by Asher Arian, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Politics, City University of New York Graduate School; Scientiﬁc Director of the Guttman Center of Applied Social Research, Israel Democracy Institute, Jerusalem.
Upon his election as Israel’s president in June 2007, Shimon Peres, twice prime minister of Israel, Nobel laureate for peace, former head of the Socialist International, and former head of Israel’s Labor Party, did two things. First, he went to the Western Wall of the Temple in the Old City of Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, and second, he paid a call to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of Shas, one of Israel’s non-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox parties. The contrasts in this story illuminate the anomalies of religion in Israeli public life. Where are the boundaries? What is Jewish? What is religious behavior? Can one survive politically without paying homage to religious leaders and espousing religious sentiments? What could the word secular mean in that type of context: Non-religious? Anti-religious? Impervious to religion? Without religion?