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Judaism and the State of Israel

Competing claims of religion and secular statehood are fought over daily on the political stage. Expelled from Spain, Jews found safe haven in Turkey and elsewhere. But the scourge of anti-Semitism and the need to reconcile religious and secular demands continue to challenge Jews.

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FIVE hundred years after the expulsion from Spain, Jews in the State of Israel are struggling to recreate their "golden age," this time in their own homeland.

But their efforts to build a modern state while remaining loyal to their religious traditions have sparked conflicts that some philosophers fear could threaten the future of Judaism.

"Either there will be a powerful renaissance, or enormous assimilation," predicts David Hartman, an orthodox rabbi and leading Jewish thinker. "It is not going to be neutral."

And in a manner unique to Israel, the competing claims of religion and secular statehood are not only debated among philosophers of religion, but fought over daily on the political stage.

"Everyone wants to find a balance between tradition and modernity," says David Rosen, a former chief rabbi of Ireland. "All the drama of life in Israel is in finding that balance." Institutional religion

Although no exact figures are available, about 20 percent of the Israeli population observes Jewish religious laws, an equal proportion define themselves as secular, and a large group in the middle reflect a wide range of levels of attachment to Judaism.

They live in a secular state, but one in which Judaism plays the role of an institutionalized religion, bestowed at the foundation of the country in 1948.

That confusing and often confused circumstance is reflected in the fact that in this modern state, there is no such thing as a civil marriage. A rabbinate representing social attitudes that the majority of Israelis regard as deeply outmoded, if not medieval, enjoys the exclusive power to marry Jews and to grant them divorces.

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