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The Fight of Return

The following is a transcript of Episode 62 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: Hi, my name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. And this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage Project. Our theme for today is either the fight over the Law of Return, or another way of looking at it, and I prefer to look at it this way, the right over the Law of Return. 

In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and myself discuss a current issue central to Israel and the Jewish world. And then Elana Stein Hain, director of Hartman faculty in North America explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue.

Yossi and Elana, wonderful to be with both of you.

Yossi: Great to be with both of you.

Donniel: Let’s begin. Arguably one of the most important laws ever legislated in Israel is Israel’s Law of Return, which stipulates that any Jew anywhere can return to the Jewish homeland and claim immediate Israeli citizenship. But just who qualifies as a Jew under the Law of Return has been a source of contention throughout the history of the state.

The law determines eligibility for Israeli citizenship to anyone with a single Jewish grandparent, the so-called grandparent clause, and to converts to Judaism through any of the religious denominations, which means that the Law of Return is both for those who are defined as Jews and those who we don’t define as Jews, but speak about them as part of our family. This is of course not a halakhic definition of Jewishness, and so the Orthodox parties have long sought to amend the law by abolishing either the grandparent clause or restricting eligibility only to those with a Jewish mother or who converted through an Orthodox rabbinic court. 

The majority of Israelis, at least historically, along with most of the political system, and again, at least historically, have long opposed any changes in the Law of Return, understanding that this is a law that you shouldn’t touch, that this is a law that has to be greater than and beyond our party partisan political considerations. Most Israelis see this expansive definition of Jewishness as an essential principle of Zionist ideology, which places peoplehood rather than religious observance at the core of the way, in Israel, we define the essence of Jewish identity and citizenship. 

But with the powerful Orthodox presence in this current Netanyahu coalition, at least if the press releases are to be believed, which is with a caveat, efforts are now being, put forth to reneg or to change major aspects of the law. These efforts focus principally on two issues. 

The first is on non-Orthodox converts, and that could be non-Orthodox converts within Israel or non-Orthodox converts from outside of Israel, both of whose conversions are recognized in Israel. Or those trying to put forth that it should be limited now to someone who has one Jewish parent and remove the grandparent clause. 

Now, very often the content of the Law of Return is depicted as a diaspora Jewry concern, and if we’re gonna change it, we have to assess it vis a vis its impact on diaspora Jewry. Today, I wanna discuss that, but I wanna put a twist on it. Because this is not principally or solely an issue between Israel and diaspora Jewry. 

The formation of the law was seen by the founders of the country as an essential Zionist issue, an issue which lies at the heart of Israelis and the identity of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. And for many serious issues, we do them disservice when we immediately view them through the prism of Israel Diaspora relations. What do we owe each other? 

And I believe part of what we need to begin to do with much greater frequency is not just what we owe each other, but who do we wanna be? What is Israel about? It’s not an issue only of Diaspora Jews’ agenda versus Israeli Jews’ agenda. But what is Zionism’s agenda? That’s gonna be one of the core focuses that I wanna deal with today.

What is the law’s significance for Zionism? Why did the founders of the state insist on this broad definition of Jewishness or citizenship way beyond Halakhic definitions. And why are some Israelis principally from within the Orthodox community, so insistent on changing the law? 

Yossi, let’s dive straight in. Leave aside diaspora for now and our audience around the world, no insult intended. Part of what, what is Israel about? How, how do you understand the significance and innovation of this law for Israel and for Zionism?

Yossi: I think it’s related to, um, a point you just raised, which is a question of is Israel the state of the Jewish people or is it the state of Judaism? The Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yosef just came out with the statement the other day saying, Israel is an orthodox country. Now that’s true, but it’s also secular. It’s also traditional, it’s also Jewish. It’s also Arab. 

Israel is many things and to try to pigeonhole a modern extremely diverse society that’s based, ingathering, the principle of ingathering Jews from all around the world with radically diverse ideas about what it means to be Jewish and to try to create a uniform identity, or an entry point into Jewishness, is simply not going to work.

