Encouraging Dialogue

general
April 23, 2010
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I find Bob Goldfarb’s response to the April Sh’ma — “What does it mean to be a loyal Jew?” — astonishing, especially in its contention that at the heart of the issue are “generic urgings to promote debate” for its own sake.  The people he knows “aren’t preoccupied with dissent” but rather “exemplify loyalty to their ideals and to the Jewish community.” He distinguishes those friends from the writers in Sh’ma whose views about loyalty and debate are  “hollow and empty by comparison.”

Yet we live at a moment where there is much debate and an increasingly polarized community. There are, suddenly, two formal, Washington D.C.-based advocacy groups for the State of Israel; one of them, J Street, is accused of disloyalty by leaders of the state it professes to promote. On the other side of the country, a set of guidelines was introduced last month by the San Francisco Community Federation for grantees; the guidelines could be seen as a litmus test of loyalty to Israel.  And similar proposals are being considered by other organizations nationwide.  The Forward’s editor, Jane Eisen, wrote recently in a moving recollection of the late, much-acclaimed novelist Chaim Potek, that in stark contrast to Potok’s time —when loyalty to Judaism was measured mostly in terms of Jewish ritual observance — it is now, by and large, seen in terms of one’s stance toward Israel.

Some now argue, as does Roberta Seid, in the lead essay in Sh’ma’s April issue, that threats to Israel from Iran and elsewhere necessitate the closing of ranks for the sake of Israel’s survival. Others, in the same issue, object to that argument as alarmist and preemptory. The issue also contains glimpses at the often profoundly uneasy relationships that many outstanding figures of modern Jewish life (Mordecai Kaplan, Martin Buber, and Hebrew University’s President Judah Magnes) had with organized Jewish life at the time.  Certainly, the Sh’ma issue doe not propose that the only form of true loyalty is principled dissent — this is among the more egregious of Goldfarb’s misreadings. Rather, the journal suggests alternatives to acquiescence, and offers a full, complicated view of the many ways to embrace present-day Jewish life, politics, and culture.

Susan Berrin, Editor of Sh’ma

Bob Goldfarb’s essay http://www.ejewishphilanthropy.com/is-loyalty-outmoded/print

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