Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Wednesday, 23 January 2008

How to Strengthen Ties

It's no secret that there is a rift between the Jewish community of the Diaspora and the one in Israel. Out here in golus, most non-observant Jews have come to see themselves as citizens of their home states who happen to be Jews, rather than Jews who happen to live in Canada or the United States. The main reason for this is the non-observant lifestyle which is almost completely identical to that of the average Canadian or American. A non-religious Jew has much more in common with the Protestant in the next cubicle at work than with the Shrekover Chasid he sees near the subway station a couple times a week.

Over in Israel, a similar process has occured in the secular population. They have become Israeli and do not identify with being Jewish. This is the price of putting a lot of Jews in one place. Being a "member of the tribe" ceases to be something special, something that joins people together in the face of a different majority. Besides, Arabs living within the 1949 armistics lines don't generally identify themselves as Israels but rather as Palestinians so being Israeli and Jewish are pretty much synonymous for them except that being Jewish has expectations associated with it while being Israeli doesn't.

(It's a little known piece of history that when the Zionists were planning to declare indepedence, they argued about what the state should be called. Although "Israel" won out, "Judea" or Yehudah was an option. Since "Jew" in Hebrew is Yehudi, this would have led to real problems regarding Who-is-a-Jew. Imagine how many non-Jewish people would have Yehudi written on their identity documents!)

Given that North American and European Jews therfore overwhelmingly see themselves as residents of their home cultures and Israelis mostly don't care about Jewish culture either, it's no wonder that the two communities are growing apart. However, this is a terrible tragedy that must be stopped. It can have only negative ramifications for the Jewish people as a whole.

Some suggestions from Professor Yehezkel Dror, the founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI) include:

1. Israel must begin to consider the impact of its actions on the totality of the Jewish people before instituting any measures.
2. Israel must also consult with prominent world Jewish leaders before taking any steps that have a marked impact on the nation as a whole (future of Jerusalem, the ‘who is a Jew’ dilemma, etc...)
3. Stressing Jewish studies and Jewish history studies in Diaspora schools, as well as highlighting topics of Jewish interest in the media.
4. Cultivating a deeper understanding of the Jewish Diaspora and its unique needs among Israel’s elite, which, notes Professor Dror, is markedly ignorant concerning the leadership of the Jewish Diaspora as well as concerning important events that impact world Jewry.
5. Developing a coherent policy concerning Israelis living abroad, which serve as an important link between Israel and the Diaspora.
6. Strengthening the status of Jerusalem as the heart of Jewish civilization.

The problem with these ideas is that they are all non-starters. For one thing, Israelis have been saying for a generation that Diaspora Jews should have no input into how the State is run since they do not live there and therefore don't share the risks that Israelis do every day of their lives. As well, the ignorance the Israeli elite has of the Diaspora is purposeful. After all, Israeli's elite has nothing but disdain for their Jewishness. Telling them they should be interested in meeting a certain person because he's influential in the Jewish community of America is the worst thing you could do to motivate them to get together with the person. They are, after all, Israelis first so what would they have in common with this American?

There is really only one answer to the question of healing the rift. Both communities must make an effort to remind their members that they are Jews first and foremost. They may live in Canada, the United States, Britain or wherever, or they may be born and bred in Israel but they are citizens of the Jewish nation with all the responsibilities and obligations that implies. And what is implied is an allegiance to God and his Holy Torah. It is only in this way that we can have a common denominator that crosses political and cultural boundaries. I am a common citizen with every Jew everywhere in the world. My community should be open to him and his community to mine because of that bond. When that kind of national feeling is rekindled, the rift will be healed.

28 comments:

SJ said...

The way to heal the rift is for the orthdox to admit that it is okay to be jewish without being orthodox. The reason why secular israelis don't want to deal with orthodox judaism is the reason why everyone else does not to deal with orthodox judaism - its just too damn strict.

Garnel Ironheart said...

