Israel and the Diaspora

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From “Rosner’s Domain”:

Dear Daniel,

My question to you is this: what will be the role of Israel in the new era of Judaism you described, and isn’t it a problem that half the Jewish people can’t connect with the other half because of language?

Thank you,
New Jersey

Dear Martha,

I’ll start with your second question. There are certainly “connection problems” in the Jewish community, but language isn’t one I’m terribly concerned with. When in Jewish history has the entire Jewish people spoken a single language? Perhaps at one point we all spoke Aramaic, but that age is long gone.

There are many things that unite all Jews, but there are a heck of a lot of things that differentiate us from each other, as well. This is a fact. Is it a problem? Sometimes. But sometimes difference can be productive. Which brings me to your first question.

Israel is interesting because in some ways it is a model for a democratized Judaism: every day, non-rabbis – political leaders, business leaders, secular and religious – make decisions that impact the fate of the Jewish people. In this sense, Israel is a paradigm for what it means to empower all Jews to shape the future of Jewish life.

On the other hand, Israel has a more entrenched religious leadership, a leadership that is empowered by the State with control over ritual, lifecycle events, personal status issues, etc. So when it comes to the “religious” realm, the Diaspora is a stronger candidate for democratization.

So, in a sense, Israel and the Diaspora have a lot to learn from each other in this area. This is how it should be. Democracy is, first and foremost, rooted in the understanding that not everyone has the same values and opinions. If we all believed the same thing, there’d be no need to vote, no need to protect minority rights, etc. Difference is not a problem. When we confront difference, we see ourselves more clearly, who we are, what we do well and not so well, what we can do better. Difference keeps us honest.

Thanks for the questions,

Posted on May 10, 2007

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2 thoughts on “Israel and the Diaspora

  1. lornewel

    You refer to democracy and democratization as if they are, without doubt, the (or at least a) goal of Judaism. Being born and raised Canadian, that seems to be a largely unexamined value of the populace, both secular and religious. But when I go to the Torah, I don’t find that model. In the life of the synagogue, do you find (as I do in churches) a tension, often unexpressed but very real, between the attempt at biblical style leadership and the “right” of every member to vote on everything?

  2. Daniel Septimus Post author

    I definitely don’t think it’s necessarily a goal of Judaism. In fact, in my other posts I indicated that many rabbis seem to be moving toward establishing more authority, more of a divide between the leadership and laity.

    As a democrat, however (small “d” in this case), I personally value democracy and think that, just as it is good for general society, it would yield benefits in the Jewish community.

    Additionally, one might argue that Jewish history has already exhibited a movement towards empowering more and more people. Not to be cliche: but consider the Talmudic story of the Oven of Achnai, in which the majority vote of the rabbis supersedes divine decree. Contrast that with the more dictatorial voice of the Bible.

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