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By inspiring love, we must attempt to express the glories of Shabbat. And love means accepting with love even those who decide to reject the laws of Shabbat.

‘And the entire nation responded together and said, ‘Everything the Lord has spoken we shall do’” (Exodus 19:8).

Religious coercion has long threatened Israeli society, bringing to the surface all the tensions inherent in our unprecedented experiment of maintaining a state that is both “Jewish and democratic.” Is such an experiment viable? Our global village knows two extremes: on the one hand, fanatic Islamist states whose citizens are held captive by the latest fatwa decreed by their sheikhs and ayatollahs.

And on the other hand, the democratic model of the United States of America, which grants every citizen his/her inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and freedom of worship, speech and ideology, insisting upon a clear and absolute separation between church and state. Is there room for a hybrid situation? A Jewish state without religious coercion? Religious coercion is certainly not a desirable goal. My revered teacher and mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, frequently noted that “religious coercion is an oxymoron.”

This is because when a ritual act is coerced by an external political force, it ceases to have any religious or spiritual significance. Quite the opposite, in fact: it only enhances anti-religious antagonisms, pushing the unwilling participant much further away from true Divine service and commitment.

What does our tradition have to say about religious coercion versus religious conviction? A dramatic interpretation of a verse from our weekly Torah portion, Yitro, tackles this issue head on. Click here to read the entire article on the Jerusalem Post’s website


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