Friday, February 18, 2005

Letters of the Rav zt'l

I have been spending the little free time I have reading a wonderful collection of Rav Soloveitchik's letters, entitled: Community, Covenant and Commitment, (Toras HaRav 2005) and edited by my friend, Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot. The letters reveal a passionate, engaged side of the Rav, while simultaneously providing highly suggestive ways in which his core philosophical ideas both developed and found concrete expression. Every letter is a gem, and the translations are first rate (though I wish they would have published the original texts in Yiddish and Hebrew.)

Of special note are the Rav's endorsement of Talmud study for girls, and his remarks about the mission of Einstein Medical School and the desired curriculum at RIETS.

Kulturkampf Now...

In all of the discussion of the political and security elements of the 'disengagement,' even its opponents have largely forgotten that the Left's agenda is as much cultural as political. The desire of the Post-Zionist Left in academia, the media and in government is to detatch itself not only from Falestin but from the Jewish historical heartland and Jewish religio-national memory.
The demonization of religious settlers is part of that effort (since most Jews who live in Yesha are not Orthodox.)

This aspect was recently highlighted by Moshe Dann in an article that appeared on the Arutz Sheva website. Despite the publication venue, many (though, not all) of his points are well taken. If the Jewish State is to survive, it is the solemn obligation of the Religious and traditionalk community to stop bickering and get to work. (Rav Elyashiv's stance on pre-nuptial agreements is exactly the wrong position in this regard.)

Herewith are some salient parts of the piece:

Missing in the debate over Israel's proposed retreat from all or most of Judea, Samaria and Gaza -- the historical and strategic heartland of Israel -- is the context in which that policy has emerged. During the last forty years, secular, Jewish, Israeli Leftists have assaulted Jewish identity, the foundations of Zionism and the institutions of Israeli democracy. They have diminished Jewish content in public education and in daily life, they have attacked the national-religious settlement movement in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, they have politicized the IDF and the courts. They control the media, educational and cultural institutions, and, by and large, Israel's political economy.

The Sharon/Peres plan [Note: I think it's more Peres than Sharon in this regard- JRW] is part of an agenda that seeks to destroy Zionism and replace it with Israelism (nationalism, per se), to transform Jewish nationhood into a secular, pluralistic republicanism (in the Western European tradition), and to maintain control of Israel's political/economic system in order to preserve the interests of the ruling elite. That elite seeks to de-Judaize Israel, to assimilate and integrate into (and hopefully be accepted by) the international community, especially the West, and to stay in power. These are the people who control Israeli banks, newspapers and TV, as well as major industries. This is not sinister or conspiratorial; there is no need for a coup d'etat. This is business as usual.Three main obstacles stand in their way: anti-Semitism, Arab terrorism and the national-religious Zionist camp. The latter, especially the Jews who live in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, are not marginal; they are fully integrated into the fabric of daily life, especially in the IDF. These Jews are rooted in an ideology of Jewish settlement that is basic to Zionism and Jewish consciousness."Disengagement", even if possible, is not only or even primarily intended to separate from Arabs (the external threat), but from the religious Right, "the settlers", who represent an internal threat to Israel's ruling elite. Both Arab and religious, Jewish nationalists -- because they are idealists -- are perceived by the political/economic establishment in Israel as threats to their power. They can't be bought. "Disengagement", therefore, means nothing more than uprooting Jewish communities and allowing Palestinian terrorists a sovereign state in return for, hopefully, international good will.

For the international ruling elites, Israel is an anachronism among states and Zionism is an impediment to assimilation into a world economic structure. Israel is particularistic (nominally Jewish) in a 'pluralistic/universalistic' world; the basis for its existence is a 'homeland for Jews.' That made sense after the Holocaust. Today, it is inadequate and insufficient as an historical reference....Regardless of Palestinian terrorism and incitement, the "inevitability of a Palestinian state" (in Sharon's words) has become an obsession that has paralyzed the government's ability to consider any other options and requires Israel's dependence on American/European and Palestinian good will. That policy comes out of a deeply-rooted belief that the Jewish people do not have the inalienable right to establish their national home in the Land of Israel. Yoram Hazony's book The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul laid out in striking detail how Israel's left-wing intellectual "elite" have undermined the basic premises of Zionism. Published just before former Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to give Arafat and the PLO almost everything they wanted -- nearly all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, including east Jerusalem and exclusive rights over the Temple Mount -- Hazony exposed a cancer that has eaten away at Israel's raison d'etre as a Jewish state. This "post-Zionist" policy waited only to be implemented. Prime Minister Sharon, who presented himself as a right-wing leader, became its Godfather.

