Because we Jews have experienced, as no other nation has, what indifference can lead to, it is our duty, more than anybody else, to care about our fellow human beings and be an example for the rest of the world.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy and the Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu in Jerusalem. A sought-after lecturer on the international stage for both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, Rabbi Cardozo is the author of 13 books and numerous articles in both English and Hebrew. He heads a Think Tank focused on finding new Halachic and philosophical approaches to dealing with the crisis of religion and identity amongst Jews and the Jewish State of Israel. Hailing from the Netherlands, Rabbi Cardozo is known for his original and often fearlessly controversial insights into Judaism. His ideas are widely debated on an international level on social media, blogs, books and other forums.
Recent articles by Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Every generation must find its own way to God and subsequently to the Jewish tradition. From a religious point of view, were this not the case, there would be little reason for that generation to exist. What, after all, is the meaning of human existence if not to reveal another dimension of God’s multi-colored world and Torah, and thus to gain a greater understanding of self?
The very fact that today we encounter a serious endeavor to see Halacha as the only expression of Judaism, and that some halachic authorities constantly attempt to bring the hashkafa (religious philosophy) of Judaism back to finalized dogmas, is a clear indication that those very authorities try to Halacha-ize issues of faith. But doing so robs Judaism of its vital flowing life force. We need to understand that Halacha is the practical upshot of un-finalized beliefs, a practical way of living while remaining in theological suspense.
There are two schools of thought in Judaism, two types of batei midrash: the Bet Midrash of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu. Although both of them are integral parts of Judaism, the difference between them is critical. Judaism began as an existential movement in which all that humankind does, thinks, feels, and says is touched by the spirit of God. The Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu aims to teach in order to inspire a re-awakening and transformation of the soul. It is here that we find the roots of Judaism in their most central form.
A fairy tale with much relevance to today’s times.
When confronted with death, our first reaction is consternation. We are stunned and broken. But slowly, our sense of shock gives way to a feeling of mystery. The mysterium magnum enters, and a new perspective makes itself known as a kind of revelation and elevation. Suddenly, our whole life, which we knew so well, gradually becomes concealed behind a great Secret. Our speech is silenced. Our understanding fails. There is only awe for the Other.
In Biblical days the Halacha was astir while the world was sleeping. Today the world is astir while the Halacha is sleeping. Only when it wakes up and starts to challenge our society with novel ideas and rulings will it once more be the vital mover of Jewish life. It must be prepared to look inward, challenge its own verdicts and once again understand that its main function is to protest and rebel.
For a nation to maintain sensitivity and concern for “the other,” it must continue to live in some form of strangerhood. It must never be fully secure, and must constantly be aware of its own existential uncertainty. As such, the Jew is to be a stranger.
We are in need of a radically different kind of yeshiva: one in which students are confronted with serious challenges to Halacha and its weltanschauung and learn how to respond; where they become aware that it is not certainty, but doubt, that gets you an education; where it is not Rabbinic authority that reigns supreme, but religious authenticity.
Like the generation of the Tower of Babel, in which the whole world was “of one language and of one speech,” we are producing a religious Jewish community of artificial conformism in which independent thought and difference of opinion is not only condemned, but its absence is considered to be the ultimate ideal.
Israeli teachers should create tension in the classroom by presenting their own ideas about Judaism and Jewishness, and then wage war on them, asking the students to fight them with knives between their teeth and come up with new ideas. In that way, the students will begin to appreciate and love what Judaism is all about. And only then should the teachers introduce biblical, Talmudic and midrashic texts as part of the discussion.
If the Spanish-Portuguese community and Chief Rabbi Mervis give in to blatant blackmail by ultra-Orthodox elements then rabbis will no longer be able to speak their minds. The S&P and other communities will lose their independence and be subject to censure by all sorts of self-acclaimed rabbinical extremists, creating a situation that will terribly compromise Judaism.
For the sake of later generations—who would need to know that the ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness, of the gentle word and not the hard strike—God denied Moshe the merit of living in the land. In this way, He made it clear to all that leaders who seek to turn Israel into a holy nation by way of threat or by force may very well bring disaster on themselves and their people.
When Orthodox rabbis are told that they are no longer able to speak their minds, offer new insights into Orthodox Judaism, or try to find solutions to serious problems by using innovative ideas, we are faced with a rabbinical world that is wearing blinders, is comprised of yes-people looking over their shoulders, and is generating a hazardous small-mindedness that has far-reaching effects.
The world is far from ideal, but it seems that we view our globe as we would a white paper with a black spot on it. When asked what we see, we say, “a black spot,” completely ignoring the white paper. It is only the odd, the out-of-place that catches our attention. Why is this?
It is difficult to argue that the Holocaust was caused by divine anger for the violations of Torah precepts and deliberate heresy. The curses in the Torah are meant to come down on those who, against better judgment, and with the full understanding that they are violating God’s will, decide to do so; but not on those who are confused by or are the victims of others’ misunderstandings.
Only BaMidbar, in the emptiness and silence of the desert, that the authentic Word can be heard—a Word stripped of all distractions. Naked, without any excuse. But it can be heard only by a people of the wilderness; a people who are not rooted in a substance of physical limitations and borders; a people who are not entirely fixed by an earthly point, even while living in a homeland. They are never satisfied with their spiritual conditions and are therefore always on the road, looking for more.
What gives us the right to bring a child into a religious covenant by way of circumcision, without his consent? Circumcision, after all, to be Jewish means to be part of a nation that is rooted in a covenant that asks Jews to risk their very existence for the sake of a moral and religious mission. How can we commit children to a lifelong mission that they may not wish to fulfill? On the other hand, what right do we have to bring children into the world without giving them a higher mission? What right do we have to throw children into this turbulent jungle, filling them with anxieties and uncertainties, without giving them a clue as to their higher purpose?
Living Judaism must be able to stand up against ideas that are highly un-Jewish and at the same time be open to new ideas. But this can be achieved only by fostering a notion of spiritual dissent rooted in eternal ideas that have the capacity to re-invent themselves. It can be accomplished only by radical thinking and audacity informed by deep learning and faith.
When contemplating the re-establishment of the State of Israel after nearly 2000 years of exile, no Jew should believe that the land is guaranteed to remain theirs forever. It could easily be taken away, as it has been in the past. If its inhabitants do not behave properly. If they hide behind the claim that they are observant or moral, while in fact they are fighting each other and disobeying the ethical dictates of God, the Book of Amos makes it clear that the State of Israel will not endure. Nor can we hide behind the abundance of Torah learning today to save us.