The photo above popped up on my Facebook feed from three years ago. I was astonished to realize it is even MORE true today, in both Israel and the USA (as well as many other parts of the worlds)
A few weeks ago, I discussed the “shared values” between the USA and Israel that were mentioned in President Herzog’s meeting with President Biden and the Congress.
I also described the inherent paradox in Israeli society that is articulated in our Declaration of Independence as both a Jewish and Democratic state.
Often there is a conflict between “Jewish Values” and “Democratic (i.e. liberal western) Values.”
This is at the root of the conflict in Israel related to removing power from the Supreme Court who almost always side with “Democratic” values over “Jewish Values.”
For example there is a current petition before the Supreme Court to decide if the current adoption laws are “reasonable.” The current law gives preference to heterosexual couples.
The LGBTQ community is asking the supreme court to rule on this claiming it is discriminatory against them as a minority and therefore “against Democratic values.” The response from the court was that since the current government is not about to change the legislation to give equal treatment and opportunity to same sex couples to adopt, that the court may have to “resolve the issue.” If you read the linked article, you will find the court never refers to Jewish values at all.
What are Jewish Values?
Apparently, there is a lot of confusion about what I meant by “Jewish Values.”
A “secular” friend of mine in Tel Aviv who has been part of the anti-government protests wrote this after reading my article:
Hi Shmuel, I read your article with great interest.
Just to see if I understand, I do not live by Torah values, correct? If the answer is yes, I can state that I have never and will not live by Torah values.
So….since Israel is inevitably a country to be ruled by Torah values, should I never have immigrated way back during the Yom Kippur war, served in the army, become a guide, served at the Israel Mission to the UN, returned twice after that, and should I leave?
After all, if Israel was always destined to enforce Torah values, I apparently, if I understand you, did not and do not belong in Israel.
Here’s how I answered him:
You live by Torah values…
Immigrating is a mitzvah… a Torah value. Yishuv eretz yisrael – Settling the Land of Israel.
Serving in the army is a mitzvah – a Torah value of Mesirat nefesh. Milchemet mitzvah. Kol yisrael areivim zeh bazeh. – Dedicating your life for the Nation of Israel. Fighting defensive wars. Being a guarantor for your fellow Jew.
Tour guide .. it is a mitzvah walking every 4 amot (6 feet) in the land, that is part of yishuv eretz yisrael – settling the Land of Israel. It also encourages other Jews to love the land, which is a tikkun of chet hameraglim – rectification of the sin of the Spies.
Serving at the UN to help fight antisemitism is a mitzvah and Torah value.
You read something into my article I didn’t say. Sorry I should have been clearer. Israel needs more Jews like you.
And this was his response:
Oh…I thought you meant everybody needs to love Torah values like an orthodox Jew. My mistake. You might want sometime to clarify Torah values for your audience.
Thinking about it, my misunderstanding is representative of the social rift on both sides, and the hysteria on both sides that results in a lack of dialog, the absence of a willingness to explore points of view, which might ease this civil fighting a bit.
David was correct… and here was my response:
It is a big challenge to write these articles. On one hand, I want to respect the reader and their time… so I have to keep it short. On the other hand so much gets left out. Each article would warrant a one or two hour lecture.
A colleague once shared with me that our job as a Rabbi and Educator is get people to think, not tell them what to think. That’s why I choose topics of the day which people are already focused on and emotionally vested in, and make provocative statements and ask questions from a “Torah point of view”.
I want people to challenge the conventional wisdom and really internally check their own value system and recognize where it comes from.
Is their position based on a “Jewish Value”, “American Value”, “My Parent’s Value”, “Buddhist Value”, “Christian Value”, “Science Value”… maybe it is a combination of one or two sources. Maybe Jewish values encompass what others espouse as their value system as well.
Ultimately, I want to encourage people to begin to explore and educate themselves on what “Jewish Values” are on their own. My job as a Rabbi is to act as a resource.
We need more dialogue like this to clarify our values.
In this week’s Torah Portion – Eikev, Moses is particularly clear about how the Nation of Israel is supposed to act when they enter the Land, and what the consequences will be if they don’t. Many of our “Jewish Values” are articulated in this portion.
I also address the issue of clarifying each other’s values as a tool to heal society in my Webinar on Prayer. Jewish Prayer is a way of clarifying one’s value system.