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The Role of Truth in Israeli Politics

The following is a transcript of Episode 53 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: 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, is there something more valuable than truth? 

In each of addition 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 the Hartman faculty in North America, explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue.

Today is a special episode for a few reasons. The first and less important is because this is being taped live in front of a live audience of close to 175 participants in CLP and streamed live. And just personally, For Heaven’s Sake, I know we do this podcast, but I really feel we’re doing it for me.

Just talking with the two of you. It just, it’s, I gotta tell you, I feel like better about my life and about Israel and Zionism, just to be able to, just cause like you’re my chavruta, like we’re we’re like, so like somehow you’re interloping here. Nothing personal. I know. 

Yossi: I always thought it was just us talking. I didn’t realize there was an audience.

Donniel: So was an audience. It’s true. 

Elana: Yossi, yeah, I’m here as well. 

Donniel: Thank you. 

Yossi:  Yes, you are. You are. 

Donniel: So, so this is a little different but there is a far more important reason why this is special. And that is that this episode is dedicated memory of a really unique person, a unique lady, a personal friend, a friend and former board member of the Institute, Michelle Gary, and our session is dedicated in, in, in her honor and her memory.

And uh, Michelle. I remember being invited into her home as she was convening, she loved to convene these intellectual groups. But when you looked at Michelle, Marc was the career person. He had a big fancy career and Michelle was the eshet chail next door, next to him. And it could be really easy to underestimate Michelle for the first minute. She had the most beautiful smile and a beautiful laugh, and I always felt embraced by her with such total love and friendship.

And, you know, she had her children and, and Marc’s career. And, and then you spoke to her. And I didn’t know this at the time, you felt the strength, the intellectual rigor. Only later on, she was part of a generation where she gave up her Georgetown law degree to raise a family. And that’s what you did, but you didn’t necessarily get that Georgetown law degree.

And you know, it’s so beautiful, tonight we’re talking about, is there something more valuable than truth? It’s she just embodied a complexity of joy of life, of, of joy of Torah, joy of people. There was a kindness to her. At the same time, there was an intellectual rigor and a strength and a commitment.

And I could not be more honored to dedicate tonight’s episode in her memory. And Michelle is survived by also a former board member and a dear, dear friend, her husband Marc, her two children, Philip and Tammy, her son and daughter-in-law Mark and Amanda and her two grandchildren, Abigail and Miles. And her mother, Ruth. May her memory be a blessing

Let’s begin. Today, we’re gonna be dealing with the fall of the government in Israel, not why it fell or even the fall itself, but the moment of the fall. Today we’ll, we’ll be dealing not with the crisis and what’s going wrong and I hope that’s gonna be okay, Yossi, cause I feel like sometimes together we’re always unpacking for ourselves and this, this crisis that we have to somehow deal with.

But with a moment of inspiration, while the fall itself filled me with sadness, the moment of the fall filled me with hope. What happened at this moment? Let me share it with you because as is often the case, we know all the bad news. We know whenever something wrong happened, we share nastiness all the time.

Something actually remarkable happened. And as I was watching it, I had this complex feeling of sadness and hitromemut haruach where my spirit was being uplifted. I listened to prime minister Bennett. And the foreign minister um, Yair Lapid announcing. When they announced the dissolution of the government and imminent new elections, not only did prime minister Bennett keep his word and put in motion an orderly transference of authority, handing over the reins to an ideological foe, to centrist Yair Lapid. 

But not only did it happen. The way it happened. These two politicians, each one representing a different community and a different ideology spoke with such courtesy, civility, and even profound affection for each other that are not only rare in Israel, but unfortunately rare in politics anywhere and everywhere. Bennett referred to Lapid as a mensch. And Lapid said, I love you.

They both spoke of each other’s service to the country and commitment to the country and values and respect they have for each other, and even prayed that they will both have a long career of serving the people. Can this moment become a norm? What would it take? What ideas and ideologies need to be taught, ideas embraced, values reimagined? 

The tensions that have accompanied this government were entirely expected. And the fact that some ideologues on both the right and the left chose their commitment to their ideological principles, um, over the wellbeing of the coalition and left, bringing about its fall. But was far less expected that the government would end the way it did in explaining his decision to help form this government, Bennett, Israel’s first Orthodox prime minister, said that he did so to a term that the three of us might know might have a little bit to talk about or know a little bit about, used the word, l’shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven, to affirm that there was something for the sake of heaven.

I wanna affirm the unity of the people of Israel. He said achim anachnu, we’re brothers and sisters, something that we so often forget. But acting for the sake of heaven can be ambiguous for half the country. The government was perceived to be an act of betrayal, a government founded on a lie, a lie to the voters.

But more importantly, a lie to the truths that Bennett himself and his fellow Yamina voters advocated for so long. Bennett’s opponents on the right have insisted that to act for the sake of heaven is to stand fast by one’s deeply held truths. What is heaven, if not a commitment to truth?

