Transitions and Israel

As a people, wherever the Jews are, we have a remarkable and noble mission.

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When Benjamin Ze'ev (Theodor) Herzl gave expression to his extraordinary prophetic vision of a Jewish state in both Der Judenstaat (The Jews' State) and Altneuland (Old-New Land), he described a new community, one in which the land would be developed through science and technology, in which there would be tolerance in all spheres, and which would be organized socially on a cooperative ("mutualist") basis. The pioneers of the Second Aliyah, motivated by similar lofty ideals, developed precisely this kind of cooperative way of life when they founded the kvutzot and kibbutzim that became a hallmark of the new socialist communities--and eventually of the autonomous State of Israel. The Declaration of Independence drawn up by the founders of the state in 1948 also proclaimed equality of all citizens, irrespective of race, religion, or gender. Fundamental concepts of social justice, many of which are rooted in the precepts of Deuteronomy, ground much of the legislation passed by Israel's Knesset (Parliament) from its inception. Indeed, Israel was one of the first countries to pass a law stipulating equality between women and men. For most of the first fifty years of its existence, Israel was a welfare state. Underlying this new venture was not only divine promise but also the memory of past suffering, both recent and long gone by. When Herzl had presented his amazing plan to the Rothschild family, requesting their financial help in turning his dream into reality, he wrote: "We are talking about a simple old matter--the exodus from Egypt."

Almost the entire book of Deuteronomy is a reprise, not only of the events of the forty years in the wilderness (which the people Moses is addressing have not witnessed themselves), but also of the commandments first encapsulated in the giving of the Decalogue at Sinai and later elaborated in the long, Israel agriculturedetailed catalogues of precepts and prohibitions. Now, in Ki Tavo and the passages that follow, the time has come to look toward the entry into the new home, to review the covenant, and to rededicate oneself-individually and as a people-by first acknowledging the fact that God has fulfilled the promise given to our forebears.

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Alice Shalvi

Alice Shalvi is Israel's most outspoken and active Conservative Jewish feminist. Shalvi founded the Israel Women's Network in 1984, serving as its director until 1997. The organization has effected legal change--particularly in the workplace--and is taking aim at issues concerning women's health, battered women and rape.