On April 30, 2018, The Schechter Institute and the Jewish Theological Seminary co-sponsored a very successful academic conference at The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem on the subject listed above. Speakers included Chancellor Arnold Eisen of JTS, Natan Sharansky, Chair of the Jewish Agency and winner of this year’s Israel Prize, MK Rachel Azaria, and many professors from Schechter and JTS. The following is a translation of my Hebrew lecture delivered at the conference.
How Jewish should the Jewish State be? As Israel continues celebrating its 70th birthday Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch, Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, asks whether Israelis can decide what kind of Judaism they want to support in both the private sphere and in the public one. Should legislators be weighing in on what kind of Judaism to practice?
Sunday, the 28th of Iyyar, marks the 51st anniversary of Jerusalem’s unification. Professor Doron Bar, President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and a 7th generation Jerusalemite, tells the story of Jerusalem’s changing population through the lens of his family history. How has Israel’s largest city evolved from a a small group living within the Old City walls to an expansive metropolis?
The two great proponents of political Zionism – Herzl and Jabotinsky, were both classical liberals, who championed free markets and private property as critical to economic development of the future Jewish State, while underscoring the critical importance of social solidarity. Neither was religious, yet both of them in their Zionist visions called for the implementation of the Biblical Jubilee year as ethical and moral bulwarks in a Jewish State.
For some years now conventional wisdom has it that Israel’s policies toward liberal streams and Palestinians are to blame for the rift between us and American Jews. I would not deny that the treatment of liberal Jews at the hands of Israel’s religious establishment, with the tacit complicity of Israeli government’s, is a disgrace; every Israeli should be ashamed of it. This demeaning, offensive attitude plays a very real role in the growing alienation from Israel felt by Jews in North America. Yet I believe it is worthwhile reflecting to the diaspora what it is about their own behavior that is causing the two communities to move even further apart.
Neve Schechter’s Gallery in Tel Aviv is currently exhibiting “Sphere”. Several beautiful spherical paintings around the theme of the Omer Season (Leviticus Ch. 23) by two talented Israeli artists are on display, but what evokes a powerful response are four large screens on which women count to 49 in eerily male voices, each time turning around. Secular Israeli women, grappling with the tradition of counting the Omer, are providing a poignant commentary on the exclusion of women’s voices in Jewish tradition. What does this commentary reflect? Zionism was a revolutionary response to the crisis of Jewish identity in 19th century Europe. The framework of Jewish life that had assured survival for 1,800 years; a semi-autonomous faith community, regulated by Jewish Law and strong familial connections, could no longer swim against the powerful currents of liberal enlightenment, secular nationalism and socialism.
Are we aware of the miracles surrounding us? Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of The Schechter Institutes, shares excerpts of a letter written 70 years ago by the late Binyamin Brenzel. It describes the excitement in Israel following the UN partition vote. Brenzel, who later worked at Schechter until age 100, gives a window into the miraculous nature of the creation of the State of Israel.
Midrash Sifre teaches that the Israelites left Egypt with Miriam at their lead: “when you left Egypt”: the time of your redemption, the tribes traveled only when Miriam preceded them (Sifre Deut. 275). She is one of the important women in the Passover story. In her essay, Rabbi Sara Cohen, ordained in 2017 by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary discussed the different titles Israeli women take on when they become rabbis.
What does a Zionist living in Israel learn from Zionists living in the Jewish Diaspora? Dr. Yossi Turner, associate professor of Jewish Thought and director of the Zionism working group at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, discusses what first led him to pursue the study of Zionism in Israel and in the Diaspora. Does the experience of being a Jewish majority versus being a Jewish minority impact Zionist ideals?
As a Jewish Zionist from the depth of his soul and an ordained rabbi, who is involved in all of the contemporary streams Judaism; as one who made Aliyah from the US 39 years ago; and as scholar who’s been researching and teaching the various facets of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish culture in Israel and the diaspora (past and present) for many years, I have a suggestion to make to Mr. Verdiger. I suggest that when speaking about the needs of Jewish existence, he show more humility, be more respectful of the truth and be wary of basing his world-view on stereotypes.