Now, I understand the orthodox argument here, because for 2000 years, what held us together as a people through the exile was a shared commitment to a set of religious principles, beliefs, and practices. And there was something extraordinary, you know, you could travel the Jewish world through those centuries, from Yemen to Poland and feel reasonably at home wherever you, you landed.

But we are now living, we, uh, the Jewish people today are living the consequences of two centuries of modernity, of the creation of a modern Jewish state, of the Holocaust. Uh, something’s happened. Something enormous has happened in Jewish life, and I think the real argument over the Law of Return is, are we still basically in the condition that we were for 2000 years? Or do we acknowledge a profound shattering and I see the Law of Return as an extraordinary effort to reconstruct the Jewish people and to take into account what we’ve lost, what we’ve gained, and what we’ve become.

Donniel: You know, Yossi, you know I love you, and I love you for lots of reasons.

Yossi: And it’s mutual, Donniel.

Donniel: You know, and, and I love you, you know, and it makes it easier for me to love you when I agree with you. Um, but, but here, what I love about what you just did is not just the content. There’s a clarity of articulation, which is so helpful.

You put the point on two ways of looking at it, and we’re gonna mix it up in a minute, but what you’re saying is that the Law of Return, and I love this, is the decision of the modern state of Israel to not merely leave the diaspora physically, but to leave the exclusive notion of religion as the defining feature of Jewishness and of our collective identity.

And that Zionism is an essential revolution of consciousness. Now, if you wanna change the law, it’s not because, or, you know, what do I think about reform Judaism? You know, I’m an Orthodox Jew. That’s not the issue. 

Yossi: No. Mamash not.

Donniel: Does Israel, that’s, that’s just not the issue. This is at the essence. And now here this also positions Zionism as a very radical, radical, move. And Zionism is saying, and, and I think the early Zionists, and here I wanna complexify what you were saying a little bit, cause the early Zionist I think would be most comfortable with your definition. But what happens if Jewish peoplehood and Judaism can’t be disconnected?

And this is where it gets complicated, the early Zionists principally, in the Declaration of Independence really defined Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people with, that’s what a Jewish state means. It’s where the Jewish people are gonna be sovereign and where we’re going to be able to build our nation’s state in our ancestral homeland. That’s basically what it meant. 

But what happened is that as Jews made aliyah, they didn’t make aliyah merely as members of the Jewish people. They brought their Judaism into the conversation. And one of the great problems of the state of Israel is that we never worked out how can you be the state of the Jewish people and recognize that these Jews want Judaism to be part of their life here. 

In the diaspora we were supposed to be Jews at home and citizens in public or human beings in public. But Israel is our public space, and as a result, I wanna be Jewish in my public space. So in many ways, when the Orthodox are changing the law, they’re doing a Zionist move. They’re saying Israel’s the homeland of the Jewish people, we’re all here, I wanna shape this public sphere. 

Now, when the Ultra-Orthodox were anti-Zionist, our life was much easier because they don’t wanna shape the public sphere of Israel. They just wanted to protect their own private space. But now that there is, the religious Zionists and the Ultra-Orthodox are joining together on these issues, there is a Zionification of the Ultra-Orthodox position. They’re merging with the religious Zionists and now they’re saying, okay, we Jews have come home. This is the state of the Jewish people and the state of the Jewish people is a place where Judaism or the religion, that’s also what the rabbi meant when he said Israel’s an orthodox country. He’s talking about the Judaism of his community, and uh,

Yossi: Now, it’s, it’s more com, it gets even more complicated than that, because the Orthodox have a powerful argument, which is that a majority of the Israeli public is certainly not Orthodox, but sympathetic to the Orthodox. And so I think what we’re seeing here with this coalition, is not necessarily an aberration, but a genuine expression of a large part, perhaps a majority of the Israeli public, certainly the overwhelming majority of Mizrachim, feel much more comfortable with Rabbi Yosef’s definition of Israeli Judaism than they would of an alternative. 

