JUST A THOUGHT: On looking back from the future

On the other hand, as Israel grew more affluent and the Haredim continued to have an ever growing monopoly on Judaism, did secular Jews ever create a space in which to practice their Judaism?

By AHARON E. WEXLER
January 4, 2018 18:36
4 minute read.
HAREDI protesters are sprayed with water by police as they block a street during a demonstration in

HAREDI protesters are sprayed with water by police as they block a street during a demonstration in Jerusalem against members of their community serving in the IDF, part of ongoing demonstrations. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

Dear Jews of 2118, Mazal tov!

If you are reading this now, we made it! I say “we” because you are only there because of the actions and decisions we made 100 years ago to allow you to exist as a person who identifies as Jewish in the year 2118.

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Yet, truth be told, with fortunes being spent on “Jewish continuity,” we would love to know which programs worked and which were a waste of time. Just how did we succeed? So what did we do right? What did we get wrong? What does your world look like? Would it be recognizable to us? It’s hard not to try to imagine what the world will look like 100 years hence.

Yet the futility of such an exercise can be best understood by realizing how impossible it would have been for a Jewish soldier (German, French or American, it doesn’t matter), coming home from World War I in 1918, to anticipate the Holocaust around the corner and to try to imagine the relatively peaceful, technological, global village of 2018, of which the sovereign Jewish State of Israel is a main player in world affairs.

Having said that, I would like to pose some questions to you: Did Israel survive as both a Jewish and democratic state? There are two possible solutions we are debating now. Do we integrate millions of Arabs, most of whom have no interest in being Israeli and contributing to Israel as Jewish state, and give them citizenship? This would enable them to dismantle Israel through peaceful and democratic means.

Or do we set up a separate sovereign Palestinian state right alongside Israel, enabling them to use this state as a base from which to fire rockets at us and remain an existential threat to Israel.

The third option isn’t a solution, so I didn’t enumerate it, but it seems to have been the course of Israel’s successive right-wing and left-wing governments for decades.

It is to just keep the status quo and hope that the problem will magically disappear.

What did we do? Next question: Whatever happened to American Jewry? Never before in Jewish history has there been a Jewish population as powerful and integrated into its host country like the Jews of the United States. Jews hold positions of power in government, academia, the arts, sciences and financial institutions. America without its Jews would be unrecognizable. Not just Jews by birth, but Jews who readily and happily identify as Jewish and are religiously observant take a leading role in American culture.

Yet as a whole, American Jewry is more Jewishly illiterate than ever before. It’s not just their inability to read Hebrew or access Jewish texts; rather, American Jews are ignorant of the stories and traditions of our people. This, coupled with their comfort and position in America, leads to a complete disconnect with Zionism, Israel and its narrative.

What do your professors of 21st-century American Jewry say about this time period? What can we learn from their 20/20 vision of hindsight? Did we take advantage of our wealth and power to help our fellow Jews, advance the causes of Judaism by promoting charity and justice? As the 21st century progressed, how did the relationship between American Jewry and Israel develop? Are there even still Jews left in America?

WHAT BECAME of the haredim? Judaism has always had its right wing, but the haredim took things to an extreme. In an effort to hold a line of scrimmage against the onslaught of mass assimilation and Reform Judaism, haredim sought to artificially rebuild the walls of the ghetto and create a wedge between themselves and other Jews. They refused to integrate into Israeli society, refused to join the army and insisted on creating enclave communities, enjoying the rights and privileges of Israel but not sharing equally in its burdens and obligations.

After the advent of the State of Israel, haredim were the greatest success story of the Jewish world in the 20th century. How long into the 21st century did they last? How long did a society that eschews work on the one hand and insists on large families on the other sustain itself? Did the haredi world collapse under its own weight? How much further did it go to distort Halacha with ever more stringencies? How long did the haredi community continue to antagonize its fellow Jews and dismiss them before realizing that we are all brothers and sisters? How is Judaism practiced in Israel? Did religious Zionists go off the deep end with their messianic certitude? Were they able to maintain their middle ground between secular and Haredi Jews? As the disconnect between Jews and Judaism progressed around the world, and assimilation became the norm in the Diaspora, how did secular Israelis fare? On the one hand, these Jews, sovereign in their own land, were free to practice their Judaism in a country in which the very rhythm, character and calendar of the state were most conducive to Judaism.

On the other hand, as Israel grew more affluent and the Haredim continued to have an ever growing monopoly on Judaism, did secular Jews ever create a space in which to practice their Judaism? Disconnected from a Judaism that is by its very nature intertwined with Jewish history, did secular Israelis continue to feel connected to Israel? Did their Zionism, which began to fade into plain old patriotism in the beginning of the 21st century, ever revive itself?’ And last but not least, did the Messiah come? (And what kind of head covering, if any, did he have?) 

The writer holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy and teaches in post-high-school yeshivot and midrashot in Jerusalem.


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