Yom Yerushalayim: Israel’s Most Polarizing Holiday

The following is a transcript of Episode 51 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 Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem reunification day, which will fall on Sunday, May 29. 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 the Hartman faculty in North America, explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Let’s begin.

On May 29th Israelis will be marking Yom Yerushalayim, the final holiday of the spring cycle of the Israel high holidays, which started with Holocaust Memorial Day, Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims, Independence Day, and then concluding with Yom Yerushalayim.

Yom Yerushalayim is a day that many of you from our audience, you’ve never heard of, less commemorate and even less celebrate. And if you happened to hear of it today, it will probably be because of the demonstrations and violence it inspires between Jews and Arabs. 

The impulse to create Yom Yerushalayim immediately after the six day war of 1967 seemed self-evident. After all, we longed for centuries to return to United Jerusalem and its holy places. And when we finally, on June 7th, 1967, the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, it seemed to many Jews around the world nothing short of a miracle. Paratroopers standing in awe at the wall remains one of the most indelible scenes of modern Jewish history. That moment permanently changed the state of Israel. 

Yom Yerushalayim was intended to be the culmination of the Israeli high holiday season, the crowning moment of the Jewish people’s transition from destruction to rebirth and yet, rather than a moment of culmination, Yom Yerushalayim leaves much of Israeli society indifferent, and often indignant, about the questions it raises about the nation’s direction.

A day that was intended to highlight both the unification of Jerusalem and the unity of the people of Israel in practice does neither. Increasingly the day represents a shift within the growing part than a growing part of religious Zionism from mainstream Jewish nationalism to ultra-nationalist extremism.

The most troubling expression of this transformation is the core new ritual of the day, the so-called March of the flags, when young religious Zionists dance through the Muslim Quarter in the old city waving giant Israeli flags and often shouting anti-Arab slogans. The Psalmist asked us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem yet the March incites hatred and risks the fragile peace of Jerusalem.

Why has this day failed to unify Israelis around the vision of a United Jerusalem? And what does the rise of ultra-nationalism pretend for the future of Jerusalem and of Israel? What could this day have become instead? And how might it be restored as a day of hope and blessing for Israel and our neighbors?

That’s our theme for today and Yossi, it’s great to be with you. Uh, so much of your career is built around 67 Jerusalem thinking about this. I can’t think, besides the fact that you’re my partner, I can’t think of a person I’d rather talk to about this. 

What let’s, you know, let’s, you know, as we always do here, before we philosophize and conceptualize, as you often tend to do, um, what, what does, 

Yossi: As opposed to you and the rest and the rest of the Hartman Institute. 

Donniel: Yeah, cause we’re, we’re we more about, you know, like, I, I, I want to leave you your.

What does Yom Yerushalayim mean for you personally?

Yossi: This is the day that changed my life. Uh, I was 14. I had just turned uh, 14 and three weeks later, I flew to Jerusalem with my father. That was our first trip. And that summer was a prolonged celebration of June 7th, 1967. Uh, the paratroopers at the wall shaped not only my, my attachment to Israel and, and probably, uh, helped bring me to Israel eventually as a, uh, as a citizen, but it also shaped my, my, my Judaism, my sense of, of God’s relationship with the Jewish people with Jewish history. 

It helped heal, in some ways, um, my, my childhood Holocaust trauma or balance, help balance, uh, for me personally, it was transformative. And my strongest memory is of the incredible unity that, that almost everyone experienced. It was, it was a, a moment that we never experienced. Maybe the Entebbe rescue comes close, but, uh, it was almost a revelatory experience.

And what was revealed was the unity and love that the Jewish people felt for its story.  

Donniel: You know, Yossi. Could I stop you for a second? I just did, but I want to stop you because it was very interesting. I thought I was asking a different question and you very beautifully answered a different one. And I, um, I  thought I asked

Yossi: It’s an old journalistic trick. 

Donniel: I see. Oh, I didn’t think, oh, I thought I thought it was sincere.

Um, I asked you what Yom Yerushalayim meant for you and you answered to me what June 7th meant. They’re very different questions, but they don’t have to be. You answered what was the moment when Jerusalem was reunified, how it changed your life? I was asking you in many ways today, 

Yossi: Yeah. I can’t, I can’t begin there. When, when, 

Donniel: I appreciate that. That’s why your answer was better than my question. 

