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Modern Orthodoxy vs. Religious Zionism (part 1)

Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism are not the same thing. There is a lot of overlap but they are not the same.

Modern Orthodoxy, as I understand it (and possibly even practice it), answers the question: “How can I be an Orthodox Jew and also be a Modern person?”, or, in it’s more sophisticated version “How does Modernity and the changes it brings with it impact Orthodoxy?”.
Being a Modern Orthodox person means understanding that developments of Modernity can and should impact us as Orthodox people as they too are part of how Hashem “speaks to us”. That means that the shift in the role of women in society should impact Jewish thought and practice. It means that the role academia plays in modern life should impact the way we view general studies. It also means that the development of Zionism and The State of Israel – also products of Modernity – should impact our religious outlook and observance.
But, at the end of the day Modern Orthodoxy is dialectical. It is constantly trying to balance conflicting ideals and resolve contradictions. “Torah vs. Science”, “Rights vs. Obligations“, “Individual vs. Communal”, “Consumerism vs. Idealism“, “Self Actualization vs. Self Sacrifice”, “Universalism vs. Particularism“, “Heteronomous Morality vs. Autonomous Morality“, etc…
Modernity and Orthodoxy are separate, dialectical entities, which need to be reconciled and many a time this split manifests itself in a schizophrenic religious identity. This also accounts for Modern  Orthodoxy’s continuous decline in the US; it is too indecisive, too contradictory, too unsure of itself as all to often by trying to be “also this and also this” it ends up being not enough of either.
The question Religious Zionism is answering, on the other hand, is “How does Modernity serve as a vehicle for the realization of Judaism?”
Religious Zionism, is not at its core, dialectical. I can best describe it in the first person.

I don’t know myself as a Jew without Zionism and I don’t know myself as a Zionist without Judaism. I don’t know myself as a Jew without Zionism, as the return of Am Yisrael to history and the rebirth of the State of Israel serve as one of the foundations of my belief in Hashem and Jewish commitment.
I don’t know myself as a Zionist without Judaism, as Torah and 2000 years of Jewish prayer and observance serve as the justification for our return to the land, for what has been – and still needs to be – achieved.
The two are so intertwined that they are one in the same and – for me – indistinguishable.

The yearning and motivation to return to the Land of our Forefathers, to be sovereign and have a national identity there, are not a product of Modernity, just expedited and executed by it.
The relationship between “Religious” and “Zionism”, therefore, is not dialectical rather that of synthesis. They inform, enhance and empower each other as they are one in the same.
The Modern Orthodox Jew finds himself torn between two worlds while the Religious Zionist Jew lives in a (philosophical) state of unity.

Based on all this, a Modern Orthodox Jew, by definition, would be a Zionist but a Religious Zionist would not necessarily be of a Modern orientation.
As stated at the beginning of this post, there is a lot of overlap between the two philosophies. People can comfortably prescribe to both and many do, as they are by no means contradictory.
That have been said, understanding the differences between them can explain many of the tensions and issues being debated in the public sphere of these communities both in Israel and North America. I hope to expound on them in a future post.
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What compliment did Hitler give The Jews?

What do 9 Americans (including 2 presidents), 5 Brits (including Churchill), 3 Germans (including Hitler) 3 Russians (including Tolstoy), 2 bishops, 1 Frenchman (and a few others) have in common?
They all wrote fantastic things about us Jews.
If you’re looking for a motivational boost, or vote of confidence, in what we’re all about as Jews – this is guaranteed to do the trick!    Gentiles write about Jews

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Beit Hillel – a new rabbinical organization is founded

Last night (Thursday, Feb 2nd) 100 rabbinical leaders – 80 men and 20 women – gathered at the Blue Bay hotel in Netanya, Israel. The purpose was the founding of a new rabbinical forum by the name “Beit Hillel – Attentive Rabbinical Leadership”.
Anyone following the news in Israel over the past few months has no doubt been stunned by some of the expressions of some rabbis and religious groups – “soldiers must leave a performance with women even if a firing squad is waiting outside“, turning a blind eye to “price tag” vandalism, the Beit Shemesh events, etc…
The primary purpose of the forum is to represent a different rabbinical voice than the one drawing attention in Israeli media. To represent what is felt to be the majority of the Religous Zionist community which believes in a Torah which is inclusive, not divisive. Open and inviting, not closed and rejecting.

Excerpts from the founding document:
“We believe in the inclusion of women in public leadership roles. In this spirit we have chosen to be the first Orthodox rabbinical organization open to women who are Talmidot Chachamim and spiritual leaders”
“We see ourselves as an inseparable part of Israeli society… criticism through love… our purpose is to uplift Israeli society from inside, not the outside.
“We view modernity and its innovations as positive… within advancements in society, science, technology and culture there is both good and bad… our way is to choose the good from the bad”
“In our generation, general studies are essential in creating the character of a believing Jew”
“We are dedicated to The State of Israel and think that its continued existence and success are essential for the development of the Jewish People”
“We are of the opinion that these principles are accepted by the majority of religious society, who are full partners in The State of Israel and Israeli society. We aspire to give a loud voice to the silent majority.
“As the historical Beit Hillel we accept upon ourselves an attentive and open discourse also towards opinions we do not identify with”.

Last night was more about meeting and starting a conversation about our goals, purposes, target audiences, etc… It’s exciting to be part of something with such good, positive and lofty ideals and ideas. I truly hope we can reach our goals as I think it will be for the betterment of Torah, Israeli society, the Jewish world and beyond.


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The Uganda Plan (2012 version)

Moshe and Tarphon are two 24 year old university students, who have recently joined yeshiva. Although they can read basic Hebrew, daven and they grew up surrounded by Jewish observance, they are not Halachacly Jewish and hope to properly convert soon. This is not uncommon in today’s Jewish world or even in our yeshiva.
What makes these students unique is the fact that they are Ugandan natives from the village Putti. In addition to Putti not having electricity or running water, they have no Jews.
In the 1910’s, Semei Kakungulu was increasingly drawn to the 5 books of Chumash, eventually taking upon himself – and his followers – Jewish observances including circumcision, Shchita, biblical holidays, Shabbat and more. Their synagogue holds Friday night and Shabbat services – in Hebrew. They were persecuted as Jews by Idi Amin.
They know full well they aren’t Jewish and do not claim Jewish ancestry. They believe in the truths and ideals of Judaism and have been living them, as individuals and as a community, for nearly a century. Their greatest wish is to undergo an Orthodox conversion and become part of the Jewish people.
Moshe and Tarphon will spend the coming year studying at Yeshivat Hamivtar after which they will return to Putti as spiritual leaders of the community.
Rambam says about the era of Mashiach (Melachim Umilchamot 12:1): “They will all return to the true faith and no longer steal or destroy. Rather, they will eat permitted food at peace with Israel…” (249)

At Ben Gurion airport, from L to R,  Tarphon, Rabbi Riskin, Ari Zivotofsky, Moshe and myself

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