When I contemplate the future of the State of Israel and its inhabitants, I realize more and more that religious Judaism must become its primary driving force so as not merely to survive but to actually flourish. Without Judaism Israel will not make it. It will slowly disintegrate and eventually cease to exist. No army or government, however powerful and brilliant, will be able to guarantee Israel’s future unless Judaism is its central component. Israel cannot continue to live on a borrowed identity. In the long run, it will not thrive and keep its citizens happy and motivated by means of a lukewarm relationship with religious Judaism, or by constantly emphasizing that it is the nation state of the Jewish people.
It simply won’t work, because Israel must first show that there is a superb reason for the Jewish people to exist. It must reveal why it was able to survive against all odds; how it gave birth to a magnificent concept called ethical monotheism; and why it was able to make an indispensable contribution to humankind and turn the world on its head. It was Judaism, and only Judaism, that brought this about.
The land and State of Israel was never and can never be the goal of the Jewish people. It is a means to carry out a great mission, and unless we rediscover and accept this calling, Israel will eventually collapse.
But in order to achieve this rediscovery, a powerful outcry on the part of its citizens is required.
We need a huge showdown for the soul of Judaism; an uprising by hundreds of thousands of secular Israelis demanding an honest and genuine Judaism. 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 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 envision 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. I picture 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 wait for the moment when young secular Israelis will realize there is no future for the State of Israel without Judaism, but that this Judaism must become a spiritual protest movement that entrusts a mission to its own people and to humankind at large. A Judaism that steers its people to once again become “a light to the nations”; one that fully appreciates the prophets’ right to nonconformity; and one that does not admire complacency but rather shatters it.
I look forward to the time when religious leaders will consist of people who encourage a genuine dialogue with the secular population; when they will respond to the people’s demands to produce major Jewish thinkers and highly inspiring personalities.
A time when yeshivot will cease to be institutions of mass production in which vital issues of faith are shunned; a time when looking to trivial substitutes for refuge 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 realizes and appreciates “secular” Israelis’ complete awareness that life cannot be lived with an empty 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 between the inner world of the individual and its outer manifestations.
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 vis-à-vis their own lives, and for which they will have to sweat instead of receiving it on a silver platter.
They seek a Judaism that is a source of cognitive insight, a way of thinking, and a genuine course of action, not just a form of religious behaviorism; a Judaism that will demand intellectual confrontation rather than evasion.
Israelis should demand religious leaders that earn great respect in the eyes of Jewish and non-Jewish intellectuals; rabbis who demonstrate 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 kick 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. Members of the Israeli government and its many institutions should be trembling when reproached by these towering personalities.
Real religious leaders should not be “honored,” “valued,” or “well respected.” It is not their task to give nice, sweet drashot, or participate in high-society gatherings and official government functions.
As people of truth, they should be feared.
Israelis should be shaking in their boots at the thought of meeting with them but should simultaneously be incapable of staying away from their fascinating personalities.
The time has come for secular Israelis to hold mass demonstrations for the sake of their souls. If they don’t, no one will do it for them.
Questions to Ponder from the David Cardozo Think Tank:
[We suggest printing out and discussing at your Shabbat table, if you like.]
1) Rabbi Cardozo implies that there exists a form of halacha, which he terms “prophetic halacha”, that is more compatible with spiritual values than the exclusively “Shulchan-Aruch-based” halacha widely applied today. Yet, the likelihood of unavoidable clashes between the two systems is still high. Can you think of areas in which traditional Judaism and secular thinking, given a little flexibility from both parties, can meet in the middle? And, upon measured reflection, do you believe Rabbi Cardozo’s vision can ever actually be realized – or is it just wishful thinking?
2) Does the essay’s vision require the strict separation of church and state? Or is there another way for it to be realized within contemporary Israeli society?
3) Rabbi Cardozo emphasizes the need for change on the part of both secular Israeli individuals and the religious establishment. Conversely, though, there also exist many religious Israeli individuals and a secular establishment. What role or roles do the latter play in this situation?
4) For TTP veterans: Rabbi Cardozo has been writing for some time now about these issues, with great – and perhaps increasing – urgency. Has this essay clarified his outlook further for you, and if so how? And as you read his essays, do you find yourself more or less convinced of his points (or neither)?