Yossi: And a good deal of the angst that I feel about Yom Yerushalayim today is in contrast to this overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude that I still experience on that day. So it doesn’t belong to the past.

I’ve kept continuity with that. And, you know, when you had mentioned earlier, how so much of my writing career is really wrapped up in this story and look as, you know, I devoted 11 years to a book project, uh, Like Dreamers, which follows the lives of seven paratroopers, who liberated the wall on that day and tells the story of what happened to Israel after the six-day war through these lives.

And what that has to do with the day in particular is that for many years, especially as I was following their lives, what I did on every Yom Yerushalayim is participate as an observer in their commemoration. On Yom Yerushalayim, the three battalions that fought in Jerusalem gather, each of them at their own separate memorial and commemorate their fallen friends. And the ceremony is just fantastic. 

And what you feel there is the, is the unity, the lost unity, but it’s there in microcosm, the unity that we experienced during the war, because you have the full range of whoever you’ll find in a paratrooper unit, religious and secular and left and right. And they’re all there together. And that for me, was in some sense, a continuity of the initial experience of that day.

Donniel: You know, so it’s like, what I hear you talking. I hope, this is not meant to be insulting. You are anachronistic in the best sense of the term. Like, as I heard you, I heard, Yossi the dreamer. 

Yossi: Oh, very much. Very much. 

Donniel: And I’m envious of it because we know that so much a part of what we do here at the Institute is about looking at reality and asking what ought it be?

How do we develop a relationship with Israel as it can be, um, and never to accept Israel as it is. And certainly not to accept what people make of Jerusalem. I want to tell you, Yossi, the one place that I personally failed to do that is on Yom Yerushalayim. I can’t.

Yossi: Wow. Wow. 

Donniel: I don’t even remember anymore, any joy in Yom Yerushalayim. It’s like, I feel it was a day that I had, but was taken from me. For me, Yom Yerushalayim is the place where my dreams got shattered because it’s so dominated by this overt aggressive, ultra-nationalist spirit. Like, you know, the truth is it’s something very tragic about it.

And that’s why I really appreciated you speaking, because in many ways, if we’re going to reclaim the day, we’re going to have to reclaim it to what it can be. And maybe one day that it was. But there’s the, I believe that in many ways, the story of Israel is going to depend on the way we change, if and how we change this day, because it’s expressive in my mind of the worst of what we can do.

And we don’t have to do that. See, like I celebrate Israel’s sovereignty. I celebrate Zionism. I have a holiday for that. It’s called Yom Haatzmaut. I celebrate. 

Yossi: Independence Day. 

Donniel: Independent Day, you know, and as Tal said in the podcast that you couldn’t be on so beautifully, he says, you know, I want to have one day that there’s no ifs and buts and you know, oh, but what about this?

And it’s not just, leave me alone. I want one day where I get to simply say, thank you. This is the cup. I’m looking at this part of the cup and it’s, that’s easy. It’s beautiful. And that, that celebrate, I have that day. I don’t need a second day. You know, there’s, there’s a law in our tradition that you’re not supposed to add on the commandments. 613 is enough.

You don’t need 614 it’s like, which is, if you like, should it be 614. You’re not supposed to add additional ones like, you know, do what, you’re this be creative be within it. You don’t have to add another one. And one of the reasons for that is that when you add, you’re not adding, very often, it undermines and you’re trying to make it different.

And what’s happened is that in Israel on Independence Day, I celebrate the freedom and independence of the Jewish people. Yom Yerushalayim has become the day where too many Jews celebrate our dominance over others. Celebrate our control of God, like, God’s victory. They took it and it’s a reflection of what Jewish nationalism should never be.

I don’t want to be too extreme, but it’s almost like a day of mourning because I look at it and say, that’s like every Yom Yerushalayim I commit myself to a different Israel. It’s not this day. And so, when you speak about Jewish unity and so powerfully about our returning and God’s return to history, that, there’s so many beautiful things that it could have expressed.

