A quick apology for the lack of (published) articles for the last few weeks; I have been busy working on longer pieces that have required me to do a ton of background research (including going through all of Marx & Engel's writings, on top of the follow up to Jimmy Carter's piece and finalizing the Judaism & Abortion one). I also worked on an inspiring project I shared with paying subscribers but cannot make it public at the moment.
First and foremost, however, this was due to me traveling back to Crown Heights, visited the Rebbe with my fiancée to receive the Rebbe’s blessing on our engagement, and had our vort. This kept me very busy and away from screens, obviously.
I will be back, G-d willing, with a regular publishing schedule next week and some more to make up for the last few weeks.
In this week's Parasha, we learn the depths to which Hakadosh Baruch Hu holds a Jew responsible.
Take Shimon. Shimon is on his way from Tsfat to Jerusalem to bring a sacrifice. Unknowingly, he steps over a grave on his way there. Believing that he is pure, he does not go through the procedure that gets rid of impurity associated with death and enters the Temple compound. He offers a sacrifice and goes back on his merry ignorant way. A few months later, using the same path, he sees a marker indicating that there's a grave where he previously walked. Inquiring deeper into it, it turns out that, indeed, the grave had been extant when he walked over it, meaning he now knows that he entered the Temple Mount and offered his previous sacrifice while impure.
Even though he was utterly unaware, as the verse in Leviticus 5:2 says:
"Or if a person touches anything unclean, whether it is the carcass of an unclean wild animal, or the carcass of an unclean domestic animal, or the carcass of an unclean creeping animal, and it was hidden from him, he incurs guilt."
Though it might initially seem unfair, far from it. The Divine reasoning is clear: that person knew that they were engaged in an activity that required them to be in a state of ritual purity. They either did not take the necessary precautions to prevent themselves from becoming impure or were too lenient on themselves. They did not go through the required procedures to ensure that they were in a state of purity.
Therefore, there are two parts to the equation that leads to their guilt:
A factor they knew about (engaging in an activity requiring purity) A factor they didn't know about (their state of ritual impurity)
Once you have acquired awareness of at least a component of that equation, you must be mindful of the other.
The reverse is also true. Once you’re aware that you’re in a state of impurity, then ignorance that you were engaging in an activity that required purity does not shield you from culpability.
This is not to say that, of course, that those mistakes, which are ultimately sins committed unintentionally out of ignorance, are treated equally as sins committed knowingly, or defiantly. Their consequences are much less severe as a result. Still, there are consequences.
The same principle repeats itself in various places in Jewish law. The Shach, based on the Rambam, repeatedly declares that a sin made out of ignorance is not considered accidental if you should have known better. You have a responsibility to educate yourself, to understand what you're supposed to do and not do as a Jew. Therefore, if you fail to gather the appropriate knowledge or to review your studies, you cannot claim the defense of ignorance.
But what about situations where you could not know because you were never taught?
A Western Crisis
The relationship between young American Jews and the Land of Israel is at a crossroads. Many polls have been conducted in the last few years that should (and do) ring alarm bells both for American Jewish Leaders and Legacy Jewish Organizations, as well as the State of Israel.
A full 47% of American Jews between the ages of 25-40 feel disconnected from the State of Israel and Zionism.
"But non-religious Jews do have strong connections to Israel. 45% of Jewish millennials who do not identify as religious view Israel as central to their Jewish identity, and 50% of non-religious millennials are very or somewhat emotionally attached to Israel. [...]
And we cannot ignore the reality that American Jewish millennials are distancing themselves from Israel more than their elders. 26% of American Jewish millennials surveyed said it is okay to distance themselves from Israel in order to fit in, a figure that is significantly higher than the 9% of those over 40 years old. [...]
Beyond the millennial Jews who express affection for and attachment to Israel, and those who are troubled by or even have ruefully rejected Israel and Zionism, there is a third group. They hold positive feelings towards Israel but will not admit so publicly for fear of social ostracization.
Their fears are not unfounded. 28% of American millennial Jews say that their connection to Israel has damaged their friendships. Even more worrisome, 23% say they have had to hide their Jewish identity because of what they perceive as an anti-Israel climate on campus, at work, and in their social circles."
