Judaism in the Public Square

It's time to chip away at the wall of separation.

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In the end, the role of religion in public life is a prism through which to observe the survival--or atrophy--of American Jewry.

Only after a year in Israel did I have a glimmer of comprehension that there was nothing neutral about any of this.

In the Jewish state, I was astonished to discover, Jews were observant not only at home but also on the street--and rabbis were in the Knesset, as members, not chaplains. The Jewish calendar obliterated American holidays that were also Christian holidays. Menorahs and mezuzahs adorned public buildings. In Jerusalem, especially, the silence of Shabbat and the solemnity of Yom Kippur were strengthened and deepened by the ample support of government authority.

The separation of religion and state might make sense where a tiny Jewish minority needed the benevolence of an overwhelming Christian majority, but, wrenched from the American context, the terms of accommodation to Christian norms were starkly exposed.

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Jerold S. Auerbach is a professor of history at Wellesley College.