But right now, for me, it is the personification of what goes wrong when religion and nationalism combine with each other. And for me, the future of Israel, the future of the Israel that every part of my being is committed to sustaining, is to separating this toxic relationship between the two. And you see that toxicity precisely in the way Jerusalem day is celebrated, precisely in its rituals. And it’s almost the model of what we shouldn’t be.

Yossi: If I had to sum up my relationship to the day I revere Yom Yerushalayim and I fear it, and I like very much your contrast between Independence Day and Jerusalem Day. It points out where Jerusalem Day has failed, because on Independence Day, almost all of at least Jewish Israel suspends for one day, suspends ambivalence. It is a day of pure joy and gratitude. 

Yom Yerushalayim was supposed to be the culmination of that experience. And instead, it’s a day of profound ambivalence for many Israelis. And that ambivalence for me is really focused in two areas. And those are the two failures of Yom Yerushalayim, of the failures of, of what the day could have been, and to some extent was initially.

The first failure is the dream of Jewish unity. Yom Yerushalayim truly was a peak moment in Jewish history that united Jews wherever they were. It triggered the Soviet Jewry uprising, the Renaissance of Soviet Jews. We have a million Jews and Soviet Jews in this country in large part because of that day.

It not only transformed the state of Israel. It changed the diaspora as well. And yet Yom Yerushalayim today. And especially as you point out the way in which it’s expressed accentuates our divides, it tears us apart. And the other failure is what it says about how, uh, and related, is how we treat, uh, the Palestinians of Jerusalem.

I’ll give you one very small example from my neighborhood, French Hill borders, then the village of Isawiya. And there’s a line of trees that was planted all along the street from French Hill and it stops, the trees stop the moment the road turns into Isawiya. No trees. And that for me, symbolizes how we’re still a divided city.

If you’re serious about being the sovereign in Jerusalem, continue the damn line of trees into Isawiya. And that is the symbol in an almost banal way of where we have failed as sovereigns here. 

Donniel: Now, when I think about this notion of being sovereign, Yom Yerushalayim is about being sovereign over Jerusalem or being sovereign, I want to be more precise, in Jerusalem. And you’re right. Like what does it mean to be sovereign in Jerusalem? Does it mean that I get to do whatever it is that I want to do?

You know, that’s one of the temptations of power and sovereignty and rights. You know, I have a right, what a Jew doesn’t have a right to march in Jerusalem? Like that would be the, but I don’t have a right for 2000 years, I couldn’t March in Jerusalem. I don’t have a right to march here? What, they have a right to march, they march in my cities, they walk, I don’t have a right to march in my capitol?

So it’s all about my rights. And sovereignty is about your ability to give expression to your, to manifest your rights regardless of what other people feel. And, you know, when you, when it comes to Yom Yerushalayim, there’s something very, very deep that Jerusalem wants to teach the idea of sovereignty.

In our tradition, one of the meanings of Jerusalem is as it’s called, there’s the, Jerusalem is not mentioned in the five books of Moses, you know, it’s called the Place, Hamakom, you know. “Hamakom asher yishcahen, asher yivhcar hashem lishachen shmo sham.”

The place that God will decide to inhabit God’s name there. And because God does it in all that will is God’s name, but won’t be God, God’s self. But the, the religious idea of Jerusalem being the place is that Jerusalem is endowed with holiness. And the idea of holiness is the idea, the more places holy, guess what happens, Yossi?

The less a human being is allowed to be present there. You know, you’re allowed to be in a regular, the holier something gets, you can’t even go there. So the idea, if Jerusalem is the place, the notion that we express sovereignty with the fantasy of being sovereign over Jerusalem is antithetical to our tradition. You can’t be sovereign over the holy. 

Jerusalem Day is not the celebration of West Jerusalem. It’s the celebration of East Jerusalem, but what does a unified city mean? Is it that I take the West Jerusalem notion of sovereignty and instill it to East Jerusalem, to the Temple Mount, that I say, yeah, I’m just like, I am the sovereign with my Knesset and my Supreme courts on West Jerusalem, I’m going to take those models of nationalism and sovereignty and put it in this holy basin on this, this holy part, I think that we’ve lost something because what the unification of Jerusalem was supposed to mean, I believe, was not that sovereignty, secular sovereignty was supposed to dominate and reshape our religious notion of sovereignty, but that it was maybe supposed to temper some of our notion of sovereignty in general.