And so today I wanna talk, I want us to talk together about what truth demands. Is there something higher? What ideological transformations need to be assimilated from the theological foundations of this coalition government so that it could become a norm

Yossi. Wonderful to be with you. 

Yossi: Always Donniel, especially tonight. 

Donniel: So tell me. 

Yossi: There’s a beautiful word in Hebrew that actually comes from Yiddish, firgun, which, uh, is, um, is a concept that’s, uh, honored, uh, more abstractly than in practice very often, uh, in Israeli society. But, uh, firgun in the way, uh, is the opposite of, uh, schadenfreude. And uh. 

Donniel: The opposite of what? 

Yossi: Schadenfreude, schadenfreude,

Donniel: Ich bin nisht idish. Tell me what that means. 

Yossi: Schadenfreude uh, is to be, is to be pleased when, uh, when someone fails to delight in someone’s failure. And firgun is to delight in someone’s achievements and what we saw playing out the other night in the, in this remarkable and, uh, fleeting moment in Israeli politics was, uh, firgun on, in, in the way that Bennett addressed Lapid and Lapid reciprocated. 

And what I think we, we saw that night was that the means of this government was actually its ends. And the means, uh, was courtes, um, firgun, compromise above all. And the truth of this government was, uh, was compromised. And what this government was saying is that compromise actually is a, is such a profound value.

It’s not just a utilitarian way of, of, of managing a, uh, a political deadlock. This government turned compromise into the highest political power. 

Donniel: So how do we let, let’s, I love that moment and you, you know, me, like, I collect nice moments because 

Yossi: Hold on, hold on to this one because it’s not going to last.

Donniel: See. Cause, um, I I’m an optimist, but I’m an ideological optimist, so I’m not gonna let pessimism, I’m like if ever it takes hold, I’m. Like, so it’s there. So okay. There is. How do. It’s rare, you know this, so is it just, is, is it just a moment? What, what do we need to do? You know, we’re educators, all three of us, what do we need to do to make this into a norm?

Yossi: Well, first, the first thing we need to do, and this goes really, uh, very much against what we heard from, uh, uh, our friend and colleague Yehuda Kurtzer say to, uh, to the gathering, uh, earlier. Uh, don’t pin, put your hopes on the next election. He was speaking in American context but, but, uh, and I’m about to contradict that because the first thing we need to do is make sure that, that this government of compromise is, uh, in some configuration, uh, is able, is able to continue.

Uh, but in terms of, uh, of what we need to edu, to, to the educational move is to push back against the notion that the more ideologically pure you are, the more you hold onto your absolute truth, the closer you are to actually being, or to actually embodying truth. And what I think we saw in, in, in, in, we saw live, we saw being modeled was that compromise, chesed, generosity is, uh, is in fact a higher value than absolute truth. 

And this, you know, when I, I think about, uh, the, the, the prayer that we, we, we, we recite on the 13 attributes of God. Chesed v’emet, right. Chesed, generosity, loving kindness, and emet, truth. But the attribute of chesed actually proceeds emet and maybe is a precondition for truth to be expressed in the world. 

When truth comes in its pure form, to use a kabbalistic term it’s it’s it’s form of gevurah, it’s form of the pure, the purest, um, severity of truth, truth itself becomes brittle and can’t be sustained in the world. And compromise is, is the way in which truth is sustained. 

Donniel: See, I, I wonder, you know, this government was formed and embraced, the means, I love the language of a means, which became an end. Um, it was formed at a moment of brokenness, a moment where our truths were leading us to a perpetual dead end, a cycle out of which we couldn’t break.

We were just gonna go it’s like, we were just gonna go on to the fourth to fifth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, each one, it was not gonna change. And there was no transition between the sides. Very, very little if there was any transition, it was that there were lower voter rates coming out, um, in the Likkud cities.

So that’s the, if there was any changes, like come on, you know, but ideologically, nobody moved, nobody moved. And how broken does it have to, how much pain do you have to cause? Or how much pain does it take till you know that there’s something that needs to be more important than truth?

And, there, we need to find and speak about there’s something about truth and your truth that both defines you, but it just, when you have it, maybe it’s not truth. It’s certainty. You become such a force for destructiveness. You know, one of the ideas that I love about, about our tradition, and I’m trying to think like, maybe we, you know, are we ready?

Like how much, are we ready to speak of the fact that while we know what it is that we know, the one thing we have to know is that we don’t, that, that, that we don’t know if what we know is true.

And I wonder, you know, again, I, I, I feel it so strongly. I don’t wanna speak about American politics right now because that’s out of our competency, even though there are times when it makes me feel very good as a Zionist, but is out of our competency. But in Israel, everybody has like this truth and it’s, I don’t know, maybe it came from the dangers that we faced. Maybe it came from the suffering that, I had these bits, everybody has that truth. And, um,

Yossi: I also think it might be a legacy of Sinai that we all stood together and received revelation. And ever since we’ve been searching for fragments of, of absolute truth. And, and that’s partly why I think Jews make such good fanatics, whatever, you know, we were the best communists, we were, you know. 

