Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Loving Israel Even When I Don't Love It!

“I love Israel even when I don’t love it!”

Thesewords, originally uttered by Amos Oz, one of Israel’s finest authors andintellectuals, last summer at the third Israeli Presidential Conference have stuck with me since I first heard themlast week. They express accurately how I feel when reading some of the newsthat comes out of Israelthese days.

Examplesof things going off track in some sectors of the Israeli society sadly abound. Thereis the unacceptable treatment women receive from an extremist portion of thepopulation that forces them to sit in the back of public buses. You have the event in Beit Shemesh, where an eight year old orthodox girl, on her way to school,was cursed and spat on by a group of ultraorthodox adults because she was not,in their sick minds, dressed modestly enough. Then there is the absolutely despicableultraorthodox protest 10 days ago when they wore yellow stars and dressed theirchildren in striped uniforms to protest their perceived discrimination.1 Add to all this the despicable attitudeof settlers in the West Bank who call “Nazi” to the Israeli Police or one oftheir leaders who claimed in an interview this week that “Israelidemocracy has finished its role, and it must disassemble and give way toJudaism.”

It was in that sense refreshing toreceive the email below2, written by Aryeh Ben David, founder of "Ayeka, Jewish Spiritual Education," reflecting notnecessarily on the events of these last weeks, but even more importantly on thecauses for them. May we all be inspired by his words to rethink the ways inwhich we apply our Jewish values in our lives. May we recommit ourselves to keep doing whatever we can, from our place,to keep our beloved Israelas a source of pride and inspiration for the Jewish people all over the world.


Rabbi Mario

1. You can read an excellent opinion by Professor Deborah Lipstadt on theprotest here.

2. More Thoughts on the Situation in Beit Shemesh

   Re-posted email from Aryeh Ben David 

The way we learn Torah affects the way we relate to people.

I studied for many years as an adult in several very observant yeshivot in Israel. The yeshiva where I received my Rabbinic Ordination hosted many prominent Rabbis, including a former Rabbi of a large city in Israel, numerous poskim (halakhic deciders) and writers in Encyclopedia Judaica. I began learning with my chevruta (study partner) at 4:30 in the morning, braving many freezing cold hours in the unheated Beit Midrash. I was the gabbai (organizer) of the early morning minyan, and a central figure in the yeshiva for 4 full years.

I offer this background not to extol my role, but to note that I played a very central and conspicuous part in the yeshiva. That being said, it is quite mind-boggling now for me to look back and realize that in the countless hours during those four years not once did a single Rabbi approach me and ask, "Aryeh, how are you doing?" I repeat - Not Once.

Innumerable times I was asked, "Aryeh, did you understand the Gemara? Did you crack the Tosephot? Aryeh, what new idea can you say today?" But not once was I asked how I was doing.  "I", as a Jew and a human being, was not important. The only thing that was significant was the Torah learning I was engaged in. I think this attitude led to my valuing myself only insofar as I could master the Talmud and other books. This led to a total disconnect between myself and my learning. 

I replicated this modeling with my chevruta, Ariel. What did I care how Ariel was doing? I never talked with him about his life.

My wife Sandra once asked me while I was studying with Ariel, "How is he doing? They've got 3 little kids, is he sleeping, is he overwhelmed?" I looked at my wife dumbfounded, telling myself "She obviously doesn't get what Torah learning is about. How should I know how Ariel is?! And what do I care? The only thing Ariel and I care about is - did we crack the Gemara. Caring and talking about each other? That's equivalent to bitul Torah (wasting of Torah studying time)."

It was pure learning. And purely disconnected from life. Which is, of course, the opposite of what Torah learning should ultimately be. It should be the greatest connector to life.  Now it is many years later and of course I am embarrassed and ashamed of what I wrote above and much more. Which leads me to the present furor and crisis visiting Israel these days and thoughts which I am sure many will consider heretical.

It seems to me that men have been directing the condition of Judaism for the last several thousand years. I look around and ask myself, "Is learning which is disconnected from life going to make us a more compassionate and spiritual people? Is this really the way of Torah? Is Torah really just about accumulating more and more information without pausing and reflecting and applying it to life?"  It didn't cross my mind to connect my learning to my life.  My wife Sandra always connects her learning to her life.

Men have always been the ones in power. We know that it is very hard for someone in power to relinquish or even share it. Especially when one's reputation, prestige, and livelihood depend on keeping the status quo intact. But maybe the time has come for us men to admit that we have really bollixed up this whole Judaism thing, and give the women a chance to fix it. Maybe it's time to reflect on that for a while.  Have you ever experienced or witnessed Torah learning disconnected from life? How do you connect your learning to your life? Do you think there is a difference between the way men and women approach learning?

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