Boris Youssin

Kislev 5675 – November 2004

[On founding the Jewish Leadership movement:]
We are appealing to those whose Jewish identity, as individuals and as a nation, is the primary factor that guides their lives, to join with us. We are not concerned with the level of personal observance. This is immaterial. The national answer to the Jewish significance of the state lies with all those who identify with their Jewishness and wish to strengthen and develop this identity – definitely not only among the religious.
(Moshe Feiglin, Where there are no men, Jerusalem, 1999, p. 271.)

One of the key words of the ideology of the Jewish Leadership movement is the word “belief-based”, in Hebrew “emuni”, whose meaning is somewhat vague.

This vagueness did not come about by chance: the temporary platform of the movement called against the notions of religious and secular. The movement seeks to unite all those to whom their Jewishness is dear, to unite rather than to divide.

Despite that, I shall allow myself to use these notions, not to divide but rather to understand, as understanding requires discrimination. 1

Members of the movement include now about 70% religious people and 30% secular; the majority of the secular members are Russian-speakers. However, the ideology of the movement, at least in its written form, mostly comes from the religious part of the movement.

Can religious lead secular?

Certainly they can lead unless this touches the question how to be a Jew. They can also lead in an issue that involves this question and the secular person wishes to be taught how to be a Jew. However, if the secular person knows how to be a Jew, such leadership faces a fundamental difficulty, as follows.

The religious person says that all the Jews must observe the commandments of Torah as they are explained by the Jewish law, Halacha. If you do not observe them, you are a “stolen child” at best. The religious person does not need to say this as everybody knows his opinion anyway. (And it is correct of him not to say this explicitly since according to the laws of the commandment to “rebuke thy companion”, every Jew has responsibility to indicate to other Jews that they violate or are going to violate one of the commandments but only on condition that there is a hope that such reproach would be accepted. There are other conditions also.)

The secular person, however, believes that he has already considered the question of religious observance and decided not to observe the commandments or observe them partially. He considers his decision an informed one; he does not want to consider himself a child.

It turns out that the religious person is ahead and the secular person is far back in the position of a transgressor or a child, and they do not move forward. The religious person cannot lead the secular one as the first one pushes the second one back by the very fact of his religious views.

This problem is much more serious than it seems. I shall try to answer to those who do not consider it serious:

1. The religious people may tell me that I do not believe in the possibility that we, the religious people, shall be able to lead the secular in the direction of gradual movement towards observance.

My answer is that, first, the goal of leading Jews towards observing the commandments may be the goal of an educational movement but not a political one. (Bringing Jews nearer to religious observance may be a side effect of a political movement, though, but not its goal.) As for the goals of the Jewish Leadership movement, see the quote from Moshe Feiglin that opens this article.

Secondly, and this is much more important, the source of the possibility of Jews coming to their religious observance lies inside them, in their connection with the Almighty. Other people, including the leaders, may only help them on this path (or can even make it more difficult). The possibilities of such help are limited.

2. The secular people may tell me that they are sufficiently confident and it does not matter for them what the religious people think of them. They are willing to follow religious leaders if they take them along the right path. The key word here is “right”: if a secular person and a religious person have agreed how to be a Jew, this means that both are playing active roles and both are leaders in this issue. The religious person is not leading the secular one. (See below on the possibility of joint leadership.)

3. Some may hope for religious tolerance of some religious leaders. This hope is justified in practical matters; in the theoretical and ideological question whether all the Jews are obligated, as a matter of principle, to observe the commandments, there could be no compromise as the obligation of all the Jews to observe the commandments is a fundamental statement of Judaism which no religious Jew can forgo. Thus, the religious Jew cannot forgo his attitude towards the secular one as either a transgressor or a “stolen child”. The theoretical basis for Jewish religious tolerance still needs to be developed, and we shall come back to it below.

The religious Jew may withdraw from his religious views and lead the secular Jews in other issues such as business, science or a military task. However, such withdrawal may help only if the task he is leading is not connected to the very question of religious observance. Such withdrawal would not work for the Jewish Leadership movement whose goal is to build a leadership which would be “Jewish” since this requires defining the word “Jewish” and deciding what does it mean to be Jewish. These questions cannot be separated from the question whether all the Jews are obligated to observe the commandments.

