ (Passover evening celebration), are mitzvoth that the individual performs, while Shabbat, family status, the Law of Return, education, etc., are mitzvoth which receive expression in a public and national context, as well.

By nature, all public interests are burdensome on the individual to some extent. Nevertheless, everyone understands that when it comes to essential interests, it is necessary to regulate them in law, and not leave them to the free choice of each individual. Can the health system be based on the willingness of volunteers?! Can road traffic function adequately relying simply on the politeness of drivers?! Can tax collection be left to the goodwill of the citizens?! Education as well cannot function simply according to the absolute freedom of choice of parents. Therefore, anyone who cares about the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, must act to regulate its’ Jewish principles in Basic Laws.

It is noteworthy that this fundamental position was established with the support and approval of the founder of the Zionist movement, Dr. Herzl, and Rabbi Reines, the leader of the Mizrachi movement. Ever since then, the vast majority of the Jewish society has shown interest in preserving, and even strengthening, the Jewish character of the State of Israel.

A Patient’s Prayer before Medical Treatment

From time to time, people get sick and require medical treatment. It is important to know that the root of one’s illness lies in a spiritual shortcoming caused either by sin, or because one was meant to have risen to a higher spiritual level, and failing to do so, incurred suffering intended to refine and uplift him. Therefore, along with the conventional method of treating oneself by going to the doctor, a person should also engage in self-examination to scrutinize the root of his illness, as our Sages said:

If one sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct” (Berachot 5a).

This was the sin of King Asa who, after falling ill due to his sins, sought out treatment from doctors, but did not examine his conduct in order to repent or to pray, as it is written:

And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa was diseased in his feet; his disease was exceedingly great; yet in his disease, he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians” (Chronicles II, 16:12).

And even if doctors are certain that a particular medicine will cure a patient, there is still room for doubt, seeing as the human body is complex and doctors are unable to assess everything occurring in the body, and also because illness is rooted in the spiritual side of a person. Thus, without the help of God, no medicine will be completely effective. This is why our Sages enacted praying to God for the success of medical treatment, thereby arousing us to repent.

Consequently, before entering medical treatment, a patient should say:

May it be Your will, O Lord my God, that this operation be a cure for me, and may You heal me, for You are a faithful healing God” (Berachot 60a; Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 230:4).

A healthy person who wishes to ‘l’hadair’ (to go beyond the basic requirement) and also recite this prayer before taking a pill to cure a headache or the like, ‘tavo alav bracha’ (this is pious conduct for which one is blessed for being strict).

Blessing after Surgery

After medical treatment involving a certain risk, such as surgery, our Sages enacted the following blessing:

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Healer of the sick” (Berachot 60a; Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 230:4).

Since this is an infrequent blessing, many people forget to say it after surgery, and later, regret losing the opportunity to bless and thank God for getting through the operation successfully. Therefore, hospitals should place signs with the wording of the blessing in recovery rooms, to remind those who wish to bless, to do so.

Mention the Name of God?

Indeed, there are some ‘poskim’ (Jewish law arbiters) who maintain that the blessing should be recited without saying ‘shem u’malchut’ (the name of God and His Sovereignty), because these words are not explicitly mentioned in the Talmud, rather, only the words: “Baruch rofeh cholim” (Blessed [are You] Healer of the sick), are written. Also, several ‘Rishonim’ (leading Rabbis and Jewish law arbiters who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries, in the era before the writing of the Shulchan Aruch) wrote in their texts: “Baruch rofeh cholim”, without mentioning ‘shem u’malchut’. Additionally, in the exact versions of Rambam (Maimonides), it is also indicated that the blessing is recited without ‘shem u’malchut’. This is what Pri Megadim (230:6), Eshel Avraham, and Mishna Berura (230:7) wrote. This is also how the majority of Sephardic ‘poskim’ rule, including Moreinu v’Rabbeinu, the Rishon L’TzionRabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ztz”l in his siddur, and Halacha Berura (Rabbi David Yosef) 230:6).

Arguments for Reciting the Blessing with God’s Name

In contrast, it can be argued that in the Talmud and Rishonim, several ‘berachot’ (blessings) are written in this fashion – without ‘shem u’malchut’. In any case, not one prominent ‘Rishon’ explicitly wrote not to mention ‘shem u’malchut’ in this blessing. On the contrary, in the writings of several ‘Rishonim’ we have found that they wrote the blessing with shem u’malchut’, amongst them Rabbi Sadya Gaon, S’mag, S’mak, R’avan, and Orchot Chaim. This is also what Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote in Bet Yosef (230:4), and many other ‘poskim Achronim’ (Lavush, Prisha, Taz, Chayei Adam, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch).

The ‘Halacha’ goes According to Rabbi Kook

Maran (our Master) Rabbi Kook ztz”l instructed that anyone who undergoes medical treatment involving some danger to life should say the blessing with ‘shem u’malchut’, and if there was no danger – the blessing should be recited without ‘shem u’malchut’. And even Sephardic Jews who wish to rely on the ‘psak’ of Rabbi Kook and bless with ‘shem u’malchut’ may do so, because this is also the ruling of Maran Rabbi Yosef Karo in Beit Yosef (section 230), and Rabbi Yitzchak Boeino in Shulchan Melachim (230:5). Yeminite Jews can also bless with ‘shem u’malchut’, for this is the ruling of the Yeminite ‘posek’ in Shtilei Zeitim (230:7).

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