Monday, November 28, 2011

Love, Marriage, and the Israeli Rabbinate » Main Feature » Jewish Ideas Daily

I think that Fischer's piece ends on a harsh note, and it makes me sad. But he's so right. - Mike

Love, Marriage, and the Israeli Rabbinate » Main Feature » Jewish Ideas Daily

November 28, 2011
Love, Marriage, and the Israeli Rabbinate - The Chief Rabbinate - Jewish Ideas Daily
By Elli Fischer

The organization Tzohar is fighting for the right to perform its popular "alternative" weddings in Israel. A recent dispute with the Ministry of Religious Services was apparently resolved after a media war, frantic mediation, and a high-level Knesset meeting. Tzohar's victory lasted all of two days before the Chief Rabbinate decided to enforce a long-neglected and selectively applied regulation, again placing the future of Tzohar's program in jeopardy.

Founded as a body that would help unify the modern Jewish state, the rabbinate (Hebrew: rabbanut) has evolved into something else entirely.

Fairy Tale Merav Michaeli, Haaretz. Calling a Tzohar wedding an "alternative" shows how keenly some Israelis want to escape the rabbinate's authority.

Will Tzohar Declare War on the Rabbanut? Elli Fischer, On the Contrary. In the area of kashrut, the rabbinate is not transparent or accountable; but Tzohar may not have the will to mount a fundamental challenge.

Has the Chief Rabbinate Outlived Its Usefulness? Shlomo Riskin, Jerusalem Post. The rabbinate is unfriendly and inflexible—but it can be reformed.

Without the Rabbinate, I'll . . . Yair Ettinger, Haaretz. In addition to marriage, initiatives to sidestep the rabbinate also exist in the realms of divorce, conversion, and burial. The Chief Rabbinate responds to Haaretz's series here.

After Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's 1996 assassination, Tzohar was founded by a group of relatively open-minded, idealistic Religious Zionist Orthodox rabbis to bridge the growing divide between Israel's religious and secular populations. ("Tzohar" is a Hebrew word for window; the organization's motto is "a window between two worlds.")

Soon after its founding, Tzohar began the Wedding Project. Because Israeli law does not recognize, or "register," civil marriages performed within the country, the only recognized marriages between Jews that can take place in Israel are marriages approved by the Chief Rabbinate. But Israeli law does recognize civil marriages performed abroad, so Israeli couples were going to Cyprus to marry in civil ceremonies. Tzohar saw the trend as a sign of alienation from the institutionalized rabbinic bureaucracy, and the Wedding Project was designed to address this alienation. It did not advocate the recognition of non-Orthodox ceremonies but merely established four operating guidelines. A Tzohar rabbi would not accept payment for performing a wedding. He would meet with the bride and groom beforehand. He would schedule just one wedding per day—and arrive on time. That these guidelines were considered innovative speaks volumes about the prevailing situation under the rabbinate.

With these few rules, Tzohar transformed a soulless encounter with officialdom into a positive encounter with Jewish tradition. The Wedding Project became Tzohar's calling card. Despite the sharp criticism implied by the Wedding Project and its threat to the "gray income" that rabbis got from performing marriages, the rabbinate did not interfere with Tzohar's operations—at first.

Things began to change in 2003 with the election of Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger and the achievement of ultra-Orthodox control of the Chief Rabbinate. Since then, the rabbinate has sought to enforce increasingly strict standards of Jewish law and keep non-official rabbis from providing religious services (and threatening the rabbinate's control of patronage). Tzohar has criticized the rabbinate for insisting on ultra-Orthodox standards, bureaucratizing religion, and driving people away from Judaism.

These tensions came to a head a few weeks ago. Under a loophole, an official municipal rabbi affiliated with Tzohar was deputizing other Tzohar rabbis to register weddings they perform around the country. The rabbinate, through the Ministry of Religious Services, closed the loophole. At that point, Tzohar shut down the Wedding Project and launched its media blitz, prophesying that thousands more Israelis would marry abroad in civil ceremonies, assimilate, and be lost to the Jewish people.

