Simply Jewish: Diaspora Judaism Matters
Shapiro, Rami, Tikkun
et me ask you a question: has a reborn Israel led to a reborn Judaism? We have seen the blooming of the desert; but is the soul any less parched? We have seen brown hillsides turn green with new forests; but is the heart any less barren? We have seen brave soldiers push back terrible armies; but is the greater enemymeaninglessness-any less a threat? We have seen an ancient language revived; but is there a new poetry of the spirit? We have seen the rebirth of Orthodoxy; but have we seen the rebirth of Judaism?
I don't think so. The truth is that almost everything fresh and new in Jewish learning and spirituality is coming from the Diaspora, not Israel. Israel is where we go to explore the past, the United States is where we go to create the future.
Why? Because the founders of Israel believed Judaism to be essentially irrelevant to their dream. They had little use for it and happily delegated it to those rabbis for whom they also had little use. Judaism in Israel is, to a great extent, an imitation of Judaism in the shtetl. Where Israel had once given birth to prophets, it now produces clerks. Where Judaism once challenged kings, it now stands on the sidelines of world events. How sad.
And what are we doing about it? We are exporting Reform and Conservative Judaisms from the United States. Who does this benefit? Reform and Conservative rabbis in the United States. The reason these movements are having such difficulty in Israel has less to do with the power of Orthodoxy then it does the irrelevancy of these movements to most Israelis. Liberal Judaism today is a variation of Orthodoxy; it is, as many Orthodox claim, Judaism Lite. Israelis may not dabble in Judaism very often, but like a dieter who chooses to binge once in a while, when they do indulge they want the real thing. When and if Israelis discover a need for American-style liberal Judaism, they know where to find it.
So what should we liberal Jews be doing about the future of Judaism in Israel?
First, we should pressure our Reform and Conservative leaders to cease all efforts to secure parity with the Orthodox, recognizing that we cannot sell a product until we create a market for it. Second, we should endow an Israeli think tank for the reinvention of Judaism-not to conserve, reform, or reconstruct the past, but to boldly and unabashedly invent the future. We should articulate a Judaism as revolutionary and as compelling as that which the Pharisees pitted against their priestly rivals. …