Judaism, much like Islam, is not a religion in the European sense of the world, but more of a politically organizing code, build around a specific community it is intended to influence and govern. For Muslims this is called Sha’aria, and for Jews it is called Halakha–or, in translation, the way.
One of the things that astounds me is that Jewish Halakha is stuck in the Diaspora, pre-state mentality. There are still “Ashkenazi” and “Sephardic” distinctions, and no laws have been updated by the fact that Jews are once again, finally, ruling themselves in their own land.
Yair Sheleg brings this up in an amazing article in Haaretz, called We need a Zionist halakha. He writes:
Ever since the Enlightenment period, even before Zionism, Jews have not belonged to a mitzvah-observant people. Halakhic rulings, including those of the Haredim, recognized this fact, and did not strip the secular public of its Jewish belonging, unlike the halakhic views that prevailed in the pre-secular era.
Zionism added another stratum by creating a national renewal enterprise shared by religious and secular and whose basic essence requires mutual responsibility and assurance. Therefore, the definition of Jewish identity adopted by the state cannot be conditioned on mitzvah observance, but is a national definition…
The moment of truth faced by the rabbis of religious Zionism in the wake of the non-Jewish immigration compels them to implement that which deterred them from the outset – adoption of a “Zionist halakhic code” that would inevitably differ from the Haredi halakhic perspective.
He’s absolutely right. There should be nothing stopping both political and religious leaders from putting together a new code of governance, influenced by and part-and-parcel of the Jewish tradition. We do need a Zionist Halakha.