Why the alarm and doom-saying? The reason stems from Tzohar's view of the Chief Rabbinate. Tzohar's rank-and-file Religious Zionist rabbis see themselves as ideological and spiritual heirs of Abraham Isaac Kook, Israel's first Chief Rabbi, who played a central role in founding the Chief Rabbinate in 1921. Kook envisioned a rabbinate that would transcend politics, reach out to all Jews living in then-Palestine, and create a renaissance that was spiritual as well as national. Kook exhorted rabbis to "look for the positive in each faction" so as to "restore the honor of the rabbinate and expand its spiritual influence" over the "exhilarating national renaissance taking place in our day." Additionally, Kook's followers believe the instruments of Israel's sovereignty to be sacred inasmuch as they reflect the will of the Jewish people.

Yet even in 1921, when the community numbered just 75,000 Jews barely a generation away from traditional observance, Kook's vision was aspirational. Kook's successors continued to believe in an independent, apolitical rabbinate but were subject to the politics of the governing Labor Zionist coalition, including the National-Religious party. In 1960, Joseph B. Soloveitchik declined an invitation to be a candidate for Chief Rabbi, writing that "the Chief Rabbinate is really a government agency, so it is childish and naïve to think that the chief rabbi would be able to act independently."

Today, with Israel's current demographic challenges—including hundreds of thousands of citizens whose Jewish status is in question—and the intense pressures to end the Orthodox monopoly on matters of personal status, the implementation of Kook's vision seems even less likely. But Tzohar's rabbis, acknowledged even by their non-Orthodox critics to be sincere and idealistic (having briefly been a Tzohar fundraiser several years ago, I concur), continue to believe deeply in the importance of the rabbinate. Tzohar views the period before ultra-Orthodox control as a heyday in which the institution was beloved and apolitical, secular citizens happily submitted to the rabbinate's determinations, and chief rabbis were giants of Torah, sensitive to the needs of the people.

Ironically, the ultra-Orthodox have historically held the rabbinate in contempt and ascribed no religious significance to it; indeed, the current Ashkenazic chief rabbi, whose scholarly and spiritual credentials fall far short, to say the least, of his predecessors', was installed because of his professed allegiance to the ultra-Orthodox parties. Now that these parties control the rabbinate, they continue to view it as nothing more than the spoils of coalition politics, a place fit for political hacks. In treating it this way, they do grave harm to Judaism. But Tzohar watches helplessly, unwilling to advocate abolishing or privatizing the rabbinate or offering civil alternatives to it. Tzohar rabbis believe that if its rabbis were in power, they would be able to resist the temptations associated with controlling huge government budgets. They are convinced that a kinder, gentler rabbinate would prevent the development of non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel, but less obviously and violently. They think the problem lies with the people currently in power in the rabbinate, not the institution of the rabbinate itself.

For many Israelis, Tzohar is the spoonful of sugar that makes the bitter pill of dealing with the official rabbinate palatable. However, it seems clear that increasing numbers of them—including Orthodox Israelis—would prefer never to have to deal with it in the first place, even with Tzohar as a buffer: They would prefer, that is, to have the oppressive and despised rabbinate be removed altogether, whether because they do not share its values or its interpretations of Jewish law, or because they feel that moderns states should stay out of ecclesiastical business.

Yet Tzohar's rabbis, clinging to a nostalgic or imagined ideal of what the rabbinate might have been, refuse to address the sad reality of what it is. This is a group with the talent and stature to articulate a vision of what the Jewish state would look like without an official rabbinate. Instead, it spends its energy in a way that continues to enable its opponents, just so it can hold on to its pipe dream.

Elli Fischer, who lives in Israel, is a writer and translator and blogs at He has rabbinical ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Simon Deng advocates for Israel! He's so cool!

Former Sudanese slave and friend of Fuchs Mizrachi School, Simon Deng, defended Israel at Durban III!

We owe a debt of gratitude to the David Project foe sending him our way.

"Simon Deng, the South Sudanese delegate at the recent Durban III conference on racism (in New York), shattered the hypocrisy of the anti-Israeli front one normally witnesses at such meetings. Mr. Deng pointed out that while the UN has spent years launching paper attacks against Israel, the body generally has ignored the Arab racists committing crimes against Black Africans far more heinous than those falsely alleged against Israel.
From 1955 to 2005, four million non-Arab Sudanese were murdered, seven million were ethnically cleansed, and hundreds of thousands, including Mr. Deng himself, were seized by Arab slave-merchants and sold into bondage to Sudanese and Egyptian Arab owners. Darfur was never a “tribal” conflict, as the UN long soft-pedaled it; it was Arab colonialist genocide against Black Africans. It took UN bodies 16 years to recognize what was afoot, and they did so then only at the behest of Jewish organizations in Israel and the United states.

