Lecture 1: From Crisis to Covenant Hevruta Study Questions:
Whether or not you agree or think it's accurate, what is the major shift in sentiment in North America regarding Israel that Beinart describes?
The pollster found young college age Jews "indifferent" to Israel or lacking all "positive feeling." Is this a good description of your own experience or what you see in your community?
What gave you or gives you positive feelings about Israel? Have your opinions or feelings changed and why?
Beinart claims that the American Jewish establishment asks the majority of American Jews who are liberals "to check their liberalism at the door" when it comes to Israel. Do you agree?
Beinart complains that majority of liberal American Jews who still care about Israel have felt alienated from Israel's new illiberal majority as well as from the strident up and coming American Orthodox Zionist minority. Do you agree? What might reinvigorate the relationship of the relatively silent majority of liberal American Jews with Israel?
Is Beinart's perception too monolithic or extreme? What other voices would you want to add to the discussion?
Study Questions on the Background Reading:
As an Israeli and as a rabbi, Donniel Hartman welcomes criticism of Israel. Do you agree that is a right and privilege for North American Jews or only for Israeli citizens? How might one distinguish constructive and engaged criticism from delegitimizing criticism? Please give an example.
What role do various crisis narratives play in your relationship with Israel? In the relationship of your parents or children with Israel?
Why does Donniel insist we should build a relationship with Israel on ought, not is; on dreams for what could be, not on facts of what is real?
What should be the rules or guidelines for a new covenant?
Lecture 2: Religion and Peoplehood Hevruta Study Questions:
Study Genesis 12:1-3. What is Abraham chosen for? Is this about an individual spiritual quest or is something larger at stake? What will be the promised outcome of Abraham’s “going forth,” his choseness, as expressed in the verses?
Study Exodus 32:7-10. While Moses was having a spiritual high on Mount Sinai seeing God, the ex-slave people—just liberated—were preparing a golden calf to worship. Why must Moses interrupt his unique religious moment for such a sinful and stiff-necked people?
God too is frustrated with this people, so he makes Moses an offer—"I may destroy them and make of you a great nation." Do you think Moses as religious man ought to accept God's offer and become a new Abraham?
What is God's ultimate goal with regard to Moses? What does God need Moses for?
Read BT Berakhot 32a. Why does God send Moses down the mountain according to this rabbinic text as opposed to the biblical text?
What is the significance of Rabbi Abahu's statement about Moses and God? What kind of relationship does it portray?
Consider the Avot d'Rabbi Natan text. What are the two different explanations for why Moses broke the Tablets?
At what moment are you willing to destroy Torah (as Moses did) for the sake of saving the Jewish people? In what circumstances would you put the Jewish people above all else, hold peoplehood as more important than Torah?
Study Exodus 6:5-8. At this moment of collective election what is the relationship described in verse 7? What characterizes the nature of the relationship between the Isralites and God a this stage of the biblical narrative?
The Haggadah portrays four children, one of whom is wicked. On what grounds is he described as such? What foundation of Judaism did he deny? What are the consequences for denying that foundation?
Sources 7, 8, and 9 relate to the experience and significance of peoplehood. What is the role of a shared sense of past and a shared memory in creating a sense of peoplehood?
In particular, what roles does the Exodus from Egypt play in the memory of the Jewish collective?
What is the relationship between peoplehood and religion? If one can sin and still be considered part of the people, according to Sanhedrin 44a, what is the core identity and what are the boundaries of that identity?
Why does the Tzitz Eliezer, 20th century Orthodox rabbi Eliezer Waldeman, who was the head of the Jerusalem rabbinic court, argue that a Jewish woman who converts to Christianity cannot be converted back to Judaism? What feature of Jewish peoplehood does this response embody?
According to Deuteronomy 15:1-11, what are the core responsibilities of peoplehood? What does this text say about the reasons for one's responsibility toward the poor? What are the risks and advantages of this kind of responsibility?
According to Exodus 19:1-6, what is the essence of Jewish peoplehood?
If Ruth is the paradigm text for conversion, what respective roles do religion and peoplehood play in that transformation?
What role does peoplehood play in contemporary life?
Study Questions on the Background Reading: Steven M. Cohen and Jack Wertheimer: "Whatever Happened to the Jewish People?"
While some people speak of disengagement with Israel by younger American Jews as a matter of changing attitudes to the Palestinians and Israel's move to the right, Cohen and Wertheimer think it is matter of changing patterns of American identity. While the Jews have always been a religion and a people, its peoplehood or ethnicity has drastically decreased even as its spirituality has increased. Consider this thesis. Can you bring examples or counterexamples from your experience? How might we reinforce ethnicity or peoplehood?
