Sir Simon Schama, celebrated historian, best-selling author and TV personality was in Jerusalem the other day to give a lecture called, “Jewish Arguments Then and Now.” Starting with the two creation stories in the Book of Genesis and moving on through literature and history to important thinkers like Maimonides, Spinoza and Mendelssohn, he alerted us to the fact that authentic Judaism has been shaped by those who throughout the ages fused traditional Jewish thought and practice with ideas from outside Judaism. There has never been only one “eternal” version of Judaism. That’s probably why it has remained fresh, relevant and authentic.
At the very outset he told us that he’s a Reform Jew and alluded to the difficulties Reform Jews experience in Israel. I understood this to suggest that he may view the present situation in the Jewish world in the context of his lecture suggesting that in the same way as what became what we now know as Orthodox Judaism was shaped by outside influences, so today’s Judaism has to take into account the ideas that haven given rise to non-Orthodox Judaism in our time.
This may also explain why Sir Simon was in the news a few days earlier when he described the comment by Naftali Bennet, Israel’s minister of education and Diaspora affairs, as “detestable.” Bennett had said that Diaspora Jews “don’t care about Judaism or about Israel.” Schama described this as “an outrageous affront… to millions of Reform, Conservative and Liberal Jews in vibrant communities who are fighting assimilation, not enabling it.” Diaspora Judaism, largely influenced by liberal ideas is no less authentic and vibrant as the kind of Judaism in Israel that Bennett may espouse.
When Melanie Phillips, Anglo-Jewish columnist, declared recently that only Orthodox Jews would survive in the Diaspora, she wasn’t far from Bennett’s erroneous and offensive assessment.
Ironically and sadly, while many Jewish politicians and journalists have turned against non-Orthodox Judaism and thus the Diaspora, they seem to welcome with open arms Christian evangelicals claiming to be Zionists. In their misguided defense of Israel they ignore that evangelicals want Judaism to be as irrelevant and old-style (Orthodox?) as possible in the hope that this will move Jews to embrace Christianity in anticipation of the second coming of Jesus.
To say it again: Israel, the state and the people, is for them an interim stage: when all Jews will have gathered there, they’ll see the light and embrace Christianity. It’s tragic that Jews hobnob with Christians who want to do away with Judaism instead of embracing Jews who strive to renew the faith we share. All Jews should acknowledge Reform as one of the guarantors of the future of Judaism.
Jerusalem 15.12.18 (Motza’ei Shabbat) Dow Marmur
THE PRIME MINISTER’S OTHER HATS
In my last communication I listed as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s three additional ministerial hats: foreign minister, defense minister and minister of communication. In fact, some time ago he handed over the communication portfolio to a government colleague who, by all accounts does what the prime minister tells him. But Mr. Netanyahu does have a third ministerial hat: that of minister of health. The de facto minister is Ya’akov Litzman, a member of one of the ultra-Orthodox parties, but he refuses to be part of the cabinet, so the prime minister fronts for him. Confusing, isn’t it?