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Israeli and Diaspora Jews are Siblings Living in Different Homes

Being the majority and having Jewish sovereignty are new experiences for Jews, even after 70 years of having a state.
Rabbi Avital Hochstein is a faculty member at the Shalom Hartman Institute and has learned, taught, and done research at the institute for more than 15 years. In 2016, she was among the first recipients of rabbinical ordination from the Shalom Hartman Institute / HaMidrasha at Oranim Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis. Avital is currently working on her Ph.D., focusing on Talmud, in the Gender Studies Program at Bar Ilan University. Avital is President of

This essay responds to video commentary by Donniel Hartman on the topic of finding a Torah for a Jewish democracy and is part of a Call & Responsa Series.

Israeli and Diaspora Jews are Siblings living in Different Homes

Rabbi Donniel Hartman, who lives in Jerusalem yet works regularly in North America, likens Diaspora Jews to grown children who have left their parents’ nest and created their own space and home outside the homeland of the Jewish people.

The beloved grown adult children still feel at home when they visit their parents – that is, Israel. Yet they may not go freely into every room in the house or feel at ease, even though it is still their ancestral, family home.

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein of the 14th Street Y in New York spins that metaphor in another direction. She understands the relationship between Jews who live in Israel and those who live elsewhere as one of siblings. She prefers a portrait conveying greater equality between the two groups.

I appreciate both metaphors of family dynamics. This is an important conversation. Yet I am uncomfortable. The shift from understanding the relations between Israeli Jews and world Jewry as one between parents and grown children, to appreciating them as the relations between siblings, is interesting, challenging, and compelling. But the constraints that Rabbi Koch Epstein describes feel foreign to my experience as an Israeli.

While the sibling metaphor is a helpful way to understand the realities and challenges of Jews today, I would flip it: World Jewry, not Israelis, are the grown children living in their parents’ home, as indeed, Jews have been living outside Israel, with no sovereignty and as a minority, for more than 2,000 years.

Thus, Jews around the world are living in their parents’ environment and struggling, often with success, to break free from old traditions and ways, despite being in an all-too-familiar environment.

Israeli Jews, on the other hand, are the siblings who have broken with old family ways and are meeting new situations at every turn. Being the majority and having Jewish sovereignty are new experiences for Jews, even after 70 years of having a state.

As we mark our 70th anniversary as a state, we have a lot of work ahead of us figuring out how, for example, we should treat minorities ethically and Jewishly. We must continue asking how an ethical Jewish army should function, how to collect taxes and spend government revenues, and many more issues.

Jews in Israel today face new challenges and novel circumstances. But we also have new tools to use because there exists a state with a Jewish majority and sovereignty. In their new home, they have the freedom to innovate, to experiment and to meet those challenges and circumstances in their own way.

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