“I have a Dream”
Wanted: Rabbis with Knives between Their Teeth
Things are going well in Israel. Mass demonstrations for social justice, housing, proper hospitalization, and adequate wages for physicians, teachers and the underprivileged are finally underway. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have gone to the streets to convince the government that things need to change drastically. This could be a turning point in Israel’s future with dramatic consequences for the better.
I have a dream! I see a huge demonstration for the soul of Judaism. An uprising in which hundreds of thousands of secular Israelis demand an honest and genuine Judaism with no political parties, no embarrassing financial deals, and no religious coercion. A Judaism that will inspire them, lift their spirits, and make them burst with pride to be Jewish.
I have a dream! I imagine a spiritual revolution by secular Israelis who are fed up with the religious establishment and instead demand rabbinical leadership that will hear their longing for a Judaism that speaks to them. A leadership that will admit it has played its cards wrong for years and has continually misread the minds and hearts of these secular Israelis.
I have a dream! I envision Chief Rabbis who dare to take a stand; who stop looking over their shoulders and start thinking out of the box; who show courage and do not act out of fear; who stop worrying about the influences of other denominations of Judaism and instead are prepared to have an honest dialogue with them. A rabbinate that introduces prophetic Halacha, which uses not only the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch but also the vital teachings of our prophets and great thinkers – Jewish and non-Jewish – so as to find new spiritual solutions that will convince all of us how much more Judaism has to offer than we ever imagined.
I await the moment when young secular Israelis will realize there is no future to the State of Israel without Judaism, but this Judaism needs to become a spiritual protest movement that entrusts a mission to its own people and to mankind at large. One in which the Jewish people again become “a light to the nations”; one in which the prophets’ right to nonconformity is highly appreciated; one in which complacency is not admired but rather shattered.
I look forward to the moment when the Chief Rabbinate will consist of men who encourage a genuine dialogue with the secular population; when the Chief Rabbinate will respond to the people’s demands regarding Judaism’s need to produce major Jewish thinkers and highly inspiring personalities. A time when yeshivoth will cease to be institutions of mass production in which vital issues of faith are shunned, and when running for refuge to trivial substitutes will once and for all be taboo.
The supreme need of the hour is not rabbinical intervention or religious political parties but a grassroots movement demanding a Judaism that has risen above all denominations and will fight for a renewed personal attachment to Jewish thinking and living. A Judaism that will not perish for lack of organization but for lack of appreciation. A Judaism that realizes “secular” Israelis’ complete awareness that life cannot be lived with emptiness in the heart.
There is no denying that many Israelis search for the imponderable quality of their souls as well as for communication between the world of the spirit and the inner world of the individual.
Israelis look for a Judaism that is not just a mood, feeling or sentimental attachment to some old-fashioned customs and ceremonies, but one that will dare them to take a serious look at its teachings and their own lives. They seek a Judaism that is a source of cognitive insight, a way of thinking, not just a form of religious behaviorism. A Judaism that will demand intellectual confrontation rather than evasion.
Israelis should demand a Chief Rabbi like Lord Jonathan Sacks of England; a Chief Rabbinate that carries great respect in the eyes of Jewish and non- Jewish intellectuals; rabbis who show them how Judaism has an important role to play in world affairs and in the intellectual community; rabbis who are invited to lecture at Harvard and Columbia; and religious thinkers who can appreciate but also challenge general philosophy, who admit that there are serious intellectual clashes with the Jewish faith and practice, and who are not afraid to suggest new responses.
Israelis should insist on rabbinical leaders and thinkers who will cook up a storm that will overturn the whole of Israeli society. A storm that will prove these religious leaders have freed themselves from the quicksand in which they are stuck. In a completely unprecedented shift, these rabbis should lead the ship of Torah at full sail right into the heart of Israeli society, causing such a shock that it will take days, weeks, even months before it can get back on its feet.
With knives between their teeth, and like the prophets of biblical days, these religious leaders should be known for their impeccable and uncompromising conduct, and should create an ethical-religious uproar that will scare the moral wits out of the secular and religious societies and weigh heavily on their souls.
Real religious leaders should not be “honored”, “valued” or “well respected”, give nice drashot and participate in high-society gatherings and official government functions. As men of truth, they should be feared. Israelis should be shivering in their shoes at the thought of meeting with them but should simultaneously be incapable of staying away from their towering, fascinating personalities.
The time has come for secular Israelis to start mass demonstrations for the sake of their souls. I can’t wait for it to happen.