Category Archives: religious zionism

Rav Yehuda Amital Z”L

This morning we mourn the death of Harav Yehuda Amital zt”l, a truly courageous and moral leader of our time.

Here is the opening of an article that I wrote about him a few years ago in my review of Rav Amital’s book “Worlds Destroyed Worlds Rebuilt: The Religious Thought of R. Yehudah Amital” (the essay originally appeared in the 2006 Edah Journal) :

* Rabbi Amital is a profound visionary driven by his memory of the past with a unique natural sense of Judaism. Yehudah Klein (later changed to Amital) was born in 1925 in Transylvania. As a boy he studied in heder and yeshiva and had only four years of elementary secular education; his teacher in Hungary was the Lithuanian R. Hayyim Yehudah Halevi, a student of R. Hayyim Ozer and of Reb Barukh Baer Leibowitz. R. Amital recounts a story of his youth in which he imagined a ball of fire in the sky. His vivid and active imagination took it as a messianic sign, and he persuaded his classmates to dance around a tree in celebration. R. Amital didn’t himself experience this envisioned messianic redemption, for in 1943 the Nazis deported him to a labor camp, and the rest of his family perished in Auschwitz. Upon his release, he came to Israel in December of 1944 and resumed his yeshiva studies, receiving ordination from R. Isser Zalman Meltzer and then married the latter’s granddaughter. R. Amital joined the Haganah and fought in the battles of Latrun and the Western Galilee. After the war, R. Amital became a rabbinic secretary in the Rabbinical Court in Rehovot, and two years later, he started giving a Talmud shiur in Yeshivat Ha-Darom together with his colleague Rabbi Elazar Mann Shakh.

While at Yeshivat Ha-Darom, R. Amital formulated the idea of the yeshivat hesder, which combines yeshiva study and military service. The exemption from army service granted to yeshiva students increased the friction between the religious and secular communities, so R. Amital created the yeshivat hesder to unite these two communities, as well as to illustrate the religious significance of the accomplishments of the new state. This decisive move shifted R. Amital from his haredi background to a religious Zionist affiliation and distinguished his teachings from those of his colleague Rav Shakh, who came to lead the anti-Zionist yeshiva ideology at the Ponovitch Yeshiva in Benei Beraq. For R. Amital, there was no turning back: the secular state was a reality. The hesder form of Religious Zionism became a distinct variety of Modern Orthodoxy, one that consisted of helping to build the state under labor Zionism, and combining Torah study with army service. (One should note the difference between this form of religious Zionism and Hirsch’s diaspora keeping of mitsvot, Hildesheimer’s academic study of Talmud, or American suburbanization).

Propelled by Holocaust memories, R. Amital became a force in the building of the modern state of Israel, and, after the liberation of the Gush Etzion in the Six-Day War of 1967, Rabbi Amital founded the yeshiva in Kefar Etzion. (In 1971, R. Amital invited R. Aharon Lichtenstein to join him as Rosh Yeshiva.) R. Amital later led the politically liberal religious party Meimad and served as a cabinet minister. He publicly displayed his pain over the 1973 and 1982 wars, especially the loss of some of his earliest students, and raised three generations of primarily Israeli students, teaching them to think independently, sensitively and subtly about the complex issues of morality, piety and politics that the modern Israeli faces. His combination of simple interpersonal directness and complex inner theology makes him, to quote a recent Ha’aretz article, “a simple Jew… a rare breed” and one from whom American Jews can learn much.

Rabbi Ronen Lubitz as potential Chief Rabbi of Haifa

According to Maariv, Ronen Lubitz, the Rabbi of Kibbutz Nir Etzion potentially could be the new Chief Rabbi of Haifa, to replace Rabbi Shaar Yashuv Cohen. Lubitz was part of the wave of the New Religious Zionists, that includes Rabbis Cherlow, Bigman, Gilad, Benny Lau, who wrote programmatic essays a decade ago in Deot, Amudim and Akdamot about the future of Religious Zionism and who formed Tzohar, as a more progressive rabbinical organization.

Lubitz, who is less well known in America than the others, has already stated to Maariv that he seeks for greater tolerance of gays in synagogue and that he accepts the compromise of accepting that entertainment remains open on Shabbat.

