Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Questions for Consideration

Birthright has inspired some thought provoking conversations among our group. Here are some questions we have been pondering:

What are the core components of our Jewish identity? If you had to recreate Judaism on the moon and had limited resources, what 5 traditions, texts, icons etc. would you bring? What role does Israel play in our Judaism?

If we have, at least for now, decided to live a Jewish life in America, what is the importance of the state of Israel? What do we personally think about Zionism and making Aliyah? What are the stakes for keeping a Jewish state? On Masada, the Jews chose to kill themselves rather than see their religious freedom taken away. Today, Israeli soldiers sacrifice their lives to protect their religious freedom and the Jewish state that makes that possible. This sacrifice is necessitated by the daily threat that Israel faces. In America, however, we don't face the same immediate threat and thus think differently about these question. Should we?

How do Orthodox right wingers justify their adamant desires for Israel to be more militant to protect Israeli land, while refusing to serve in the military?

How does one define holiness, and from what do we derive holiness in a location? Is it innate in a land or place from its history, from the collective memory of a people, or from one's own spiritual connection?

How does one reconcile the contradictions in the Bible? There are innumerable explicit contradictions (for example, when G-d is described as merciful and forgiving and in the same portion smites the Jewish people with [seemingly] inexplicable severity); even more difficult is trying to make sense of a more philosophical tension. On the one hand, the Bible seems a static, completely antiquated text. It has a finite ending, which leaves an ever-increasing gap between the Torah and today. Theoretically, the history of the Jewish people will proceed for thousands of years. We are a people in continual growth and flux, and yet, we continue to read the same exact text year after year. On the other hand, the Torah is an active, very alive text that always brings new meaning to our lives. The same portion might elicit very different interpretations when reading at 13 years old and 40 years old. How do we make sense of this tension as we use the Torah as our guide?

We've been realizing a fundamental difference in outlooks: In a hostage/kidnapping situation, 70% of Israelis will turn over hundreds of prisoners, many of whom are terrorists who have planned past attacks, in order to get back one Israeli soldier (even if he may not be alive). At least based on our group, Americans are opposed to this type of "deal." What lies beneath this fundamental difference? Is it politics, culture, religion, or perhaps something else?

- David Fine

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