But this really does negate, as you put it, the intentions of the founders. And so there’s something elemental, that’s being, uh, worked out here. For me the only real relevant Zionist ideology for the 21st century is the ideology of Jewish peoplehood. Zionism is that ideology which affirms peoplehood as the common ground for all Jews, regardless of how we practice, regardless of what we believe, Zionism is the expression of coming to terms with the consequences of maternity.

Now, you know, you and I are both religious Jews. This is a complicated move for us as well, or I’ll speak for myself, Donniel.

Donniel: You can speak for me, I’ll usually agree with you.

Yossi: So, you know, part of me agrees with the Orthodox definition, not the literal definition of Jewishness, but the broader idea that the heart of Jewishness is our 4,000-year religious tradition. And I don’t live as a secular Israeli. But my Jewishness, my religious identity, and that’s the paradox here, my religious identity requires me to accommodate those who do not identify in any way as religious Jews.

Donniel: See, so Yossi, now I wanna pick up on this point cause this is for me, the essence. You defined that the essence of the law is a declaration that whether it replaces diasporic definitions or it adds, is that sovereignty in Israel adds a dimension of Jewish peoplehood to the center of, of our collective identity.

And that we’re no longer defined merely by whether you keep kosher or what shul you go to.

Yossi: See, I wouldn’t use the word merely. But only.

Donniel: Very, fair enough. Fair. Great. Only. Fair, fair enough. 

Now I wanna take it, cause for me, the remarkable innovation of this law, and it’s not to argue with your juxtaposition of Jewish peoplehood, and state of Jewish people or the state of Judaism, is that I believe that this law is actually probably the only time that the state of Israel got the state of Judaism correct. Because I believe that Israel cannot be either the state of the Jewish people or the state of Judaism. Because the Jewish people are a people connected to their religion. 

The question is, how are we gonna do our religion, however? How do we do religion in the state of Israel when Judaism divides us more than it unites us? How are we gonna do it? What are we gonna do? Are we gonna fight? Just like the chief rabbi says, yes, Israel’s an Orthodox state, and you have to get up and say, yes, you’re right. But it’s also secular. It’s traditional, it’s conservative, reform. It’s a lot. It’s also Arab.

Yeah, you’re right. But that’s part of the problem is that everybody comes home to Israel and they wanna define Judaism and secular Israelis, including the founders of the country, allowed Orthodoxy to define Israel as the state of Judaism or where Israel does Jewish as exclusively Orthodox.

The only place where they understood that what Israel is about, it’s about Jewish peoplehood and Judaism speaking to each other. Because Jewish peoplehood is a religious category, as you were just saying. It’s part of a, that’s, you know, hi people. I just fin, that’s my new book. That’s my new book, which will come out now. I finished it, everybody and now it’s, hurry up and wait cause it’s now gonna take 10 months until it gets published.

Yossi: Still, still Donniel. There’s a mazal tov, here.

Donniel: There’s a mazal tov, here, yeah, that’s true.

Yossi: Let’s not, let’s not pass over that quickly. You know, really for a writer, I have to tell you,

Donniel: Yossi, I want a much, I want a much bigger celebration than this.

Yossi: No, but still there are milestones for, for,

Donniel: This is a milestone.

Yossi: in the process of writing a book, and this is a mazal tov moment.

Donniel: Right, it’s now, completely, the editors, it’s all done. And the book is called, Who Are the Jews, and Who Can We Become? And part of it’s, well, I don’t wanna go into that right now. I, I do, but I won’t.

Well, it’s like, you know, when you write a book, it’s like, it’s like you obsess. Anyway, I’m gonna let it go. 

But I think the core issue of Zionism is how do we do Judaism in a state which is also the state of the Jewish people, and while secular Zionists gave orthodoxy monopoly, the only place that they understood that nobody could define the Jewish people on the basis of their religion. 