Donniel: So let’s talk about that because I, something that it’s like, you know, I, I’m so much in the business of trying to create ideologues, you know, we want to create dreams. We want to create ideologies. We want to elevate the conversation, but there’s a certain, you know, they speak about the difference between ashkenazim and sefaradim, that mystic, that, you know, a Masorti Judaism, is a Judaism like, you know, one of the defining, you know, like what, like, could you tell me a characteristic of a Masorti Jew and, a Masorti Jew doesn’t eat bread on Pesach in Israel.

Yossi: Nobody does.

Donniel: But outside of Israel, 

Yossi: It’s not available,

Donniel: But outside of Israel, outside of Israel they’ll eat pasta, but not bread. 

Yossi: Right. Right. 

Donniel: So like, like I looked like that was just like an exam, like an example, or, you know, you have a kippa, but it has folds in it cuz it’s in your pocket, you know, it’s like, or in your 

Yossi: I used to have one of those.

Donniel: Yeah. I used to have one of those. Um, there’s something about living with the tradition, but enabling yourself to embrace it. Because if you think about it for a second, when it comes to truth, is there any difference between bread and pasta on Pesach? Halakhically? Zero. 

But is there a difference between a sandwich and pasta, on Pesach? Of course there is. Of course, cause it’s cause this one is competing with matza and this one’s not right. So it’s like, is it true? There’s something about, and I, I know this is trivializing it, but there’s something about someone who says I’m committed to Shabbps some of the time or I’m committed to Shabbos. Like here it is. I’m living with religion. But I’m dancing with it. I’m dancing with it. I’m, I’m, I’m in the midst of that truth. The truth is not there to, to, to, to, it’s not there to propel me. It’s there to live at my side. 

And there’s something about a, a softening of truth, um, that, that, that Masorti Judaism recognizes. And maybe this is just even though now Ashkenazi and Sefaradim seem to have all become Ashkenazi on, on, in this level. 

Yossi: Yeah. Yeah. The Ashkenazim ruined the Mizrachim here in Israel. 

Donniel: True. But like ideologically, like let’s look, let’s try to put forth, what are ideological principles that could establish this notion?

Yossi: Well, I come back to the importance of truth as lived in, in the real world. Truth is not abstract. And, um, ideology tends to be, um, tends to try to impose its idea on reality. Now, to some extent that’s necessary, to some extent you try to influence reality, you try to shape reality in your way, but where ideologues go wrong is where they, they believe that their ideology can, can shape reality absolutely. 

Donniel: Do you remember when you were, you know, I was just thinking, as we’re talking, it’s part of your story. 

Yossi: Oh, I look, I, 

Donniel: So you should be the one, like you made, you’re, like what changed in you? 

Yossi: So, you know, I, I grew up, uh, as you know, uh, on the hard right. In fact, the farthest right. There was no, there was farther right. 

Donniel: You’re not a hard, I’m sorry, you were not hard right. You, you were off. 

Yossi: There was no more right than where I was as a teenager. And, um, 

Donniel: What made you change?

Yossi: Life, life. And

Donniel: So that’s what you mean when you say truth is not, you, you let life in. 

Yossi: I’ll give you, yes, I’ll tell you the moment. I’ll tell you. It was very, it was a specific moment and it happened just after I moved to Israel. It was February 1983 and I was working as a journalist. And I hear on the radio that a grenade had been thrown into a Peace Now demonstration. 

And Emil Grunzweig, one of the demonstrators was killed and I happened to be 10 minutes away from the prime minister’s office, which is where this happened. And I rushed over and the demonstrate the Peace Now demonstrators were all gone, but there was a group of counter-demonstrators who were still there, and who had been taunting the Peace Now, from my camp, the right wing. 

And I get there and there literally there’s a P, there’s a pool of blood with syringes that the medics had used floating in the, in, in the blood. And I turn to these, these young people and I say, you know, we, um, we like to say that Jewish blood isn’t cheap. That was a big slogan in those years. I said, here it is, here’s Jewish blood. And they laughed. And one of them said, who sent you here, Shimon Perez?

And that was a, that was the moment when I stopped being right-wing. It happened literally in that, in that moment.

Donniel: Wow. That was your moment of conversion.

Yossi: Yeah. Yeah. And, but I didn’t convert to left wing ideologue. 

Donniel: Yeah, until you met me. 

Yossi: Yeah, you moved me closer. I, I, I went to the center and the center is that place that insists on the primacy of life over, over ideology. 

Donniel: Wow. You know, it would be an unbelievable tragedy if the only way we could move is when we’re that broken.

You know, I met this week, this, um, I can’t mention his name because if I mentioned his name, he’ll lose in the primaries for the Likkud. Um, but he was a very prominent member of the Likkud and he was known for quite a while as Netanyahu’s, could I, is bulldog, is that a bad, like, could I say that? 

Yossi: Sure, sure. 

Donniel: You know, he was just, he would snap. He was the chief snapper at everybody. That’s what he did. He was this 

Yossi: A lot of competition though for that role.