4. Many people say that to heal the rift between the religious and the secular the best is not to bring attention to the differences but rather find the common ground and concentrate on it; after all, the wisdom is not only in discrimination, the ability to see the differences, but also in abstraction, the ability to see beyond the differences.

Such common ground for the Jewish Leadership movement is the notion of Jewishness; thus, one needs to find an understanding of Jewishness that would be acceptable for everyone, and make it an ideological basis for the movement (this would include an understanding both who is a Jew and what does it mean to be a Jew). This is the approach taken by Moti Karpel in his book “המהפכה האמונית”, part 2, chapter 4, Lechatchila publishers, Alon Shvut, 2003.

It is always very important to find the common ground, and nothing can replace it. However, if the basic differences in the world views are disregarded, both sides underestimate these differences and understand each other not quite adequately. Such a misunderstanding by the other side causes the need to defend one’s views and rights and thus to perpetuate the rift.

In other words, we need mutual understanding to heal the rift, and this includes full awareness of the differences between the sides. For the Jewish Leadership movement such awareness requires solving the problem how religious people can lead the secular in the question how to be Jewish.

I see two directions towards the solution of this problem:

  • The leadership of the movement may be a joint one, including both the religious and the secular. This is, indeed, the case; however, to remove the problem we need also the secular ideology.

  • We need the Jewish religious ideology of tolerance towards secular which would allow respecting non-observance without justifying it.

As I am trying to distinguish between religious and secular ideology, I shall indicate whom I am addressing, the religious or the secular. I certainly wish that both the religious and the secular read the entire paper; however, I want the reader to distinguish between what is addressed to him and what he reads to learn about the other side of the gap between the religious and the secular. The reader, who places himself or herself in any of the intermediate groups, should decide himself or herself.

We need secular Jewish ideology

This section is addressed to both religious and secular.

As one can see from the opening quote, the Jewish Leadership movement was meant not as a religious movement but rather the movement of all to whom their Jewishness is dear, religious, secular and all who are between them.

Thus, the leadership becomes joint, religious and secular, and the problem formulated above is formally removed.

A condition for this is that the secular component of the movement be noticeable, and, in the first place, noticeable ideologically. 2

During a meeting with Moshe Feiglin on June 24, 2004 (5 Tamuz 5764) this author asked him whether Jewish Leadership movement has secular ideology. Moshe responded positively and mentioned the articles by Asya Entov and Vadim Rotenberg on the Jewish Leadership website. At this point Asya, who was present, entered and gave a short lecture (for a few minutes) on secular Jewish national ideology which was very interesting.

Afterwards I searched and found a few articles by these authors on Hebrew and Russian websites of Jewish Leadership, and in addition, a paper by Kurt Levin. I have found all these papers very interesting.

And here I come to the most difficult point: I need to explain what I find wrong. The difficulty is that I have no desire to criticize the overloaded workers and volunteers of the Jewish Leadership movement. Even if I wanted to, such criticism and unsolicited advice has no place in this article which is meant to be ideological and addressed to the general public. My goal is to formulate a principle, and here my formulation needs to include the explanation as to what does not agree with my principle now.

My first problem is noticeability. The articles I found, formed a little bit over one percent of the sections in which they were published: the Articles section of the Russian site and General Articles and Open Scene sections of the Hebrew site, a few hundred articles in each section. It was not easy to find these articles in these sections. For comparison, articles on religious ideology were quite noticeable in these sections.

My second problem is that what I found was good but not enough, both from the point of view of quality and from the point of view of quantity.3 This is not a reproach but rather a call to possible authors: who is able to write, do this! As this author considers himself as belonging to the religious part of the movement, he can help only by making his call more concrete.

The secular also believe; what do they believe in?

This section is addressed to both religious and secular.

Many people understood that Oslo agreement was a danger to the existence of the State of Israel, and its implementation in the following years has been causing fear for our future. Not to attempt to leave Israel in this situation requires faith in her future. For this reason I think that all members of the Jewish Leadership movement who understand the danger of Oslo but believe in the future of Israel as a Jewish state, are “emuni” – believing – at least in this sense.

It is known what the religious people believe in: in addition to the defense from Above, there are Rabbi Kook’s teachings that say that the State of Israel is the beginning of the Messianic redemption. (Those of the religious who do not accept this approach, still have faith in the help that Almighty gives to the Jews wherever He has sent them to, and especially in His Holy Land.)

