Thought for Shabbat – June 15, 2018
The bestselling Jewish author, Michael Chabon, was recently invited to speak at the commencement exercises of the Hebrew Union College, the seminary that ordains Reform movement rabbis. His address was at its core a diatribe against modern Judaism in which he attacked Israel’s right to secure borders and discouraged Jews from marrying other Jews. Chabon, a supporter of the Israeli ultra-left organization called “Breaking the Silence”, denied Israel’s right to security when he said, “Security is an invention of humanity’s jailers”. In describing Jews marrying other Jews, he called that union a “ghetto of two.”
Rabbi Jeffrey Salkind, the senior rabbi at the Reform Temple Solel of Hollywood, Florida who is also a respected author and blogger, was very critical of Chabon’s words because of Chabon’s “over the top criticism of Israel and because he seems to have no real juice for Judaism. He continually advocated a world without borders and without distinction. In that sense he is calling for the disappearance of Judaism.”
There is no doubt that Chabon knew that in the setting of a rabbinic seminary, these words would come to light. And clearly that was his intention: to make an argument for the dismantling of modern Judaism because of what he sees as its flaws. While there is no doubt that there are and will always be flaws that need to be addressed in Israel and in Judaism, the destruction of the national identity of our people is not the answer.
As a people, we often argue among ourselves and sometimes those arguments are very difficult. The Talmud itself contains in the neighborhood of 5000 arguments. But the arguments in the Talmud are not designed to bring the Jewish people down. They are not destructive. Rather, the arguments, even between the most passionate of rivals, are done Leshem Shamayim – for the sake of heaven, for the sake of the survival of our people and finding a correct path.
As Korach and his fellow rebels confront Moses about the leadership of Moses and Aaron in this week’s Torah portion, there are some arguments that are not LeShem Shamayim. Rather, they are for the sake of ego, power or some other misguided reason. That type of argument is not for the sake of heaven, but is in fact destructive. While criticism of Israel and Judaism are not destructive in and of themselves, a call against the security of Israel is an existential threat to a Jewish homeland. The same can be said for any position that calls for the end of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, or its people inside or outside the State.
We live in a society where argument is part of the everyday fabric of our being. Our own people are among some of the most vocal. But our arguments about the Jewish people or any other issues must be Leshem Shamayim, for the furtherance of an ethical standard, or for the survival of our people. Those are arguments and discussions worth having. But with the same passion in which we argue for ethics we must argue against anyone, Jew or otherwise, who threatens our existence.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer
Tonight we will honor high school graduates as they head off to the next stage of their lives. Tomorrow morning will be our first Mindfulness Shabbat, in which we will engage in a Jewish mindfulness session from 9:00 to 9:45 am prior to Shabbat morning services. During the course of services we will also insert some Jewish mindfulness practices. I look forward to seeing you then.