Donniel: He had a lot and oh, he was exactly, you know, was a few, he was like snapping. Like that’s the way he was all the time. And, and here he had gone through a moment of conversion, very similar to yours. And he was telling me about it, where, it was on a Shabbat.

And he said, what are we doing to this people? What are we doing? And he said, I’m gonna change. There’s a new me. Um, yesterday on television, it seems that the old him was still there, but, but I’m gonna, I’m gonna hold onto what, any good news that I can cause that’s what I do. 

But he said, you know, he said, very similar, maybe he’s, you know, he says, I believe everything is from heaven. Classic Israeli secularist, who’s more religious than I am. You know, he’s like, everything is from heaven, you know, he does. He says, he says, I’m secular. I don’t, one of these, I’m secular, but I never work on Shabbos. You know, like he said, 

Yossi: And I, and I only eat pasta.

Donniel: And I only eat pasta, like, it was like one of those, you know, like classic, you know, stories, but it’s, it was just very funny, but, and, and, you know, my parents were all rabbis, you know, anyway, but my mother, my father was like, like everybody was a rabbi.

But um, but he said, you know, it’s not gonna be repaired until Netanyahu leaves.

He says, we can’t, but maybe we have to break it, and then there has to be a room for a moment when right wing and left wing could come back together again. But I want to tell you, you know, I hear your story of conversion and it’s both, it’s beautiful, but it’s, that, that can’t be. 

Yossi: So what’s your educational move?

Donniel: I, I have all these educational moves that inspire me deeply. They just don’t seem to have any impact on other people. This is, you know, like I, this is my problem. It’s like, I’m, I’m sitting there and you talk and you use the word leshem shamayim. There’s another word that he used that I try. And that’s the notion of kiddush hashem, to sanctify God’s name.

And one of the ideas of sanctifying God’s name, cause that too, by the way, classically, is to die for your truth. Literally to die for kiddush hashem is to be willing to sacrifice life for your truth. But kiddush hashem literally means to sanctify God’s name and to sanctify God’s name is to sanctify it through your behavior by making those who follow God, bear witness to the decency and to the value that that brings with it. 

There’s this beautiful Talmud, page in the Talmud, in tractate Yoma, that goes something like this: You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your might and Abaye asks, what does it mean to love God?

And for many people to love God is love God’s truth. He says, no, he says what does it mean to love God? She yesh shem shamayim, Elana, I’m gonna do one of your moves, I’m I’m gonna speak Hebrew. She yihiyeh, sheyesh shem shamayim mityahev alyecha. That the name of God will become beloved through you. 

Yossi: That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. 

Donniel: And maybe, you know, there’s we, we tried in this country, we tried through categories called mamlachtiyut, which has, no, I have no idea how to translate it. It’s some sense of, for the sake of the common good 

Yossi: With the dignity of, of the state, the nation. Yeah. 

Donniel: We understood that, you know, like we’re not, we’re not in shul anymore. We’re in a country and we’re with people who disagree with us. And how your, your, what does your, does your truth in holding onto your truth, make you be more beloved l’shem shamayim or not? 

I have so many meaningful teachings, but I find that there’s something that we’re coming up against. I don’t know if it’s fear. I don’t know if it’s tribalism. I don’t know if it’s party loyalty. I don’t know if it is a sense that you’re, there, that in many ways, maybe we, maybe the debate is, you know, we like the first kiddush hashem.

That we wanna die for the sake of our truth, but very often it’s not that we want to die. We want someone else to die for our truth. Um, but the it’s, you know, maybe I, I, I remember I, and then I’ll just say this, and then I’ll, any last thoughts. And then we’ll, we we’ll take a break and turn to Elana. 

I was just teaching this remarkable group of people who are called the Berry fellows from the Angelica in the Vatican. And, um, they come from all over the world. It must have been 20, 25, um, people who are priests and, um, um, sisters and, and teachers. And they come for a, an intense course at the Angelica in interfaith pluralism and tolerance. 

And they asked me to give a lecture about pluralism and I gave a lecture and I spoke about pluralism and, and its features and where it comes from and it, and how God, how the idea of one God transcends one truth. And again, like I said, I moved myself deeply again. And, um, it was really, I was almost in tears and, and, and, and a man, a beautiful man, like you can tell this man, he had this beautiful face, from India. 

He said, Rabbi Hartman, I wanna thank you so much for what you you’re speaking about pluralism, but it’s very idealistic. He says, he says, I can’t teach that in India. I can’t teach my Catholics in the midst of Hindu and Muslim friction that, yes, God loves Jews, Christians, and Muslims. And that God is greater than any individual truth. And to be a person of faith is to recognize all these things. 

He says, I can’t teach these, he says, how do you want me to teach pluralism? And I said to him, I said, first of all, I didn’t think about it. You know, like, I don’t, I’m not, I didn’t think of your reality, but maybe I should have, maybe my reality is pretty close. I said to him, then maybe you don’t teach it. Maybe you just act it. Just act it. 

