MOST OF THE THINGS the Neturei Karta group are doing to Jerusalem's mayor, Teddy Kollek, in order to defeat a proposed sports stadium seem merely weird or zany; but the impetus of attack goes to the heart of one of Israel's more abstract problems, which is an ancident problem of civilization as well. The Neturei Karta group claims it is about to cast a spell on Mr. Kollek in a 700-year-old cabalistic ritual, their spokesman, Rabbi Moshe Hirsh citing several instances where the same spell has been fatally effective. Whether or not curse works on the mayor, one of the group's protest signs puts the issue in historical perspective. It reads: "Kollek: Take your stadium to Mt. Olympus, where Greek culture is welcome."
That, too, is a sort of curse; and while it may seem an odd form of banishment to tell Mr. Kollek to place his new sports arena on Mt. Olympus, the passions behind that message are deep and important. Matthew Arnold, who studiously traced the separate strains of religious and secular cultures in "Hebraism and Hellenism," saw the natural opposition in each, which essentially is what the protest sign is saying. By advising Mr. Kollek on the stadium, the Neturei Karta and the other conservative religious groups that join them are also making a statement about how they wish their civilization to be characterized - as a county whose people, laws, customs, et al., are bent to the national faith. The Greeks, in contrast, they imply, were heathens, not because they worshipped a different god, but rather because their art stressed a life of the spirit that was fundamentally amoral and irreligious.
In fact, however, while Matthew Arnold recognized the differences between Hebraism and Hellenism, he did not see them as irreconcilable, which is to say he did not see the Greek "sweetness and light" (Jonathan Swift's phrase) as devoid of the Hebrew sense of discipline, or vice versa. "The best art and poetry of the Greeks," he wrote, is that "in which religion and poetry are one, in which the idea of beauty and of a human nature perfect on all sides adds to itself a religious and devout energy." Of course, the fusion of religion and poetry is easier to grasp than that of religion and sports, but the ideal of human perfection is the same in each. That would not be an argument to persuade the Neturei Karta, but their particular protest is not as interesting as the challenge they accidentally hurl.
For countries such as ours, whose more abstract public conflicts are essentially constitutional, problems like the Israeli sports stadium may seem strange and chimerical. But for nations where church and state depend on each other, they are the deepest issues in the world.