And you cant, there is no one who is sovereign over Jerusalem. 

Yossi: Well, there’s a very interesting tension that you’re raising here, Donniel, which is the tension between the modern city of Jerusalem, which is the capital of a modern secular state, and the holy city. 

I celebrate Israeli sovereignty over this city, the city that I live in, but the question is, what else is Jerusalem? And for me, there are really three Jerusalems, and I’m speaking now very practically, still in the realm of the modern city. There is Jewish slash Israeli Jerusalem. There is Palestinian Jerusalem. And there is what one could call international Jerusalem or, or the, the dozens of Christian denominations that are headquartered here and revere the city.

Uh, in that sense, Jerusalem is by far Israel’s most cosmopolitan city, much more than Tel Aviv. We really are a city of the world. And so what does it mean to exercise sovereignty over these three very different cities. And, uh, that’s an open question. The way that I see the political reality here is that given the alternatives, uh, the best option is for continued Israeli sovereignty over this entity that we call the modern city of Jerusalem, how that’s done, how we negotiate the relationship with the Palestinians, with Christianity and its presence here. Those are precisely areas in which so far we have failed to be a wise sovereign in the city, but that doesn’t, it doesn’t undermine my appreciation, my gratitude for the fact that we are sovreiegn in this city.

Donniel: See again, I wasn’t even talking about that, Yossi, but I appreciate you adding it into the conversation because you’ll prevent people from misunderstanding me. I wasn’t talking, you know, I’m not getting into dividing sovereign. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking not about the question of who governs, not talking about who governs, 

Yossi: You’re talking about a state of consciousness, really. 

Donniel: A consciousness. It’s like, who governs, you know, when peace will be put forth, we’ll decide whether Jerusalem could be divided, not divided, where divided, not, but that’s not our issue right now. It is a state of mind. And the idea of Jerusalem as holy a holy city says that your state of consciousness is that you’re in the presence of God. And the closer you are to the presence of God, the less control you have, the less it’s about expressing your power, your dominance. It’s not about your dominance. It’s about contracting yourself in the presence of God. 

And what we have here, this is the great paradox, because who is, who is keeping Jerusalem Day today? Only the religious Zionists. The ultra-orthodox, that’s not, they, you know, Jerusalem is holy. There is no Jerusalem Unification Day, you know. For most Israelis, the victory and the joy that you express, that’s Yom Haatzmaut. The ones who are commemorating are those who are saying yes, I believe that there is a religious dimension to the reunification of Jerusalem, but what they are doing, and here, I want to be precise. What they’re doing is that when religion and nationalism combine, who wins or who dominates.

When I grew up in Jerusalem, Jerusalem Day’s primary ritual was the saying of Halel. Thanks to God. It was in shul. You went to shul and, and it was just a purely religious day in which you gave expression to the religious dimension, of now political control over the holiest place in our tradition of, of, in a certain sense, even of God coming back from exile. Like that idea that you actually have the honor to be in control of this holy space.

And also the deep idea that when we’re control of it, we Jews now have religious freedoms here that we were never afforded before we had that. And so there’s a very deep religious dimension to it. But the prayer and the Halel are now been replaced by drums and flags. And you know what, and where do you want to march, if you want to march and what you want, you want to be in the Kotel.

You’re marching through the, where, I’m telling, it’s like, I’m saying to you, we will dominate you. My God beat your God. It’s nationalism controlling religion, instead of religious piety temporary nationalism. Yom Yerushalayim is one day, but it’s a symptom of a larger story that we have to be very, very careful of.

Yossi: And you know, Donniel, go back to June 7th, 1967, the paratroopers didn’t go to the wall first. The breakthrough was on the Temple Mount, they’re gathered on the Temple Mount. And do you know, the first question they’re asking, including the religious paratroopers among them. Where’s the wall? Now think about the tenderness of that moment.

