Thursday, July 24, 2008


Natan Sharansky is now Defending Identity as a fundamental building block of democracy.

In this summer’s Jewish Observer, Yonason Rosenblum takes Sharansky’s thesis one step further, asserting in “Can the Chareidim Save Israel?” that the chareidim are the only Jews in Israel with an unmistakable and unquestionable Jewish identity. Rosenblum’s ultimate implication has to be that chareidism is prescriptively, and non just descriptively, the sine qua non of Jewish identity, or in the parlance of multiple choice tests, “the best answer”.

My retort would be two things one of my most revered Rabbanim told me (I don’t need to cause him any trouble by publicly naming him; it doesn’t make his points any less trenchant).

The first was his assessment of what would happen if Israel would become a bona fide theocracy: “We’d have to close the country; no one would stay.” Interestingly, it was the chareidim who threatened to leave the country in the early days of the State when universal conscription of females was bandied about by the government at the time; there were teshuvos to that effect.

The second is what he told me during the Kollek-Olmert mayoral election, when Kollek was finally ousted. “Of course I’m voting for Kollek. I need streimlach in City Hall? Let ‘em stay in the beis medrash.” (Seeing what Olmert has wrought in the PM’s office, he may have been onto something for different reasons.)

The discussion of religious-less religious tensions (that’s my nice way of putting it) will never end, especially where Jews are concerned. I would instead quote Rabbi Matis Weinberg on the parsha. After parsing the differences between tribe as “Shevet”, or “exclusive club” (paraphrase mine), and tribe as “Mateh”, or “supporting staff” (also my paraphrase), he says this:

“The quest for identity makes ideals dangerous, a club to be wielded by every bully finding himself through depriving others, cleaning up his own ethnicity by ethnically cleansing.”

With the three weeks upon us, its important that any of our “tribes”--or “staff[s]-- or “clubs”-- refrain from doing anything that gives off this impression. Especially if they are even only perceived as acting as such from Divine mandate.

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