The true societal gap

Everyone agrees that our education system is badly in need of an overhaul. There have been numerous attempts to introduce a toda'a yehudit - Jewish content - into a secular school system.

torah reading 88 (photo credit: )
torah reading 88
(photo credit: )
With all our politicians busily engaged in populist sloganeering about the socio-economic gap that they have recently discovered in Israeli society, it is my opinion that they are willfully ignoring a very dangerous and real gap that is constantly widening in our country. That gap is between the section of Israeli society that is knowledgeable about Judaism, our past history and Jewish values and that section of society (and it may be the majority section) that is abysmally ignorant of Judaism, its faith and moral and spiritual verities. I am not speaking here of observance or lack of observance of Torah commandments or of adherence to living a traditional Jewish lifestyle. Rather, I am discussing a large section of Israeli society that exhibits a complete lack of knowledge, understanding, appreciation and sensitivity towards basic Jewish views, traditions and worldview. It is this gap between these two sections of our society that is far more dangerous to our survival and success here in Israel than any of the economic or social gaps that are currently being debated and bemoaned. The socio-economic gap may be much easier to treat than the dangerous gap of ignorance that eventually translates itself into a society with no firm value system or self-identity and pride. For eventually, a lack of appreciation of our past and of our spiritual and intellectual heritage will lead more Israelis to ask "Why a State of Israel?" That notion, which is currently already out and alive in the non-Jewish world, will certainly infect us as well if there is no positive answer, rooted in Jewish tradition and knowledge, presented and advanced. Everyone agrees that our education system is badly in need of an overhaul. There have been numerous attempts to introduce a toda'a yehudit - Jewish content - into a secular school system. None of these attempts have made any dent into the problem. While I have no statistics to back up my view, my anecdotal evidence tells me that more Israeli youth are aware of the latest Afro-American rap singer than they are of the Talmud, Rashi, Maimonides or even Theodor Herzl. Since they have no concept of how we got here and what our historical rights are, nor do they have any clear idea of what Judaism stands for, how can they be anything other than confused self-doubters? And since there is no clear picture of the true value system of Judaism (a study of the book of Isaiah would be a good beginning) is there any wonder that the greater Israeli public is so apathetic to political and commercial corruption, protektzia, domestic violence and the exercise of raw power to "solve" issues? We talk about road accidents and bemoan the terrible toll that their occurrence takes in Israeli lives day in and day out. But a great deal of the problem stems from the lack of common courtesy to others, which again, believe it or not, is a basic Jewish value reflected in all of our holy books and emphasized over and over again in our traditions and worldview. If we are not taught to be better people, if our schools teach only "subjects" and never values or traditions, if everything that happened to us in our two millennia of exile is forgotten or demeaned, then no amount of new traffic laws, additional police or mandatory driving classes will really help solve the problem. Israel is supposed to strive towards the goal of being a Jewish, democratic society. We constantly hear of "road maps" to peace. What is the road map to achieve this Jewish democratic society? What is the curriculum that is supposed to teach it and who are the role models that are supposed to exemplify it? The traditional Jewish society here in Israel, with all of its weaknesses, human foibles, failings and sometimes backwardness, nevertheless has some inkling as to the value system that should guide us and propel us into our future. It has an understanding of our past and thus a sense of continuity with our present and future. The militantly secularist society has been forced, by the very nature of its ideological agenda, to adopt a system of values and education that is foreign to the very nature of Judaism. The gap between the two groups here in Israel therefore grows wider every day. In the words of the Bible regarding Joseph and his brothers - "they could not talk to each other in peaceable terms." Unless serious thought and effort is given to closing this gap in an intelligent, compassionate and respectful manner, the very future of our existence as a Jewish, democratic state here in our homeland is in question, if not even in jeopardy. The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator (