Rabbi Soussan, what about the relationship between state and religion in Germany from a Jewish point of view?
The preamble to the constitution states that the ‘German people’ adopted the constitution ‘consciously of their responsibility to God and people’. Already there we see a consideration for the religious orientation. Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Constitution. In addition, there are many laws that arose under the impression of the horrors of the Shoah. In this regard, we have a wide range of opportunities to live the faith, especially the Jewish faith, in Germany on the basis of German laws. Nevertheless, there are always limitations in practical application and implementation.
What are these limitations?
We see, for example, that exams at universities are often written on the Sabbath because that is when the large lecture halls are free. In hospitals, we experience again and again that people who want to eat kosher are met with a lack of understanding. You will then be asked to “make an exception”. One must always renegotiate with the prisons how prisoners can get kosher food. We see school trips or retreats planned on Jewish holidays, including Yom Kippur.
Does ordinary society need to become more sensitive in this regard?
Partly it is actually about ignorance, but partly also about unclear rules. If you as an employee want to keep all Jewish holidays free, you can get up to 20 days a year. Should not it be corrected? So there is always talk of making Yom Kippur a holiday. On the other hand, we are always dependent on how much the authorities try to adapt to Jewish requirements – if, for example, a funeral within 24 hours is not technically possible depending on the municipality.
Why should the legislature formulate some rules more precisely?
Let’s look at circumcision as an example. We had a natural practice for years until a judge suddenly interpreted the law differently. To address this, a separate new law had to be adopted. We were amazed that this became necessary. It is important to tighten laws in such a way that in practice they do not have to be renegotiated again and again and are dependent on the goodwill of individual decision-makers.
Does the Jewish principle “Dina deMalchuta Dina” apply – “the law of the land is law” without restrictions?
We live in a time and a country where it is not against the law to practice the Jewish faith. In this respect, it is easy for us to apply the principle. It is, for example, about economic matters: I am obliged to pay taxes, not only for fear of state reprisals, but because it is an independent Jewish law, which I abide by: ‘Dina deMalchuta Dina’. If the state were to ban basic Jewish practices, such as circumcision, then it would be contrary to this law. Violating the prohibition of Judaism with reference to state causes is not Jewish. At this moment you would have to leave the country as a last resort.
Where could the legislature learn from Judaism and Jewish law?
For example, when it comes to cross-border decisions at the beginning and end of life. We often find that ethics is very temporary these days. What was ethically or morally unthinkable 50 years ago is now taken for granted. Jewish ethics has been under development for nearly 3,000 years. Certain issues are renegotiated repeatedly. That is why Judaism always has something to say. It is important to listen carefully and say no – for example when it comes to assisted suicide. It is argued that human freedom also means being able to rule over death. I can not understand that, because my freedom is limited if, for example, I have to implement the harness requirement. In Judaism it is clearly regulated: Life must be seen as the highest good. In addition to Jewish medical ethics, there are also environmental and financial ethics – and thus many logical, understandable basic values that can be deduced from Judaism.
Can religious laws be observed at all in an increasingly secular society?
In principle, it works. However, there is a big difference between being self-employed or an employee and what the requirements for the employment relationship are in terms of Sabbaths and holidays. We also notice that religiosity is being met with less and less understanding. The churches are also confronted with this. Adherence to religious precepts in everyday life is still legally tenable. But it would help if some things were explicitly regulated by law so that each individual does not have to renegotiate them over and over again. Even in a secular society, we would like to have the opportunity to exercise the freedom to practice religion enshrined in the Constitution.
Eugen El spoke with the rabbi of the Jewish community in Frankfurt.