But really your point is wrong. The current "I'm okay, you're okay" ethos in Western culture says that a person can label himself however he wants without any need to be responsible or honest about this. That's what sets the Orthodox apart from the rest. If you don't want to be Torah observant, hey it's a free country. But what we say is that you can't then go around and say you're living up to Jewish standards. Now, that doesn't only apply to the secular population. A thieving Orthodox Jew is also not living up to the standards and is probably a bigger hypocrite since in public he will act as he if does, so I'm not justifying that. All I'm saying is: drive in your car on Shabbos if you want. Just don't say that it's okay for you as a Jew to do so.

SJ said...
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SJ said...

>> its just too damn strict.

>> drive in your car on Shabbos if you want. Just don't say that it's okay for you as a Jew to do so.

Keep proving my point. And our genes label us as Jews. We do not need orthodox approval in order to be what we are. We have our genes.

Anonymous said...

I feel your response is much too glib. A person can saywith sincerity that he believes the Torah is not divine and chooses not to keep shabbus. Nevertheless he would get along with Orthodox Jews if they didn't always try to prove that they are right and non- Orthodox are wrong.

Your claim that only Orthodox are honest and responsible is what everyone else finds obnoxious.It is not the keeping of shabbus, which most everyone admires and respects, it is the triumphalist rhetoric that accompanies the observance that is distancing.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

The problem just seems to continue to exist. We all talk about being Jewish but we don't seem to want to recognize that we also all have different definitions of what this term means. Much of the problem lies in the question of how to connect nationality with religion, a combination that seems to be at the root of the dilemma of what is a Jew. And that really is the question, not 'who is a Jew?' but 'what is a Jew?'. In fact so much of the controversy over the question of who is really related to differing views of what is a Jew.

If you want to see more on this, take a look at the Nishma website, www.nishma.org and in particular the articles "Crisis in Jewish Identity" (part 1 is on line at http://www.nishma.org/articles/journal/crisis-1.htm; the rest of the article is available by contacting Nishma) and "Adjective and Non-Adjective Jew" at http://www.nishma.org/articles/introspection/introspection5761-2-adjective_jew.htm

Rabbi Ben Hecht

SJ said...

The jewish people existed before the jewish religion did. Hence - one can be jewish ethnically without the religion.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Yes, one can be ethnically Jewish without the religion but then what is Jewish about you other than an accident of birth? On what do you base your identification with the Jewish people other than basic genetics?

Again, we're not being triumphalist. Most Orthodox Jews have a hard time being good Jews. All we woudl say is that God wishes us all to be Torah observant and that this is the standard which defines "good" and "bad". It does not affect WHO is Jewish, just whether or not their particular practice is seen as legitimately Jewish.
For example, a Reform Jew may feel that he gets a real spiritual high out of a good piece of bacon at his Sunday breakfast. Fine, that's him and he has the right to enjoy the bacon if he wishes but to call that a positive expression of his Jewishness would be incorrect. That doesn't mean he's not a Jew though so please stop reading that into this post.

Anonymous said...

Triumphalism means there is one 'real', valid standard for being a good Jew and for what is expected of a Jew, and that everyone else must accept it. Pluralism is the recognition of multiple standards as one moves around the spectrum, where no one has a monopoly of certainty as to what God wants. If you believe OJ are the only subgroup to have a God validated mesorah, not claim but actually have, you are triumphalist.

The point is so basic, why can't you acknowledge it?

SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...

>> For example, a Reform Jew may feel that he gets a real spiritual high out of a good piece of bacon at his Sunday breakfast.

This statement reeks of bigotry towards reform jews.

Noone thinks of eating bacon as "a spiritual high" or "an expression of jewishness" or even nonjewishness. It is just something that either people enjoy or people don't enjoy.

It is actually the orthodox in Israel and around the world who is responsible for the rift in the Jewish people by trying to knock reform and conservative jews off of the spectrum of what is Judaism. Orthodox jews should stop making judaism a billion times stricter than the Tanach requires and then shunning everyone that don't want to follow the strict insanity of the orthodox.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> Triumphalism means there is one 'real', valid standard for being a good Jew and for what is expected of a Jew, and that everyone else must accept it.