You wanna keep your religion? That’s great. You live your Jewish life however you wanna live it. There’s only one thing you can’t do. You could define what is kashrus. You could define Shabbos. You could even define what is a marriage and a divorce and a conversion.

The one thing you cannot define is who is part of our people. And the beauty of the Law of Return, and this is why I see it as one of the most sub, it’s holy. I think the term holiness is appropriate here. It’s a holy law. It’s a moment of transcendence where the country understood. Get your ha, rabbinate, everybody get your hands out of it. 

And that’s why one of the interesting paradoxes of the law is that it doesn’t define citizenship only on the basis of Jewishness. Jewishness is somebody who has a Jewish mother or who was converted, but it allows membership in Israel to anybody the most broad definition of Jewish peoplehood in Jewish history.

And so here for me, the Law of Return is a symbol of where Israel can go or ought to go. In many ways, it’s a symbol of what Israel ought to have been, where we understand that when it comes to the areas which divide us, Israel is about making space. It’s not about letting a monopoly. And so this is also the reason why they’re fighting this law.

Yossi, but why, this, this is, this is big.

Yossi: I, I, yeah. This is, this is big and I want to go back to a point you raised and embrace it, which is that at the core of Judaism is a paradox. Judaism is a religion that embraces peoplehood as a religious category. Now, peoplehood is a secular category. National identity is a secular category.

Donniel: Or in the modern world, it’s a secular category. It became a secular category.

Yossi: Yes. And so Judaism, which is now functioning in the modern world, it’s now functioning as a modern state has this paradox that it has to contend with, and by embracing peoplehood as a religious category through modernity, Judaism has no choice but to accept the Jewish people as we are.

And this is really, I think also at the heart of the argument. Who are the Jews? Can you put us back into the straight jacket of who we were and ignore who we’ve become? Now for me, one of the most compelling examples. And the truth is, this is really at the heart of the argument over Law of Return in a practical way, is Soviet Jewry. 

The over 1 million immigrants, many of whom are Jews, half Jews, quarter Jews, married to Jews, not Jews at all, who came under this massive exodus. And the conflict here between the Orthodox principles, and Orthodox commitment, and the reality of Soviet Jewry is that after 70, 80 years of communism, Soviet Jewry was not the same people anymore, and yet, look at what happened. 

They returned from the abyss. This was a lost tribe. A tribe that was for all practical purposes lost to the Jewish people. And we retrieved them at the last possible moment. And instead of embracing them, instead of giving them this genuine homecoming, not only to the state of Israel, but to Judaism, the gatekeepers of Judaism said, you don’t belong here. You’re goyim, you’re alien. 

And as you know, I have a personal stake in this. Because I devoted years of my youth to the Soviet Jewry movement, and to see the Orthodox establishment, the ultra-orthodox establishment, which was the only part of the Jewish people, by the way, that was not part of the Soviet Jewry movement, that wasn’t part of the movement to try to retrieve this lost tribe, to give them the keys to Judaism in the state of Israel is to me so antithetical to what Jewish history needs at this moment. It’s a betrayal. 

What are they really arguing about? They’re not arguing about five converts from America. They’re arguing about hundreds of thousands of potential immigrants who are not Halakhically Jewish from the former Soviets Union. This is the issue.

Donniel: But it’s not, I, this is, it’s interesting. The consequences is that, you know, you speak about Soviet Jewry, that Soviet Jewry that you helped and you were committed to, a million, a million and a half are now Israeli citizens, 15% of our country.

Yossi: Yeah.

Donniel: The implication of this law is not on who can come. There’s almost nobody from the former Soviet Union coming anymore under the grandparent clause. Almost all of them are coming under the consensus issue of one Jewish parent and almost none of them are coming as converts. And the scope of Aliyah from North America is so minor that this is not the issue.

But what it does do, is it takes 15% of your society, many of them who aren’t Halakhically Jewish, but now in recent surveys, 90 plus percent see themselves as Jewish, and saying to them, basically, you’re second class Jews.