These are the warriors who have just conquered the peak, literally and metaphorically, the Temple Mount. That is the holiest place. That’s the ultimate symbol of Jewish sovereignty, of Jewish power. And where do they want to go? To a wall. The place of our brokenness, the place where Jews for 2000 years wept and poured their hearts out to God from a place of exile.

And they go down to the wall. And they throw themselves against the stones. And this is where they unburden themselves after two days of fighting and the losses that they experienced in their units, they bring their victory to the place of our defeat. And in a way, they’re paying homage to the spirit of the exile. 

And who are the paratroopers? Don’t forget the paratroopers or the ultimate Israeli. That’s the ultimate new Jew, the new Hebrew. And at the moment of their greatest victory, they’re throwing themselves at the symbol of exile, of powerlessness. And there’s something in that moment of such great spiritual humility.

And think of the photograph that David Rubinger captured of the paratroopers standing before the wall. And the look on their faces is of longing. There’s not a look of ecstasy and of aggression. That came in later, that came into these kids who didn’t experience that moment. That’s the spiritual corruption that’s said. 

Donniel: You know, and in many ways maybe we’ll, I’ll add this and then we’ll turn to Elana. You spoke about your experience of June 7th and this deep sense of unity that it has. As we turned to our audience around the world, and what does this day mean? I want to get really practical.

Don’t give up on Jerusalem. Now, it’s one of the reasons why the new Kotel is so important, you know, every, oh, the new Kotel’s important to diaspora Jewry. The truth is it’s not. 

Yossi: You mean the place of egalitarian prayer. 

Donniel: Like, I wish it was, I wish it was such a big deal. It’s not, you know, who’s really caring. The notion that we, as a people should have one place where you go through with one entrance for all Jews, not two entrances or three, one entrance for all Jews and where we have a shared plaza, where we could all stand and we could all celebrate the fact that it’s Jewish. 

We have something that one place in the world that belongs to all of us. And then from that Plaza, we separate to different sections of the wall, where we get to commemorate and give expression to our different Judaisms because while we’re one people, Judaism doesn’t unite us.

So that rhythm, like, you know, as you were talking, I could almost envision a messianic moment of Jews actually caring and having one united central place. We come together, from it, we separate in respect, from our separate places we come back to the shared Plaza. Maybe that will bring us back, Yossi, to June 7th.

It’s not about where we could march our flags and who we could shout at and how much power we have there. There is a humility in the presence of the holy, but there’s also a celebration of recognizing that there’s something very powerful when a people have a uniting and a unified place and experience.

Yossi: Beautiful. Beautiful. 

Donniel: And one day I wished I wished Jerusalem could return to that.

Yossi, let’s just take a break for for a minute, and then Elana will join us. 

Elana. It’s wonderful to be with you again. And before I ask you what you want to teach, um, we had our 50th last time and you weren’t here. Um, I can’t tell you how many people said, oh I loved your 50th, but where was Elana? Like, you know, I said, what am I, chopped liver?But, it was, uh, Elana. It’s been a great journey. And I love the experience that we have with each other. And, uh, I wanted you to maybe give a bracha or to share first your feelings about, cause this is technically your 50th.

Elana: Yes. Well, so what I wanted to say is this is actually very me because the 50th, you know, it’s like celebrating the culmination of something and my personality is, all right, so what happens the day after the 50th, when you start again. So we’re after the Jubilee, we start from the beginning. That’s me. Right. When I finish a tractate of Talmud and start the next one immediately.

Right. So I think this ended up being kind of fitting. Um, I will say it’s hard for me to believe, you know, this is, this is Ecclesiastes Elana. The, it is remarkable to think about how many people have come up to me when I’m in different places and said, I feel like I know the three of you because I listen to the podcast and that sense of intimacy, I have to say. I’m so proud of and happy about, and the kinds of things that we talk about. I just think it’s just a joy. It’s a joy and it’s a privilege. So I’m really, I’m excited for, you know, the next, the next 50, right, getting to the next jubilee. 

Donniel: Amen amen amen. 

Elana: Yeah. There’s an easy route here, right?

Like there, none of us are in disagreement about, you know, the importance of not lording things over people. Right. So I, I can go the easy route and I’m going to start with the easy route. And that is Maimonides, Laws of Kings in wars, chapter 12. And I’m saying it like, everybody knows what I’m saying, but when you hear it, you might know what I’m saying.