One of the only Middle Eastern countries to which persecuted South Sudanese could escape was Israel, which, as Mr. Deng reminded his unappreciative audience, is a country with no colour bars: Black Muslims and Christians have found safety in Israel. Mr. Deng also emphasized the violent discrimination of Muslim countries against Coptic Christians (Egypt), other Christians (Iraq, Nigeria and Iran), the B’hai (Iran) and Hindus and Sikhs in Kashmir. Deng celebrated the fact that the South Sudanese president, Salva Kiir, has determined that his new country’s embassy in Israel will be in Jerusalem, “the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”

Mr. Deng’s admirable and timely exposé was ungenerously received by the usual claque of Arabs and their anti-Semitic fellow travelers, and has been under-publicized. But it has put a banana skin under the anti-Israel movement in the Third World, and undermined, or even exploded, the prolonged, self-hating infatuation of sub-Saharan Africans and African-Americans with militant forms of Islam."

Mizrachi staff wrestles with God's immanence (wrong parsha?)

Forwarded conversation

Subject: Anthropopathism (yeah, that's right)

From: Noam Shapiro
Date: Mon, Nov 14, 2011 at 3:36 PM
To: FMS Judaic Staff Meeting

Anyone know of a good source that indicates that God has emotions? (I know many pesukim indicate it. I mean a rishon who says point blank- God does have emotions, and its not a metaphor, like the Rambam would say)

From: Rabbi Aaron Bayer

I feel like kaballa, chassidut, midrash is where you need to go with this. I would check out RAMBAN on some of the psukim that rambam explains metaphorically. Also, check out Eish Kodesh

From: Michael Unterberg

You may have the following problem:

Those who formulate the question philosophically will come to the same conclusion.
Those who are not philosophical will not formulate shittot in that manner. They will just discuss aggada and emotional language literally.

I'm inclined to agree with Aaron that those are the places to look, but it seems unlikely that you will find an articulated statement of belief. (that's what philosophers do)

That being the case, anyone with a philosophical bend can read mystical or literary sources (like kabbala and aggada) as metaphor anyway. So it puts you in a bit of a closed loop.

It is up to the reader to decide if the author intended those anthropopathic statements as literal or as a contribution to metaphorical religious literature. Hard to tell, frankly.


From: Noam Shapiro

Well said, Michael. But here is my problem: how many of us really view notions of God's love and compassion, to name two emotions, only as metaphors which allow us to perceive and relate to God? I would venture to say that many people (me?) think/feel/believe that God truly loves. And to say that God doesn't but that He merely has acted in a way that we humans intrepret as manifesting love, (a la the Rambam) - what are you left with? Is this not at the end of the day just self-deception? (shhh. don't tell anyone- we dont really mean it when we talk about having a relationship with God, its just a facade that we use in order to have....a relationship with God?)
"Meyla" when it comes to God's physicality- I think its easier to say that "dibra torah kilshon bnei adam' and that it is figurative language. But to say that God's emotion is metaphorical...what are you left with then?


From: Barry Kislowicz

On your point about physicality Dr Brill used to say that it's almost impossible to pray effectively without having some image of God in your mind -

From: Michael Unterberg

I think that it is a functional metaphor. By that I mean, a premise that may not bear scrutiny, but its needed to function. So, we use it as our narrative and live with the dissonance. I mean that as a healthy thing.


God loves us.
I have the best Mom in the world.
Israel is the most beautiful country in the world.
MY kids should be models.
My school is the coolest.
I am confident that I can do anything.
"You can choose any career that makes you happy"
My team will win.
I am so good looking.

There is a delicate balance here. And of course, dissonance can be unhealthy and lead to disaster. But we do need them. Its like peer pressure. It has a negative connotation, but actually is a healthy psych/social device that can be misused.

I recommend the book, "LIfe of Pi" by Yann Martel to see how I mean a functional story as a useful narrative.

