Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 31 December 2007

Cheeseburgers or Zionism

An interesting op-ed piece in today's Ynet.

One of the interesting things Israel has been able to produce a huge Jewish marketplace. This has dovetailed with the progressively increasing fiscal clout of the American Jewish community to result in a huge buying opportunity for today's Jewish consumer.

Think back only 25 years ago. How many major brands of potato chips were kosher? How many serious books on halacha, hashkafah and Jewish history were available? And if you didn't live in a large Jewish community, you had to either wait until you made the day trip to the big city or try to order it through your local shul or Hebrew school. Now, with a click of the mouse, everything's available as long as your credit card number goes through.

But has that resulted in a better Jewish society? Has Artscroll's Schottenstein Talmud resulted in kinder, more decent Jews? Has the ability to order kosher szechuan or buy kosher groceries on line turned us into better observers of all of God's mitzvos? Or has it had the opposite effect?

Years ago, former acquaintances of mine (BT's of course) seeking to up their observance level went and asked their Rav what they could do. He told them to start drinking only cholov Yisroel. Being kosher was too easy, he explained. If you want to be more religious, you have to make it into a challenge.

My initial reaction to that was a loud snort. If it's so easy to keep kosher why don't over 85% of the Jewish people do so? Of all the things to choose, why not something that will enhance society and make it a better place for others?

Although I still do have those objections to the suggestion, I can see some merit to it. When I was in university, there was very little kosher around. It was a routine thing for me to join friends for lunch as they were chowing down on the cafeteria food and pull out my sandwich and then go find a sink to wash in. A huge inconvenience? Absolutely, but it did have the effect of reminding me that what I was doing was something Jewish, not just snarfing lunch down.

One of the dangers of being in Israel is that it feels "normal" to be Jewish. Kosher restaurants are plentiful (depending on which hechshers you hold by), Judaica is for sale everywhere and everyone else is Jewish too. What seems amazing to someone from a small community in Golus eventually turns into a feeling of being part of the greater society, something that doesn't happen over here. But as a result, one can become complacent.

One great example I can think of is something I was told about 4 years ago. Apparently there is a "minhag" in Conservatism that one need only fast until midday on Tisha B'Av. That's because now that Yerushalayim is back in Jewish hands and rebuilt, the fast can be lightened. Of course, even a cursory knowledge of the Bible and halachah makes one laugh at the notion. Tisha B'Av is not a commemoration of the destruction of Yerushalayim but rather of the two Temples and, to my knowledge, they have not yet been rebuilt. What's more, the prophets of the early Second Temple period were specifically asked if they could abolish Tisha B'av, Tevet 10 and Tammuz 17 because they had rebuilt the Temple. The answer was a resounding "no". How much more in our days when our enemies worship and walk freely on our holy Temple Mount.

God did not give us His holy Torah and the 613 mitzvos simply to generate business for kosher butchers and supermarkets. He gave it to us to give us a guide to creating His vision of society here on Earth. That requires more than just feeling "normal" or being just like everyone else. We are, as a people, as a nation, terribly incomplete. How does a kosher cheeseburger compensate for the lack of a Temple? How does being able to buy Jewish books on-line make up for not having a Sanhedrin administrating a nation that lives by halachah?

As the article concludes:

We must follow the advice of Rav Zera and Rav Yirmiyah and look beyond the darkness of Exile. We must abandon our preoccupation with non-issues—the kitniyot and the kosher cheeseburgers—and open our minds and hearts to a truer appreciation of the wordings and intent of the Torah as we focus on the big
questions that form the foundation of a Jewish society in the Land of Israel:

*Whether religious Jews should actively seek the reinstitution of the pre-Exilic customs of the Land of Israel
*Whether the lack of desire for the Temple indicates a character or spiritual flaw
*Whether synagogues should still be saying the prayer for the spiritual centers and Torah academies of Babylon
*How we can re-establish institutions such as the Sanhedrin and the Temple in order to “renew our days as of yore”.

No one can seriously believe that when Moshiach comes, may it be speedily in our days, that society will revert back to the way it was 2000 years ago. Heaven forbid that all the technological and societal advancements of the last two millenia (many of them done by Jews) will be simply washed away. (Me, I'm hoping they use metric in the Third Temple).

The first question therefore is not whether we should actively seek the reinstitutions of the pre-Exilic customs of the land of Israel. Israel is a secular state not ruled according to halachah and the majority of Jews are still outside its borders. What's more, life and conditions have changed immensely during our long, dark dispersion. What was functional 2000 years ago might have to be adapted, through the guidance of our rabbinical leaders, to be relevant nowadays.

What we can do, however, is decide what kind of Jewish society we would like to have. How would a halachic society look in this day and age? How would new techonologies like video, Internet, etc. be incorporated into the existing legal structures that we have in our authoritative codes of law (eg. could payment of fines be done by credit card, for example?)?

It is therefore the job of believing Jews to realize that the opportunity to create something very grat is upon us. It's not enough to revel in being able to do what everyone else takes for granted in the rest of the world. We must take the opportunities Hashem has given us and build the ideal society that He wants from us.

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