Right. Chapter 12, section four in uh, the Mishna Torah, the uh, Maimonides Legal Tone, where he says, and he’s quoting earlier rabbinic sources, “The sages and the prophets did not long for the days of the Messiah because they wanted to rule the world or because they wanted to have dominion over non Jews or because they wanted the nations to exalt them, or,” and I love that he adds this, “or because they want to eat, drink, and be merry.” Right. We’re not epicureans. Rather, why did the sages and the prophets long for the days of the Messiah? Because they wanted to have time for Torah and its wisdom. They wanted to not have a situation where someone would oppress them or force them to be idle from Torah. And all this is so that they can merit the world to come.

And I just think, you know, this is the low-hanging fruit, in the sense of yeah, of course. Like that’s the religious, the religious approach is supposed, to be power as a means to an end. Right. I remember a few years ago, you know, Donniel, you and I, we were with the group and Yossi, I think you were in this round table with Tal and Michal and Yehuda for one of our iEngage round tables and we were talking about sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

And we were saying, how there’s, you know, Donniel, you and I, especially in our own different ways, right. You and I, especially, we’re sort of pointing to the fact that holiness, kedusha, is actually anti-human sovereignty, which is something you basically mentioned here as well. And Tal looks at us and he says, yeah, but if we didn’t have sovereignty, you wouldn’t actually be able to pray at the place below.

Right. You wouldn’t be able as, as Yossi says, they wouldn’t be able to go to that wall. And he was expressing power as a means to an end. And a means to a religious end, a means to a cultural end, a means to an emotional end, right. And an identity end. But I actually, I, I don’t want to stop there because I think that there is a story here that is about the question to your point, New Jew, Yossi.

How do we bring some of that diaspora theology in with us to our sovereign state of mind? Because this is about religion. This is about theology. And so I want to revisit a text that we talk about a lot at Hartman in terms of what it meant for the rabbis and the prophets too, to reenvision theology in light of the history, through which they themselves were experiencing.

And I want to ask, you know, they’re telling us a story of how their theology changed in exile and in diaspora. And I want to know what happens when we return from exile and diaspora, when we returned to sovereignty, do we just snap back to the old theology or do we take something with us? So here’s the text.

It is the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma page 69B, which, you know, Hartman people should have tattooed on their brains. Right? It goes like this. Rabbi Joshua, the son of Levi said, why were the sages of the generations that were essentially second temple generations, why were they called the great assembly, right? Anshei knesset hagedolah.

It’s like, what’s so great about the great assembly? It’s like the beginning of a joke, but it’s not a joke. It is because they returned God’s crown to its former glory. In what way did they do this? Well, quite frankly, we actually saw an atrophy of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. And we’ll see how. 

Moses in Deuteronomy 10:17 calls God, the great, the mighty, and the awe-inspiring God. Hakel, hagadol, hagibor, v’hanorah. But then when Jeremiah speaks generations later and he’s witnessing the destruction of the first temple, he actually doesn’t say all of those accolades. He only says the great and the mighty. Jeremiah 32:18, he leaves out God’s awe-inspiring quality, because he says, what do you mean? Babylonians are literally dancing around in victory and making a mockery of God’s sanctuary.

God’s not awe-inspiring in this moment. They’re not afraid of God. They’re not awed by God. They’re making a mockery of God’s temple. So he couldn’t say that God was awe-inspiring. And then it continues as the Jews are in the Persian exile. Daniel in the book of Daniel says, well, I can’t even say mighty because I see God’s children are being enslaved by other, by other nations.

How could you say that God’s mighty? Where’s God’s might, what is God doing that’s mighty, right? So you see this moment of deep anxiety. We have this theology of God that what God does is God intervenes and saves. And not only, God conquers. God conquers. God doesn’t allow for human history to beat down on the Jews.

And when it does, and when people do, we say, well, what, where’s God being so mighty and being so awe, why aren’t people awed by God? And so why are the men of the great assembly so great? They came and they said, on the contrary, let me tell you what God’s gevurah, God’s might is. God restrains God’s self. God conquers God’s inclination by exercising patience towards those nations that are persecuting us and not punishing them.