And maybe the only hope for this country is just like this moment. And maybe by us speaking about it and elevating it, and let’s creep, let’s, let’s sanctify this, let’s model it, let’s be, be the type of relationship that we want with truth, because I think conceptualizing it is, maybe that’s not the way to go. Maybe it’s just modeling it. Last thoughts Yehuda, ah Yossi? 

Yossi: I think that what, what we’ve been talking about is, is holding on to a model that exists.

It actually happened. And you know, and here we are, we are we’re convening this week at, at the Institute to reenvision Israel, to, to reawaken our capacity, to imagine a better Israel, the Israel that ought to be, and not only the Israel that is, um, we have a moment that has already been forgotten, but maybe it’s part of our educational responsibility to hold onto that moment, to hold that moment up. This is a teaching moment. 

Donniel: Which stories we tell are the stories that live.

Yossi: That’s right. Let’s take a short break and then Elana will join us.

Donniel: Elana. It’s great to be with you. I always see you on zoom. I don’t have to move my chair. um, it’s wonderful to be with you. 

How do we keep this moment alive? What Torah do you have that all of us could start speaking from the mountain because we gotta, this, we can’t give this one up Elana. 

Elana: Well, first of all, I, I wanna just say how remarkable I think it is that the two of you given the fact that you live in this reality and you don’t really know what’s coming next, that the two of you are choosing as educators to change the memory of this moment from one of loss, into one of exemplary or exemplary. I think that is a remarkable educational move. 

Yossi: That’s very powerful. 

Elana: And, and I’m happy to be part of it.

Donniel: It’s, it’s complimentary, so we’ll take it. 

Elana: It’s it’s I, I think it’s important. It’s an educational move, right? As a parent, I shape my kids’ memories by telling them that things happened in a certain way, and it actually shapes the way they remember that things happen. And as educators, we do that all the time. 

You know, you can’t get to this through for the sake of heaven, l’shem shamayim, you can’t. Because as you said, I can marshal examples where l’shem shamayim is about being single minded. It’s about only associating with your own and with your truth. And I can marshal examples that will tell you that l’shem shamayim means that there will be debates and you have to actually get everyone to love God by the way that you behave, right. 

But there is, I think, a way to, to think through this moment using uh, Torah paradigms. And that is through thinking about two paradigms that exist for moments where you either throw away the sacred cows. You just sort of push ’em to the side. Or you’re just a little more flexible with them. And each of these paradigms that exist within rabbinic literature, they point to a certain possibility in particular moments and each has its challenge.

So the first paradigm is what we call a horaat sha’ah. A horaat sha’ah is literally a directive for the moment. And I wanna give you an example of a horaat sha’ah that people don’t usually talk about. 

Donniel: Explain it again, horaat sha’ah?

Elana: A dir, it’s, ah, you’re gonna, we’re gonna learn what it is, literally directive for the moment. Okay. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it. 

Donniel: A directive, a directive for the moment?

Elana: Yes, a directive for the moment. 

Donniel: They’re getting the people here who are in, inter 

Elana: It, it’s hard to imagine all of the people we’re speaking to right now. 

Donniel: Exactly. 

Elana: It’s great, but it’s really, really great. 

So I wanna give an example, um, of a horaat sha’ah that will give you a sense of what we’re talking about.

You have to put yourself in the mindset of an idolatrous Israelite nation. If you could do such a thing, we’re pagans, we’re not doing the right thing. And along comes this hero Gidon, which whenever I come to the Machon, because of our own Gideon Mayse, I always think about the hero Gidon when I’m here. Right?

So the hero Gidon, he has a vision that it’s time to return the people to God. And here’s what he hears in the vision. This is Judges chapter six verses 26 to 27. That night, the Lord said to him, take a young bull belonging to your father. And another bull, seven years old. Pull down the altar of Ba’al, the pagan deity that they were worshipping. Pull down that altar, which belongs to your father, and cut down the sacred post, which is like a piece of wood that they would also worship, which is beside it. 

And then what are you going to do? Then build an altar to the Lord, your God, on the level ground on the top of this stronghold. Take a bull and offer it as a burnt offering, using the pagan wood, using the wood of the sacred post that you’ve cut down.

Now, when I was a kid, we used to have something called Highlights magazine. You would sit at your doctor’s office. And while you’re waiting, you look at the back of Highlights magazine and you circle all the things that are wrong. I cannot tell you how many things are wrong with this. You’re not supposed to sacrifice at night. You’re not allowed to sacrifice outside of the precincts of the temple. You’re not allowed to sacrifice using the woods of something that’s taken. You’re not allowed to sacrifice not using the actual utensils that are, and it’s not just me. The rabbis notice it too, in fact, right. 

The Talmud says on that night, God said to him, take this bull? Rabbi Abba son of Kahana says, there were eight things that were permitted that night that are not permitted. And then he starts to list what the eight things were. Now, do you think that this horaat sha’ah, this directive of the moment is saying forever more, you’re not, now allowed to do this.

