Begin your journey through this first edition of "Call & Responsa" by watching Donniel Hartman’s two-minute video, which is excerpted from the iEngage Project Video Lecture Series, " The Tribes of Israel: A Shared Homeland for a Divided People ."
Then read our rabbinic responses . The final part of the discussion is up to you – our friends, program participants, and extended community. We invite you to add your comments to the conversation. We intend to publish the most interesting responses by our audience in future editions. Please let us know what you think about "Call & Responsa" in general, and also send us your in-depth commentaries.
The Tribes of Israel: An Introduction
The Zionist aspiration to create a homeland for the Jewish people imagined Israel as a great unifying force. The ingathering of the exiles was not meant to be merely a physical reality but an idea that the Jewish people could come together around the shared enterprise of Jewish sovereignty.
This idea does not envision the abolishment of difference, but a commitment to mutual respect in the creation of a shared public sphere, which balances the need to create a common space that at times transcends difference and at times reflects it.
The paradox of and disappointment with the current discourse around Israel is that the dilemmas of Jewish statehood are increasingly becoming sources of fragmentation and alienation. Whether within Israeli society or between Israel and world Jewry, tribal affiliations and convictions often overwhelm collective consciousness and responsibility. Too often the public sphere becomes an arena of conflict pulled in different directions by each "tribe" in an attempt to shape it exclusively in its own image.
The project of Israel requires a re-conceptualization of the very meaning of a Jewish public sphere. It requires redefining the relationship between the Jewish people as a collective and the individual "tribes" which comprise it. Such an approach, we hope, can enable the different Jewish tribes to re-engage and reconnect with Israel and through it with one another.
In this, the first edition of "Call & Responsa," our video segment features Shalom Hartman Institute President Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman setting out the series’ basic components. How does the first family of the Jewish people become a tribe over the course of the Torah? What does this mean for the Jewish people today?
Daniel Bogard of Anshei Emeth of Peoria, Illinois, and J. Rolando Matalon of B’nai Jeshurun of New York, offer commentary that challenges some of the very concepts of "Tribes."
Concept of ‘Tribes’ Minimizes Enormous Challenges Before Us
The biblical tribes of Israel shared powerful formative experiences: the exile and servitude in Mitzrayim, the drama of the Exodus, standing together at Sinai, building the mishkan, the years in the wilderness. Although their journey was not one of a permanent "k’ish echad b’lev echad" ("as one people with one heart"), the encampment of the tribes around the mishkan and the absence of significant intertribal conflict are testimony to the degree of cohesiveness, self-understanding and vision they shared.
Concept of Tribes Helps Us Understand the Contemporary World
The Jewish world in the early 21st century is as varied and multifaceted as it has ever been. Reform Americans, secular Israelis, Religious Zionists, New York "Bagels and Lox" Jews; the list is endless. Yet the answer to the question, “What is the Jewish people?” is less obvious today than at any point in recent history. Scholars of religion have classically understood Judaism to be an “ethno-religion,” much like Tibetan Buddhists. But even here we see a division in understanding within the Jewish world.