Secular Right | Reality & Reason



The Rise of the Orthodox

Via The Economist:

Just 42% of adult Israeli Jews define themselves as secular, according to recent official figures. The rest range from mildly to devoutly religious. And because the most religious seem to have the most children, the secular figure is likely to keep shrinking.

In this demographic and cultural scene, politics is more than ever a matter of finely calibrating a religious-secular balance. The latest effort to tip things the religious way comes from Eli Yishai, leader of the largest Orthodox party, Shas, who is minister of the interior. He wants his ministry’s computers to rest on the Sabbath. Specifically, he wants to prevent people paying their bills online on a Saturday. Predictably, the strongly secular and left-wing Meretz party has tabled a bill requiring all government computers, as opposed to human civil servants, to keep humming 24/7.

The minister in charge of government efficiency, Michael Eitan of the Likud party, which has both religious and secular supporters, suggests that the computers be programmed to receive online requests from citizens on the Sabbath but to respond to them only afterthe Sabbath. What about requests from Muslim or Christian citizens? Mr Eitan has yet to offer an answer.



  • CONSVLTVS · September 27, 2010 at 1:46 am

    This is a perfect, perfect H. L. Mencken moment.

  • Richard · September 27, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    I’ve got a Jewish friend who won’t answer his phone on the Sabbath, but he still has an answering machine, his e-mail account still accepts incoming messages, etc. Since the whole point of the Sabbath was a day of rest, I don’t get why a computer has to be programed to wait until the Sabbath is over. Someone enlighten me.

  • trajan23 · September 27, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    “the strongly secular and left-wing Meretz party has tabled a bill”: I’m guessing that, this being the ECONOMIST, they are using the British definition of “tabled,” and not the American?

  • Polichinello · September 27, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    …I don’t get why a computer has to be programed to wait until the Sabbath is over. Someone enlighten me.

    As the article points out, Shas isn’t concerned with the computers so much as with the clients. He wants to keep them from accessing the computers during the Sabbath.

  • Mark in Spokane · September 28, 2010 at 2:59 am

    The future belongs to those who are there to enjoy it. From what I have read, religious believers reproduce at higher rates than non-religious believers (perhaps this is a pointer to the evolutionary advantage of religious belief?), and assuming that the hard-wiring for religious belief is unevenly distributed across the population, highly religious people would probably pass that trait on to their children, which in turn probably would result in more offspring down the road.

    I would also imagine that social conditioning in certain situations is also important. As secular as a given Israeli might be, there is no avoiding the fact that Israel is a nation grounded in a particular religious identity and a particular religious history.

  • Aaron · September 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    I usually agree with Mr. Stuttaford’s take on established religions (C of E), but I gotta disagree here. Eitan’s suggestion seems like a reasonable compromise. Israel, like Britain, is a state with an established religion (which I think is a good thing for both states), so this kind of balancing act is inevitable. Yishai’s concern is reasonable: the computer system currently facilitates the desecration of the Sabbath by Jews. (The article was being cutesy when it said he wants the computers to rest on the Sabbath; there’s nothing wrong with computers and other machines working on the Sabbath.) Also, despite the impression you might get from the Economist article, compromises like these have been going on since the founding of the state.

    I wonder, what is the objection to all this? Desecrating the Sabbath is one of the most serious sins one can commit in Judaism. From the secular viewpoint, this would mean a 25-hour period every week when you can’t pay your Interior Ministry bill online (how often do you have to pay a bill to the Interior Ministry?). Is it just a slippery-slope objection, or what?

  • John · September 29, 2010 at 2:41 am


    Did anyone else see this?

    I must admit I was surprised at how little people know about their religion. About half of Protestants don’t know about Martin Luther, and half of Catholics don’t know about transsubstantiation. Oh yeah, atheists and agnostics scored highest on a test of religious knowledge.

  • Panglos · September 30, 2010 at 3:01 am

    How do some here justify the discrimination against non Jewish citizens?
    There is no law in the UK that demands the same adherence to COE dictates.

  • Andrew Stuttaford · September 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Aaron, I’m certainly in favour of a country having an established religion (assuming it is the product of history), so long as it is philosophically mild, spiritually undemanding and generally not too much of a nuisance. This business seems to fail thae nuisance test (as did the old restrictions on Sunday trading in the UK).



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