So this law, which is a foundational issue to the core of who we are as a country, is also part of a tribal war between the Ultra-Orthodox and the Russian community. And it’s not even the ultra-Orthodox, by the way, the religious Zionist community is also leading this charge, that somehow we wanna reclaim ownership.

And that’s part of what’s happening now. Part of what’s happening in the last election is that one groups had a great victory, but with great power also comes great responsibility. But at the same time, power corrupts and great power corrupts even more. Right now I wanna claim ownership. So I wanna claim ownership of Jews over Arabs, I wanna claim ownership for my denomination over another. The chief rabbi, would’ve never said this.

So what you have here now is this expression of tribal ownership, but what’s on the table is not whether North American Jews alone are gonna be insulted at one more attack on reform and conservative and liberal orthodoxy.

But it’s the essence of what our country is. This is what we have to fight about. And what I want is I want North American Jews not merely to fight for their own rights to make aliyah. It’s not to fight merely for the state of Israel to recognize me. Cause then we get into the classical, you know, oh, you want me to, come here, make Aliyah, do I have a right, not a right. It’s like the same circular argument which we’re never getting out of. 

And then we at the Hartman Institute say, yes, you are a part. And they say we’re not a part, and do I have a vote, all that, you know, it’s like I’m bored with that conversation. What we’re facing right now is not an issue of individual rights. What we’re facing is a discussion about the essence of Israel and Zionism and whether we are going to be able to sustain the type of Israel that we want. 

Last word, Yossi, before we take a short break and invite Elana to join us.

Yossi: Just to connect the dots to another issue that we’ve been speaking about, which is the threat to the inclusiveness of Arab Israelis coming from this coalition. And that is that we’re facing a coalition of exclusiveness, a coalition that’s excluding, first of all, many Israeli citizens who regard themselves as part of the Jewish people, excluding them from citizenship in the Jewish people effectively.

And at the same time, excluding Arab Israelis from Israeli citizenship, creating a new condition of conditional Israeli citizens. This is what worries me.

Donniel: Let’s, I’m with you. Let’s hold, we’re gonna have to talk about this much more. And the truth is, you’re right, they’re all the same. Because the question is, as the Law of Return is the most inclusive statement for Jews, but it’s not an inclusive statement. It’s not an inclusive law for non-Jews.

Yossi: What is a modern Jewish Israeli state? That’s the question.

Donniel: We’re gonna get to that at another time. But right now, let’s take a short break and then Elana will join us. 

Elana, we have here, the way Yossi and I were talking, there is this vision of Jewishness, this vision of Zionism, not between Jewish peoplehood versus Israel, but in which we understand that for Israel to work, it has to embrace the large, historical, dramatic moment of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish diversity and the enemy, right now, it’s not a party, it’s a vision of Judaism. Judaism is being used to marshall loyalty for a smaller vision of Israel? What are some of your thoughts on this issue?

Elana: Oh my gosh. First of all, I do want to say, you know, I’m laughing, Donniel. You’re talking about your new book, and I’m finishing up a book right now and my book is on legal loopholes in rabbinic law. 

Yossi: Mazal tov to you, Elana. 

Elana: thank you. I’m, I

Donniel: She’s finishing. We only give mazal tov when you finish. 

Elana: I hand in, I hand in the manuscript, God willing, within the next month.

But the reason why I say that, is because you’re so comfortable with these broad, sweeping, the Jewish people are, the Jewish, and I’m much more, how can I work within a system that I have to include as many people as possible? And I’m feeling that in this conversation, right? 

Because for example, one of the things I think about here, there really is from people’s perspective, an issue of marriage between different people and the problematics that come with that. And I look to actually Orthodox institutions like the Giyur K’Halacha, where they’re trying to convert people who wanna be converted in a way that is loving and caring and inclusive and recognizes who people are. That’s me, right? Meaning I go for the loophole. You go for the big sweeping, and I think it’s really interesting. And Yossi, you go either way. It depends on the day, I would say. Um, but I appreciate that. 