A decade ago he wrote a programmatic article on what is “modern religious orthodoxy” called in Hebrew AD”M (Orthodoxy ha-Dati haModerni. For my American readers I must point out that he is referring to an Israeli phenomena and not an American phenomena. With the rise of the aforementioned New Religious Zionists in the early 1990’s due to the breakdown of the older state-building and collective vision of the older religious Zionists, these younger rabbis turned to individualism and started calling themselves “modern.” (Note: Religious Zionism and Modern Orthodoxy are not co-extensive and have different origins and trajectories. Too big a topic for here). This group of Religious Zionists have no connection or sympathy with Haredim since they attend separate schools and form identity through army service. Rav Cherlow even advocates not learning Haredi seforim. The article seeks to distance AD”M from the Religious Nationalism of Merkaz Harav such as the followers of Rav Aviner.

Man Searches for Meaning (Again) in Deot 7 April 2000

Lubitz offers chapters toward a Orthodox Dati ha-Moderni AD”M
We need to seeks our way. We used to have a clear path but not anymore. AD”M is between the national religious camp and the religious liberals, the former-associated with Rav Aviner-are connected to Religious Zionism but lack modernity and the latter embrace modernity but are sociologically separate from Religious Zionism.

How do we relate to modernity? Confrontation, combination, synthesis, or even intergrafted?
Now we have the new issues raised by Postmodernity where ideas are contingent. In the National Religious group many run away back to certainty and Haredi life. If modernity does not work the default is to reject it and seek certainty.

Ronen Lubitz defined the struggles of the New Religious Zionists as consisting of five elements.
Five characteristic of modern Orthodoxy (he mean Israeli Datiim Hadashim or AD”M, don’t confuse with America)

(1) One needs to choose life- nothing in the fullness of the secular world should be foreign to Judaism.
We need to identify with Western culture and still keep mizvot in their fullness. Correct action is required but we allow many opinions so we are more orthoprax than orthodox. (I am not sure if he means these terms in the American usage.-read the Hebrew) We embrace doubt pluralism, contingency, there is no one opinion or theology. Sometimes a moment of holiness in the secular and sometimes a moment of secular in the holiness- “there is nothing as whole as a broken awareness”

(2) Doubt is serious; misgivings about observing mizvot, skepticism about belief, and questioning of Torah are all to be taken seriously.

(3) Observant Jews can lead a normal life, and not conform to an ideal life. It is OK to relax with normal entertainment or to enter any profession. Legitimacy for modernity to permeate your life the way Israeli nationalism used to permeate lives. Torah Study does not override tasting and being part of the world.

(4) There is a pluralism of truth, without a reconciliation of halakhah, mahshavah, and secular studies. AD”M does not see a contradiction of Torah and the pluralism of scattered and fragmented truth. In this we differ from the National Religious who treat western culture as fact and try to keep out its values. Every month they have a new worry, reaction, and restriction. We openly accept human rights, autonomy, freedom, equality. We recognize that Western culture contributed to the advancement of humanity, therefore we seek to ground these values in Torah. In time, we will succeed in integrating post-modernism as well.

(5) We need to live in a religious language but we need a new religious language since the old language does not serve us anymore.

Interesting other piece about Lubitz protesting for human rights in China from 2008

In a small town in northern Israel Rabbi Ronen Lubitz is very happy to welcome his congregation’s leavened bread. It’s a token of solidarity to remember the days when the Jews had to cross the desert without it after they were freed from Egypt.But this year Rabbi Lubitz is adding something more to this ancient tradition. He’s asking everyone in his congregation to sign a petition against human rights abuses in China. His hope… to have his community know about the persecution of Falun Gong in mainland China.
[Ronen Lubitz, Rabbi of Nir Ezion]:
“I decided this year to use this opportunity to let people know about what’s going on in China. The persecution and torturing of the Falun Gong, and the prohibition of very basic civil rights to the people of China. I think it’s very much connected to the basic ideas of Pesach (Passover). Because during Pesach we celebrate our freedom. Our freedom as people, as a nation. Our freedom as individuals.”

“I go in the way of Rabbi Kook. He talked a lot about our duty to love all human beings and he spoke about our Passover, our Pesach as a sign of freedom to all humanity…I would like to wish the people in China and in other places in the world that this spring of our nation will be a sign for spring for them as well.”