Ah, I see the problem. We're saying the same thing only you're applying a negative adjective, "triumphalism", to the definition. I'm not trying to be triumphalist. I'm just asking for intellectual honest.

> Pluralism is the recognition of multiple standards as one moves around the spectrum, where no one has a monopoly of certainty as to what God wants.

Absolutely, and Torah-observant Jews are very pluralistic. For example, 3 hours vs 6 after meat, how to put one's tefillin on, whether or not sandals are acceptable footwear in shul, etc. What we reject is the non-Orthodox version of pluralism, like kosher vs. non-kosher, observing Shabbos vs. driving to the malls to shop.

>It is actually the orthodox in Israel and around the world who is responsible for the rift in the Jewish people by trying to knock reform and conservative jews off of the spectrum of what is Judaism.

This is classic Orwellian double-speak. There are countless Reform definitions of keeping kosher since, as a movement which prioritizes the autonomy of the individual, every Jew is allowed to make up his own personal version of what is kosher. Same thing with Shabbos, the nature of God, etc. Meanwhile the Orthodox try to remind people of the unifying aspects of Judaism and encourage people to observe them.

Any Reform Jew can eat in any Orthodox home without compromising his religious beliefs. The oppposite is not true. Who's not being accomodating?

SJ said...

The orthodox is not being accomodating ... because they make their rules a billion times stricter than the Torah required and shuns everyone who does not go down that same path.

Rabbis are but men. Who are they to make Judaism even stricter than what God himself intended?

Anonymous said...

You are a poster boy for everything non -Orthodox Jews, all 12 million of them, find so impossible in Orthodoxy. At the end of a conversation like this, you have reached out to no one.All you have done is reassured yourself, and pushed away your own anxieties.Imagine for a moment a role reversal, where you are being told what you are telling others.

Do you have any sense of real Jewish people beyond your Orthodox world with integrity and sincerity about their beliefs and practises.

I would describe your situation as a tinok shenishbah. You are clueless.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> I would describe your situation as a tinok shenishbah. You are clueless.

Ah, I think you've made my point. Your accusations make you sound just like you think I am.

For example, I've said nothing about integrity or sincerity. I haven't accused anyone non-Orthodox of not caring or wanting to do the right thing. In fact, I would postulate that most non-Orthodox Jews who care about their Judaism want very much to do the right thing.

The difference between Torah Judaism and secular culture is the value of intention. In secular culture, intention is pretty much all that matters. Wanting to do the right thing makes whatever you do the right thing de facto. But in the end, intention does not rise above personal preference. In Torah Judaism, intention is but the first half of the process. Having the intention to do what the Torah desires of us irrespective of our own personal feelings is the other part. That's the part you're having such a hard time with, the idea that there are values outside or secular culture that others might find more important. Why are you so threatened by that?

Anonymous said...

Your characterization that intention is everything, is true of a certain form of Protestantism and even there only those who hold that good works count for nothing. Conservadox Jews drive on Shabbus, but still have halachic standards which they observe, as do Conservative Jews.

I imagine Rabbi Yoffe puts on tefilin every morning, but if he doesn't he's not saying that the intention to put on tefilin is what counts.

Garnel Ironheart said...

But what I am saying is that the intention and the action both count, the kavanah and the asiyah. To properly fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin, I have to have the intention to perform the act because it is a commandment of God's that I do so, and then I must go through and actually do it with that in mind.

A Conservadox Jew (although since they drive on Shabbos I'm not sure what's "dox" about their practice) who drives on Shabbos has their heart in the right place, granted but the problem is that their intention is to sincerely perform an act they're forbidden to do by the religion they're claiming to observe. It's an unavoidable contradiction. If Shabbos is important, then you don't drive. If you'd rather drive to shul, then Shabbos is a secondary priority. You can't have it both ways.

E K said...

