Religious-Secular Strife

I am very disturbed at the growing divisions between the Orthodox and secular communities in Israel in particular, and in Judaism, in general. The Jewish people are so few in number that we cannot afford such sharp and bitter divisions. Something must be done to bridge the gap.

I feel this is the single greatest issue facing the Jewish people today. What can be done to correct it?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You are absolutely correct about the severity of the problem and the urgency to find a solution.

The Talmud records that hatred was the principle cause for the destruction of the Second Temple. Factional struggle and petty vindictiveness destroyed the cohesion of the Jewish Commonwealth, condemning the Jews to 2,000 years of exile. Even when the Romans had besieged Jerusalem and total disaster was imminent, hostile groups within the city fought among themselves and plundered stores of food, causing terrible famine.

Today, as then, we have differences. What are the reasons for the religious-secular divide in Israel today? One can point many fingers – the factional nature of the political system, or the media which constantly stirs animosity in order to sell more papers.

I think it comes down to a basic lack of understanding between both sides. We differ greatly in our understanding of the authority of Torah and its role in shaping the cultural and legal character of the modern State of Israel. In short, the religious feel that Torah is that which has always distinguished our people – and in today's volatile world it is more crucial than ever to have that anchor. The secular take a somewhat opposite approach: Specifically because of Torah's unique lifestyle, it prevents Israel from full integration into the community of nations.

Indeed, this is a wide gulf. Yet because we have differences, that doesn't mean the other side is less intelligent, less well-motivated, or less desirous of truth than ourselves.

Our differences mean we disagree. Men of good will can and must disagree about matters of great importance without questioning their love or commitment for one another. Two people who learn together will battle passionately, says the Talmud, and end more committed to their friendship because their disagreements express a common search for truth.

We cannot afford for this to become polarized into a matter of "us against them." Each and every Jew is completely integral to our mission – regardless of their beliefs or level of observance. One of the spices used in the incense at the Holy Temple was the foul-smelling "galbanum," from which the Talmud (Kritot 6b) derives that even the worst amongst us are inextricably bound into the community of Israel.

Further, all Jews must be united in order for our nation to succeed. In Exodus 19:2, which says the Jewish people camped at Mount Sinai, the word for "camped" is written in the singular – to indicate that they were "like one person with one heart." Says the Midrash: If the Jewish People were lacking just one person from the 600,000 at Sinai, they could not have received the Torah.

It's all a matter of attitude. Rabbi Baruch Ber Leibowitz, one of the great rabbis of 20th century Europe, was quoted as saying: "When I will stand before the heavenly court and they ask me, 'What merit have you brought with you?' – what shall I answer? Torah? Is my Torah knowledge worthy enough to be mentioned? Fear of Heaven? Are my deeds worthy of that description? There is only one thing I could possibly claim – that I loved every Jew with all my heart. Whenever I walk in the street and I see a Jew, one thought comes to me: A blessing on his head!"

The key is that we each take whatever small steps from our own side to help build a bridge.

The Talmud says that in each generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as though it has been destroyed. Just as hatred destroyed the Temple, the only way of repair is by making the maximum effort to love every member of the Jewish people. We must seize that chance now... before famine grips Jerusalem once again.

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