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.