You can take pagan materials and you can sacrifice things outside of the, oh, that, not forever. It’s a temper, it’s an emergency power. It’s an emergency power. Shun, shunt the sacred cow to the side, because right now we are in an urgent moment and there’s something more important than that right now. That is typical horaat sha’ah.

What’s amazing about horaat sha’ah is that you can do really severe things. You can really throw away some big sacred cows. But what’s difficult is it doesn’t last. And I looked at this government and I said, yeah, so horaat sha’ah.

Donniel: It’s horaat sha’ah.

Elana: It’s horaat sha’ah. It’s, we wanna get away from Bibi, so what are we gonna do where the, but we can’t make this work. What are you talking about? This is akin to literally changing the entire architecture of the way we do everything it’s not happening. 

So there’s another model, cause there’s always another model. The model is doing things for the sake of peace. We have many examples. Mipnei darkei shalom. We have many examples within rabbinic literature, where we are told, not throw away a sacred cow, but you can cross certain boundaries in order to promote peace, in order to promote a society that is built on the values that you want it to be built upon, right. 

So here’s a great example. The mishna says in Tractate Gittin. Gittin, where am I from? Gittin. That, you know, when the Jewish poor are collecting the extra stuff that’s left in the fields and someone who’s pagan walks in and they wanna collect too, let them collect for the sake of peace. What do you need to stand on your, well, show me your show, me your ID card, right?

And this idea, not as severe, right? This is not about, you know, worshiping using pagan materials. This is a different, and it has a lower degree, but it’s something right. And it should last, it should be able to last, but in this situation, the, what, what’s built in is an awareness of the parameters all the time. Right? Of what can you do. 

So even the Jerusalem Talmud talking about this law and this permissibility says the following. If you have a city that has both Gentiles and Jews, you should make sure that there are people who collect charity for both Gentiles and Jews. You should make sure that you collect charity from both Gentiles and Jews. You should make sure that you take care of both Gentiles and Jewish poor. You should visit everybody’s poor. You should bury everyone’s dead. You should comfort everyone’s mourners. You should clean each other’s laundry. That one kind of came outta left field, but you should clean each other’s laundry and then comes the question.

But Rabbi Imi, even on their holidays? Are you sure? We’re a little worried because our whole point is that around their holidays, we don’t want paganism, we don’t want people who are pagan to say, look, I got this great thing and then go, thank their foreign deities. So there’s an awareness at all times of like, how, how far can we go?

And I said to myself, what if this coalition instead of having been, so wide, in terms of its differences and divergences, what have it have been a little narrower. Would’ve been in the spirit of mipnei darkei shalom, for the sake of peace and yes, it’s true. The parameters would’ve had to be narrower, but maybe it would last longer. Maybe you’d be able to go further. Right. 

So I’m sitting there and I’m thinking about these two paradigms and I’m going, okay. So they each have their problems because one of them, you can’t go far enough, but it’ll last. And the other one, you go so far that it can’t last. And then I realized, oh my gosh, I’m learning this from a Talmud, which I know doesn’t sound like a Eureka. Like, it shouldn’t be a Eureka, but it was a Eureka. 

Because you know what the, one of the biggest examples of a horaat sha’ah is, one of the biggest examples of a directive that was supposed to be for the moment is writing down the oral law, the way that the Talmud talks about writing down the oral law. And for those who wanna look it up in its written form, its in Tractate Temura 14 B.

The way the Talmud talks about it is we are only allowing you to write down the oral law because of horaat sha’ah, because the directive of the moment, and then I said, whoa, 

Donniel: What were they afraid of? Why didn’t they want it written down? 

Elana: You know, it, it’s not totally clear. It seems like some of it is that they were concerned that actually the oral law was supposed to only belong to the Jewish people and they didn’t want other people to see it.

Donniel: Or maybe it would, it could start competing with the other. 

Elana: So might of it, some of it might have been a question of, well, maybe you’ll compete with what the oral law says if everybody. 

Donniel: The written law. Yeah. 

Elana: But, um, I hear you. I’m not sure that I buy that argument, but to each their own, but what’s amazing is guess what guess how long that emergency power has lasted?

Uh, in a few minutes, it’ll be about 1700 years and I’m saying to myself, wow, what happens when you do something because you’re in a crisis mode and you think it’s an emergency moment. And then you realize the moment is the new reality. It is the new paradigm. 

And I do wonder as someone who’s watching from the side, you know, we’re having this in America, by the way, where we say, no, we don’t want emergency powers to turn into the permanent moments, right?

This is a different version of that, but is there a possibility that crisis could ultimately breed an understanding that the emergency has become the new paradigm? 

Donniel: So what happens is, what you’re saying is that you don’t compete. You can’t compete against truth. Once it’s the truth, you can’t compete. You could say peace and it’ll sound pareve, but ich.

What you need is the concept of truth, it’s, it’s an emergency. It’s like it’s, it’s true. You still get, and then what that emergency, then way leads to way. And then, um, so we just have to hope that by the seventh election, after they still can, that will find, that will create another emergency. And then these types of emergencies will come and then people will turn around and say, you know, this is the new normal. 