Response by Rabbi David Bigman and others to Elchanan Shilo

Elchanan Shilo’s piece garnered several responses. – teguvot
For the original post of Shilo- see here.

Rav David Bigman, RaM at Maaleh Gilboa stated his reservations as follows:

The problem presented in the article is important and the discussion is critical from a personal, religious and national perspectives. The older common halakhah is fading away before smaller individualized forms of halkhah to which people cannot relate. And we have to get beyond the all or nothing approach.

But Bigman completely disagrees with Shilo’s disregard of halakhah and his wanting to change the status of halakhah.
The religious Zionists who live in a wider society have presented it all or nothing. On the other hand, the totalizing society of Haredim when you observe them first hand don’t actually live according to the halakhah

Our poskim have lost a sense of normal life, work life, army life. They do not relate to the customs by which people arrange their lives and only view things through an ideal halakhic lens. (Bigman relates a story of yihud in an army situation.) We have lost the distinctions of Biblical law, rabbinic law, minhag yisrael, and custom. We need to allow different levels. We should not reject the halkhic norms but maybe seek a more intellectual reading of the sources. We need a more living and relevant halakhah.

We don’t need a new system. We need the new generation of rabbis who will be relevant. We need to train rabbis to confront the other and appreciate any connection to Judaism.

Some letters- praise Shilo. One letter written by a dat”lash, morid kipah said that he found the article just the help for clarifying his life. There was a screed by Dov Landau crediting Shilo with causing all evil in society -supporting the Clash of Civilizations, Post-Modernism, the breakdown of society, and uprooting any and all Torah values. (If he could he would have also credited him with the Asian Tsunami and all disastrous events in Gaza.)

Shilo’s Response to Rabbi Bigman

When you enter the halakhah one can soften the law only here and there and even then only a little bit. There is not as much flexibility in the law as you credit. And that ordinary people cannot wait for new generation of rabbis. Ordinary people work below without waiting for miracles from above.

PS If you are in Teaneck, ir hakodesh this Shabbat

Rabbi David Bigman will be at Davar on Shabbat June 4 & 5, 2010
8:15am schachrit, kiddush after laining, lecture #2, musaf
The Discrepancies in the Law of the First Born: Dealing with Biblical Criticism with Sincerity
7:15pm mincha, seudah shelishit, lecture #3, mariv, havdalah
Changes in the Procedure of Divorce: From Scripture to Talmud

A Continuous Judaism Between Halakhah and Hiloni by Elchanan Shilo

Here is an article By Elchanan Shilo, “A Continuous Judaism between halakhah and Hiloni” that appeared in the Shabbat Supplement of Mekor Rishon on May 7 2010 and it has been posted on Tzav Pius (One of the many inscrutable projects of the Avi Chai Foundation.)
It is an interesting article and brings together many ideas currently floating around. Yet, I am not sure if he is not just recreating 1920’s Conservative Judaism or a European Geminde system. Nor am I sure that all the parts of his argument work together. Shilo, who teaches Jewish thought, wants to undo the division between those who keep halakhah and those who pick and choose. He brings together those who are halakhic, with those who pick and choose, and he includes in his expanded approach both those who only occasionally find something that speaks to them in Judaism and those leaving halakhic oservance. Here is a freehand summary and paraphrase of selected lines and an even more freehand translation of key lines.

A Continuous Judaism Between Halakhah and Hiloni by Elchanan Shilo

“The time has come to stop building bridges between the religious and the secular and instead to create a new wider existence. The religious Zionist community, whose strength is enough for both sides, is capable of building this expanse in order to break the divisions of the past.”

Modernity brought (1)education (2)a bourgeois life (3) a halakhicification of Judaism.The first two are good. But the later creates a division between religious and secular. The division was originally encouraged for the pride of building an educated community who knew and kept halakhah. Now we need to erase the divide by mixed schools and individualized patterns of observance.

We already have many people who have individualized approaches. Some people find halakhah and the religious life stifling and not life enhancing , others find it fits perfectly and enhances their lives. Generally we are happy when people discover observance but we should understand that it does not fit everyone and we should accept that people regularly give up observance. People go back and forth. His solution is to prevent absolute secularization- and see the community as a very wide range of observances with people going both directions at all times. In this approach, the formerly frum (Datla”sh) who don’t fit into the secular world would remain comfortably part of religious world. (Datla”sh is at least 25 % of the religious Zionist community)

Shilo argues that his approach should not be confused with the liberalism of Reform and Conservative. The later movements judged Orthodoxy as primitive and that they are progressive. They created a new ideology with justifications for none observance. Shilo wants a broad tent without any judgment or ideology.

