In a letter to the small yet learned and pious Jewish community in Yemen, Maimonides comments on the idea of what makes a great nation. He teaches that while others may have bigger numbers, the Jewish people is special because of our Laws our relationship with God.
Right now the countries of the world are competing based on running and jumping, throwing, catching, aiming, and just simply holding it together/being proud when athletes say they can’t.
As a spectator, it is tremendously exciting as Canada and its many athletes compete with heart and with class. Sometimes as a nice bonus, they also bring home medals.
Of course, many of us are also watching the progress of the Israeli teams: watching José Bautista knock the bronze away from the Baseball team with a swing of his bat, and Artem Dolgopyat flip and spin to a gymnastic’s gold.
His mother made a shocking statement after the win, which talks to Israel’s greatness. She decried the fact that he can have a gold medal placed around his neck for Israel, but he can’t place a gold wedding ring around his long-time partner’s finger in Israel.
His non-Jewish Israeli mother also deserves a gold in the parenting Olympics for her statement. I could rephrase her words as, “He won the gold medal, great, but I won’t be happy until there are grandchildren seeing if my knadelach hurt their teeth in the same way to bite.”
This is a conversation, not of Law but of law. While rabbis would not marry Artem Dolgopyat here in Canada – he could easily still get married. But in Israel, mimicking the Ottoman system which was in place before the British Mandate period, only recognized religious authorities can perform marriages. So for Artem, who is not a member of any other religious group, but is not considered Jewish by the rabbis, he is unable to be married, unless he travels – which his coaches have made him too busy to do.
Things are starting to shift in Israel, and reform is in the air, especially as his mother’s pointed celebration has turned into a national conversation.
As Maimonides teaches, being a great nation isn’t about numbers – but about our relationship to Law and God.