Is he a little too Jewish? Is Israel?

david f
Rabbi Berel Wein, 28/02/17 16:41

There is no question as to David Friedman’s abilities or credentials. The problem with Friedman is that he is too openly Jewish for the Reform Movement.

There were a number of articles written here in the Israeli newspapers about the determined opposition of Reform in America to the appointment of David Friedman as the American ambassador to Israel. The shameful behavior of a number of Jews at the Senate confirmation hearing of Friedman – shofar blowing and all – only points out the great fault line that exists in American Jewish society today. It is tearing out the heart of American Jewish society.

The century long erosion of Jewish life, practice and observance has led to the appalling rate of assimilation and intermarriage that numerically threatens the very existence of the American Jewish community. President Trump, whether we voted for him or not, is the president of the United States of America. He has the ability to choose the person that he wishes to represent the United States to the State of Israel.

He chose David Friedman because of personal and perhaps even ideological reasons. There is no question as to Friedman’s abilities or credentials. The problem with Friedman is that he is too openly Jewish. He is an Orthodox Jew, a Sabbath observer and in his civilian, private life, an advocate for the State of Israel’s existence and success.

As ambassador he will follow the directives of the president and of the State Department who will set policy and in effect tell him what to say and how to say it. So it is hard to understand all of the shofar blowing over his nomination to become the ambassador to Israel. His main fault is that he is a little too Jewish for the liberal, assimilationist, intermarried establishment, which Reform Jewry in America represents and supports.

If we are but honest with ourselves this is probably the main problem why there are Jews who are constantly critical and destructive of the Jewish state. The problem with Israel is that in spite of all efforts, internal and external, to make it resemble Switzerland or Sweden, it still remains a little too Jewish for the taste of the world generally and for the tastes of certain sections of Jewry particularly.

In the opening pages of Herman Wouk’s masterful presentation of Judaism and Jewish values entitled This Is My God, he describes the feeling of shame, bewilderment and the prick of conscience experienced by a wealthy professional, assimilated Jewish person who comes upon a black – clad Orthodox Jew in the lobby of the skyscraper in New York where he has his offices.

The man is embarrassed by the presence of this “exotic” coreligionist. He is uncomfortable by the fact that the other person is certainly a little too Jewish. And in extrapolating this feeling to nation states as well, this is the basic problem of the State of Israel as far as the world generally is concerned and as far as certain segments of Jewish society, especially in the United States, is also concerned.

It is not really the “settlements” that are difficult to defend in a world of hypocrisy and selected values. It is the fact that El Al does not fly on the Sabbath that makes it difficult for Jews who have long ago abandoned the Sabbath to accept and appreciate. It is just a little bit too Jewish.

In Israel itself there is the mantra that the state is democratic and Jewish at the same time. However, no matter how equal we want things to be, no two things are ever completely equal. So the question arises, is Israel a Jewish state primarily and a democratic one secondarily. And, when the Jewish and the democratic occasionally clash, the Jewish should prevail or is it primarily a democratic state and only privately and secondarily a Jewish one and when the inevitable contradiction arises, the secular democratic idea must prevail.

This latter opinion has certainly been that of the Israeli Supreme Court over the past number of decades. The court is now being subjected to ever harsher and continued criticism from that section of Israeli society, which, no one can argue, represents a majority of its citizens that sees Israel as first and foremost being a Jewish state with all that that connotes.

This struggle is being played out in the political, legislative and social arenas of Israeli life. It is a problem like all problems confronting the State of Israel, that is not given to any immediate or clear-cut solution. The State of Israel, which is already a little too Jewish for some tastes, may yet become even a little more too Jewish in the future

Leave a Comment