Joseph B. Soloveitchik: "The Voice of My Beloved…."
At the end of this selection Soloveitchik distinguishes between the two symbolic acts involved in conversion or initiation into the Jewish people-cum-religion—circumcision and immersion in mikvah. How do these parallel the categories of people and religion, fate and destiny, camp and congregation?
Lecture 3: Sovereignty and Identity Sovereignty is often considered merely as a political category of a nation that has exclusive power over its territory. However, it also has important implications for one's identity as an individual; for a people with their own secure land; and one's own ability to fend and defend for oneself without being a parasite on others or a minority guest in someone else's home. The texts and hevruta questions for this lecture focus briefly on four benefits for one's identity in terms of having one's own land and state: 1) a framework for self-protection; 2) a sense of home and homeland; 3) the opportunity to live out Jewish values freely and fully in the public space; and 4) the opportunity to create a Jewish national (non-religious) identity.
Hevruta Study Questions:
Framework to Protect Oneself
In the first source, Sigmund Freud reflects on a traumatic experience of anti-Semitism in which he comes to be deeply ashamed of his father's impotence and thus longs for a more manly culture—the fierce Carthaginian Hannibal—than Judaism has to offer at that time in history. How does this brief characterization of some aspects of Jewish life without sovereignty influence Jewish identity?
Bamidbar Rabbah 21:4 clearly expresses the context in which one is to engage in self-defensive, self-protective violence and killing. What is that context?
Maimonides shows that one's power is not only for self-defense but for the defense of the vulnerable anywhere. How has Zionism changed the image of the Jew for good and for bad in terms of the ability to defend oneself and in terms of the ability to help others in life-threatening situations, such as Israel's medical emergency teams sent to Haiti? What opportunities for protecting human life does sovereignty allow and even require?
Study Numbers 32:1-19. What aroused Moses' anger? How was the issue resolved?
What kind of responsibility does power give a nation both inside and outside of the particular territory ascribed to it? What responsibilities does Jewish sovereignty give or require of you?
How does the fact of Jewish sovereignty change Jewish life both inside and outside of Israel?
Ashkenazi's speech at Auschwitz defines the role and responsibility of the IDF and brings into our discussion terms such as "witnesses in uniform” and the "army of the Jewish nation." How do these terms determine the role of the IDF and the impact of sovereignty on Jewish peoplehood?
How does the Holocaust experience change when seen through the eyes of a Jewish soldier? What is the significance of Ashkenazi speaking in the name of the six million?
Jerusalem Talmud, Horayot 3:7 portrays one of the ways in which the central Jewish value of "redeeming the captive" was implemented and thus the use of collective strength in order to save a member of the community. How does sovereignty change the possible uses of Jewish power for the sake of self-protection?
What new responsibilities can sovereignty allow us to fulfill?
Sense of Home/Homeland
What does a historic homeland add to the depth of one's identity? What are the central images that characterize the homeland in Agnon's Fable of the Goat?
What does a sense of longing for home, the imagined and the real homeland, do for one's Jewish identity when living in other homelands?
How does having a national homeland and a sense of belonging to a particular place contribute to Jewish life?
Study Genesis 50:24-26. What function does the land of Israel play here? Is Israel the only place a Jew, or you, would want to be buried? Or is it also a place one can dream of experiencing while one is alive?
How did Ben Gurion understand the Law of Return in his Address to the Knesset in 1950? What connection do the Jews of the world have with regard to the Land of Israel? What rights does that connection give them/you?
Ben Gurion insists on the "historical uniqueness" of the state of Israel and then proceeds to define Israel as "a state like all other states." How does he understand that contradiction?
What is Ben Gurion's vision of Israel-Diaspora relations?
How do you understand the notion of homeland with regard to the land and state of Israel?
How is homeland and hope portrayed by Ezekiel?
What is the significance of homeland and sovereignty in the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah?
Values in the Public Space
What are the Jewish values of the sabbatical year and the jubilee expressed in the biblical texts? How might such values be expressed in a sovereign context?
The Mishna in Sanhedrin 4:5 describes the jurisdictional authority of judges in cases of potential capital punishment. How does a Jewish values conversation change when Jewish values control criminal proceedings?
What happens to Judaism and Jewish values when they can be fully expressed and tested in every arena of public life?
A Jewish National (Non-Religions) Identity
Yosef Hayyim Brenner (1881-1921), the Zionist activist and writer, wrote in "On the Specter of Shemad" about the possibility of a thoroughly de-Judaized but "national" Jew. Why does he see this as morally superior to an assimilated Jew?
What aspects of Jewish national identity are possible in a sovereign Jewish state?
What are, for Ahad Ha'am (1856-1927), both the possibilities and the dangers in Jewish nationalism?
What is, for Ahad Ha'am, a healthy Jewish national identity, and how would it be expressed?
Why, according to Freud's Preface to the Hebrew Translation of Totem and Taboo, is he so moved by the translation of his work into modern Hebrew, a language he cannot understand?
What kind of identity can be expressed in the Jewish state, where one's Judaism is not secondary or difficult to express?
Study Questions on the Background Reading: David Ben Gurion, "The Imperatives of the Jewish Revolution" 1. What is the nature, and what are the sources, of Ben Gurion's Jewish faith?
2. How does Ben Gurion attempt to navigate between his vision of Jewish normalization and an almost mystical belief in Israel's destiny?
Berkovits, "On the Return to Jewish National Life" 3. How did Exile, according to Berkovits, distort the spirit of Judaism?
4. How is Jewish nationhood a solution to that crisis and Jewish nationalism a new threat?
Lecture 4: Power and Powerlessness Hevruta Study Questions:
What narrative of power emerges from the biblical and rabbinic sources?
When can power or violence or even killing be appropriate? For what purposes and in what contexts?
What is the core value of Judaism with regard to others as expressed by Hillel in Shabbat 31a?
What are the possibilities and limitations on the right to the use of power for self-defense as opposed to one's responsibility for all human life?
What limitation on power does Baba Metzia 62a pose?
How does the argument over miracle between Nachmanides and Halevi on the one hand and Maimonides on the other play out in the debate over Israeli policies?
What does David Hartman mean when he writes, “The interpretative category of Zionism is miracle, but the success of Zionism is reality”?
Noam Zohar, "War and Peace"
Of the three justifications for war—commandment, convention, and lesser evil—which seems to you the most, and which the least, compelling?
How does Judaism attempt to navigate between Isaiah’s vision of a world without war and the reality of a world in which war is an accepted means of resolving dispute?
Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars
Does fighting terrorism fall under the category of “the utilatarianism of extremity?”
In asymmetrical war against terrorists in urban areas, how absolute should the distinction be between soldiers and civilians? How do you assess the IDF’s policy during the Gaza War of 2009 of placing the lives of its soldiers above those of Palestinian civilians?
Lecture 6: Morality on the Battlefield Hevruta Study Questions:
What is the new strategic paradigm that Israel faces, according to Halbertal?
What is the goal of Israel with regard to its enemies?
What does Halbertal critique in the Goldstone report and why?
What are the aspects of the Goldstone report that Halbertal thinks are important to consider carefully?
How does Halbertal think Israel should respond to critiques of its behavior on the battlefield?
Study Questions on the Background Reading:
What is the definition of a just war according to Donniel Hartman?
What should be the basic guidelines for morality in war? Who has moral responsibility in the context of modern warfare?
What are the central challenges in modern warfare?
In a just war, what should influence the decision of when to end the war?
Lecture 7: Jewish and Democratic State Hevruta Study Questions:
Read the Declaration of Independence. What narrative of the past does it tell?
Who are the Jewish people according to this text and what is its relationship to the land of Israel?
How do the founders of the state of Israel understand Judaism and democracy as foundations for the new state?
How does the Declaration understand the potential and responsibilities of a sovereign Jewish state as an expression of the Jewish people?
What are the democratic values in these first few sources?
What rights of the Jewish people are affirmed in texts 2, 3, and 4? What is the connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel according to these documents?
What role should immigration play in the creation of the Jewish state?
In the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which was established in 1992 and operates as a kind of constitution, what role should Judaism and democracy play in the basic laws of the state?
With regard to the Law of Return and the Amendment, how do we understand "Jewish" in the notion of a Jewish-democratic State? What role should immigration play?
Is the Law of Return based on religious or ethnic categories of identity? Do you think that the existence of the Law of Return means that non-Jewish citizens are discriminated against or is it a democratic enactment of a law that privileges the majority culture and its ethnic counterparts abroad? Would you oppose a law of return in a Palestinian Arab state?
Read the Ordinances of Law and Governance on Days of Rest and ask what kind of public sphere these laws create. How do these laws create a public Jewish culture in the public square?
What would constitute a violation of democracy of such an ethnic state when it functions according to the culture of the majority in the public square?
According to the Foundations of Jurisprudence Law, what values should guide legislators when there is no established precedent?
Kahan Commission Background: Israel has sometimes sought to integrate Jewish values and democratic values in the public space. In 1982, Israel under Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon invaded Lebanon to fight the PLO. In the battle in Beirut Israel captured a Palestinian area called Sabra and Shatilla and the army permitted the Lebanese Christian militia to enter the area. Subsequently, the Christians, in revenge for earlier Palestinian atrocities, massacred men, women, and children, though the Israeli army had no knowledge of their intentions. Later, almost 400,000 Israelis protested in Tel Aviv for an investigation. The Kahan Commission was appointed and in its report recommended that Ariel Sharon never be appointed to further defense-related posts. In the report the judges cited a law in the Torah about the discovery of a slain civilian whose murderer has not been found (Deuteronomy 21), in which the elders must not only make a sacrifice to atone for the blood spilled in vain but swear that the government officials had no role in the murder, even indirect.
In the report of the Kahan Commission, what Jewish values are cited and how do they relate to democratic values?
The commentators on Deuteronomy 21 hold the government culpable for what areas of indirect responsibility? How is the Lebanese case similar or different to the biblical case? Does Western law usually hold so-called innocent bystanders responsible for not intervening?
What aspects of Jewish history led the judges to apply this biblical notion of indirect responsibility to Israel’s nonintervention in the massacre?
Study Questions on the Background Reading: Alexander Yakobson, "Jewish Peoplehood and the Jewish State, How Unique?"
Can a nation-state be democratic?
What other models of ethnic democracies and their constitutions does Yakobson consider in order to understand the case of Israel? What are their unique characteristics?
What does he mean by a "kin-majority"? Regarding immigration, how do most countries with a kin-majority relate to their kin abroad?
How, according to Yakobson, should we understand preferential treatment with regard to immigration and naturalization?
How unique, ultimately, is the Jewish-Israeli case of the relationship to Jews in the Diaspora?
Ruth Gavison, "The Jewish State: A Justification"
Read the opening rationale for composing this article. What is the "crisis of delegitimation among Israeli citizens" that brought Ruth Gavison, a professor of law and a human rights activist, to compose this article?
Gavison thinks some liberal supporters of democracy who are concerned with human rights and minority rights have forgotten the democratic right of the majority to promote their own interests and values in their state's public space (such as school curriculums, language and national day of rest, public ceremonies). What are the rights of peoples, whether a majority or a minority, with a unique culture to preserve and develop that uniqueness, whether in a sovereign state or in some kind of communal autonomy?
Do you agree that a democracy should recognize the rights of minorities as long as individual civil rights are not violated? Should the majority with particular values or ethnicity have a right to encourage policies that maintain their majority status as long as they do not violate the rights of the minorities?
Gavison writes that: "Arab citizens cannot enjoy full equality within a state whose culture is Jewish." Doesn't that totally undermine the justification of Israel as a democratic state, if the minority is unequal in some sense?
Gavison critiques both the Israeli Arabs and the Jewish majority regarding the democratic rights of the Arab minority. What is the incoherence in the positions of some of the Israeli Arabs' leaders? What is the price of being an Arab minority, a Palestinian minority, that the Jewish majority does not acknowledge honestly? What vicious circle of Jewish-Arab relations must be avoided according to Gavison?
Lecture 8: Religious Pluralism and Human Rights Hevruta Study Questions:
How does Eruvin 13b understand the reality of multiple views? How should communities operate where there are competing religious views?
Do these texts regard that variety of practice as a violation of Judaism?
Generally the School of Hillel has become the preferred tradition over the School of Shammai. Many sources claim that is the result of the Hillel’s disciples constituting a majority among the rabbis, but source 2 says God preferred Hillel. On what grounds? What was Hillel’s attitude towards the minority’s opinion?
Read Leviticus 19:33-34 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15. How is the experience of slavery and exploitation in Egypt supposed to shape the treatment of ethnic minorities in a sovereign Israel?
According to Ben Gurion, how should the Jewish people's historic experience as a minority guide Israel’s relations to the Arab minority?
In 14th century Christian Spain, the Meiri reinterpreted Talmudic law, insisting that all his non-Jewish neighbors be treated “like a full Israelite.” Read the Meiri on Baba Kama 113a-b. Note how his ruling is the opposite of what he reports from the Mishna about treating pagans. Even though Christian persecution of Jews was not infrequent in his era, the Meiri rules that Christians and Muslims (“those bound by religious practices” and a civilized moral code) ought to be treated differently than pagans? Why?
How should Jewish sovereignty affect Arab rights according to Ben Gurion in "National Autonomy and Neighborly Relations"? What should we demand for minorities?
How does Jabotinsky understand the reality of Arab minorities and their civil rights?
Study Questions on Selected Background Readings: David Ben Gurion on Land Use and "The Israeli Arabs as a Bridge to Peace"
What is Ben Gurion's policy toward Arabs?
What will determine the future relationship of Israel with Arabs?
David Hartman, "Israel's Responsibility for World Jewry: Reflections of the Debate about the Conversion Law"in A Heart of Many Rooms
David Hartman complains that Israeli politicians treat the "who is a Jew law" as a matter of coalition politics. In coalition politics parties compromise to trade off interests. For the Orthodox a restrictive conversion policy is important, while the conversion law is not a very important interest for most secular Israelis and is not a pressing national problem because we do not have tens of thousands of Conservative and Reform converts making aliyah. Why does Hartman think secular Israelis should care?
Hartman says: "Israel is needed by the Jewish people not as a political haven [for refugees] but as the most important expression of Jewish memory, history and visibility." If Israel is a symbol for all Jews, should its policy on conversion should reflect an inclusive Jewish pluralism, one that unites all Jews?
What does Hartman want from North American Jews and from Israelis when he says: "Israel is too important to be left to Israelis"?
Moshe Halbertal, "Human Rights and Membership Rights in the Jewish Tradition"
What are human rights? What are membership rights?
What are the characteristics of membership rights in the Jewish tradition, according to Halbertal?
Are there any limitations on membership rights?
How does Halbertal understand the Meiri?
What do those who have a shared religious realm share?
According to Halbertal, what will determine the future of the State of Israel?
How does Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 understand the value of the human being?
Leviticus 19:33-34 describes how to treat the stranger. What is the basis of these values?
What values are expressed in Exodus 23:4 and Deuteronomy 22:1-3?
What value of ownership does Leviticus 25:23 express?
Mishna Baba Metzia 1:1 tells an often cited rabbinic story. What values of property and ownership does it teach? What are the central values in determining ownership?
What is the conflict between justice and charity expressed in Sanhedrin 6b?
What is the role of the "bat kol" [heavenly voice] in Eruvin 13b? What is the outcome? Why?
How does Maimonides, in Laws of Shemita and Yovel 13:13, understand humanity and holiness? What distinguishes between the tribe of Levi and any other inhabitant of the world? What would make them similar? What are the consequences of seeing an other as equally valuable before God?
Study Questions on the Background Reading: Martin Buber, "The Spiritual Center"
What is the double challenge and paradox of Zionism?
What are the two different central aspects and challenges of the cultural work of Zionism?
What is the problem of Jewish intellectualism? Why does Buber call it "the great illness of the Jewish people?"
What does Buber mean by "transvaluating the Jewish mentality"?
What does Buber argue would further the cause of a spiritual center?
Martin Buber, "The Zionist Idea," from On Zion, pp. 143-161
What kind of transformation of the Jewish people is necessary in order to achieve the goals of Zionism?
What is at stake for the Jewish people in the Zionist project according to Buber's reading of Ahad HaAm?
Rav Kook seeks a different kind of renewal in the Zionist idea and reality for the Jewish people. According to Kook what will be the consequences for Judaism and the Jewish people of having a Jewish state?
What is the relationship between the physical renewal of the body of Israel in the land for the spiritual health of the people as a whole?
According to Buber's reading of Aharon David Gordon, what is the consequence of the reunion of the people with the land?
How can one come to understand the "mystery of existence"?
How might Gordon's understanding of a mutual relationship between people and land influence contemporary relationships between Jews who live outside and inside the land?
David Hartman, "Widening the Scope of Covenantal Consciousness," from A Heart of Many Rooms, pp. 235-239
What are the various expressions of "covenantal intimacy" described in this selection?
How does a covenantal community respond to disappointment?
How does Israel enable a fuller scope of living covenantal Judaism?
David Hartman, "The Third Jewish Commonwealth," from A Living Covenant, pp. 278- 299
What is the religious significance of the rebirth of Israel?
What should be the spiritual and moral agenda of the Jewish people throughout the world?
What is the impact of the normalization of Jewish consciousness once in the land on the covenantal consciousness?
What are new possible directions for the Jewish people as a result of the "complex and vibrant new Jewish reality"?
Daniel Elazar, "The Peace Process and the Jewishness of the Jewish State"
What is the difference between the Zionism of normalcy and the Zionism of renaissance?
What struggle does the peace process make possible for the Jewish world?