Photo above: Rabbi Donniel Hartman at The Temple Emanu-El Skirball Center: “Stop this intellectual witch hunt”. Photo: Gili Getz
Last week in a packed Temple Emanu-El Skirball Center, one of the most prominent Jewish congregations in America, Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman spoke, emphatically, clearly, passionately, and from a place of deep faith, to mostly middle aged and senior audience, about Jewish values and the divisive discourse about Israel in our communities.
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, the President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem, is the founder of some of the most extensive education and training for scholars, educators, rabbis, religious and lay leaders in Israel and North America. He is one of the leaders shaping Jewish thought today. The event was part of series focusing on Jewish values and the discourse about Israel.
Since I started to perform my new play The Forbidden Conversation, which is about the difficulty of talking openly about Israel, I have talked and listened to many perspectives on the unhealthy state of the conversation surrounding Israel in the Jewish community. But there was something very special about Rabbi Hartman. Maybe it was the way he spoke about the Jewish identity with such reverence and admiration. Maybe it was his ability to distinguish between the issues that are complicated and the issues that shouldn’t be complicated. Maybe it was the fact that his identity is both American and Israeli. He spoke about Israel and morally, Jewish morality. He spoke of our moral compass as a people when it comes to Israel:
He insisted that some aspects of the Israel conversation are NOT complicated:
“It’s not knowing the good, it’s doing the good… the test in not when everything is easy, the real test is when you are frightens, in the midst of danger… We stopped seeing Palestinians. We told ourselves we have no moral responsibility… For the first time in the history of the State of Israel, mainstream voices in Israeli society are saying that it might be ok if Israel will stop being a democracy… Because we understand it doesn’t mean we should accept it.”
“We are very powerful people. In the last ten years Israel fundamentally changed. It is complicated. But there are things that are not complicated. We as Jews have to recognize the inalienable right of Palestinians. Not complicated! Israel should treat all if it’s citizen equally, that’s not complicated… non Jewish lives matter.”
When asked about the “obsession in our community with who has the right to say what, when, how, where, when it comes to Israel?” Rabbi Hartman become very emotional and called for an ending to the censoring of the Israel conversation:
“That’s probably the most important question I could be asked”
He started to challenge those in the auditorium. The event was co-sponsored by many organizations including UJA-Federation and a number of important synagogues.
“We might get angry, when somebody lifts up a mirror and we don’t like what we see, we shift our vision to who is holding up the mirror and attack them… You can’t be a people who wants to be a light unto the nation. You can’t be a people who stands for Tikkun Olam if you are not a people who have, and are committed to, the most vigorous debate and self criticism on an ongoing basis…. If you don’t want to be that then welcome to the world of mediocrity. And mediocrity is antithetical to Judaism. You shoot down conversation then you will be mediocre… There is something wrong when we start to to develop these loyalty tests. Litmus tests. Who’s in and who’s out. Those are all signs of fear, those are all responses to an otherness ghetto mentality.”
“I can’t tell you how much I wish the Jewish American community will stop this intellectual witch hunt. This intellectual narrow mindedness. Bunch of liberal Jews… are acting like a bunch of Haredi Jews when it comes to Israel…The debate which defines the community on everything Jewish, when it comes to Israel… we are now Mashgiach Kashrut on Israel. What happened to you?! Liberalism… is to believe that people have an inalienable right… the recognition the difference of opinion leads to greater understanding, greater truth. You shoot down debate, you move further away from truth. Why does it apply to every feature of our life but not to Israel.”
“What is becoming mainstream in our community among our children is a belief there is no place to criticize Israel… A community in which there is a serious debate inside, is a community where a child can say: ‘to be Jewish is to stand for moral principles and I want bring that moral discussion to Israel but if I can’t and I’m not allowed…’ Kids look at it and they leave… Create a community in which there is a limitless conversation. Where to be a Jew means to talk about the Israel you want. If you want everyone to cheer Israel as it is, then your children are going to find their moral conscious somewhere else.”