Oz, Boteach and Sharansky discuss Jewish values in Jerusalem

"What changed my life is traveling through a country that has been traumatized, yet sees so much hope," says Oz.

Dr. Oz and Rabbi Shmueli Boteach 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Dr. Oz and Rabbi Shmueli Boteach 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A full-capacity crowd gathered Monday evening at the capital’s newly launched Jerusalem Press Club to hear a panel discussion among luminaries Dr. Mehmet Oz, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky about Jewish values and their impact on society.
Oz, known as “America’s Doctor,” and Boteach, who has been called “America’s Rabbi,” arrived in Israel together with their families on Sunday for a weeklong visit sponsored by business mogul and philanthropist Sheldon G. Adelson.
During the panel discussion, moderated by The Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief Steve Linde, the three men discussed subjects ranging from hope, healing, and hate to the controversial decision to release 104 Palestinian terrorists to restart peace talks.
“You’re catching me at the end of a truly life-changing day,” said Oz of his first trip to the country. “What changed my life is traveling through a country that has been traumatized, yet sees so much hope.”
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Oz, who is of Turkish descent, said he believed that “Jewish values” are responsible for offering humanity and hope in an otherwise chaotic region.
“Jewish values have permeated all of [Israeli] society,” he said, “values that we teach our children.”
Oz continued, “Hope is not hoping the diagnosis is good; hope is finding understanding.”
Sharansky – perhaps the world’s most famous Soviet refusnik – said that while he was incarcerated by the KGB and faced death, he found hope by dreaming of freedom and “belonging.”
“Hope can’t exist if you deprive others of their freedom,” said Sharansky. “Tikkun olam (healing the world) is the only way to heal and find meaning.”
“Healing means contextualizing the wound,” Boteach added. “I still don’t think politicians will bring peace [in Israel] – doctors, rabbis and humanitarians will bring peace. It will be grassroots that bring us together so we can contextualize what is going on.”
Citing the Hippocratic Oath, Oz emphasized the “civic responsibility” all of humanity have to one another, which he said is all too often abdicated by society.
“I’m not a Middle East expert, but I know a lot about healing,” the doctor said.
“When good people watch bad things happen, society deteriorates.”
On the subject of hate, Boteach said Judaism is one of the only religions in the world that values hatred.
“Why should hatred be a virtue?” he asked. “Because I don’t believe you can truly love unless you hate people who commit genocide.”
Citing Hamas, Hezbollah and the genocide in Syria, Boteach said “there’s room for hatred.”
“If you don’t hate evil people, then how do you stop them?” he asked. “They should make your blood boil.”
With respect to good and evil, Boteach said the Jewish definition of both is “repetition” of either.
“When you do evil repeatedly, without conscience, you are no longer someone who did evil – you have become the evil,” he said. “The same is true of good. If you do it enough it becomes second nature.”
Still, Oz noted the self-damaging nature of hatred.
“Hatred hurts you more than [your enemies],” he said.
“When you hate, you’re sapping yourself – you’re so consumed with hate that you can’t show up for your own life.”
Sharansky said he defined evil as the deprivation of freedom.
“Evil is that which deprives you from being in the image of God.”
In terms of the contested agreement by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to release 104 Palestinian terrorists as a concession to restart peace negotiations, Sharansky said he disagreed with the decision.
“As a minister I always voted against exchanges,” he said.
“Of course this is bad – from the point of security there is danger. But on the political side, it may offer benefits.”
At the end of the discussion, Oz said what differentiates Israel from an otherwise explosive region is its willingness to let the “underclass have a voice.”
“When you take away someone’s voice, [they] start doing things that are less rational – they resort to violence,” he said. “The secret sauce of Israel’s fabric is a voice.”
“I learned that Judaism is not about what you think, it’s about what you do,” he added.