Elana: And I think I would even put it more strongly as I’m listening to you, which is what if the emergency is the truth? Meaning what, what if, 

Donniel: But that takes time. 

Elana: the need of the moment becomes the truth and that’s the work of educators. That’s the, right. That’s the work of educators to make that the truth. 

Donniel: Yossi, last thoughts?

Yossi: Yeah. Thank you. That was really, really beautiful. I, um, I’m still mulling over kiddush hashem. And, um, and I think that, that in some ways that’s the, the crux of the debate, uh, kiddush hashem, versus kiddush hachaim sanctifying, uh, sanctifying life itself.

And, uh, there are times for kiddush hashem. There are times when one is supposed to lay down one’s life for the truth, but there’s also a time for kiddush hachaim when you sacrifice your truth or at least part of your truth for life. And, uh, affirming that life itself is at times the highest value. 

Donniel: You know, you just reminded me of something. This is a country which was built on kiddush, on to die for kiddush hashem. Right, right. Like that’s, to speak, when you were talking, I was like, immediately going back to my upbringing and to the upbringing of generations who founded this country 

Yossi: And it’s still sustained. Periodically,

Donniel: And the people who had come off the boats and fight in Latrun and the experience of having to give your children, it’s like, this is a country where if you’re serious, you’re gonna do kiddush.

That’s why this country, they love the, Akeda, the binding of Isaac. Cause that’s like, you know, you’re serious. Like you’re willing to, it’s like, that’s like when you have your, like, there’s no end, you know, and it’s so inbound, it’s so embedded in the country. 

And um, but we’re on a journey to kiddush hachaim, you know, part of what we, this is not a country, you know, what was it last year? Like how we’re, we’re really living here, maybe which our ideology hasn’t cut up with with our reality. It’s like, we, we, this is great. 

Yossi: Or maybe we need to find a balance because we, we are periodically summoned to, to kiddush hashem but we need to find balance here.

Donniel: My friends. It’s it’s, it’s a pleasure. And, and an honor to be with you. 

Because we have a live audience, we’re gonna say goodbye. If some of you, you know, you’re car got to where it got to, where it goes to, you know, like whatever. I’ve never listened to a podcast in a car, but I understand that’s what people do. 

Elana: Doesn’t sound like a great idea.

Donniel: I don’t know. I always thought that people sat and, you know, in a house of study, listening to our podcast, I, oh, I love, exer, exer

Yossi: Well, here they are in a house of study, listening to the podcast.

Donniel: It’s like, I don’t, I don’t know if, to be happy when someone says to me, you know, I love exercising with your podcast. It’s like, oh, love it too. In any event. Thank you all for this. 

Donniel: Someone, someone told me today, I, I do extra lap because I, I wait for the end of the podcast and that’s a compliment. 

Elana: And I think we do fewer laps because we’re sitting here.

Donniel: So we’re now going to, um, for the, we will take about 10 minutes of questions.

Uh, yes, please, sir. 

Audience Member #1: Why wouldn’t all Israeli governments be right wing going forward, regardless of emotional or intellectual arguments Otherwise? 

Donniel: Great question. Anybody wanna take that? 

Yossi: Absolutely not. Because it’s a really good question. All right. The, um, 

Donniel: and, and it might make us less optimistic, you mean? 

Yossi: Yeah, look, look, the question. You’re you’re you’re right. The, the, the country at this moment, uh, is, uh, is, is not divided. It was in the nineties. It was divided between right and left almost evenly. It certainly is not, uh, divided between right and left anymore. 

It isn’t even really divided between right and center, although the center is the stronger opposition, but the question is what kind of right. 

Donniel: That’s the point.

Yossi: And, uh, there’s a moderate, right? There’s a mainstream right. And then there’s a right of the coalition that Netanyahu who is going to be presenting, uh, which is beholden to the far right, to a race, uh, and a validly racist party. And that is not part of the Israeli political tradition. It isn’t part of the Israeli right wing mainstream political tradition. And so that’s really, I think, what we’re fighting about. 

Donniel: So maybe we have to do, is that when you think that we are divided between the right and the left, maybe the more interesting divisions of this country are the far, far, far, right, the far right, the right, the centrist right, the liberal right. So all of a sudden we have a lot of pluralism going on here. 

And so even though it’s like, because like, what is it like, you know, if Gideon Saar and Bennett and Lieberman all get up and say, we have to save this country from Smotrich, maybe our categories are a little different, need to be redefined.

And so part of what we saw is we saw Meretz and Labor and Yesh Atid and Kachol Lavan being able to join because there were other ideological connections and it could be that the far right, and, and left that, that the only time that issue is going to be really ideologically significant is when it comes to signing a peace treaty.

And until which time you’re not speaking about territorial compromise, what does it mean to be right wing? Does it mean to be right wing, to be disrespectful to refugees? Does right wing mean that I believe that Palestinians, that Palestinian lives don’t matter? Does to be right wing mean that I don’t believe that Israeli Palestinians have just as many rights as Israeli Jews?