He accepts the older American model of having a men’s section, a women’s section, and mixed section. No judging and no definite answer. Some people follow the halakhah and some people follow their need not to have a mehitza. {He emailed me to tell me that he thought these mixed pulpits still existed in the US. His American father remembers them. He did not know that they dont exist anymore.}

Liberal religious Zionist weddings have mixed dancing after the officials leave combining both halkhah and actual practice. But he asks why not has both separate and mixed dancing right from the start? Halakhah without ideology or non-observance of Halakhah without ideology wont topple the edifice.

There are no hard definitions of God’s will only soft ones that vary with the individual. Shilo advocates that we should turn to the writings of Rabbi Mordechai Leiner of Izbitz, the Mei Hashiloah. People can have different callings from God, some in the halakhah and some not in the halkhah. How do we know that God wants everyone to keep halakhah, maybe sometimes there is intentional sin for the sake of heaven or different paths for different people.

We don’t want to delegitimize Jews or close options. He advocates a practical Judaism or an actual Judaism or a realistic Judaism. Many people want to keep Shabbat and even love Shabbat but are not interested in the details of squeezing, mixing, or smoothing on the Sabbath Many just want to keep up the tradition or the family values.

A different case is that people can like Shabbat but also have normal sexual needs . They do not want to be told that it is the evil inclination, rather they want to enjoy sexuality and the Sabbath. They don’t want a dichotomy of either being part of the frum world or the secular world.
Not keeping hair covering, going mixed swimming, and mixed dancing can be done without any ideology of either rejecting Orthodoxy or forcing people into a social ghetto.

The beit midrash should be open to all. And the criteria for how to study and what to study is not determined by halakhah but by relevance, interest, meaning and poetics.

People don’t want a Reform Shabbat in the synagogue they want a traditional Shabbat that they can mold to their own meaning.
Halakhah has to stop fighting a radical secularism and secularist have got to stop fighting the halkahic world. A wide practical Jewish life can bring people together.

OK, so is this new or old? Feasible or not? Are all details worked out or are their dangling elements. Read the full Hebrew article and let me know if there is something that will catch on here or is it just a idea.

Update with a response by Rabbi David Bigman.

New unpublished Rav Kook

My reader Paul Shaviv showed up earlier this week and left the blogging equivalent of a baby in a basket in a comment on my About page. He posted a link to a pdf of one of the new Rav Kook works that have been recently transcribed. I had assumed that this was already discussed and linked elsewhere.

Rav Kook left behind scores of notebooks of his thoughts. Many of those notebooks were used by the Nazir to create Orot Hakodesh as an editor’s synthesis. Others were used by R Zvi Yehudah to produce a different voice for Rav Kook. Recently, some of these notebooks have been published as Shemonah Kevatzim. In the last few years, even more material has come forth from the archives creating a serious academic and Merkaz haRav world debate on why were they hidden until now? what was edited out? Does it change our view of Rav Kook?

For those of us in the field, none of this is new. It is the bread and butter of academic conferences. Back in summer 2009 at the World Congress for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem when others were heading home already, I attended session 352 held in the evening in the Senate room located away from the other sessions . The session was dedicated to the editorial changes and changes over time in rav Kook’s thought. The speakers were Neriah Gutel, Yehudah Mrsky, Udi Avramovitch and Bitty Yehudah. And the audience was the entire cabal of Rav Kook experts (minus a few for specific personal reasons.) Their papers and the discussion afterwards discussed all the debated issues of what do we learn from these new volumes? How was Rav Kook’s vision different at the beginning? And what was consciously changed and censored?

Everyone had already read Avinoam Rozenak’s Hidden Diaries and New Discoveries: The Life and Thought of Rabbi A. I. Kook Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies – Volume 25, Number 3, Spring 2007, pp. 111-147, which first appeared in Hebrew. Rozenak showed that some of these writing had a more antinomian element to them and that the editors were more conservative.