On another note: Rav Kook talks about Avraham's immanent sense of God being needed earlier in history than Rambam's explication of the transcendent God. You can't have a relationship with the latter, and if we were aware of that first we could never be religious. He compares it to not know that the world spins for the first thousands of years of civilization. If we knew that from the beginning we would never have built tall structures or stand up straight. After we were well acclimated to the immanent sense of God we were ready for the knowledge of the philosopher's God. Both are paradoxically True, and we live in the tension.

I don't know if what I said was different than Rav Kook, complimentary or contradictory. I really don't, but I think its at least similar. Any thoughts?

Anyone mind if post either of these two? Names? No names? Is it shtika kehoda'ah?


From: Noam Shapiro

You have my permission. But I want some of the royalties.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mizrachi Staff debates "Rashi script"

Forwarded conversation
Subject: The Tzadi Lamed Deal is Killer
Date: Mon, Nov 14, 2011 at 5:33 PM
To: FMS Judaic Staff Meeting <>

Check out this article about Rashi script:

From: Adin Krohn <>
I hear the issue. But I have two thoughts.

First, it's not that hard to learn. There are only a few letters that look significantly different. It can be taught easily in early grades, especially in Israel. Certainly "ktav agol" (script) is much harder. Yes, it is much more common, but that's not relevant to this particular point.

Second, what has to come first? If we want kids to be able to use a classic mikreot gedolot, not just torat chaim, then they have to be able to read ktav "Rashi". Certainly high level sefarim (although as new versions come out, more block print is being used), the Rema printed in Shulchan Aruch, etc. When we make it obsolete it will be obsolete. Until then, are we handicapping kids? Of course, if a kid will never read those books, then fine. But are we handicapping them in advance if we tell them they don't have to know it?

more thoughts?
Rabbi Adi Krohn
Yeshivat Yesodei HaTorah
From: Michael Unterberg <>
I am a big believer that since it isn't hard to learn, there is no need to bother little kids with it. Most kids that I know find the Rashi script an irritant at best. Why not just let the older learner figure it out in the 5 minutes it takes, and get used to it in a few hours. In the meantime, we are failing to attract large numbers of kids who choose not to be lifetime learners. There are many reasons for this, both due to our standard pedagogy and due to factors outside of school. (my guess is that the latter is the larger reason - which works against my argument) 
What I am saying is that we should be very careful not to fall into old patterns of teaching. In 21st century pedagogy, it seems crucial to me that we teach to clear relevance as much as possible. To me, Rashi letters is a small symptom of a larger problem. In essence we bore and annoy a majority of kids for a minority that will need to use it when they get older. Again, it is the ease of learning it that turns me against teaching it to, let's say, 5th graders who will not need it. 
Ironically, in the old country we used cheder as education for the masses, and only taught the relevant skills to those who went beyond. The democratization of learning has caused us to take (what I consider to be) strange steps in the skill teaching agenda we set for all students. 
I know that this argument falls on deaf ears. I made a similar post on lookjed in 2005 in response to a question, and was soundly ignored. (you can see the post here) I find that this happens when one makes a progressive suggestion in Jewish educational circles. (i.e. my Steinsaltz argument) I find that when I articulate a case against the status quo, the responses in defense do not take my case point by point and argue them. The response is usually some form of argument that that status quo is too big and public to challenge, and we need to teach in line with the bigger system. Otherwise how will our students fit in and function when they encounter the broader status quo world? 
Not to sound like a Mac commercial, but that argument would have placed out Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Nehama Leibovitz, Rav Yoel, Mordechai Breuer, Sara Shnerer, The Rav, Rav Chaim, etc. etc. If there is a better way to teach contemporary students, then its worth challenging the status quo and see what happens. 
On the other hand, perhaps people nodding and walking away just means that I'm crazy, and that hasn't sunk in yet. 
Sorry, for the long response. As you all know, this is a button on mine that gets pushed from time to time. The Rashi letter thing is a relatively minor issue. It concerns me as a symtom of what for me seems to be too high a level of fear to challenge the status quo. 
Let's do what makes sense and let the status quo meet us when we succeed. 
Anybody mind if I post this on my blog?
From: Dara Unterberg <>

