Friday, September 28, 2023 – י״ד תִּשְׁרֵי תשפ”ד
The Rabbis of the Talmud had a saying when there was not a clear or obvious halakhic ruling one way or another. They would employ this Aramaic adage: “פוּק חָזִי מַאי עַמָא דָבַר” (Puk Hazei Mai Ama Davar) – roughly translated “Go out and see what the People are saying/doing.” It was a way of saying that Halakha is dictated by the people’s practice, not the other way around.
The holidays of Tishrei offer us a unique window into the sentiments and general feelings of American Jews through the words of their rabbis. This holiday season saw an inspiring and staggering increase in the number of sermons teaching and preaching about Israel. Rabbis throughout North America brought to their congregations explanatory background, personal stories, deep love, and affinity for the Jewish State, and many expressed their growing angst and considerable concern for the grave situation in which we find ourselves today when Israel’s democracy is being threatened.
Many sermons commemorated the Yom Kippur War as we mark its 50th anniversary and with that, many a connection was made to the existential threat to the existence of the State of Israel felt then, and an existential threat of a different kind felt today.
As our rabbis took to their platform of pulpits during Yom Kippur, eloquently elucidating the events around Israel, why they matter, and what we as North American Jews can do to support the protest movement, troubling events were unfolding in Dizengoff Square in the heart of Tel Aviv. Clashes between extremist Orthodox Jews and secular Jews over gender-separate public prayer erupted, tarnishing the sanctity of Yom Kippur. As Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer wrote:
“The war for democracy is not just over constitutional arrangements and the powers of the Supreme Court (which were trampled this Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv when the police acted against the High Court ruling which backed the municipality’s injunction against physical barriers). It is also a war over the public spaces in Tel Aviv which thought it could avoid the fate of Jerusalem, which has come under the rule of the fundamentalists. It is a war over the Jewish identity of every Israeli Jew.”
(Read more on this from Orly Erez-Likhovsky in our recs of the week)
That’s what this moment is about right now. It is about the identity of Israeli Judaism, and it is about the future of the place of Israel in the hearts, minds, and souls of North American Jews.
For the next four weeks, we will be sharing different voices on Israel from our congregations, from our rabbis, our teachers, and our inspiring leaders who brought passionate Torah and deep connection on Israel, Zionism, Jewish peoplehood, democracy, and our relationship to all of these together.
As we enter the holiday of Sukkot, welcome in your Ushpizin, and get out of doors. I invite you to read, watch, and listen to the inspiring voices of this year. And I invite you to act and “go out and hear what the people are saying.”
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach!