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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

07/07/2022 05:00:00 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

I write to you from Jerusalem, where I am in the midst of 10 days of learning at the Shalom Hartman Institute. The Hartman Institute is an incredible center of learning, deeply dedicated to pluralism, Zionism, and Jewish peoplehood. Every year, Hartman welcomes rabbis from across the spectrum of Judaism to learn together and grapple with some of the most challenging questions of Jewish peoplehood today. This year's theme is "Why Israel?," a theme that presupposes a rupture in Jewish peoplehood and, more specifically, a connection to the State of Israel. 

Many American Jews don't necessarily feel this rupture, but the segment seems to be growing. In my 13 years as a rabbi, I have seen this gap of understanding, mutuality, and concern grow. Israel was once the pride of American Jews but today holds a place of apathy, at best, and illegitimacy, at worst. I imagine some community members even question why I would come to this place. 

For me, the issue of "why Israel" comes down to a simple moral principle that Israel is a Jewish enterprise and that the Jewish body is a family. Yes, Judaism is so much more than a religion, it is a people, and the support of Jewish peoplehood is a moral good. Of course, that doesn't mean that I support everything Israel does, it doesn't mean that I think Israel is always right, and it certainly doesn't mean that I refrain from critique.

However, I am a zionist, meaning that Jewish Israelis have a right to self-determination and that self-determination is legitimately expressed in this particular place. It may be that at some point in the future, the political makeup of what we now call Israel will change and Palestinians will either have their own state or have credible power in this state. I welcome those changes so long as they still offer the Jewish population self-determination in this place.

In a contemporary world that often demands purity of thought, it is counter-cultural to say I can hold my love for Jewish peoplehood and the State of Israel simultaneously with my deep concern for Palestinian rights and self-determination. But the Jewish people have always been counter-cultural! My rejection of purity of thought allows me to say, like Balaam in this week's Torah portion, Ma Tovu Olhalecha Ya'akov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael, "How beautiful are your tent's Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel!" 

Fri, June 2 2023 13 Sivan 5783