/ articles for review

America 2017: We Have Entered a Time of Great Change

Vol. 3, No. 1, Judith HaLevy, The Response
‘A moral imperative for change brings clarity, but also incites immediate polarization.’
Rabbi Judith HaLevy, Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, Malibu, California Articles Shofar calls remind us to be present, remember


The events since the inauguration of Donald Trump have illuminated Elana Stein Hain’s insightful analysis of the paradigm of change in ways that continue to unfold before our eyes. At this moment, all three of the models of change that she has identified – moral imperative, social conditioning, and adaptive change – are playing out with a rapidity, a chipazon, (panic/haste) that we have seldom experienced in our lifetimes.


Judith HaLevy is rabbi of Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, Malibu, California, and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of Shalom Hartman Institute

It is too early to know whether this accelerated pace of change, one that mirrors the chipazon of our forefathers in leaving Egypt, will bring us into an extended period of darkness, or will accelerate a universal reaction toward the light.

Elana Stein Hain begins with the model of change as “moral imperative.” Donald Trump, in his inaugural speech as President of the United States, made his “moral imperative” stunningly clear: “From this day forward it’s going to be America first.” He then paused and repeated his imperative: “America First.”

As Dr. Stein Hain states, a moral imperative for change brings clarity, but also incites immediate polarization. During his first week in office, President Trump suspended entry of all refugees into the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocked entry for all citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries for the next 90 days. The polarizing reaction was swift. Tens of thousands filled the airports across America in protest, expressing rage at the injustice of this decree.

In reaction, American Jews struggled with dissonance to their own moral imperatives: “You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”(Lev.19:33) Lo tuchal l’hitaleim. You may not remain indifferent.” (Deut. 22:3) The clash between Trump’s imperative and our Jewish moral code has polarized the Jewish community as well.

The second model, “change through social conditioning,” immediately came into play. Dr. Stein Hain posits that change through social conditioning comes about through applying a personal face to events. Immediately, we learned the personal history of the refugees stranded in the airports. One was a doctor, headed to the Cleveland clinic from Sudan. Another was a translator who had endangered his life working for US forces in Iraq. Those personal stories helped to enact the “stay” order that modified the Presidential Executive Directive to allow those in transit to enter. On the other hand, as Dr. Stein Hain points out, this can lead to an “exceptions only” brand of change. The underlying restrictive decree remains in force.

The third category is that of “adaptive change,” seen as an attempt to work within the system to bring about ameliorating change that improves the outcome over time. Even slavery, she points out, was still permitted in the Jewish legal system, but as a floor, not a ceiling to change. This has been the reaction of many Republican lawmakers in the US who do not necessarily agree with Trump’s policies. With slow change over time, the thought goes, we can eliminate the excesses and bring about changes that will keep America safe. Even many in the Jewish community – primarily those who approve of Trump’s position on Israel –  are willing to work within the President’s strictures to find pathways of moderation.

Thank you, Dr. Elana Stein Hain, for your timely “Call.” Our “Responsa” will continue to be anguished, hopeful, simple and complex, dissonant and united, as we face the overwhelming changes and challenges in the time to come.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics