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March 8, 2010

Religious Zionism, Creativity, and the Future of the Jewish People-by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/religious_zionism_creativity_and_the_future_of_the_jewish_people-by_rabbi_h/

In a recent Jerusalem post article Rabbi Daniel Gordis wrote that in his view there is no creativity in the torah of religious Zionism and that indeed since Rabbi Solovetchik and Rabbi Kook there has not been any.  As a result he does not feel that religious Zionism is able to speak to secular Jews in Israel.  The article can be read here:
http://www.jpost.com/Home/Article.aspx?id=169638

My vehement disagreement with him was published as a letter to the editor in the Jerusalem Post last week.  In it I argue that the only place in the Torah world today (think Machon Hertzog,  Siach Yitzchak and others) in which there is any creativity is in the world of Religious Zionism, that this creativity is a result of its relationship with the land and people of Israel, and that only this approach has any hope of truly engaging the nonreligious population.

Here is the letter:

February 28, 2010

Letter to the Editor

Sir, -I vehemently disagree with Daniel Gordis’ pronouncement that Religious Zionism has not produced any creative thinkers.  It is in fact only in the world of Religious Zionism today in Israel that creative thinking about Torah and Talmud is taking place.

One example: As an Orthodox American Rabbi on sabbatical in Jerusalem, I commute to Lod each day to learn from Rabbi Israel Samet, the Rabbi of the Religious Zionist garin in Lod and head of its yeshiva.  Rabbi Samet’s ground breaking approach to Talmud is based upon the observation that the Talmud, like the Bible, is not a legal work.  Both are primarily narratives of which the law is but a part.  The rabbis of the Talmud, according to this new vision, were not halachists but are rather telling the story of the Jewish people, integrating the law with the narrative of the Talmud to do so.

It is in fact only Religious Zionists that can understand the Mishnaic Rabbis in this wholesome way since they live lives closest to those of the ancient rabbis, speaking their language, living in their land, and seeing the Jewish People as a nation, not solely as a religion to which Judaism in Diaspora must of necessity be limited. 

This approach to Talmud will soon affect a sea change in the way that the Talmud and Torah speak to our people in Israel who have moved from observing laws in a vacuum (or for much of Israeli society, not observing them)  to living the continued narrative of the Jewish Nation.  This approach which emerges from and speaks directly to the Jewish nation living in its land, has the potential to finally bridge what it means to be a Jew with what it means to be an Israeli, thus engaging the world of non-religious Israelis who feel the Torah and the Talmud offer little of relevance to their lives today but are thirsty for something that does. 

Rabbi Hyim Shafner
Bais Abraham Congregation
St. Louis, Missouri (currently on sabbatical in Jerusalem)

 

 

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