So here is the 250 page pdf of one new books, Harav Kook- leNevuchai Hazeman The work starts off following the Guide of the Perplexed for content but then veers off course. Very little of it is new, we have seen almost all of the paragraphs or at least the ideas before in his other works. What we gain is a turn a phrase here, a named interlocutor there, and an alternative organization illuminating Rav Kook’s thought pattern.

We also have two recent articles in Kipa [in Hebrew]. One used the aforementioned Udi Avramovitch as its expert source. Udi finds the volume more radical than the printed version and he finds a greater identity of God’s will and the will of the people. He also claims that in this work Rav Kook claims a value for other religions and that they worship the one true God. The second article quotes the army and settlement Rabbi Yosef Kellner that the book is essential to read but they are confining distribution, and here is a letter by Rav Kellner about the book.

Rav Kook started the volume while still in Europe and finished it in Jaffa. The book starts off discussing the image of God as volition- will. Human have a will to make manifest as creativity in the world. Yes, Schopenhauer’s definition of man as the guide for our generation. (Along the way Spinoza is deftly defeated by the volition of R. Moses Hayyim Luzatto)The second chapter tells me that Saadayah and Maimonides saw that books of sectarians (minim) multiplied so they were compelled to write philosophic works. That does not inspire me in its understanding of the medieval but tells me more about Rav Kook. In a later chapter, he tells me that “all revolutions are good for clearing away the small minded people and narrow visions” with a later in the paragraph phrase that “they all follow the pure knowledge of God” Holy Hegelian Marxist! What do I do with these grapplings with the sectarian writings of German Idealists for a Torah for the 21st century?

Can we use this as a guide for social revolution now? Well, let look at what he said about the problem of favoritism, corruption and cronyism in rabbinic courts. Rav Kook was against any change to the institutional fabric and rejected secular oversight or higher courts to oversee lower batai din, threatening to return to the R. Hayyim Sonnenfeld camp. What of women in modern world? He did not think women should vote or study Torah. What of secular studies? The new diaries show that he encouraged his inner circle to avoid the wisdom of the gentiles and stick to the prophetic Torah.

Furthermore, we tend to read Rav Kook as if he is the one pushing the envelope on the potential diffusion of God’s light in a new age. Rather than responding to forgotten correspondents who were more radical than he was like R Shmuel Alexandrov or R. Moshe Seidel. These newly released versions, at first reading, will make it easier to find the original dialogue partner. As you read through it, let me know if you find any especially unique passages or if you can detect changes from the beginning to the end of the writing process.

For the meaning of these writings, I await the series of new scholarly articles that will be written in the next few years. The one thing these writings do show is his concern with making a new passionate Jew beyond cognitive focus of the Eastern European beit midrash. A new Jew concerned with volition, inner voice, volkgeist, a new age, love, and seeking a new knowledge of God.

Immediate Update– both the article in Kipa and the file of Rav Kook have been take down, the link wont work. I can understand the removal of the unpublished book, but what benign or nefarious power took down a current news article. If anyone knows then please let me know. The article in Kipah is cached and one can still get to the Headline but not the article. Friends in Israel, what’s the story?
Next Update– I just posted the pdf from my saved copy and the articles reappeared with minor changes.

Tzvia Greenfield and Judith Butler

Tzvia Greenfield, our haredi Meretz Keneset member, just published an appreciation of Judith Butler, the feminist literary critic, on Israel/Palestine.

My first reaction was one of treating it as an extreme posture. I mean, come on, one could not get almost any rabbi or Jewish communal figure anywhere on the spectrum to read Judith Butler. I thought of Leib Weisfish, who was on the speaking circuit in the 1980’s as a Mea Shearim dwelling Haredi Neturai Karta who was a passionate admirer of Nietzsche. Weisfish maintained a correspondence with Walter Kaufman, the translator and wanted the grave of Nietzsche to be transferred to Israel.

But my second thought was back to Greenfield’s haredism, which is not a sectarian culturally limited Haredism of Meah Shearim and probably should not be called Haredism. Her view seems to be closer to the older Rabbi Isaac Breuer influence world of Agudah from Germany where one can have a PhD in literature or biochemistry. But one holds that the Torah is above any politics, beyond any this worldly referent, and not subject to any personal choice- a radical separation of Torah and Derekh Eretz. Rabbi Breuer could discuss the secular world based on Nietzsche and Schopenhauer because the Torah was pure and entirely above society. He could also say that the Torah from a this-worldly perspective is biased against women but that is OK since Torah is to be considered from the eternal perspective. A few decades ago, there were still academics from the Poalai Agudah world that had such views.