From: Aharon E. Wexler <>
I agree with R' Michael. The real issue as educators is whether we are educating kids to be Talmidei Chachamim or to be well rounded balabatim. The Yeshiva system is based on the Volozhin system which directed itself to producing Talmidei Chachamim becuase Balabatim were produced by osmosis living in the shtetl. You went to Yeshiva to get something MORE than what your Shtetl could give you.
 In the Western World no one is going to be a well rounded balabayit by osmosis and there is no one who has come up with a viable model of how  to do this today. On the one hand we have 900 years of Gemara Rashi Tosfot as being the key to Jewish learning and a belief that Jewish learning is the key to everything else. But now I am not so sure anymore. I wonder what model can produce Jews who are dedicated to Judaism and make them, if God forbid need be, even die for their Judaism like our unlearned ancestors did before.  JEwish history has shown that the unlearned masses were willing to die Al Kiddush Hashem more readily than many of the scholars. How do we instill that dedication in our youth?
From: daniella robicsek <>
i agree with you too, michael.  perhaps people haven't responded one way or another on the lookjed post because they bascially agree with you (or they don't have good arguements to the contrary). anyone who's tried to teach students who aren't enamored with tanach to begin with, should identify with your arguments. Ktav rashi seems like the lowest priority on the totem pole in the context of the much more significant issues that exist.
From: Adin Krohn <>
I hear what you are all saying. Of course I agree that because it is easy to acquire it can wait until later. And most if not all texts being used by kids who have to learn rashi script don't even have it themselves (such as a newer chumash with rashi, for example).
I guess my question starts with: what happens when a text that is only in ktav rashi is one that is deemed important enough to study? Do we avoid it or do we say "ktav rashi isn't that hard, let's teach the kids how to use it now"? How does the students' proficiency (or lack thereof) in reading it affect our curricular choices?
Maybe the answer is "a lot." i.e. why select books that make it harder for the student to read it. Do I care if a fifth grader can't access the kli yakar in the standard mikre'ot gedolot? Of course not.
But do I care if a girl in seminary can't look up a din in the Rema? I think I do. How motivated do I expect students to be to start to learn ktav rashi at that late stage? I guess you could say, "if a girl (or boy) doesn't care enough to learn ktav rashi, then I guess they don;t need ot be learning rema on their own."
Or at least we don't care enough about that dilemma to put ALL our fifth graders through the trouble of learning ktav rashi.
Maybe it is just a cost-benefit analysis where the pain of rashi script for all outweighs the gain of having some low percentage of students who want more advanced learning but are sufficiently unmotivated to be stopped by the obstacle of rashi script not have to be stopped. (did that make sense?)

I think we all agree now? Feel free to continue this...
From: Rabbi Aaron Bayer <>
To put it another way you could suggest that it’s a question of access. Who has access to these texts? Ideally I would like everyone to have equal access to all texts but perhaps that is not worth the tradeoff.
I think that the most universal text that is still printed in rashi script even in the new mechon yerushalayim shulchan aruch and the newer mishna berura is the rema. That’s a pretty big deal. But perhaps the six letters that are different can be taught in 9th grade (the earliest age that I imagine most kids start learning shulchan aruch)

From: Michael Unterberg <>
Teach it when you use it. That's my policy. Relevance uber alles. 
From: Noam Shapiro <>
This discussion reminds me of the video lecture you sent out once, Michael- would you mind resending it? (About the guy discussing shifting paradigms in education) Not totally the same- but the idea of who the audience is in education ,as well as what the purpose is... would love to see it again.
From: Michael Unterberg <>

From: Noam Shapiro <>
Thanks man!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Cosmic Lottery - GRS drasha from Lech Lecha

A few people have asked for copies of the drasha that I gave this past Shabbat at Green Road Synagogue. Unfortunately, I don't write things up before I speak. But I think that I might like a copy too. Dara and I have largely based the Bible and Jewish History curricula at Fuchs Mizrachi on these ideas. So I will try to write it up as best as I can from memory. In addition to any differences of memory, my writing and speaking styles differ a bit. 

The Cosmic Lottery

When I was a kid in school, my teachers used to make a big deal about how difficult the challenge of "lech lecha" was for Avraham. How hard would it be, the asked us to imagine, leaving your home, family and culture to move to a strange new land. What they left out, was that Avraham was already doing that anyway. He and his family were nomadic trader/shepherds, and were already moving from Mesopotamia to Israel. This was the initiative of Avraham's father, Terach, and appears in the text at the end of chapter 11, immediately preceding the lech lecha. 

