There are no other words for it: “Parochial Lunacy.”
Today’s Haaretz has two reports that express more than one would, prima facie, think.
I. Education Ministry Still Not Recognizing Yeshiva U. Degrees
This story has been dragging on for over a year. As the report notes:
‘The issue…touched a raw nerve in the U.S.…because Yeshiva University is the flagship institution of the American Orthodox community and sends hundreds of students to Israel every year for a year of yeshiva study. YU degrees are accepted by Harvard, Yale and any number of top-notch American universities - and so it is an Israeli ministry alone that refuses to acknowledge them for salary purposes….A large number of North American immigrants are Yeshiva University graduates.’
There is, admittedly, something especially idiotic about not recognizing degrees granted by an institution that has awarded honorary degrees to almost every major Israeli figure, and which consistently ranks very high in the US academic standings. However, one should keep in mind that this is part of a larger picture. Israel suffers from a special form of parochial arrogance.
I’ll give an example. For two years, I taught in the Lifshitz Teacher’s College, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. In order to do so, I needed to be certified by the Ministry of Education. That required undergoing a process called ‘Degree Equivalence Certification’ (שקילת תארים). I had to shlep all of my degrees (frames and all) to the ministry to have them copied and submitted for evaluation. The ministry official with whom I had to deal (not a secretary), was able to read my semikha (from YU/RIETS, of all places). She was skeptical about the others. Specifically, the AM and PhD, which were written in a language which she’d never seen before (Latin) and came from a school of whose bonafides she was unsure (Harvard). I asked how long the process of certification would take. She replied that it would take a number of weeks, until the ministry could be sure that the degrees were as good as those granted by an Israeli institution.
So, you see, the fact that ‘YU degrees are accepted by Harvard, Yale and any number of top-notch American universities’ may not be so successful an argument.
[Postscript: The Post reports that the geniuses who formulated the accreditation criteria refuse to budge. ]
II. A.B. Yehoshua Sticks to View Only Israelis Can Be ‘Total’ Jews
Avraham B. Yehoshua just doesn’t get it. There is no such thing as ‘Israeli identity,’ at least nothing long-lasting (so far). There is Jewish identity, based upon the Jewish religion, Jewish knowledge, Jewish consciousness and Jewish national loyalty (all of which are wrapped up with one another). Hebrew alone is not sufficient. Hebrew, like any language, is a tool. It is the content that the language conveys that determines whether Israelis speak Lashon Qodesh, Sfat Ever or a modern version of the Western Amorite dialect. Here, I agree with Rabbi Eric Yoffie:
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who responded to Yehoshua's remarks, said attempts to create an Israeli identity disconnected from Judaism were not viable. "Secular Judaism cannot be passed on to the next generation," he said. "There is every reason to believe that Israelis can and will assimilate, even if it takes longer than in the Diaspora."
At the end of the day, however, both are right and both are wrong. Rabbi Yoffie is right that secular Judaism is a non-starter. It’s a holding pattern for assimilation. He’s wrong to think that the Diaspora is a substitute for Eretz Yisrael. Yehoshua, on the other hand, is wrong when he touts his amorphous secular Israeli alternative. He is, however, right on the mark when he asserts that Jewish Life and the Jewish future can only happen here.