(In 1990, Rav Shakh basically dissolved Poalai Agudah, telling them that “Torah only” was the only acceptable career, source of ideas, or worldview. The approach of Torah and a sharply bifurcated derekh eretz was no longer to be tolerated.)

So here is Greenfield’s article praising Judith Butler that the occupation needs to end because it would be the collapse of Israel as a democracy and as source of knowledge and talent. I am less interested in the political details as much as the synthesis of Meretz and Orthodoxy played out through Judith Butler. The reason for the sudden interest in Butler is because she passed through Israel a few months ago and obviously met with Meretz. In addition, Butler seems to at work on a monograph on Judaism, human rights, and Hannah Arendt.

Greenfield From Haaretz

Yet another terrifying possibility, of course, is that Israel would consciously renounce its own self-definition as a Western democracy. It would then gradually turn into a dictatorship that defines itself as Jewish. It would use armed force to continue to control all the territory west of the Jordan River, and would continue to deny the Palestinians’ right to either freedom or equality. A choice of that kind would destroy Israel as a modern state, and accordingly also its ability to defend itself and to develop as a secure, flourishing, 21st-century society.

In this case as well, it is clear that most of the country’s intelligentsia, and indeed anyone with initiative, would leave Israel. Israel would remain with its religious population and its rightists – some of whom are capable of defending it, but most of whom are devoid of high-level development and management skills. The Israeli-Jewish dictatorship would thus suffer from a substantive weakness that would eventually lead to its defeat at the hands of its Muslim enemies.

It is sad to think that this process has apparently already started: The collapse of education and higher learning, together with the political corruption and the tremendous growth of those sectors that are not prepared to share the social, economic and military burden, is encouraging the more talented and diligent Israelis to leave the sinking Jewish ship.

Even if treating Israel as the country that embodies the ultimate evil in fact expresses a new and ugly incarnation of traditional anti-Semitism, which always viewed the Jews as the representative of all the world’s ills, the truth is still simple, but difficult to face: An Israel that does not allow the Palestinian situation to be resolved has effectively announced its own inexorable death, via the gradual destruction of the resources of knowledge and talent that have enabled it to develop and defend itself until now. In order to save Israel, we must immediately separate from the territories and their inhabitants.

Butler in her own words
Judith Butler: As a Jew, I was taught it was ethically imperative to speak up 24/02/2010

Part one Part two

Philosopher, professor and author Judith Butler arrived in Israel this month, en route to the West Bank, where she was to give a seminar at Bir Zeit University, visit the theater in Jenin, and meet privately with friends and students.
Why Israel-Palestine? Is this directly connected to your Jewishness?

As a Jew, I was taught that it was ethically imperative to speak up and to speak out against arbitrary state violence. That was part of what I learned when I learned about the Second World War and the concentration camps. There were those who would and could speak out against state racism and state violence, and it was imperative that we be able to speak out. Not just for Jews, but for any number of people. There was an entire idea of social justice that emerged for me from the consideration of the Nazi genocide.

I would also say that what became really hard for me is that if one wanted to criticize Israeli state violence – precisely because that as a Jew one is under obligation to criticize excessive state violence and state racism – then one is in a bind, because one is told that one is either self-hating as a Jew or engaging anti-Semitism. And yet for me, it comes out of a certain Jewish value of social justice. So how can I fulfill my obligation as a Jew to speak out against an injustice when, in speaking out against Israeli state and military injustice, I am accused of not being a good enough Jew or of being a self-hating Jew? This is the bind of my current situation.

