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As many of you know, I have been sending my “Thoughts to Ponder” essays weekly, without exception, for over 10 years to thousands of email subscribers and many more people received them via other media. My essays have also been published in news outlets such as the Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel, and more recently on Facebook.
The Thoughts to Ponder were the result of ‘out of the box’ thinking and were often highly controversial. I have tried to touch on issues that were ignored or even denied in the religious Jewish community, often because these challenged conventional religious notions that I felt needed more attention and a different approach. But often these thoughts have also contested secular and philosophical ideas.
In these Thoughts to Ponder I have called for new approaches and sought to show that Judaism holds treasures of which most religious Jews are unaware, or which they believe are unacceptable despite being deeply rooted in classical Judaism. I’ve used these treasures as points of departure for new ideas by pushing the borders, something which has always been done in the long history of Judaism. However, in our contemporary times this approach has been rejected more or less, primarily out of fear of the new and often as an expression of “small-thinking”.
Overall, religious Judaism has stagnated, and no longer expresses its dynamism and its organic nature—traits that kept it alive for thousands of years. This inertia has done much harm. It has led smart young people to leave the fold. Others have become religiously fanatical and have come to misrepresent Judaism’s great moral and religious values; these people have given Judaism a bad name.
I have made it clear that we need creative thinking on all levels of Judaism. To accomplish this, we do not need more Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform Judaism of old. Rather, we need to rethink and reformulate Judaism while still holding on to our traditional sources.
While I do not agree with some (fundamental) ideas and ideologies of the Conservative and Reform, I do believe that there is much to learn from them. Some of the more conservative voices within these denominations have greatly furthered a better appreciation of Judaism’s attitudes and ideologies and have related to certain issues that confronted the modern world and Jews in a manner that I believe even Orthodox Judaism could agree.
Moreover, some of their critique on normative Orthodoxy today is correct and a new form of Orthodoxy should take these critiques very serious. There should also be more collaboration between these streams of Judaism, since, while there are fundamental differences between them, they have much in common that may help advance authentic Judaism. They need to grow closer without denying their differences; while this is not an easy undertaking, I believe it is possible and I hope to expand on that.
This ‘rethinking of Judaism’ is especially true now that the State of Israel has become an undeniable factor in the Jewish community in and outside of Israel. The existence of Israel has radically changed the roadmap on which Jewish Tradition should be traveling.
Nowhere is this truer than in Halacha. While Halacha over the past 2,000 years developed under artificial conditions, in which its main purpose was to preserve the Jewish people and Judaism under foreign and often hostile circumstances, the establishment of the State of Israel has changed this in far-reaching ways. To continue to travel on the old road is a mistake; new guidelines are necessary.
Halacha needs to be liberated from this ‘Galut mentality’ – a process that may prove complicated but surely can be done. This is not something that can be done overnight. One of the first steps will be to convince the official rabbinates in Israel and throughout the world of the necessity of this process.
In addition, there is a great need to represent Judaism as a deeply religious phenomenon, in which mere conformism, religious contentment, and complacency have no place. Judaism must be a realm that even the doubter and the agnostic can call home.
I have discussed all these matters in my book Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage, Urim Publications, 2018.
My Thoughts to Ponder have given rise to a lot of discussion and fierce debates on the internet, in blogs, and other media. These thoughts have been praised, but obviously also condemned and disparaged (especially by the Orthodox establishment). None of this has ever bothered me nor made me hold back when I believed my thoughts were justified and were written out of great concern and respectfully. I have also learned a lot from honest critique and have taken this into account in my writings. I have always insisted that others are entitled to their own views.
I have also written many essays explaining the significance of the State of Israel which is by far the greatest miracle in modern times. I have used different arguments to show that Israel is a real phenomenon that cannot be explained within the conventional historical approach, but only through the prophetic tradition. This also explains the strong opposition to Israel’s existence and the reoccurrence of antisemitism today, and it indicates why we should be so proud of belonging to this great nation, which has had such enormous influence on the history and the progress of our world.
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