Like what const, maybe what we’re seeing is not the strengthening of the right, but actually, what are we ideologically really committed to? And maybe these categories aren’t even serving us anymore. In which case there’s room for a broad coalition until which time there will be a peace treaty. And when, if a peace treaty comes up, it’s not gonna come from the inner ground swell of a rediscovered truth of the value of peace. 

It’s gonna come when Saudi Arabia decides to get involved. And Israelis are gonna say, you know, for that, that’s worth it, just like, that, it was worth it. Or guess what the Abraham Accords began. That was the remarkable gift of the Abraham Accords.

Um, maybe it’ll come because there’ll be an American president who decides that it pays to expend some political capital on what goes on here. And I’m not blaming anybody cause that, I can understand, there’s a lot of other problems in the world and why invest political capital on something that you think is gonna fail in any event.

But a moment might come where there’s a confluence of things. And please remember it was Netanyahu who gave up Chevron at why, it was the Netanyahu, who formally said that for the sake of these, of, of, of these, um, of the Abraham Accords, I’m not I’m, I’m gonna, I’m gonna take a next seat off, off the table. So maybe the good news is that it’s just gonna get much more messier and they’ll be far more, 

And that was the gift of this coalition. Like, you know, I saw it on myself, you know, like I wasn’t a fan of Bennett. 

Elana: It’s so interesting. Cause to American ears, your question, we could ask the same question about the Republican party in America. And we could ask the same question about the division divergence we’re seeing between liberals and progressives, which in the, within the democratic party.

And I think what we were trying to do here tonight is to ask, what does it look like when our expectations are actually undermined because interests, real life, meet people’s ideological stuckness, and somehow it moves them out of it. So your question is very relevant to what we were talking about tonight.

Donniel: Thank you. 

Uh, yes, ma’am um, 

Elana: We both got that. 

Audience Member #2: I was trying to figure out if the Abraham Accords were part of kiryat sha’ah, because these Accords are with countries that have very different values. Um, and the one thing that I’m reading all the time is that Israel is working quietly with Saudi Arabia. And obviously this crown prince, I mean, we’re all aware of the journalist. Not only was he killed, but he was chopped up. Um, I wrestle with that. And I wonder, did you, 

Donniel: I hear you. Friends, anybody want, you wanna take that? You wanna go first?

Yossi: Yeah, I don’t, I don’t wrestle with it at all. And, uh, I don’t think, um, I, I don’t know any Israelis who are ambivalent about the prospect of, uh, of peace with, uh, with Saudi Arabia, which was probably our most implacable enemy, which is the custodian of, uh, uh, Islam’s, uh, holiest sites.

It will be a, um, a transformative moment to have peace with Saudi Arabia. And there’s also the question of, uh, we, we were talking about living, uh, in, in, in reality. Uh, I, I live in a region here where Saudi Arabia is, is, is a bad actor, but it is by no means uh, the worst actor. 

And, uh, not only is it not the worst actor, but if you look at the changes that are, that the Saudis are, are leading, uh, in, um, in, uh, in, in, in the, in the Muslim world, uh, I think that, uh, we, we really need to, to readjust our, uh, our, and, and again, that’s not to, to minimize the, the brutality and the, the severity of, of the particular crime you, you mentioned, but, uh, there’s a much bigger context here.

Elana: So one of the reasons why we’re doing these breakout sessions this week at our leadership program on the ethics of a good society is because we really wanna ask the question of, to what degree do we judge societies differently than we judge individuals and where an individual wouldn’t be allowed to do something, can a state do it? And if so, why? And if not, why not? 

And I think yours is a perfect example of such a question. And it always brings me back to Michael Walzer’s piece on dirty hands that he wrote decades ago, where he says there is no such thing as power without dirty hands. There’s no such thing as politics without dirty hands, right, left, or center, you are always going to be making alliances with people in moments that you don’t want to.

And he asks, what do you do about that? And so one is just, don’t have power, give it up. Another is say, I don’t care. This is what power needs and that’s it. And you wouldn’t do any different. And a third is to somehow do some sort of, I think he calls it penitance, but something where you are actually working to ameliorate something that’s going wrong that relates somehow to the sins that are engaged in the people with whom you’re aligning yourself. 

But I, I don’t think it’s a simple question. Um, and I think it might speak to the question of ethical, ethics of societies versus ethics of individuals. But there’s more to talk about. 

Donniel: You know, it’s also really interesting. We made peace with Arafat and I didn’t hear anybody say, how could you, I remember the moment when Rabin shook his hand on the rose garden, I turned to my wife Adina and I said, Adina, I just forgave him. Like that. I rem, cause I, I hated this man. I was raised that he was Hitler. That’s why I was raised in Israel. You, he was Hitler. You just looked at him. The, the, the, the whole, that’s why I was raised. 

And part of what you do when you make peace is you decide to say, we’re, we’re moving forward and things will change. And so it’s, uh, it there’s it’s it’s it’s a complicated story. 

Michelle, you are remembered. Thank you all for listening and layla tov, everyone.

For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Corey Choy. 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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