To be an arbiter of Jewish law is to be the conductor of an orchestra. It is not coercion but persuasion that makes it possible for the other to hear the beauty of the music and to accept a halachic decision, just as one would willingly listen to the interpretation of a conductor—because one is deeply inspired.
We are in desperate need of bold ideas that will place the Torah in the center of our lives and make us receptive to God’s presence through a daring new encounter with Him. Let it be heroic. Not staid and comfortable, but painful and hard-won; a deep breath in the midst of the ongoing conflict ever-present in the heart of humankind.
without a strong religious component, conversion is a farce, just as it would be completely ridiculous to claim, conversely, that even though somebody is totally committed to all the mitzvot of the Torah and lives in its spirit, he or she would not be considered part of the Jewish people. He or she is, but we do not really know why or how. We need both components, religion and nationhood, but we cannot figure out how they relate to each other.
Ours is a future-orientated religion. We are not afraid of the latest technologies because they allow us to fulfill, in ways unimagined by our forefathers, the divine mandate to cure diseases, create more pleasant ways to live our lives, and make the world a better place. All this is beautifully expressed by our Sages, who direct us to become partners with God in the work of creation. But the very text that demands this does not allow for any changes in its content and bars us from using the latest technological devices in the writing of this same text! What is the message conveyed by this paradox?
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?
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.
In the process of adapting from exile to statehood, halachah may need to be uprooted and transplanted, or even cut back to its deepest roots and regrown in a larger pot, where it can flower more freely. This will probably result in the “secularization” of some of our halachot, offset by a cultural “Judification” of our secular society. Can we use the lessons learned during the galut to survive in an increasingly decentralized and globalized world?
Think Tank member Calev Ben-Dor will lead us in study of the famous Talmudic story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. We will discuss what we can deduce about how halacha is and should be decided, and the story’s contemporary relevance in light of divisive issues recently in the news.
Rather than waiting until a potential convert is ready to take on all of Jewish law, and only then converting them, we should first convert them, and then slowly introduce them to Jewish religious values and Halacha. This should be done by way of gentle persuasion and love, with no coercion whatsoever. We must give them the option of making their own choices, introducing them to a ladder of observance that they can climb at their own pace and within their own abilities.