Let me say one other thing about Jewish values. There are two things I took from Jewish philosophy and my Jewish formation that were really important for me… well there are many. There are many. Sitting shiva, for instance, explicit grieving. I thought it was the one of the most beautiful rituals of my youth. There were several people who died in my youth, and there were several moments when whole communities gathered in order to make sure that those who had suffered terrible losses were taken up and brought back into the community and given a way to affirm life again.
So I agree with you. But I think we have to get over the idea that a state has to express a nation. And if we have a bi-national state, it’s expressing two nations. Only when bi-nationalism deconstructs the idea of a nation can we hope to think about what a state, what a polity might look like that would actually extend equality. It is no longer the question of “two peoples,” as Martin Buber put it. There is extraordinary complexity and intermixing among both the Jewish and the Palestinian populations. There will be those who say, “Ok, a state that expresses two cultural identities.” No. State should not be in the business of expressing cultural identity.
I think that the BDS movement has taken several forms, and it is probably important to distinguish among them

More Butler from this Spring

Lastly, let me say this. You may feel fear in voting for this resolution. I was frightened coming here this evening. You may fear that you will seem anti-Semitic, that you cannot handle the appearance of being insensitive to Israel’s needs for self-defense, insensitive to the history of Jewish suffering. Perhaps it is best to remember the words of Primo Levi who survived a brutal internment at Auschwitz when he had the courage to oppose the Israeli bombings of southern Lebanon in the early 1980s. He openly criticized Menachem Begin, who directed the bombing of civilian centers, and he received letters asking him whether he cared at all about the spilling of Jewish blood. He wrote:
I reply that the blood spilled pains me just as much as the blood spilled by all other human beings. But there are still harrowing letters. And I am tormented by them, because I know that Israel was founded by people like me, only less fortunate than me. Men with a number from Auschwitz tattooed on their arms, with no home nor homeland, escaping from the horrors of the Second World War who found in Israel a home and a homeland. I know all this. But I also know that this is Begin’s favorite defense. And I deny any validity to this defense.
As the Israeli historian Idith Zertal makes clear, do not use this most atrocious historical suffering to legitimate military destructiveness–it is a cruel and twisted use of the history of suffering to defend the affliction of suffering on others.

Here is a video of further musing of Butler about on Hannah Arendt And Israel delivered this past fall.
For those interested, here is also an online discussion between her and Agamben on human rights.

I am less interested in the politics and more interested in the cultural weave. Haredi religion as entirely a choice of the heart without any social, cultural, or political ramifications. Rabbi Isaac Breuer influence? Prof Yeshaya Leibowitz? In the 1950’s Orthodox Rabbis separated between Torah and American democracy- keeping them apart. Greenfield claims to be following a diaspora model. Can it it be reformulated for a half century later?

Tzvia Greenfield: Israel’s first female Haredi MK- Meretz Activist

From Haaretz- full version here

Tzvia Greenfield. Israel’s first Haredi female to be elected to the Knesset, she is a fierce critic of her own community’s attitudes to the peace process and modernity; describing the Haredi community as being “incapable of compromise.” Yet she still lives in it, a resident of the Jerusalem suburb of Har Nof.

Of course, her horizons are far broader than the narrow vista of ultra-Orthodoxy. The 62-year-old, who has a doctorate in political philosophy from the Hebrew University, was elected on behalf of Meretz last November. She advocates a two-State solution based closely on the pre-1967 War borders; a self-proclaimed egalitarian, she’s in favour of women rabbis and religious pluralism.

The mother-of-five, who sent her children to national religious high-schools and both her sons to the army, arrives as expected wearing a sheitel (one that looks like a sheitel) and a long dress.

She then speaks candidly about her prospects of influencing change: she is unsure that Israel’s left can be revived – she’s not sure they can awake secular Israel from its “slumber”- and feels compelled to channel change in her own back-yard, despite disillusionment about the trenchant positions of the Haredi world, which her Austrian “ultra-Orthodox Zionist parents” brought her into.

She describes the “haredization” of parts of Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh as “killing” those places: “Once they take over a community no one else can live in – like in some parts of Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh – that’s unacceptable. That is something people won’t tolerate because they want to live their lives. One neighbour cannot impinge on the other’s rights; it’s true the Haredi community doesn’t understand its task in a democracy. It believes when its population grows in a territory, the whole area should be governed by its rules.

She added: “An essential part of adjustment is in being a minority; the problem is when they become a majority. They are already driving people out of Jerusalem and not just the secular – but the modern Orthodox; because they cannot tolerate this. If the Haredi community gets large enough we won’t see nice developments.”

Her non-interventionist liberal instincts means she defends its right to promote a school curriculum that bares little resemblance to the national model: she believes a “balanced” approach is necessary in seeking to bring the Haredi world into the modern age, without assaulting its delicate nuances. “Interfering in questions of education is particularly sensitive and fragile,” she argues. “Thinking from all sides, I think society has to ensure Haredim aren’t poor. Despite Israeli society’s investment it’s a very poor community.”

