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Virtual Talmud

Israel: A Reality Check

The recent spat at the American Jewish Committee‘s conference in Washington is what happens when you get a lot of Jews in one room who really do not know that much about Jews or Judaism.

The debacle happened on the first night of the conference during a panel moderated by Ted Koppel featuring among others the New Republic’s literary editor Leon Weiseltier and Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua. For years now, Yehoshua has been degrading Diaspora Jewish existence. Still, when he let loose on these shores what Israelis have been saying for years–that Diaspora Jewishness is meaningless–every Jewish person in the room acted as though he had proclaimed that Jesus was the true Messiah. Chief among those who were shocked was Koppel, who was flabbergasted. Not knowing what hit him, he let the discussion spin out of control.


Yehoshua’s comments are nothing new. Everyone who knows anything about Jews, Judaism, and Israel knows that throughout history there have been those who have adopted Yehoshua’s position and throughout history they have been disproven over and over again.

The bottom line always has been and remains that Israel and Diaspora Jewry need each other. The question of which environment produces “better Jews” can have a variety of different answers. Usually, I think it’s Israel, where Jews put their life on the line for the Jewish people everyday. But then there are weeks like this past one, when I had to read about the ethical trade-off Israel made, claiming that security concerns warrant preventing Arab spouses from living in Israel with their partners. I wonder if breaking up families and separating child from parent, husband from wife is what A.B. Yehoshua means when he brags about Israeli Jewish identity being more meaningful.


As my friend Rabbi Uri Goldstein likes point out, Israel needed 2,000 years of living in the Diaspora to prepare itself for being in power. The Galut (Diaspora) taught Jews how to be an ethical people, how to treat gerim (foreigners) with decency and respect. Unfortunately, it seems that Israel still has a great deal to learn. While the greatest feat is, of course, combining the strength of Israel with the ethical sensitivity of the Diaspora, at this point that has not yet happened.

Sure, on some level I agree with those such as Hillel Halkin who have come to Yehoshua’s defense and argued that Israel is the Jewish ideal. Of course, living in Israel is an ideal, but sometimes its just that–an ideal. Reality as it now stands is that Israel is involved in a very messy political situation. American Jews, in contrast, have the ability to economically, socially, politically, and yes, even spiritually prosper and grow in ways never before imagined.

As for A.B. Yehoshua: On behalf of Diaspora Jews, I will make him a deal. When you Israelis get your house in order, we will all come on over. Until then, a little humility would not hurt.

Comments read comments(5)
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Helen Freeman

posted May 18, 2006 at 5:32 pm

I feel that without the large amount of support, both financial and emotional, Israel should respect what the Diaspora has to offer. Let’s not make this a challenge. We must respect each other’s contribution to Israel in particular and Judaism in general. Thank you.

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Helen Freeman

posted May 18, 2006 at 5:35 pm

correction from Helen Freeman: First sentence: I feel that because of the large amount of support, etc., etc.,

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posted May 19, 2006 at 3:57 am

My own perception, currently, is that Diaspora Judaism is actually more vibrant, meaningful and “Jewish” (regardless of how you define it!) than Israeli Judaism. That’s not to say that Israel is *not* Jewish, or that these kinds of contests are worth having, but since we *are* having them…. 😉 I don’t believe, however, that either can exist without the other. It’s fairly obvious that the Diaspora needs Israel, but Israel also needs the Diaspora (and not just financially). We are all Jews, we all have something to contribute, and Yehoshua’s comments are simply out of line — that’s all.

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Larry Lennhoff

posted May 21, 2006 at 6:05 pm

As for A.B. Yehoshua: On behalf of Diaspora Jews, I will make him a deal. When you Israelis get your house in order, we will all come on over. Until then, a little humility would not hurt. I would say that precisely because Israel’s house is not in order they need morally aware people like you to come and live there. As a voting and active citizen, you could help correct Israel’s moral mistakes, rather than tut-tutting about them from afar.

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Stuart Bornstein

posted May 22, 2006 at 8:56 pm

Specifically to rabbi stern: What ethical tradeoff did Israel make? Breaking up families? The family can always live in the West Bank or Gaza nobody is stopping them. I would like to know what jewish book on ethics says that you have to take risks with potential murderers of children and old men and women Use your intelligence. Ignore what they say in Berkely. Learn more Judaism: Gemara, Mishne, & for ethics you can always learn the mesillas yesharim. Cut the Judaic studies Study Judaism and stop slandering other Jews.

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