And what I actually really wanna talk about is I wanna talk about theocracy because I think in some sense what we’re gonna see over and over again from this coalition, is trying to push a state that is run exclusively by religion and specifically by the religion of Orthodox Judaism and a particular definition of those standards.

And so I think it’s worth starting to think about that but as the loopholer, I’m looking for something from within the last 2000 years of Jewish thought that can give me a precedent for what we would call civil society. Like I’m admitting where I, you know, where I’m coming from. So I, I wanna, I wanna mention something that is,

Donniel: Elana, I just wanted to say to you before you go on, one of the reasons why it’s so easy for me to be a pluralist with you is I don’t care. As long as we get to the similar place. I don’t care. Knock yourself out, you know? And I understand the devil’s in the details, so I’m with Elana, we’re all with you now. We wanna see your move.

Elana: Yes, so, what I think is very important we do have a precedent for the idea, the concept, of what we might call a two-tier system. One that is ruling based on the particulars of Jewish law as interpreted by the way, these many rabbinic traditionalists have interpreted it.

And another that is based on the idea of being a state and the concerns of being a state and, and state craft and what it means to run a society. And I mean, you’re gonna laugh, but it’s gonna start with Maimonides, it’s gonna start with the Rambam in the 12th century, which by the way, just an aside, I know we’re waiting for the Torah, but my son and I were studying for his test the other week and I explained to him that Maimonides means the son of Maimon.

And we realized that my-mom-ides means the son of my mom. So you should just know my son calls himself my-mom-ides at this point, but going to Maimonides, the real one, in his Mishna Torah, law of Kings, chapter three, law 10, Halakha 10. He says. And again, when you’re loopholing, when you’re trying to find it from within, it’s never gonna be the perfect linear source, you have to abstract it. You have to think big. He says, anyone who murders without clear evidence or without warning, or even before one witness. In other words, they commit murder in ways that Halakha, Jewish law, would not allow you to prosecute, or an enemy who accidentally killed another, the king has permission to put them to death.

Donniel: Just explain an example would be for, if you murdered someone, but there isn’t two witnesses, there’s only one.

Elana: One witness. There aren’t two witnesses. There aren’t two witnesses. Okay? The King has permission to put them to death. And here’s the line, “and to repair the world as the time demands.” Okay? That’s in Maimonides. Now, it’s a strange source for us because it’s talking about putting someone to death in order to repair the world.

Donniel: No, it’s Elana. It’s a good, I’m already, I’m wi I’m, I’m dancing with you. I feel it’s a good, it’s a good source, Elana.

Elana: What’s he telling you? He’s telling you that sometimes when you’re governing it can’t just be based on Jewish law. And then it gets expanded in a really significant way. By Rabbeinu Nissim, foirteenth century, Catalonia.

And he writes in what’s called Drashot Haran, in English, homilies of Rabbeinu Nissin, he says this is his 11th homily. It’s sort of a famous one for people who love, I would say law and Jewish law conversations, right? I’m kind of in that zone. 

He says a criminal can be punished according to the dictates of true justice, and what he means by true justice is Judaism, if we have those conditions, but even when no punishment is deserved, according to true justice, this person can be punished for the good of the public order, and the need of the hour. Now, the Lord distinguished between those responsible for each of those two tasks. Who’s responsible to carry out the dictates of true justice, which is Judaism and who’s responsible to carry out the good of the public order and the need of the hour. He says, well, a king is supposed to carry out the public order and the need of the hour, a secular…

Now of course in, you know, in the Bible the king’s not quite secular. There, obviously. But I think the recognition, even in 12th century, 14th century, we’re talking about, so long ago, we’re talking about before the existence of a sense of a secular state, even right within Jewish thought. The idea that you actually, even if your principles are that Jewish law should govern, you have to recognize that there are governmental structures. 

