Will American Jewry do teshuvah, reconnect with Jewish practices? – opinion

In 2018, the American Jewish Committee hosted a symposium with contributions from 25 Jewish Israeli and American thought leaders on how to “bridge the gap” and “make Israeli and Diaspora Jews more appreciative of each other’s priorities and needs.”

Only a few of these figures were prepared to admit that the future of Diaspora Jews and the health of Israel-Diaspora relations depended, primarily and simply, on Jewish schools and synagogues, on a return to education and fundamental Jewish practice in America.

Now, finally, that understanding may be taking in, and one hopes it is not too late.

Back then, experts launched “solutions” to the “rift” between Israel and the Diaspora, such as an aggressive campaign for full denominational religious pluralism in Israel (as if that would cover up general differences and produce Jewish rebirth and bliss of Israel and the Diaspora).

Other “experts” called for a new “consultative mechanism”, some form of Israel-Diaspora parliament, which would have to be consulted before Israel adopts policies that affect the Jewish world in general (as if the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization did not did). they already play this role, and as if Israeli leaders need to be further restrained by the Jewish leaders of the diaspora).

American and Israeli Jews [Illustrative] (credit: REUTERS)

Many more thoughtful figures sought the renewal of “liberal Zionism” as an intellectual creed to be taught, or a resurgence of “spiritual and cultural Zionism” through creative partnerships between Israel and the Diaspora in art, music, dance and Literature. (Good ideas, if possible).

But very few thinkers were willing to ask the organized Jewish community to spend less time on politics and less money on episodic social gatherings for almost certainly lost millennials, and instead focus on Jewish and Zionist education through schools. daytime scenes that teach the whole – embracing Jewish identity to the youngest.

And even these brave figures (which included Eliot Cohen, Elliott Abrams, Jack Wertheimer, and Ken Stein) were unable to catch up with their co-religionists and compatriots and tell them the fuller truth.

The fuller truth is that nothing less than a deep commitment to traditional Jewish ritual practice, with its personal restrictions and many demands for community boundaries, would likely lead to a revitalization of Jewish life in America and subsequently create a solid foundation. for recovery in the Diaspora-Israel. relations.

This requires not only occasional temple attendance or annual Hanukkah candle lighting, but true observance of Shabbat and dietary laws, daily devotion to prayer, clinging to sacred family structures and marriage, and most of all , passion for studying Torah. regularly.

To some, this may sound fundamentalist, but it is. This doesn’t necessarily mean orthodoxy, but it does mean something very close to it. It means teshuvah, a return to basic Jewish principles and practices.

Ahad Ha’am was right when he reportedly said: “More than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

FACED with the “AWAKENED” abandonment of sympathy for Israel and traditional Jewish identity, Diaspora Jewish leaders may finally be waking up to harsh realities: that in a grand historical perspective, rigorous ritual engagement and intensive community religious engagement it is the only historically proven formula for sustainable development and proud Jewish life.

A series of recent articles (written in conservative publications such as Sapir and Commentary) make it clear that the “rift” between Israel and the Diaspora is not really due to politics or denominational status. It’s not really about egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, settlements and Palestinian rights, or discomfort over tangible tensions between democratic norms and Judaic imperatives within a Jewish state (i.e. conflict with Haredi Jews in matters of personal status, military service, etc.).

Rather, the “distancing” is generated by social realities and liberal lifestyles in the Diaspora that have led to Jewish disaffiliation and, ultimately, suicidal Jewish outcomes.

The resulting call is explicitly for a renewed Jewish “content” and, I gulp, “religion.”

Daniel Gordis defends the Jewish fortification from within. Richer and deeper content in Jewish education. “Young American Jews have no sense of the greatness of Jewish scholarship and think it has been abandoned. [It is no wonder that we cannot] they retain their errant loyalty. Jewish illiteracy has also vitiated Jewish pluralism. Without Jewish literacy, who could base their views on any subject in Jewish terms?

“This is our fault, because we have robbed Jewish tradition of the power to enrich its people. When we fail to teach the texts and rituals that have been its basis, we weaken our connection with a great civilization, and also with each other. “

Elliot Cosgrave, who, like Gordis, is affiliated with Conservative Judaism (Masorti), simply says that continuity requires religion. Biblically defined mitzvot (ritual commandments) “are the sacred shibboleth by which Jews build a conscious community … It is only through mitzvot, the positive acts of Jewish identification, the language and behaviors of the Jewish religion, let Judaism survive. Mitzvot are the mystical strings, commitments and commandments by which one Jew connects with another and, if belief allows, with God.

“Important as non-religious expressions of Judaism may be, they are completely insufficient to pass on the riches of Judaism from one generation to the next … In many cases, the secular commitments of American Jews serve as compensatory guilt offerings that hide paper thin religious identities. In all cases, they presuppose a commitment to Judaism that, for many American Jews, is not as present as we would like to admit. My concern is that the branching effects of a Judaism without the foundation of religion will prove to be our undoing, a giant sinkhole into which the hard-won superstructure of American Jews will collapse.

“As uncomfortable as it may be to discuss, the impoverished condition of American Jewish religion is in full view. We are more at home debating the Iran deal and weapons-grade uranium than opening a prayer book. We do our best to understand the opportunity and challenge of critical race theory, but we are caught off guard when asked to consider what it means to be in a covenant relationship with God.

“We are willing to drive for hours to freeze on the sidelines of our kids’ club sports, but we can’t (or don’t want to) sit next to them in synagogue on a Friday night or Shabbat morning. We will try any fad diet other than the one prescribed by our Torah. We would rather label another Jew as a ‘self-hating Zionist’ or ‘settler-colonialist’ than to acknowledge that our children or grandchildren have no ostensible connection to Judaism, much less the State of Israel. “

GORDIS KNOWS that “we need new leaders. We need radically reconceived rabbinical schools. ” How can you think otherwise, when 93 American rabbis-in-training publish a letter during Hamas’s recent war against Israel, calling Israel an “apartheid state” and insisting on a rethinking of US military support for Israel? How can it be otherwise when a similar number of members of the Canadian reform movement call on their denominational leaders to oppose “attitudes of Jewish supremacy in Israel”, to downplay the celebration of the achievements and culture of Israel and that they “care about Palestinian and Arab human rights? Front and center? They want to align” our Jewish reformist tikkun olam values ​​of combating structural racism in the Diaspora with our work in Israel-Palestine.

When such sentiments are what passes for “Jewish identity,” then assimilation, intermarriage, disaffiliation from Israel, and outright hostility to Zionism are inevitable.

On the other hand, if Diaspora Jewish leaders (and Israelis!) Are prepared to invest in teaching Jewish tradition – Shabbat, kashrut, prayer to God (yes, God!), Torah study and others classic mitzvot that create a real identity and community – then both the relationships between the Jews of America and between the Diaspora and Israel can be repaired.

The columns of the diplomatic, defense, political and Jewish world of the author during the last 25 years are archived in davidmweinberg.com.


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