There's indeed a portion of young American Jews who have, on an ideological basis, decided to renounce any attachment to the State of Israel or what they perceive as Zionism. This was the case 20 years ago, and also 40 years ago, and 60 years ago as well.
The difference here lies in the fact that many are now making that decision under cover of ideological rejection, but the underlying and genuine motivation is socially-motivated: they will not be considered a true believer in the cause or will be shunned by their peers if they do not toe the line. This phenomenon is particularly apparent on college campuses, where once ardent supporters of Israel do a 180 and suddenly become just as passionate (if not more) detractors of the State and reject any connection between Jews and the Land of Israel.
Why is this trend growing in every sector of American Jewish society, with a sole exception?
A Widening Chasm
The current situation, which will only get worse as we let things fester, is powered by two interrelated factors:
The lack of proper Jewish education
Replacing Judaism with Nationalism
There's an ever-growing divide between Orthodoxy, representing 10% of American Jewry, and non-Orthodoxy, on the topic of Israel. Even though the Orthodox world is by definition non-Zionist or antizionist, support for the State of Israel has paradoxically never been higher. This is because the very concept of Zionism means something entirely different in the Orthodox world.
The utter disconnection of nationalism in the mind of Orthodox Jews and the State, as well as the Land, has ironically strengthened the bonds to the point where even in Satmar, many now support the State's existence. It's precisely because the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel is not seen through this lens, coupled with a solid Jewish education that stresses the link between Jews and the very Land versus the State, that has created this seeming paradox.
In fact, the increasing disconnect between Jews and the Land of Israel is one of the reasons why the vast majority of Rabbis were virulently antizionist from the movement's inception. The Fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Rebbe Rashab after his initials, famously wrote two very scathing letters against the Zionist movement and foreshadowed the current crisis. He decried that the movement was attempting to substitute Judaism with Zionism and basing our connection to the Land emulating non-Jewish nationalism rather than Torah. He pointed out that this was even worse than attempts at reforming Judaism because it was something that convinced Jews that it was enough to be a Zionist, enough to be connected to the Land (and eventually the State), and that there was no need for the much deeper connection between Torah and the Land itself.
This is not to say that nationalism is inherently evil. It's not. But it is also very fickle.
When feelings of nationalism and patriotism reigned strong in the West, it felt like it was enough. And when those feelings slowly gave way to a more globalist and internationalist ideology exported from Moscow to Western Europe and facilitated by the Internet and Social Media, it became evident how hollow those feelings were. We now live in an age where the average Westerner looks at disdain or distrust towards anyone showing any (Westerner) expressing feelings of pride in their nation or country. For a long time, America held out, but the sickness that infected Europe ultimately reached American shores.
Too much of a good thing is just as bad as too little. When people look at their history and country with disdain, it can be just as poisonous, if not more, than when people adopt ultranationalist feelings where healthy dissent is not tolerated.
Post-Enlightenment, it became very trendy to ask, 'Why should I be proud of the country where I happened to be born in? Of the ethnicity of group I was a born a part of? I had no say in the matter.' This is an entirely accurate thing to say if you take G-d out of the equation. Except that G-d is the one who decided you were to be born of certain parents, in a certain country, as part of a certain people. Those are things to be embraced, not rejected.
The Prophets of yore described how, one day, the entire world would be united in the worship of G-d. Not as a uniform mass of people, but rather each nation in its land, in brotherly love. Nationalism, as understood through the lens of Torah, means not only embracing G-d's decision to create you as part of a specific people from a specific land but also coming to the awareness that every single people, from every land, were created just as you are. There's no idea of superiority by virtue of nation or race; all are equal under G-d.
A Weakened Psyche
The lack of Jewish education in most sectors of American Jewry is most definitely feeding into the increasing disconnect of American Jews with Israel. When so many Americans are being taught to be ashamed of their own country, why should it be any different when it comes to American Jews and their relationship to the Land of Israel, and especially towards the State itself?
The disdain and rejection of patriotism by American non-Jews are also directly linked to the fact that they are no longer provided a strong historical and civic education. Such an education does not mean papering over the bad things that happened to paint a rosy picture. G-d knows that the Jewish Bible doesn't paper over any of the Jewish people's missteps, mistakes, and misbehaving.