And I think that this coalition, I think we’re gonna see pushing on many, many areas of civil society. And this is just the first, and I think it’s really significant, and this is really Yossi, what you put on the table. What are the needs of the hour? What is the public good right now? Repairing the world as the time demands. I think this deserves real thought from within that Orthodox community to think about that. And I don’t wanna lose that. I don’t wanna just say, you know what? The Orthodox and the Ultra Orthodox, they’re gonna do this. And this goes to our previous podcast, I want those within the Orthodox community who wanna think about these ideas to make that part of it.

Donniel: It’s beautiful. I, I love it, Elana. You know what makes it more complicated? When the Rambam and the Ran are writing or when they’re looking at Jewish kings, the rabbi is basically powerless. The rabbi is the Lord over Torah and over Jewish courts. But real power in the world is in the hands of kings.

And so if it was Jewish kings, they knew that they had very little power and they warned people, don’t start up with these kings, in the Messianic era you can, because the reality is, is that Jewish kings didn’t govern according to Jewish law. And we understood that there were, we actually had a dual system, but they were outside of the system.

And that dual system goes to another issue that you once raised. Sometimes that that system is also not even Jewish in the first place. And so, but here, what the Rambam and the Ran are doing is they’re saying that a just society needs to go beyond the requirements of Jewish law to deal with, there is a larger goal here and therefore it requires that dance. 

But you know where we’re more challenged now, Elana, is because now the rabbi is the minister. The rabbi is the king. The rabbi is not the critic of the king. The problem now in Israel is the rabbi doesn’t even have a critic. And I think what your voice, Yossi’s voice, my voice, the essential goal and purpose of the Hartman Institute. And I don’t care whether you’re Orthodox, conservative, reform, reconstructionist, renewal, postdenominational, secular, I don’t care what you are.

Yossi: That was good. That was good. 

Donniel: Oh Yossi. I have many years of chan. I’ve turned it into a song. It’s like, it’s, you know, like the 10 Sons of Haman, you’re supposed to say, Orthodox, conservative, reform, reconstructionist, renewal, postdenominational, secular.

Elana: I was going to see that.

Yossi: Lehavdil, lehavdil elef alfei havdalot. 

Donniel: I, I could say all of them together in one breath, but we have to fight. We have to be not just mere political, religious critics. And whether our criticism like Elana is through text and looking for loopholes, or it’s through ideas and visions, our job is that now Israel needs not just political criticism, Israel’s not just facing a question of balance of power between secular and religious authority.

We need checks and balances within the religious system, and I don’t care what denomination you have to speak within the religious tradition, because part of what the Law of Return did is it said not merely that Israel belongs to all the Jewish people.

It also said, all Jews with your Judaism, you can come home. And now someone wants to say, I have dominion over it. And that’s why these types of discussions are so critical. Elana, last word. And then we have to conclude.

Elana: I just want to say that I think it’s interesting that the Israeli Supreme Court often plays this role of the king. Meaning the Israeli Supreme Court often plays the role of a check, what are the needs of the time? What are our basic laws? That does push back, and I, I think that’s a vision.

Donniel: We’re gonna, we’ve already have two issues that we’re gonna talk about. One is what is, we’ve defined who is a Jew. We’re gonna have to have a podcast on who is an Israeli. And then we’re also gonna have a podcast on what type of inner checks and balances do we wanna have, not between, those who care about Judaism and those who care about modernity, but what is necessary for Jewish statehood, whether to quote, Yossi, Jewish statehood is the state of the Jewish people. Jewish statehood is the state of Judaism, or it is essentially the question of how these two visions of Judaism interact with each other. 

Yossi, Elana, it’s just a joy to be with both of you. And thank you so, so much for your perspectives.

For Heaven’s Sake is a product at the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Gareth Hobbs at Silver Sound NYC. Our production manager is M. Louis Gordon. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website, typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at 

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See you in two weeks and thank you for listening and thank you for embracing a higher conversation about the essence of Israel, the essence of Judaism, and the future of of Zionism. Be well, my friends.

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