Archive for July, 2011


The direction of Israel education is lagging woefully behind the changes that have taken place among American Jewish youth. Although substantive changes are slowly taking place through the efforts of various institutions such as the Jewish Agency, the I-Center and others, it takes a long time to effect change in the field. In the end, people stick to what they are used to. Most of the teachers in today’s classrooms grew up and were educated themselves in the era of post-1967 knee-jerk connection to and support of Israel. Too often, we enter the classroom with the same falafel, Herzl, and “they-want-to-kill-us-but-they-can’t” narrative. Most of our students are simply not in this place.

Yigal Ariha and Laura Shaw Frank, “Ears that Can Hear: Israel Education for the Twenty-First Century,” Conversations Issue 10 (Spring 2011), 45.

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Halacha’s successful adaptation to the needs of exile preserved the Jews for 2,000 years. But by stymieing its readaptation to the needs of revived Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, its most zealous adherents are doing it a disservice. Not only are they preventing it from fulfilling its original mission—i.e., providing Jewish solutions to the problems of a sovereign Jewish state—but they are also undervaluing the purpose of its exilic adaptation: The preservation of the Jewish people as a people. For if halacha continues to have nothing constructive to say about the burning issues confronting the modern Jewish people in its state, many Israelis may eventually become convinced that only by severing severing the state from its Judaism can it survive. Should that happen, of course, Israel will cease to be “Jewish” in any meaningful sense. And the disappearance of the world’s only Jewish state—even if the State of Israel were to physically survive—could prove as devastating for the Jewish people as the loss of its state was in 70 C.E.

Evelyn Gordon and Hadassah Levy, “Halacha’s Moment of Truth,” Azure, no. 43 (Winter 5771/2011), 82-83.

It remains to be seen what kind of political and cultural alliance can develop between (a) secularists who are more patient with religious liberals than the New Atheists are and (b) religious liberals themselves. And this is where the issue of giving religious ideas a “pass” has become especially difficult. Political liberals of secular orientation tend to give religious ideas a pass because they hope thereby to achieve issue-specific alliances with faithaffirming Americans on the environment, health care, foreign policy, taxation, and so on. Why mess things up by embarrassing the faithful and demanding that they repudiate more resoundingly their more conservative coreligionists? In the meantime, religious liberals are under constant attack from their conservative coreligionists for being on a slippery slope to secularism and are thus reluctant to break ranks with more conservative believers to an extent that secularists would find productive. Hence these religious liberals, too, prefer to seek issue-specific alliances with secular liberals and leave potentially divisive religious argumentation aside.

David A. Hollinger, “Religious Ideas: Should They Be Critically Engaged or Given a Pass?Representations #101 (2008), 151-152.

Halacha is the most characteristic and developed expression of Jewish thought. Although one cannot acquire a complete picture of the rabbinic mind without knowledge of midrash aggada, its rhetorical style, particularly its use of hyperbole, can make it an unreliable source of rabbinic theology. Jewish tradition has always expressed itself most rigorously through halacha. The rabbis of the Talmud are never more themselves than when they are operating in the realm of halacha.

Rabbi Ozer Glickman, “Think Local, Act Global: Tzedaka in a Global Society,” in Toward a Renewed Ethic of Jewish Philanthropy, ed. Yossi Prager (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 2010), 276.

We also need to realize that guilt doesn’t work anymore. The escalating rate of intermarriage and the Holocaust are themes that do not motivate today’s teen. Kids can tell when we are there for them and when we are there for ourselves. If we are here for ourselves because we are worried about the future of the Jewish community, then why would they buy it?

Marc Fein, “Reaching the iPod Generation: NCSY Regional Directors Share Strategies on Raising Children to Love Judaism,” ed. Bayla Sheva Brenner, Jewish Action (Summer 5771/2011), 29.