"And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son's son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there." 

The basic route along the fertile crescent 

Whenever you place the Divine command to Avraham, he is basically being asked to do something that he was doing with his father anyway. So why was this challenge so difficult?

Well, maybe it wasn't. Perhaps God is asking Avraham to be the kind of person that he already was, and do the kind of things he already did, but to now dedicate those things to Him. The greater challenges come later, including the ultimate test of the Akeda, the second "lech lecha". But for now, Avraham is simply taking who he is so far, and dedicating himself to God. The text says that he is 75, years old. The midrash tells us that he was already a great iconoclast, (literally!) challenging the prevailing world views of his age with his perspective of ethical monotheism. He does appear in the text to stand different from those around him in many ways. As he grows, even in his later years he demonstrates that kind of sustained subversion against his own ideas as well. He always challenges himself, which is undoubtably why he succeeds in his later tests from God. 

And why is God choosing this man and this land and bringing them together? He says, "And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed". So it has something to do with blessing all the families of the earth. Through the ages this has been explained to mean building a nation that will be a light to all others. This nation will create a great society of justice and righteousness that will be an example to all others. That is what they are being chosen for. In earlier chapters, God has tried to make covenants with Adam and Noah in order to build an ethical humanity. When this does not work out, God decides to make his covenants with Avraham to be the progenitor of this nation that will follow his example and exhibit his characteristics. 

Now that we are three thousand and a something hundred years into that plan, it seems reasonable to take a step back and see how the mission is going. How have we done as the vanguard of civilization?

Well, a few centuries after Avraham those descendants end up founding a kingdom in that land. They have a nomadic herding tradition, and settle into agricultural life. They are also on the crossroads of the fertile crescent where Asia and Afica meet, between the two great world empires of Egypt and Mesopotamia. In this cross cultural environment, they do indeed embody the character of Avraham, creating a body of literature that changes the world. It posits ideas that were crazy in the in the Iron Age, when they were written. Among those ideas were concepts like monarchs under the law, the sacred value of every human life and peace as a virtue. It is nearly impossible for us to grasp how tiny and insignificant this kingdom was politically and demographically, precisely because the influence of these works is way out of proportion to the tiny people who generated them. 

The First Jewish State

Although they lose their kingdom in 586 B.C.E. to the Babylonians, they continue to study and expound on their classic canon of sacred literature. In these works, the Jews delve into understand both the values and practices of the Bible. And while the values are probably more important, emphasis is placed on the explication of the laws, so that Torah can be lived and not just learned. In these works, they, like their forefather, constantly and consistently challenge the prevailing assumptions of their ages. They ask questions within their world and without, always thinking that things can and should be made better.

They spend centuries spread around the world in a variety of countries and cultures, constantly weighing values against each other, balancing tradition with progress. Defying all the laws of history, they maintain a coherent identity in exile, and eventually (astonishingly) return to reclaim their homeland and independence. There they continue to struggle like their forefathers, to create a culture of justice and bring values from the realm of ideas to reality. They continue to contribute to arts, culture and science all disproportionate to their numbers

We may wonder that the pace is so slow, but the mission does seem to be ongoing. When we do wonder about the glacial pace, we can question wether it is because of our backsliding, or because God simply works at a scale that we simply can't appreciate. But the plan does seem to be in effect

What does this mean for us? What are the consequences of being part of the .2% of the world's population who are part of this covenant? What is incumbent upon us as winners of this Cosmic Lottery, to be born into the nation destined to be the vanguard of civilization by dint of a contract with the Master of the Universe? What responsibilities fall to those proud few who constitute this amazing people?

I think it comes down to three things.

1) The first is the need to access the great works of our people. To have such an embarrassment of riches at our disposal and ignore it would be a crime. To live without drawing on three thousand years of inherited wisdom is living hand to mouth. To put it into simpler parlance, we should learn more Torah.

2) We should not only learn Judaism, we should live it. Just as with the first factor, we can certainly do better at our practice of halachah, and live more authentic Jewish lives. And if we can, we must.

3) We must do everything we can to move the mission forward. This means building a Jewish state that exemplifies the ideals of tzedek vemishpat, justice and righteousness, so that Jerusalem becomes the city on the hill that is the world's model.

