The Loyalty Oath is Contrary to Jewish Values

Originally published October 14, 2010 by the Jerusalem Post.

Instead of wasting time, energy, and damaging Israel’s standing with meaningless new laws and nonsensical bargaining positions, Netanyahu should be making a serious drive for peace.

 

There is no commandment to believe in God.

The first of the Ten Commandments is not really a commandment: All it says is, “I am the Lord, your God.”

It is a statement. There is no need for a commandment to believe in God; the Torah tells us the existence of God is obvious. Such a commandment would be superfluous.

Similarly, requiring prospective citizens to take an oath affirming loyalty to the State of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic” state – or requiring the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state – is superfluous and unnecessary.

Demanding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state goes against the values we learn from the Torah.

We are not supposed to take a vain oath. Swearing the sky is blue is considered a vain oath. Anyone can see the sky is blue. You don’t need to invoke God’s name for that. Swearing Israel is a Jewish state would equally be a vain oath.

The loyalty oath – and the insistence that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state – are both racist and discriminatory.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman does not propose that Jews should have to take the loyalty oath – he knows many would refuse. The government does not insist that other countries recognize Israel specifically as a Jewish state – presumably because Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not want to be laughed at in the halls of the United Nations.

WHAT DOES it mean to swear loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state? Does it mean anyone who would prefer to see Israel as a secular democracy – a country like America, for example – is disloyal? Does it mean anyone who does not keep kosher or observe the Sabbath is disloyal? Oops, Netanyahu and Lieberman probably don’t mean that, do they? If being Jewish means the haredim can force women to ride in the back of the bus, if Jewish means the haredim can force women to one side of a public street and men to another, if being Jewish means the state can arrest a woman for carrying a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, if being Jewish means the Chief Rabbinate can deny marriage to people with halachicly correct conversions because they don’t like a particular rabbi – I would not swear an oath to such a state either.

The Palestinians should call our bluff. PA President Mahmoud Abbas should tell Netanyahu: “I’d accept Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state if it started acting like a Jewish and democratic state – including treating its citizens equally and displaying the Jewish values of treating the stranger with justice and pursuing peace. Will you agree to that?” One of the highest values in Judaism is peace. Peace, we are told, is one of God’s names. A blessing for peace seals Judaism’s most important prayer, the Amida.

By bowing to the populist foolishness of Lieberman, Netanyahu is putting form above substance. He is allowing things with no significance – a completely meaningless oath and a call for an equally meaningless statement from the PA – to be a barrier to something with great significance: peace. He is causing a desecration of God’s name. He is causing other nations to view Israel as racist. He is causing other nations to see us as so insecure in our identity that we have to club others over the head in a way other nations do not to reassure ourselves that we really are entitled to our Jewish and democratic nation.

Instead of causing a desecration of God’s name, our prime minister should be causing God’s name to be sanctified. This will happen – in the eyes of Israel and of the entire world – if he manages to reach an equitable peace with our cousins, the Ishmaelites, the Palestinians.

Instead of wasting time, energy, and damaging Israel’s standing in the eyes of the world with meaningless new laws and nonsensical bargaining positions, he should be making a serious drive for peace.

That would be the truly Jewish thing to do.

The writer is a business executive and cochairman of the board of Rabbis for Human Rights. The views expressed are his own.
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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

3 thoughts on “The Loyalty Oath is Contrary to Jewish Values

  • October 15, 2010 at 8:27 am
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    Barry,

    I really hate to say this, but for a smart guy, who has had a broad life experience, your views lately are like those of a naive college freshman – you really are out there in left field these days and have pretty much lost your credibility as a serous political thinker.

    Israel is being thrown under the bus by the Obama administration, making every greater unilateral demands on Israel to negotiate away the few remaining cards they are holding, before the so-called “peace” negotiations even begin. What are the demands on the PA by the Obama administration – that they be willing to sit in the same room with Israeli negotiators, and it took 9 of the 10 months of the building freeze to get the PA to sit in the same room. It is like the N. Vietnamese spending a year negotiating over the size and shape of the negotiating table. So what are both side saying regarding the citizens of their respective states. Israel will allow over a million Palestinians to live in their country with full rights as citizens, but the Palestinian position is that not a single Jew can live in their country, and if a handful of Jews somehow manage to live in this future Palestinian state, they certainly will not get citizenship privileges and the right to vote.

    The requirement to swear loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state is a brilliant political move, it gives Israel some negotiating power to counter the demands of the PA. Your suggestion that “the Palestinians should call our bluff. PA President Mahmoud Abbas should tell Netanyahu: “I’d accept Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state if it started acting like a Jewish and democratic state” will never happen. Your belief that such words could ever come out of Abbas’s mouth shows how naive your views have become. Maybe you need to replace your rose colored glasses with traditional green sunglasses more suited to the desert atmosphere.

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  • October 16, 2010 at 11:08 am
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    Peter, the view from here is different. From my perspective, the leadership on both sides is messed up and more concerned with their popularity rankings than with peace. You are quite right that the Palestinians should not have let nine months go by before sitting. They were wrong to do that. And Netanyahu is wrong to insist on them recognizing Israel as Jewish. Both sides are playing games. Neither side is serious. Sadly, I’d have to say that with the current constellation of political leadership, the chances of peace in the next one to two years seem to be relatively nil. My guess of the likeliest scenario is that the PA will make a unilaterial declaration of statehood next year, and will immediately seek recognition and will probably get it from a vast majority of the world’s countries. They see Kosovo as a viable model for them.

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  • October 17, 2010 at 2:25 am
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    I was surprised and quite annoyed by the incorrect statement at the opening of your article. You write: “There is no commandment to believe in God.” I beg to differ. In the Rambam’s (Maimonides) ‘Sefer HaMitzvot’ (Book of Mitzvot) the VERY FIRST of the 613 mitzvot is to believe in G-d, as it is written “I am the Lord your G-d…, etc”!! It is true that the Ramban (Nachmanides) disagrees with the Rambam, saying that belief in G-d is not “merely” a single mitzva but rather the foundation for all the mitzvot – but your unequivocal statement that there is no commandment to believe in G-d is still incorrect.

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