Garnel Ironheart,

I think your argument, although logical and correct, is falling on deaf ears unfortunately.

Alas...

But keep up the good work! I couldn't agree more with what you're saying...and I'm not orthodox.

Keep in mind that those with their minds open are hearing your ideas loud and clear.

SJ said...

>> To properly fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin, If Shabbos is important, then you don't drive.

These are just rabbinic interpretations, in other words, optional.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Without Rabbinic interpretation of the Torah, we wind up with something akin to Chrisianity which took our Bible but without the Oral Tradition and look what a mess they made of it!

Rabbinic interpretations are certainly not options. The plain text of Chumash is incomprehensible without them. But then, that's what critics usually want it to be.

For example, we are told that rabbinic interpretations are all made up. And then we're told "See, the Torah says an eye for an eye! How horribly vengeful, what a terrible book it is!" In other words, we're damned if we do or don't.

SJ said...

>> The plain text of Chumash is incomprehensible without them

not always true.

>> damned if we do or don't.

some rabbanic interpretations make sense and some don't.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> some rabbanic interpretations make sense and some don't.

Wow, that's a big admission for you.

> >> The plain text of Chumash is incomprehensible without them

But true enough of the time. For example, the world was not created in 144 hours. Other than cooking, gathering and lighting fires, the Torah doesn't tell us anything about what "work" is for the purpose of abstaining from it on Shabbos. In order to make the Chumash a working book it needs the rabbinic interpretations.

SJ said...

>> In order to make the Chumash a working book it needs the rabbinic interpretations.

No we don't.


>> the world was not created in 144 hours

we don't need rabbis to think about how we can reconcile science and religion. I sure don't.

>> the Torah doesn't tell us anything about what "work" is for the purpose of abstaining from it on Shabbos.

maybe because what is work and what is not is subjective and depends on the person? why does everything have to be interpreted in as strict of a way as possible? For example, I swear to God- I heard an orthodox girl in her early twenties say that READING is not allowed on Shabbat. So now to her, reading on Shabbat is an offence punishable by God.

All this jumping to extremes in strictness is why to me at least, rabbis have rendered themselves irrelevant.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> maybe because what is work and what is not is subjective and depends on the person?

Then why does the Torah emphasize that "each person doing what is right in his own eyes" is emphatically NOT what God wants to us?

Who says the strict opinion is always the one to be followed?

If your friend said reading on Shabbos is forbidden, was she talking about books or shopping catalogs? In keeping with the spirit of the day, we do limit ourselves to reading only certain things. What kind of sacrifice is that? In a few hours, Shabbos ends and you can go and look at the catalog. You can't wait that long?

Finally, stop judging Torah Judaism because you've met a few extremists. I once met a secular Jewish girl who openly boasted about having multiple partners, lots of casual sex and enjoyed marijuana. So let me ask you: Are all secular Jewish girls stoned sluts? Because according to your logic, they are.

SJ said...

>> each person doing what is right in his own eyes

It does not mean that the rabbis are the ultimate truth. What you think is not true because what I think is true, and what I think is true is because it is me who thinks that its true is bad logic to say the least.


>> You can't wait that long?

I have no intent of waiting that long. My free time is my free time.

>> Are all secular Jewish girls stoned sluts?

No, but all religious girls are insane... because they are shomrot negiah which is a widespread practice. Basically these girls believe that if they have a high five with a guy, then the girl is punishable by God. XD

Garnel Ironheart said...

> No, but all religious girls are insane...

So you've just proven your arguments are all meaningless. I can't generalize about you but you can generalize about me. I can't criticize you but you can criticize me.

Sorry, but I left that logic behind in Grade 3.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> No, but all religious girls are insane...

So you've just proven your arguments are all meaningless. I can't generalize about you but you can generalize about me. I can't criticize you but you can criticize me.

Sorry, but I left that logic behind in Grade 3.

SJ said...

It is not meaningless. There is no widespread religious rule for a girl to be a slut. There is however, a widespread religious rule for a girl to be shomer negiah.