And therefore we should, we should call God mighty. We can call God gibor, because God’s might is that God holds God’s self back. What about God’s awesomeness? Well, do you think the Jews would be around if there wasn’t fear of God given how many people want to get rid of us? And they just redefine it. 

Their theology was instead of looking at God as a conqueror, look at God as one who restraints God’s self. And thus, we also have to imitate God. Instead of looking at God is awe-inspiring because God destroys, look at God is awe-inspiring because God sustains and makes sure that people don’t get hurt. And I really wonder to myself, what happens when you return to a state of power?

Do you just say, you know, that whole thing where we said God is mighty because God holds God’s self back and implicitly, that’s how we should be, that was just for the diaspora. That was like a, that was like a stopgap. We just needed to keep people in the game, keep people in the theological game. But now that we’re back, God is back to being mighty and strong and a destroyer, right. 

Absolutely not. Come on. Absolutely not. And so I think there’s a theological challenge right here, right, of how do you bring, not that, we had sovereignty, of course, it brings a different aspect of theology and it brings back God the mighty, that God gives us power and that God takes care of us and that God makes sure, of course it brings that back, but don’t lose this piece. This piece is so humbling. So how do we do a mixture between them when we know that people are actually just prone to one or the other.

Donniel: Elana, the uh, the text is beautiful. And the lesson is that when we make Aliyah, it doesn’t mean we forget all the Torah of the diaspora and how do they intervene. But one of the challenges of Israel, Elana is that the Jews for 2000 years, God’s power, the way God’s expressed God’s love for us was by controlling God and secretly, we kept on saying, God, stop controlling yourself so much. You know, could you actually show up for our fight? And one of the things that Israel means for the Jewish people, one of the things is that we are victorious again.

That’s the challenge. I’m right with you, but this is what we’re fighting against. We I, we deserve to be victorious. We deserve to celebrate both our power and for those who believe, God’s return of God’s covenantal relationship to the Jewish people. So how do you hold those two?

And I want to tell you. On Yom Yerushalayim, Elana, do you know what we learn here in Israel? Diaspora Jews could maintain the tension that you’re mentioning, Israeli religious Jews, unfortunately, don’t know how to do it, they don’t, you know, we always say, we want to have the little bit of this and that. And, and there’s some, it, they just can’t, they, the victory, the power, it’s like a, it’s a narcotic and they can’t get off of it.

Elana: So I want to, I want to ask a psychological question. Which is, is it possible that it’s harder to bring in that diaspora humility when you’re actually so afraid that you’re going to lose that sovereignty, that somewhere deep down, you are afraid that someone will take it from you. And it’s expressed in all these little ways, terror attacks, the way that the world looks at Israel,

Donniel: Could be. Could be. 

Elana: I I, meaning, I wonder. 

Donniel: Even though I think that, I’m with you. I think it could be but I don’t think that’s the primary thing here. I have to tell you. The people who are marching, 

Elana: Yeah listen, I think people are complex, 

Donniel: I think so too, but I think here, what you’re challenging us. And this goes back to a core feature of Hartman, is we really need to keep both communities learning each other’s Judaism’s in a far more vibrant way.

Because I don’t think here it is, you know, it’s the precarious of our existence, most of these people who are marching are aren’t experiencing precarious. That’s not their experience. I think it’s coming from another place. But the Torah that you taught needs to find greater roots in Israel. And and to know that in Israel for some of us it’s counter-cultural and that’s part of the climb.

Yossi, what was that sigh?

Elana: What wasn’t that sigh? Donniel, this is Yossi. That’s the title of his memoir, is Sigh. 

Donniel: No, what is it? What are you feeling, Yossi? 

Yossi: That for me, what this day evokes is in some ways, it sums up my life, you know, my great joy and my great challenge is being a citizen of Jerusalem. 

Donniel: With all that with, with the whole package, 

Yossi: The whole package. Yeah. 

Donniel: I’m going to use my prerogative uh to end with that.

For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by M Louis Gordon, with thanks to Alex Dylan. Tanscripts 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 shalomhartman.org. 

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