Your front-page discussion about whether Judaism is a religion or a culture was very interesting but somehow misses an important element (Sept. 2). Today more than ever, we need to be as inclusive as possible, and by focusing on just these two aspects of Judaism, we leave a large percentage of Jews out of the picture.
Human attempts to peer into the future, to borrow a metaphor from philosopher J.L. Austin, are like a miner’s hat. A small area is illuminated in front of us so we can adjust our footing. Yet when we project far into the future, darkness reigns and the shadows deceive. The only way to know more of the future is to move forward; with each step the light advances and the next patch of ground becomes visible.
Few things are as satisfying or as much fun as a passionate conversation full of disagreement and dispute, be it at a Shabbat table or on an inner-city stoop. This has been a great Jewish sport through the years. A game of chess in Washington Square Park, or tea in a Lower East Side cafeteria, were often accompanied by passionate debates about everything from the Hitler-Stalin pact to the Ladies Garment union, along with colorful and heated Yiddish insults, now sanitized by nostalgia. Cleverness was once valued more than civility.
With the shofar already blowing every morning, with the Days of Awe just days away, with the headlines more ominous than not, it is only natural for us to be feeling vulnerable, as individuals and as a community. Indeed, a major theme of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, let alone the slichot at Elul’s end, is nothing if not our vulnerability.
Israel can claim to be a full democracy only so long as it treats its Arab minority fairly. While the economic gap between Israeli Arabs and Jews remains large, the ruling coalition has undertaken real efforts to reduce discriminatory practices in policing, government employment, national service, and education. At the same time, Israeli Jews appear to be increasingly hostile to providing full political and civil rights to Israel’s Arab citizens.
As a strong supporter of Israel, I believe that the desire of Fatah leaders to have the United Nations Security Council recognize Palestine is a positive move that can lead to peace. Any move that establishes a Palestinian state more or less along the 1967 lines is a guarantee for the future of the idea of two lands for two peoples: the Jews and the Palestinians. Indeed, as Hamas well understands, the absence of such a resolution would be anathema for the Jews and Israel.