Powerful forces are tearing the Jewish world asunder, many observers warn. Some say the root cause is Israel’s alleged increasingly illiberal policies, others point toward assimilation or a weakening sense of Jewish identity in the Diaspora.
Either way, almost everyone agrees there is a problem. What, then, can prevent Israel and the Diaspora from drifting apart? One creative proposal tabled at the Herzliya Conference on Monday suggests resurrecting an ancient Jewish body that hasn’t met, at least in a universally recognized form, in more than 1,600 years.
According to a joint proposal penned by Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, academics Tommy Steiner, Maaike van der Brugghen and Lea Landman, a new Jewish council based on the Sanhedrin – a council of Jewish jurists that met in Judea until it was dissolved by the Roman emperor in 358 CE – could provide a better “framework” for discourse between Jews in Israel and those around the world. In its proposed reincarnation, the Sanhedrin consisting of Diaspora and Israelis leaders would advise Israeli politicians – although it would not have a direct part in the decision-making process.
“A new Sanhedrin could be recognized as a consultative body to Israeli decision-makers, to the prime minister, the president, and the Knesset,” they wrote. “This institution should represent the diversity of opinions that exist in Israeli society and in the Diaspora, and should transmit those visions to the senior decision-makers in the only Jewish state in the world.”
Steiner, who is also the Herzliya conference manager, is the first to
admit there are massive hurdles that need be addressed before the idea
comes to fruition.
“The idea for such a new Sanhedrin is tabled not necessarily as a
solution to a problem, but rather as a point of departure for a new
dialogue,” the authors wrote.
Indeed, questions such as how the Sanhedrin representatives would be
elected or selected, and by which proportion its seats would be
allocated to different communities, remain unanswered.
The question of funding, however, is a simple one, Steiner said. The
government would pay for it. At the end of the day, the proposal aims at
stimulating debate that could help find a way to remedy the rift
between Israel and the Diaspora.
“Something has to change between Israel and the Diaspora, and there
should be a forum that won’t only deal with education,” Steiner told The
Jerusalem Post. “Will it solve all problems? No. But it might help.”
There have been other efforts to revive the Sanhedrin, although with a
much greater emphasis on religion. The latest effort was in 2004, when
71 rabbis claiming to represent varied communities in Israel undertook a
ceremony in Tiberias, where the original Sanhedrin was disbanded.
That group claimed to reestablish the body, based on the proposal of
Maimonides and the Jewish legal rulings of Rabbi Yosef Karo.