Like our father Avraham, we must constantly challenge prevailing accepted views in search of deeper truth. And like him, this must be directed not only against society, but also within ourselves. His example is one of constant, dynamic growth.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the story of God's plan in making this covenant with Avraham is that we get to write the next chapter. May we make our forefathers proud.

The Great Journey

Thursday, November 3, 2011

All we are saying is, "Give mutual unilateral disengagement a chance!"

I am really not kidding.

I noticed that I seemed to be in a minority this week. I've begun work at "Write on for Israel: The Next Generation", teaching Israel advocacy to adults. At one point another speaker was discussing the Palestinian statehood bid in the UN. In discussing it as a unilateral move, he asked the group to compare it with the success or failure of other unilateral declaration. The talked about American independence, the Confederacy and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. The consensus seemed to be that the first worked because it was backed up in war, and that the other two were failures.

Man, I don't know. I still agree with Ariel Sharon, and believe that unilateral Gaza withdrawal was the right move. I'm not referring to how the residents of Gush Katiff were treated, that is a different issue. Let me begin to defend my thesis, by starting with a few of my assumptions. Next I'll lay out the case, and then I will defend it against possible objections.

A: Assumptions
1) Sometimes Israel has no good moves to make. It can only choose from bad ones. This is an important point. Sometimes when we criticize Israel for creating damage "A", we don't notice that they are solving problem "B" in the only way possible. Lazar Berman makes this argument well. So we may not be able to solve all the problems, but we should look for ways to at least manage the bad ones. By way of analogy, think of how doctors deal with chronic illnesses. There may be no cure, but you must manage what you can.

2) As I mentioned in two previous posts, I think that the space between what the Israeli left can concede and what Palestinian leadership can accept can't be bridged at this time. More importantly, so does Aaron David Miller. That means that peace is not a meaningful thing to pursue at this time. I think that in any case, the second Intifada eroded any fragile trust between Israelis and Palestinians that is the necessary foundation of a peace deal. So let's not even use the word for the foreseeable future. It raises an impossible goal that frustrates progress.

3) For moral and pragmatic reasons, the status quo of Israel being entangled in the military oversight of daily life in the West Bank is a disaster.

B: The Plan
What options does that leave? Once you take peace off the table, how can you move to a different future in the region? I think that Gadi Taub's approach makes the most sense. Mutual unilateral disengagement is what seems most plausible to me. (I know, the acronym is M.U.D., but I really am not kidding here. There is nothing modest in this proposal, so seek no irony)

There will have to be negotiation to set terms for this to work, but there will still be outstanding disagreements. (like the right of return) These will need international support to succeed. At best, they will lead to a cold peace/war between two separated people. Perhaps in a generation or two, this could lead to peoples that could begin to build cooperation and trust. But I don't think this status quo should go that long, and we may not be able to build the trust till we get there.

C: Objections
1) Thousands of rockets come to mind. Don't those rockets prove that unilateral disengagement from Gaza was a failure? Well here's the thing. That failure was due to Israel's lack of a deterrence policy. Post "Cast Lead", Israel has implemented such a policy to great effect in the north with Hizbullah and the South with Hamas. (although it may be even more about Islamic Jihad in the south according to Khaled Abu Toameh)

Are there still rockets? Some, of course. And while even one is not acceptable, I refer back to assumption #1 and point out that terrorism may only be manageable. We have stopped terrorists themselves from crossing that border into Jewish areas, though, and that is a great security success. Are they arming? Yup, but back to assumption #1.

2) Isn't "negotiated mutual unilateral disengagement" the same as a peace process? Yes and no. The similarities are obvious. But NMUD can be pursued with clarity and honesty in a way that the peace process can't. Setting a more realistic goal could possibly generate a healthier dialogue. Israel has reached armistice agreements with many hostile neighbors over the years, and this could be one. I wouldn't call an armistice with Syria "peace talks". But the did lead to reasonably quiet borders, stable coexistence and a maintainable status quo. We need that with the Palestinians. Take peace out of the equation, and there more be work to do and goals to accomplish.

However you evaluate Bibi's performance, he certainly makes a big deal about peace based on true facts. Well, the truth may just be that we can't bridge the gap to become good neighbors. Good fences may be the best we can do for now.