Sunday, March 22, 2009

Israel's Army

This morning's New York Times has an excellent, albeit unflattering, article about Israel and its army. My teacher Moshe Halbertal, with whom I study every summer at the Shalom Hartman Institute, is quoted at length. Moshe helped to rewrite the IDF's code of ethics and helps to teach in the Institute's officer training course. The goal of his teaching, as I see it, is to place modern, humanistic values within the language of Jewish tradition and texts. That of course is simplifying the enterprise for his project is no small job and no small matter for Israeli society. How can Israel remain a modern, democratic state, infused with Jewish language and discourse, while fighting enemies bent on its destruction? Do our enemies every forfeit their right to humanity? When does our love for the land of Israel become an intoxication that overshadows all other values and commitments? When does our love of the Bible and our enthrallment with its words overwhelm our devotion to democratic values? For me, living in the diaspora, the answers to these questions are merely theoretical. In Israel the answers are matters of life and death. There are some Israelis who take the easy way out and reject democracy--as antithetical to Judaism and others who reject Judaism--as antithetical to democracy. I am thankful to my teachers for their continuing efforts to wed the two--Judaism and democracy--in the modern State of Israel. Even though today's article might be unflattering on the surface, I remain deeply committed to the enterprise it brings to light, the painful and wrenching internal debates that are a part of the fabric of Israeli life. I pray these debates make Israel even stronger and better.

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