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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

But is she an "innie" or an "outie"?

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni spoke on Monday night at the 12th annual "Tonight we do not learn Torah" conference in Tel Aviv, and claimed that although she is not religious, her umbilical cord is attached to the Temple Mount, and that Israel needs to define what a Jewish state is outside a religious context.
The Kadima party chairwoman noted that “one does not have to choose between intense secularism and extreme hareidi-religious observance. There is a large middle ground, and a very large public out there that is not necessarily observant but nevertheless has a Jewish connection, one that is wider than you are told about, and means more than what is written on identity cards. It is not connected to the hareidi religious Jews, it has nothing to do with them; it's about us, we who are not extremists. It's not a favor to anyone else.”

She added that the religious Zionist political parties do not work on a common denominator for all of us because of political power struggles and a terrible system of government that gives too much power to hareidi-religious parties. “There are payments that give a monopoly on Jewish content to political parties that pull in their direction and theirs alone, and everyone pays the price,” Livni said. “The conversion law is one recent instance of that – where not relating to the common denominator is causing us to lose it.”

She argued that it is time to set the parameters that define a Jewish state. “It is clear what a democratic state is,” she said, “but less clear to everyone exactly what a Jewish state is. We are very close to the point at which we will no longer be able to do that,” Livni warned. “It would not be good if we split into separate societies, each of which does whatever it pleases on traditional occasions – Israel would lose her Jewish character, both nationally and religiously in the process.”

Livni also discussed her connection to Jerusalem, saying “I live in Tel Aviv, but my umbilical cord indeed is connected to the Temple Mount, both from a personal perspective, and in my national, public life as well. The feeling of belonging to Jerusalem is not necessarily related to observance of the mitzvot (commandments), she added, “although I regret it is weakening with the passage of time. The way to reconnect", Livni said, is “through Jewish continuity on the national, and not the religious level.”

"Jerusalem must be returned to the younger generation", she said. "Jerusalem is in difficulties and needs treatment. There is a need to educate the younger generation all over the country to feel a connection to Jerusalem. Education in Israel today lacks the connection with the history of the Jewish People and specifically with Jerusalem,” she asserted.
She's actually right about some things here. But she's wrong about a whole lot of other things, and characterizing people who are religiously observant (and she doesn't mean Neturei Karta types) as 'extremists' isn't going to help solve the problem.

Yes, it's time to define what a Jewish state is (Daniel Gordis makes that argument quite eloquently), but divorcing the concept of a Jewish state from Jewish religious observance has been tried and failed miserably. Zionism without Judaism is like a body without a soul. Too many of Israel's early leaders believed that they could abandon Judaism and subsist on 'Israeliness.' They were wrong - horribly wrong. We are paying for their mistakes to this day. In fact, the reasons why much of secular Israel's connection to Jerusalem is 'weakening with time' is that it has no connection to Jewish observance.

I'm reminded of a story that Gordis tells in his book. He writes that his son was in a pre-army program in which religious kids and secular kids study Jewish subjects together so that they have a background of why they are going out to defend the Jewish state. They were taught Gemara (Talmud), and because of the difficulty in studying Gemara, each boy who had studied Gemara in high school was paired with a boy who had not. They studied the very first page of the very first tractate (Berachoth). The tractate starts by asking from when we read the Shma prayer in the evening. The Shma prayer is the most basic prayer in Judaism. Gordis' son's study partner - who grew up in Israel - had no clue what it was.

Is that what Tzipi Livni considers a connection to Jerusalem? When it comes to Jewish observance, she'd like us all to be 'outies.'


At 5:32 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

I think she means its possible to be observant without being haredi. But I have a feeling her mainly secular constituency doesn't like it. Being an Israeli without being a Jew doesn't work. If Jews cannot explain why they are in the country they will lose it. That brings up something Evelyn Gordon discussed today. Part of the problem with Israel getting bad press is when Israel defends itself, it sounds whiny and defensive. What Israel should be doing is attacking its enemies relentlessly always keeping the focus on them. And that requires a sense of confidence in who you are. Who are Israelis today? Its a question very much in need of a clear answer.


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