We believe you may well be interested in the following materials:
These are specially-written sermon ideas, that address current Israel-related issues in the weekly Parasha.
Here we lay out our approach to the unique nature of Israel in Jewish Life, and offer specific text-studies of the Hatikvah Vision – To Be a Free People In Our Land.
How can we envisage Yom Ha’atzmaut as a Jewish Festival, rather than just a foreign country’s birthday party?
Here you can find our longer articles about Israel engagement.
Below you can also find all the materials posted that have been earmarked for your interest.
January 12, 2012 by Gideon Sylvester
Rabbi Gideon Sylvester directs the Rabbis for Human Rights Beit Midrash at the Hillel House of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and serves as the British United Synagogue’s Rabbi in Israel.
Is belly dancing kosher? How about New Year’s Eve parties?
For years, the Israeli rabbinate has waged wars against such activities, revoking the kashrut licenses of hotels and restaurants that offered them. This enrages those who feel that kashrut authorities should limit themselves to certifying food; others admire the holistic approach, which indicates that both the food and the ambience strictly conform to Jewish tradition.
Spark: On Passover, we recall the 4 words of redemption in the Torah that correspond to the 4 cups of wine we drink. However, there are actually five words of redemption, which should correspond to the fifth cup. The fifth word of redemption is והבאתי – I will bring you [to the land of Israel]. Most Jews in the world today are safe from oppression, discrimination, slavery, etc. But our redemption is not complete until we are brought to Israel. Does redemption only come when we are literally brought to Israel to live there or can we bring ourselves to Israel in different ways? What still needs to be brought to Israel to make our redemption complete?
Spark: Taking the Jewish people from Egypt purposefully put the Jewish people into situations that would be incredibly challenging. This is to teach us that any worthwhile, meaningful endeavor, like taking the Jews from Egypt or creating a State of Israel, will by nature come with significant challenge. We are called to face these challenges with courage and integrity.
Exodus: 13-17 –
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.
יז וַיְהִי, בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא
Exodus 14:8 –
The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites.
ח וַיְחַזֵּק יְהוָה, אֶת-לֵב פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּרְדֹּף, אַחֲרֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל;
Exodus 15:24 –
Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.
כב וַיַּסַּע מֹשֶׁה אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִיַּם-סוּף, וַיֵּצְאוּ אֶל-מִדְבַּר-שׁוּר; וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת-יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְלֹא-מָצְאוּ מָיִם.
Exodus 17:8 –
The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim.
ח וַיָּבֹא, עֲמָלֵק; וַיִּלָּחֶם עִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בִּרְפִידִם.
In gematria, Amalek is the numerical equivalent to safek, doubt.
Why does God over and over put the Jewish people into these difficult situations? Why does God lead the Jewish people on a crooked path out of Egypt? Bring Pharoah back? Not provide adequate provisions? Allow for Amalek, the embodiment of doubt, to attack? There is a lesson here: God wanted the Jewish people to know and experience profound challenges as they embarked on their spiritual and historic mission. That is true today in the building of the State of Israel. Each of these encounters represents a different kind of challenge we have experienced in building the State of Israel.
The crooked path might represent competing ideas and approaches, many never reconciled, about what Israel should be.
- Pharoah represents external enemies and military attacks.
- Lack of food and water represents scarce resources.
- Amalek represents doubt.
These challenges, however, are not signs of failure. Rather, they may be important steps for us to take as a people to grow morally, economically, militarily, Jewishly, etc.
Choose a challenge/setback that Israel has faced over the last 60 years, whether military, political, economic, or spiritual. See if you can find a way that facing that challenge has created a stronger Israel moving forward.
Spark: According to the Torah, Israel does not belong to the Jewish People. Our presence there is contingent on our moral behavior. We must not take the land for granted and remember that our presence there is not guaranteed.
Spark: It is easy to become accustomed or numbed to the awe that is the existence of a State of Israel. We must find ways to not lose sight of its tremendous importance.
[Explaining the reason for sacrifices] The entire intent was to inspire awe in those who turned to the Temple, that they see it and be fearful, as it is said, “You shall … venerate My sanctuary” (Lev. 19:30; 26:2). When a person frequents a place, its impact on his soul diminishes, and he gradually is less awed by it… Since the objective was to maintain this sense of awe, the Almighty cautioned those who are unclean against entering the Sanctuary, by stipulating many sorts of uncleanness, to the extent that hardly a person turns out to be clean, save for a very few.
Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Part III, ch. 47
Many of us struggle to connect with the ideas around purity and impurity we find in Vayikra. What does it have say to us in our world today? What was the point back then, and is all this still relevant now?
According to the Rambam, the laws of tumah and tahara served to protect against routine and the loss of impact for the Temple, a sacred place.
In relating to Israel, especially when we frequent it often in person, on the news, or in conversation, our sense of its importance, its awe-inspiring qualities, might easily be diminished. The tremendous historical, religious, and spiritual meaning and awe that should come along with a Jewish state after 2000 years of exile can be lost. Perhaps we can use the Rambam’s approach, that we might create different systems to continually inspire our awe and amazement towards the State of Israel.
Echoes of the Shofar:
Today, blowing shofar at the Kotel is an everyday occurrence. A Jewish presence at the Western wall is taken for granted. Watching videos and hearing stories like this are ways we can instill wonder and awe for everything that Israel represents.
Spark: Israel is the place where Jewish physicality and spirituality meet.
Is Peace Always the Ideal?
Spark: Aaron is one of the most beloved figures in Jewish tradition, especially because of his dedication to creating peace. Peacemaking is hard. Aaron has many successes in this area. However, like all biblical leaders, his successes are not universal. In this week’s parasha, we seee how complicated peacemaking is and how sometimes we need to step back and examine our motives for creating peace.
The Philosophers’ Retreat (2003) was an attempt to capture and make widely available an assessment of the state of the field of Israel engagement. This document has been used in schools, synagogues and in leadership training programs.
Poverty Among Families
Recent economic success in many sectors of Israel society hide the ugly fact that poverty still haunts much of the nation. Recent studies have shown that 420,000 impoverished families resided in Israel (1.5 million people), including some 805,000 children. Perhaps even more alarming, 1 million Israelis go hungry on a regular basis.