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What Core Issues Define Membership in the Jewish People?

V. 1, N. 3
Featuring Prof. Suzanne Stone and responses by rabbis Batsheva Meiri, David-Seth Kirshner, and Denise Eger

  1. Watch iEngage Research Fellow, Prof. Suzanne Stone of Yeshiva University, discuss the boundaries of the Jewish community with Yehuda Kurtzer, President of Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.
  2. Read responses to Prof. Stone’s comments from rabbis Batsheva Meiri, David-Seth Kirshner, and Denise Eger.
  3. Respond Add your comments to the conversation; the most interesting responses will be published on our website.

Prof. Stone said a long era of a common core set of tenets for the American Jewish community, one of which is Israel, is ending:

"I’m not sure there are going to be three or four set values that are going to be exactly identical that replace or continue what was before. I think what we are going to have is a situation in which we slowly move towards a set of family resemblances, common enough to know that we’re in the same universe, the same ballgame, that we’re talking with one another, if we’re not signed on the dotted line about precisely the same tenets….

L: Rabbi Batsheva Meiri, Cong. Beth HaTephila, Asheville, NC

C: Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, Temple Emanu-El, Closter, NJ
R: Rabbi Denise Eger, Temple Kol-Ami, W. Hollywood, CA

"I think that there is such a thing as Jewish peoplehood and Israel expresses its right to self-determination, but what we saw in America was something subtly different. What we saw was the turning of peoplehood into a religion, a kind of religious tenet of a sort.

"We have to distinguish between people who will not and don’t want to subscribe to what has been until now a normative view, that if you’re Jewish you need to be supporting Israel, because that’s part of the peoplehood religion. And I think that if one does not ascribe to support of Israel as a normative view, meaning that is a kind of quasi-religious principle, that’s OK. There are groups that have historically made up the tapestry of Judaism, including various haredi groups that don’t subscribe to the notion of Zionism as a normative principle. On the other hand, the creation of Israel as the expression of the cultural, spiritual and political life of Jews today is one of the great historical experiments in our time, and I feel bad for people who are taking themselves out of it and failing to participate."

Rabbinic Responses

Rabbis Batsheva Meiri of Congregation Beth HaTephila, Asheville, North Carolina, David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El, Closter, New Jersey, and Denise Eger of Temple Kol-Ami, West Hollywood, California, offer commentary that challenges and amplifies Prof. Stone’s positions.

Batsheva Meiri
Cong. Beth HaTephila
Asheville, North Carolina

Reflecting the Face of Torah

Extreme polarization around issues facing Israel is one of the most difficult challenges our Jewish communities in North America face. On the one hand, there is a great desire among Jews to feel a sense of peoplehood or family resemblance, a set of principles, values and identifiers which connect us to one another. Until a number of years ago, one could say that participating in the revitalization of the Jewish people in the State of Israel was one of those core values. Despite deep differences in theology, culture, and ritual practice, most of the Jewish world cried together when Israel hurt and rejoiced together when Israel prevailed.

Read On  

David-Seth Kirshner
Temple Emanu-El
Closter, New Jersey

All Are Welcome but Some Are Not

Judaism seems to be creating a similar metaphor today with every stream and stripe focusing on inclusion and making the “other” feel welcome, yet internally many are using language that shuts out people who are not in sync with their views and beliefs. It is an illogicality which sounds similar to the amusement park that markets for mass attendance but which limits our access to certain rides.

Read On

Denise Eger
Temple Kol-Ami
W. Hollywood, California

Medinat Yisrael and the Contemporary Jewish Identity

In their conversation, Yehuda Kurtzer and Prof. Suzanne Stone discuss whether or not anti-Israel Jews can be part of the Jewish community. As Prof. Stone notes, there have always been Jews who oppose Israel on both the right and left of the political and religious divide. The real question we must ask now is, “What do we mean when we say a Jew is anti-Israel?” Does this mean opposing the ongoing Zionist project of Medinat Yisrael? Or does this mean opposing the policies of the present government of Israel?

Read On


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