Coincident with Oslo, far-left-wing education ministers cut budgets for teaching about Judaism and introduced pro-Palestinian propaganda in textbooks. Today, Jewish students in Israeli secular schools may graduate knowing little or nothing about their religion or their history. That is a deliberate policy. Israeli universities, with one exception, are bastions of anti-Jewish, leftist propaganda. TV stations, which are primary cultural molders, denigrate Judaism and Jewish values and promote consumerism. Alternative radio stations (like Arutz-7) that provided services and information to supporters of the right were closed (unlike the left-wing's Voice of Peace, or the hundreds of pirate Arab radio stations). Specials laws and penalties have been proposed to prevent expressions of dissent. Legitimate protests are considered criminal acts. New prisons and detention camps are planned for those who resist evacuation. Ministers who disagree with Sharon have been summarily fired. Never before has such arrogance been institutionalized and legitimized. Even institutions which are supposed to prevent such abuse have remained silent. Indoctrinated by Israel's left-dominated media, many Israelis no longer believe in their country and the justice of its cause. Politicians, community leaders and "artists" espouse anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist doctrines that would be considered bigotry if uttered by non-Jews; their insults are carried by a compliant media into every home. Add to all this four years of unremitting terrorist attacks and the result is emotional exhaustion and despair. Sharon has taken advantage of that societal malaise to fragment and demoralize the opposition; but this is not new. The seeds of this denouement can be found decades ago in attempts by Israeli leftists to substitute a form of nationalism for religious faith and a detachment from Judaism. Their attack on Jewish identity, the one common denominator that holds us together, is an attempt to break the connection between Judaism and Zionism. Israeli leaders are unable to express an authentic, proud and definitive Jewish message. Nor have they been able to articulate Israel's place and purpose in Jewish history. They have defended Israel as if it were simply a country like any other -- rather than one that lives on the edge of extinction because it is Jewish. That distinction is crucial: the only reason that the Land of Israel has value is because Jews live in it, because it is central to Jewish consciousness and belief. The culture of Israelism, which spurns Jewish content and has little or no understanding or connection to Judaism, or Israeli history, contains a kind of Judeophobia. Attacking Jews who live in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is an example of the kulturkampf that is tearing apart Israeli society and, with it, the nationalist ideology and religious belief that define and distinguish us. For the Left, that is why the Jews of Judea, Samaria and Gaza have become "The Enemy".

The struggle in Israel over Sharon's policy of retreat is not merely about power, and certainly not "peace", but over Jewish identity and Jewish values. It is ironic that those who support this policy because of their concern for the "Jewish character of Israel" and" Israeli democracy" have so little regard for either at home. Anti-Zionist Leftists have, however, raised important questions. What does Jewish national self-determination mean when so many Israelis reject that premise or have little understanding of it?If Israel is nothing more than a few Jewish symbols and some official recognition of holidays, but without a Jewish content, why does there need to be a State of Israel at all? In order to ensure their control, the ruling elites and their supporters will buy off whomever they can and impoverish the rest until they too give in. They will imprison those who protest and try to break the will of any opposition. In the name of the State, they will try to destroy the Jewish and Zionist ethos that has sustained and inspired us for thousands of years, and brought us back to our homeland. The triumph of the State, wherever it is, can only be meaningful when it expresses the will of the people. Otherwise, it is only another form of repression.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Modern Orthodoxy Redux: After a Week's Travel Coast to Coast

This past week I've found myself travelling from Florida to Montreal-Toronto-Losangeles-New Jersey. Everywhere I went I found wonderful Modern Orthodox communities, struggling to sustain themselves ideologically and institutionally. Warmed by the dedication of the people I met, I became further convinced that our community absolutely must redefine its priorities. It is time to do a number of things and let the chips fall where they may.
1) We have to stop chewing ideology and recast the curricula of our schools to reflect our ideals. We need to include spirituality and thinking into the schools (especially the high schools).
2) We have to reach deeper into our pockets and cultivate educators and rabbis to teach a torah curriculum that matches our values. We have to validate Hinnukh/Rabbonus as careers and pay their salaries as to what they're worth to us. What kind of message do we send when we chintz on educators and pay fortunes to other professionals. God doesn't do miracles for those who don't try.
3) We need to take a long look at ourselves and say: Torah UMadda includes Baba Qamma, not just sophisticated conversation about the implications of Peter Berger's writings for religion. It is Torah that carries Madda, not vice versa.
4) There is an enormous Orthodox and Traditional population that is thirsty for non-Haredi Orthodoxy. I meet them literally everywhere I travel. We are duty-bound to meet their needs. We will have a serious price to pay and serious answers to the Divine Tribunal if we do not.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Democracy, Pravda-Style (oops! Haaretz-style)

I seem to constantly violate my no politics rule. However, some things are just too incredible to let go by without comment.

Haaretz has just published two amazing articles. In the first, it argues against Democracy in the Palestine Authority. In the other, it informs us that referenda are anti-democratic.

I guess democracy is restricted to whatever Amos Schocken and Co. think (such as leaving Yesha and de-judaizing Israel as soon as possible). If you disagree, you're not a democrat.

Pravda could not have done a better job, but Sharansky already knew that.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Torah in Motion

I just completed a two part speaking engagement for one of the most exciting Modern Orthodox initiatives to appear in the past few years. It'd called Torah in Motion and its the brainchild of four bright, dedicated, energetic and devoted individuals in Toronto: Rabbi Jay and Ilana Kelman and Dr. Elliott and Leah Malamet. They describe their mission as follows:

The mission of Torah in Motion is to inspire Jewish living and learning in an open and supportive environment. Our mandate is to organize dynamic and thought-provoking programming through conferences, symposia, special speaker series, and educational seminars, in order to foster a higher level of inquiry and spiritual development. Such programming addresses critical issues of pressing relevance and concern in the Jewish community. We aim to foster a community of passionate Jews sensitively engaged with the modern world through the prism of Jewish law, values and traditions.

Over the past few years, they have put togethe a devoted core-group that has gelled into the nucleus for A Modern Orthodox resurgence in Toronto, where it is very much needed. The intellectual quality of the programs that TIM has hosted and the incredible people it has attracted should make it the envy and model for other such projects throughout the Orthodox community. It is far too rare that one encounters the ideal mixture of Yirat Shamayim, Shmirat Mitzvot and intellectual breadth and sophistication as I encountered during my visit here.

May HaQadosh Barukh Hu help them go from strength to strength. God knows we need many more TIMs in our midst.