It would be important for us to hear and read, upon what the faith of the secular members of the movement and its sympathizers in the future of Israel as a Jewish state is based. It would be an important contribution in the ideology of the movement which would give an answer not based on Torah and Jewish tradition – and thus acceptable to the secular – to the statement of the Left that the Oslo process has no alternative.

Such an answer would be also important for us, religious, for the following reasons:

  1. I hope that the argumentation of such answer, though not based on the Jewish tradition, will turn out to be not contradicting it, and thus acceptable for us also. (The reason for such hope is that the papers on secular ideology I found on the Jewish Leadership website, did not contradict Torah at all.) Such argumentation with raise our morale.

  2. The very fact that people who are not connected to our tradition, nevertheless see the future of Israel as a Jewish state, shows us that the help from Above promised us, is seen in the world more clearly, it does not weaken but only strengthen.

I would like to hope that different personal answers to this question of faith are possible, and I call to all those who can formulate them, do it.

It is only one possible topic for our secular ideology. I do not take upon myself to define any others.

Where in Torah can we find the basis for religious tolerance?

This section is addressed to religious.

As has been indicated above, the tolerance we are discussing, should not justify non-observance as the religious ideology is firm in that all the Jews must observe the commandments.

The meaning of this tolerance should be that we respect our opponents without agreeing with them.

We need to find positive aspects in the fact of intentional non-observance. If possible, we need to find positive religious aspects in it so that we could place the person who is transgressing the commandments not behind us, observant, but rather next to us.

Paradoxes of this kind are not new to the traditional Jewish thought, but the references are beyond the scope of this short article.

Rashi, the classical commentator, explains the words “after Our likeness” in the verse “…We will make man in Our image, after Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26) as follows: “to understand and to be intelligent”.

When a Jew in our time makes a conscious decision not to observe, it is a manifestation of his ability “to understand and to be intelligent” that he received from his Creator, his “likeness to the Creator”.

The basis for the Jewish religious tolerance that I suggest is to see in this decision not its incorrectness but rather a manifestation of the likeness of a man to the Almighty.

This approach as a matter of principle places nonobservant Jews next to us rather than behind us. And it does not matter here whether they are “transgressors for pleasure” (מומרים לתיאבון) or “transgressors to spite” (מומרים להכעיס), according to the Talmudic classification.

This is the second approach to resolving the problem of religious Jewish leadership that I suggest.

It is difficult and requires maturity: to respect but not to imitate, respect those who do not observe the commandments but remain observant oneself. I think that the way towards “perfecting the world in the kingdom of the Almighty” lies through overcoming this difficulty.

What does it mean for us from the practical point of view?

DO NOT: look at them (secular) condescendingly; do not think that we are better Jews than them. (It is known even without such complicated theoretical base that arrogance is harmful. However, it is difficult not to be arrogant, I know this, and maybe such base will help it.)

DO: look what good we can learn from them. Of course, one need to distinguish what is good and what is not, but it is always so. I made a few such attempts in this article.

1 “A wise man knows to distinguish between holy and profane, between ritually clean and ritually unclean” (Rashi Brachot 33a). It will be clear from what follows, whom we consider clean or unclean.

2 Cf. Moti Karpel: “The secular Jews’ insistence that they are Jewish, creates an obligation for them – from human, moral and intellectual point of view – to ask themselves, honestly and seriously, the key question, `What is the meaning of my Jewishness, what does it say to me personally’.”

(מ. קרפל "המהפכה האמונית" .הוצאת לכתחילה, אלון-שבות, תשס"ג, עמ’ 79.)

3 In addition, two of the articles of Asya Entov, “Farewell to Zionism” (Hebrew and Russian and especially “The fast of the Ninth of Av” (Russian, I hesitate to view as secular ideology but rather as the religious one. I certainly cannot object to public exposition of Torah views which is so convincing, whoever does this, and shall be very happy if such propaganda will be successful. However, as I explained earlier, we need to be ready that someone will not accept this propaganda, and for such people we need secular ideology in the full sense of this word. I have found it in other articles but I would prefer to see more of it. And, of course, I do not think that religious ideology belongs to the religious people only; conversely, secular authors may have greater success in it.

Hebrew version – לגרסה העברית

Russian version – По-русски

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