May 20: Not black and white

The overwhelming majority of people are not intellectuals and their attraction or aversion to religious values are driven by emotion.

May 19, 2011 23:36
3 minute read.

letters 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Not black and white

Sir, – Yehuda Mirsky’s column about fresh thinking from within the religious sector (“Beyond ‘religious’ and ‘secular,’” Comment & Features, May 15) is fascinating.

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Rabbis like Ariel Picard and Yoav Sorek, despite their radically divergent approaches, are to be encouraged; Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim hayyim, both are rooted in living tradition.

Having said this, little real change can be expected as a result of such philosophical efforts. The overwhelming majority of people are not intellectuals and their attraction or aversion to religious values are driven by emotion.

In the Catholic church, for example, an ultra-conservative pope like John Paul II, by dint of his apparent warmth and caring, was able to make his faith vastly more appealing despite a dogmatic rejection of virtually all modern innovations desired by progressive Catholics.

Israelis demand authenticity in religion, hence their reflexive rejection of liberal forms of Judaism. At the same time they are viscerally turned off by a religious bureaucracy that is monopolized by rabbis who show little love and even less respect for those who are less or differently observant.

One wonders how it came to pass that wonderful, loving, open-minded and educated Zionist rabbis are almost nowhere to be found in local rabbinates, and why our so-called chief rabbis are more concerned with winning the approval of haredim – which they never get – rather than winning the love and respect of the general population.


So long as our rabbinic bureaucracy serves as a barrier to religion rather than a magnet for the disenfranchised, the polarization that exists will continue.

No amount of philosophizing will change this.

Surely, if Picard and Sorek were sitting in the Jerusalem rabbinate handling marriage and divorce they would achieve much more than by writing treatises rooted in the intellectual thinking of Yehuda Halevi or Moses Maimonides, names that for most Israelis are associated with a street sign and a hospital.


Sir, – “Beyond ‘religious’ and ‘secular’” made no mention of the reconceptualization of Israel’s public educational system. Perhaps the biggest block to a pervasive and active Jewishness in Israel is the existence of what is in effect two public school systems – secular and religious. Curriculum reform is the order of the day! The biggest asset and vehicle for a socio-cultural unification of the Jewish people is the great system of Jewish law, one of the profound contributions of the Jewish people to Western civilization. Ways must be found to reconceptualize Jewish law by modernizing its jurisprudence and, most important, by taking God out of it and leaving it to the personal realm.

A socio-cultural unification of the Jewish people in the State of Israel is not instant coffee. It’s a longrange matter.


The writer is a retired professor of philosophy Sir, – I was particularly moved by Yehuda Mirsky’s description of datlashim (a Hebrew acronym for the formerly religious) as the heirs of Bialik. I found this both illuminating and comforting.

We have a son who defines himself as datlash.

In a recent discussion with his datlash friends concerning how they wish to bring up their future offspring, it appears they have all come to the same conclusion: They would like their children to be like them.

A dilemma indeed!



Sir, – In “Ex-Labor chief Barak declares ‘Independence’ in Tel Aviv” (May 13), you quote Ehud Barak as saying that Israeli politics has been led by “too many opportunists and charlatans.”

It takes one to know one.


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