The Fourth Annual President’s Conference in Jerusalem sponsored by Shimon Peres brought together an impressive array of experts on a broad range of topics. The wide scope of issues reflects the nature of all that is Israel, as well as the Jewish experience. In addition to discussing and dealing with challenges confronting Israel, as well as Jews in the Diaspora, a wide range of scientific and economic issues were discussed and explored by experts in their respective fields.
The sessions were extremely stimulating and showcased the role that Israel plays and can play as an incubator generating thoughtful ideas and revolutionary concepts that have an impact way beyond its borders. One of the healthy tensions that I noticed in several of the sessions was the dialectic between the responsibilities to the past when considering our obligations for the future. The theme, “Tomorrow,” lent itself to a broad discussion of just about anything, and while the array of topics was far-reaching, dealing with everything from algorithms to zones of security, one area was noticeably absent.
I did not hear any reference to Torah at any of the sessions that I attended.
Since it is not possible to attend all of the sessions, as some were going on simultaneously, I may have missed it. However, there did not appear to be any effort to incorporate wisdom from the Jewish tradition into the discussions or deliberations. This is most unfortunate, for after all, it is the Conference of the President of Israel, not the President of France.
Recognition of the role of Judaism as a conduit for valuable lessons and insights would not have detracted from the gathering, but would have enhanced and enriched it. The deliberations would have benefited from even a casual reference to how Jewish tradition or Jewish sages grappled with some of the same issues facing us today. Introducing an element of Jewish wisdom would have affirmed the relevancy and timeliness of Judaism to the modern enterprise.
When Israel celebrated its 60th anniversary, it was interesting that no Israeli leader spoke about Jewish history or the historic spiritual connection of the Jewish people to the land. The only speaker at the Knesset’s official celebration who made any connection between the modern State of Israel and the Bible was the non-Jewish President of the United States, George W. Bush. What does this say about Israel today?
Most Jewish gatherings or meetings in the Diaspora attempt to incorporate an element of Torah through a d’var Torah or reference to Jewish teachings in their proceedings. The time has come for Israelis to begin to do the same, to recognize that Torah, in the broadest sense of the word, is the foundation of our people and the wellspring, inspiration and guiding light of our actions. Even more, it is the source of that which makes us unique and of our very raison d’être.
Rabbi Weinblatt, the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tzedek of Potomac, Maryland, is the chairman of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America and director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly.