Zionism and the Druze Community: Women Who Learn September/October 2018

Wednesday, Sep 12 2018

The article below is from the September/ October 2018 Issue of Women Who Learn. To receive a copy of the latest issue of Women Who Learn email programming@hadassah.org.

Zionism and the Druze Community 

Several years ago, on one of my trips to Israel, my cousins and I spent the weekend in a village in the north called Beit Jann. We stayed in a small B and B owned and operated by a Druze family. The head of the household was a veteran of the IDF. His sons were currently serving. My family is a military family…My cousin was the commander of Tel Hashomer at the time. The other guests were, purely coincidentally, military couples on a weekend vacation.We feasted on maqluba, a traditional Druze dish. The host was especially solicitous of us once he learned of my cousin’s status in the IDF. We asked a few questions about the Druze religion and culture that quickly revealed our ignorance of the Druze. Our host responded by asking us to pull our chairs around the fireplace and he continued to educate us about the Druze, answering questions and disabusing us of misconceptions for the better part of an hour. 

Not many people have had the learning opportunity that I have. Though historically the Druze are an outgrowth of Islam, they are not Muslims. They interpret the pillars of Islam in a unique manner and consider themselves the followers of Jethro (Yitro, father-in-law of Moses, who embraced monotheism). Ethnically they are Arabs with Iranian, Kurdish and European roots, as well. Druze neither marry non-Druze nor do they accept converts to their community. Polygamy is forbidden. Chastity and modesty are highly valued, as is fidelity. “Hospitality is an important feature of the culture. The Druze are known for their generosity and are guided by a sense of chivalry and honor. This concept compels the Druze to look after each other, including widows, orphans, and the destitute. If the extended family cannot take care of a member, the larger community will find a means of support.” http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Bu-Dr/Druze.html 

The Druze religion has no ceremonies or rituals, and no obligation to perform precepts in public. 
Both uqqual (religiously enlightened or “clever” Druze) and juhal (ordinary, non-religious elite) must adhere to the following main tenets of their faith: 

Speaking the truth (instead of prayer) 
Supporting your brethren (instead of charity) 
Abandoning the old creeds (instead of fasting) 
Purification from heresy (instead of pilgrimage) 
Accepting the unity of God 
Submitting to the will of God (instead of holy war) 

Druze are forbidden to eat pork, smoke, or drink alcohol. 

The Druze are extremely secretive about their religious practice. Only the uqqual, who comprise about 10% of the community are conversant with Druze sacred texts, tenets, and practices. 

Our dinner host also told us that no Druze couple is permitted to marry until the prospective husband has built a home for the couple. He also explained that reincarnation is one of the core beliefs of the community. Men used to wear specially designed baggy pants because it was believed that the messiah would someday be born to one of them.  Funerals are not as somber as they are in other religions.  Instead, they are opportunities to bid farewell…since every soul is immediately reborn into another body. 

According to a Pew research study published in 2016, “In Israel, the Druze are active in public life and subject to the military draft. In fact, for more than four decades, the Israeli military had a primarily Druze infantry unit called the Herev,or sword battalion. This is in contrast with Israeli Arabs, who are exempt from military service. About six-in-ten (45%) Druze men included in our (Pew) survey say they have served or are currently serving (15%) in the Israeli military. Druze women are not required to serve.” 
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/21/5-facts-about-israeli-druze-a-unique-religiousand-ethnic-group/ The religion teaches allegiance to the government of the land in which the Druze live.  Druze soldiers are well known as trackers who know the mountains well and also serve as Border Police. 

Since 1957, the Israeli government has officially recognized the Druze as a distinct ethnic community, at the request of the community's leaders. Their prominence in the military and political life of Israel is far out of proportion to their numbers. Since Israel's independence in 1948, the relationship between Israeli Jews and Druze is both emotional and practical, in part because of the considerable number of Israeli Druze soldiers that have fallen in Israel's wars; this is referred to as brit damim, "covenant of blood."  http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Druze 

This special relationship has been called into question in recent weeks in reaction to the passage of Israel’s Nation State Law.  On August 4, 2018, tens of thousands of Druze came to Tel Aviv to rally in protest of this law which, leaders felt, called their “Israeliness” into question. 

Druze religious leader, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, spoke first at the rally. The following are excerpts from his speech which were quoted in the Israeli media: 

"I'm not a political person and I'm not used to making speeches at the city square, but I'm speaking here tonight as one whose love for the land and the state is absolute and unequivocal. I came here to tell you simple truths that come from the heart. I do not seek popularity, and what guides me is the best interest of my country and my sector... We're all proud of the democratic and free State of Israel, where human dignity and freedom are the supreme values. We've never doubted the Jewish identity of the state. We recognize its Jewish character with full equality for its nonJewish citizens...No one can teach us what sacrifice is and no one can preach to us about loyalty and devotion — the military cemeteries are a testament to that. We are determined to fight alongside you for the state's character and the right to live in it with equality and dignity... 

Despite our unconditional loyalty to the state, the state doesn't see us as equals...The cry of the Druze community is real. They feel justifiably that someone seeks to take their Israeliness away...We identify with the State and the Declaration of Independence," Tarif stressed. "Last Independence Day, I lit a torch for coexistence, the alliance between the Jewish people and the Druze people and for the glory of the State of Israel...I see the masses that came to show their solidarity and it warms our hearts. I thank you on my behalf and on behalf of my Druze brothers. This is the beautiful Israel, ladies and gentlemen." 

Surely, there can be no more eloquent expression of what it means to be a Zionist than the Sheikh’s words. These words have been matched by actions for more than seventy years.  The Druze community in Israel is comprised of proud Zionists.  We owe them respect and gratitude. 

Karen Feit 
Co-Leader Jewish Zionist Education Team

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