Can Meretz deliver change? “I’m not sure. I think the left all over Europe and particularly Israel has severely failed on many assignments and I think the left should profoundly reconsider its goals and how it goes about them. To me after years of being a peace activist it’s a shameful situation and I think it’s unacceptable not to look at ourselves.

Q and A

Bearing in mind you say some religious people have difficulty with compromise how would you like to see change stemming from the religious world?

Religious people have difficulty grasping essential ideas like peace, compromise and accepting others. These are difficult issues and they’ve got to be worked out.

I’m writing a book on the subject. I decided I had to write down what I think and that would be the best way to explain how one could retain ones religiosity and faithfulness to ones position and yet encourage profound changes.

I have one answer to your question. I think a religion ought to be concerned with human beings and not objects. Too often traditional religions have a great interest in objects and not enough in human beings. That has to be shifted completely. The emphasis and the concern should be entirely different and there are ways to do it.

Do you think the demonstration of the human side of the Judaism has been lost?

I think there is not enough concern about human beings, and I mean human beings in general, including non-Jews. As a religious person I believe that all human beings were created in the image of God.

What we’ve seen in Israel in the last thirty or forty years ever since the ’67 War is a concern with land. That’s an object. It’s become the centre of attention for religious people and I think that’s a major mistake and I think that should be changed.

Where do you stand on issues of religious pluralism and the rights of all sects of Judaism to have equal funding with regards to conversion programs and education?

Of course I support pluralism. People have to make their choices and decide what’s for them. There’s no way the state should direct on what or how they should do things. Every citizen should be a free subject to make his or her decisions without any input by the state whatsoever.

How would you, as a progressive Haredi, advocate it modernises its approach to self- governance?

Education. Education is the answer to everything, The fact that it blocks general education to its community is part of the problem because they never really understand what is going on and make their own decision. I would try and allow these people to get education without breaking down the system altogether, without enforcing education on them in a way which cannot acceptable, not only for them, but even for me. I don?t believe in enforcing it brutally; it has to be done carefully.

The very fact it’s living in the modern world, is affecting it. We are talking about the younger generation that will make decisions about what they are doing. In both America and Israel.  They are re-evaluating the world that their parents have brought them into. We’re probably going to see changes in the next 20-30 years. After all, they do not want to be poor.

You hope that the secular and Haredi worlds can live side by side but at the moment even the modern Orthodox are getting annoyed with the Haredim as the recent riots in Beit Shemesh prove.

Once they take over a community no one else can live in – like in some parts of Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh – that’s unacceptable. That is something people won’t tolerate because they want to live their lives. One neighbor cannot impinge on the other’s rights; it’s true the Haredi community doesn’t understand its task in a democracy. It believes when its population grows in a territory the whole area should be governed by its rules.

The Haredization of Jerusalem is already here – how can this situation be clawed back?

The community is poor, uneducated and very militant – the combination is lethal. It will kill Jerusalem.

How can the Haredi leadership recognise the need to modernise?

There is one factor in favour of modernisation- poverty. Some of the leadership recognizes and is concerned by this. Although the politicians would recommend poverty should be paid for, the leaders have a deeper approach. Certain changes must occur. First women join professions. Later on some men join. Things will change. Young men will be encouraged to join colleges. Already now there are a couple of colleges where Haredi girls are accepted to law or commerce school.

What do you think about the status of women in the Haredi world?

The big issue here is a very delicate one. That is children. Large families thirty years ago was six children; now there’s 13 or 14 – from one wife. I believes the glorification of bringing as many children as possible is a definite way of ensuring women can’t bring their advantages into effect – subjugation.

It’s inconceivable for a woman to say to her husband, “I won’t have more than three children” – a cause for divorce. Inconceivable and non-existent.

Do you think there should be Orthodox female rabbis?

I’m all for it. I think if women want to serve as rabbis in religious function they should be given the right to do so. The issue of depriving women a religious position is part of deprivation of women from positions of power. Women don’t have equal rights in Judaism because they never had them in any field of life- a general result of subjugation.

Why is there a lack of state involvement in social issues?

The state has been run by conservatives who don’t want equal rights for women, Arabs, anyone; any progressive left issues. They want to sabotage these things.