Americans used to be raised to believe that their history was extraordinary, to venerate their ancestors who fled persecution, set out for a new world, and made a hostile country theirs. That America was a unique nation that had produced a singular people and that they were the heirs to that legacy; it was their role to perpetuate America's position as a shining city upon a hill.
המבדיל בין קדש לחול, Jews also used to be raised as cognizant of our very own unique and singular history, all the way to the covenant that our forefather Avraham established with G-d, as well as our long and storied history on the Land of Israel. Of our ancestors' sacrifices throughout history to attempt and come back to it. How, despite the world's claim, we never left our Land even after the Romans expelled most of its residents, and how we persevered under the Muslim conquest, survived under the Crusaders, and hung on while even the nomadic Arabs moved to greener pastures during the literal centuries of droughts and famine.
First, you imagined Shimon. Now, imagine Naomi. She grew up going to synagogue occasionally, but that soon stopped after her bat mitsvah outside the occasional wedding or demand from a grandparent. Sitting in the pews, she hears older Jews talk about Zionism, Israel, about buying Israeli bonds; she's not interested in any of this.
And why should she be? She's been hearing about "the occupation," the mistreatment of palestinians, the evils of Bibi, and how Israel is an apartheid state for years now. Now in college, everyone in her social circle believes that they are the new Nazis... and probably worse, if you think about it.
Now, it could be that Naomi doesn't believe this is the case or that they exaggerate, but why should she put her social life on the line? It's much easier to agree. And even if she didn't agree at first, how much propaganda will she be subjected to before she starts to believe those lies?
And then, she becomes another AsAJew, because she was never given any reason why she should be a Jew.
Being a college student in the age of social media, she most likely will make insta stories or TikToks about her newfound faith. This is where things go from (really) bad to (much) worse. As a result, well-meaning people with a more robust education (or a more Jewishly-connected social circle) will start bashing & insulting her because of the lies she has now begun to spread.
This is the wrong approach.
If you have no idea what Jewish history was like, why should you care about the Land of Israel? If you know nothing about what we as a people went through, why should you care about Jews halfway across the world any more than you do Koreans or Mexicans? How can you expect someone surrounded by a society lying about Israel and the Jewish link to the land to fight back when even her Jewishness means no more than "not being white," ironic Seinfeld memes and RBG?
She is a victim of communal institutions that have betrayed her by robbing her of her fundamental right to a Jewish education that she will now need to seek independently to be able to connect back to her People, Heritage, and Land. That is, if she’s lucky. For most of them, it simply won’t happen.
It's a tragedy.
She's not the proverbial fourth son. She's not a rasha. That girl is the fifth son, the one missing from the table.
So stop bashing her, and start demanding accountability from all those Jewish organizations that have betrayed their membership and the community by focusing their energy on giving people anything BUT a proper Jewish education. Go out & donate to those that do so.
When she goes to temple, instead of finding meaning, she finds herself looking at what she sees as meaningless rituals and apparently cannot find anyone to answer her properly about why she should care about these things. And social media & peer pressure tell her she shouldn't.
It's time to stop bashing those Jews that are lost and haven't found meaning in their Jewish identity, connection to the Land and the rest of the Jewish people. They are first and foremost victims of an institutional rot decades in the making.
They are not the problem; those young Jews grow up thinking that one day a week of Hebrew school is enough, that when you're done with bar/bat mitzvah, you graduated, and that Jewish identity is waving an Israeli flag, eating Chinese on Xmas & oy vey jokes because of said institutions.
It's much easier to laugh & deride them for being so wrong, but all you are doing is driving them away & making things worse.
We need to bring them back and eliminate the idea that whatever 90%+ of Jewish children in America get as a Jewish education is enough.
You can't chastise them for not caring about Jews halfway around the world if you, yourself, don't care about Jews who live in the same country as you, speak your language, and have never been afforded the chance to live meaningfully as Jews. And replicating the same mistakes in Israel won't help the young Jews over there, either.
Only with a solid Jewish education can we drastically change course and avoid the disaster closing in on American, and worldwide, Jewry.