Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The Jerusalem Post reports on public eating habits in Jerusalem during Passover. This makes an interesting case to explore the tension between community- and individual-based views of religion. Both are, to some degree, found in every religion. I was raised with a Protestantism that focused entirely on my own behavior and relationship with God as an individual. At the same time, some elements of the religious right interpret the idea that "God will judge the nations" to mean that God will judge them as nations based on their community values, and so try to force everyone to adhere to what they believe is the correct moral code, sometimes blaming disasters on people's failure to follow it.

One aspect of this tension within Judaism is that God's covenant is with the Jews as a people. The people interviewed in the Post article fascinate me:
"'I don't care what other people do, I do what I believe in, and I have no problem with restaurants that serve bread during Pessah,' said Shulamit Terez, who was sitting in Café Hillel, whose menu is kosher. 'I myself don't think it's appropriate to sell or eat hametz publicly during Pessah because it offends other people.'

"Terez's husband, Avraham, said that people should do what they wanted, but indoors...

"'I'm happy that hametz is not seen on the streets, because this is part of our commandment. But I won't prevent anyone from eating hametz on Pessah if it's very important to him,' Rivka Kaye from the settlement of Elkana said."

Note the "our commandment." What's important is that the public space of the community shows they are following God's will, even if individuals aren't. This is also why some people would potentially be offended at others' consumption of wheat, and thus disregard of God. This is completely different from:
"'Not all people are the same, and those who want to eat bread should be able to do it during Pessah, too. This is the idea behind the freedom of choice and the freedom of religion,' Leata Jelinek, from Canada, said."

Here we have the Western post-Enlightenment mindset where religion is a matter for individuals. Trying to regulate the community according to religious values smacks of theocracy. Finally, there's this guy:
"'We keep kashrut on a certain level,' said Boris, a father of two who was having ice cream with his children at McDonald's. 'We don't eat hametz during Pessah, and we don't eat pork. It's important for us to maintain the Jewish tradition because tradition is the past. Without the past, we have no future,' Boris added."

He speaks only about tradition, which means he probably doesn't believe there's any relevant divine commandment behind it. This is, in effect, taking the community-centered attitude and emptying it of religious context. Even if he agrees it is a matter of personal choice, his particular choice is entirely based off the community marker.

Anyone, of course, can find hametz on the Arab side of town, though predictably they don't seem to be hiking over there. I haven't seen bread in grocery stores, presumably because it's perishable and they didn't stock any not knowing how the legal situation would go down.

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