(source: The Economist)
Israel’s religious right
That wobbly balance
Another row between the religious and the secular in Israel
Sep 23rd 2010 | Jerusalem
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 after the Sabbath. What about requests from Muslim or Christian citizens? Mr Eitan has yet to offer an answer.
In a similar quest for the golden mean, several members of parliament this week urged the government to reinstate summer time until late October, in line with most of Europe and America. It was summarily ended on September 17th, at Mr Yishai’s insistence. September 18th was the fast-day of Yom Kippur (observed by 69% of Israeli Jews, according to the same official statistics) and it ended an hour earlier thanks to the premature start of winter. It also began an hour earlier, but with their bellies full at that point, people were unconcerned by that, argues Shas.
A pivotal component of Binyamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, Shas seeks its own internal balance between political moderation and extremism. Its founder and spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who celebrated his 90th birthday this week, wrote to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to welcome the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But Mr Yishai has since called them pointless.