INTER-JEWISH RELATIONS: PESSIMISM, REALISM, OPTIMISM
ALL VIEWED AT HAIFA-BOSTON CONFERENCE

Aviezer Ravitzky looks at religious-secular developments in Israel with a cautious optimism. "Look," he points out, "both the ultra-Orthodox and the Reform are fighting over the conversion bill. In the past, they were enemies of Zionism. {Their present fight] symbolizes the success of Zionism, as the question of Who us a Jew is to be decided here [in Israel]. So all the different groups are involved in this [parliamentary] struggle."
> Ravitzky, Professor and Chair of the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University, was one of a series of plenum speakers over the course of the unusual four-day conference, "Boston and Haifa--Jewish Identity: A Joint Exploration." Their sometimes provocative remarks provided participants with food for thought both during the small-group discussions and later at the tables during meal times.
Ravitzky also sees as positive a related development: the fact that both the Orthodox and the secular in Israel believe that the other party is here to stay. Previously, he said, each group acted on the "mutually false assumption" that the other camp would weaken and disappear. That assumption, in his opinion, allowed the ambivalent language found in Israel's Declaration of Independence to be signed by both ultra-Orthodox rabbis and confirmed secular leaders.
Nowadays Israeli youth of all stripes want to eschew inner tensions, while looking for a "clear-cut way for Israeli society." He made it clear, though, that inner tensions characterized Israeli society in the past as much as in the present. It was the unspoken "social contract," as Ravitzky termed it, that enabled the pushing aside of latent tensions, such as existed between the army and the Rabbinate until recent years.
Today, this contract, because of its false premise, is no longer effective. In his view, though, Israeli society is experiencing the break up of a single hegemony. "There are no second-rate groups any more," he said, adding that Israel has now become an arena for different opinions. "This creates tension, but also normalization."
The Jerusalem thinker sees a reversal, which began perhaps two years ago, in the steady decrease in students interested in Jewish-related subjects. One reason, he suggests, is that "many secular Jews learned that it is difficult to transfer historical memory without studying texts and different texts." He lists another reason: in the aftermath of the tragic events involving Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, two apparently Orthodox Jews, the secular have decided that the Orthodox cannot be relied on to transfer memory to ones grandchildren.
In the end, perhaps the basis for Ravitzky's cautious optimism regarding the future of Israeli Jewry lay in his remark that "Jews in Israel share the same public space; if we don't all live together, we'll be drowned" [the analogy from the Biblical Noah].
Menachem Kellner, Wolfson Professor of Jewish Thought at the University, is not sanguine about relations among Jews of different denominations. Since most Orthodox Jews do not care about liberal, democratic values, he says, or even whether there is any intra-faith dialog, and most non-Orthodox take their argument from the universalism espoused by secular society, he concludes pessimistically that there is "little to talk about." The Orthodox will not be convinced by other than a particularist Jewish perspective, he believes, since "the statistics show how low the chance is for one's grandchildren to be Jewish."
Kellner argues, further, that none of the streams within Judaism, not only Orthodoxy, is really pluralistic. On the other hand, the Haifa professor does call for tolerance. "One learns from texts," he says, "but one need not command a single interpretation. There is a realm of truth, but one does not have to agree with it."
Kellner's plea for tolerance, however, was not accepted by David Gordis, the president of Hebrew College and an ordained Conservative rabbi. Gordis finds "tolerance" to be "an awful word, as it judges the legitimacy of others and implies that diversity is still a negative." For him, pluralism is a value and differences constitute "a blessing, not a pathology." He feels that certain elements need a change in self-perception so as to remove any feeling of having "an exclusive access to truth." The need for this change, he finds, is a little clearer in the American Jewish community than in Israel.
Perhaps the most controversial of the remaining addresses was delivered by A. B. Yehoshua, internationally known Israeli novelist and Professor of Hebrew Literature at the University. A self-described atheist, Yehoshua contends that Judaism is a nationality rather than a religion. For him, Jew and Israeli are synonymous terms. He is concerned, though, that the Jewish/Israeli people should know their roots and have ready access to their literary sources [i.e., the Bible]. For that reason, he urges that the money collected in federation campaigns be allocated, not to Israel, which he claims does not need it, but to the teaching and study of Hebrew in the Diaspora.

> Though not accepting Orthodoxy, he finds the ritual innovations of the other denominations strange and, by implication, ultimately futile. He agrees with Ben-Gurion that all Jews should settle in Israel in order, the novelist advises, for them to produce a culture of lasting value. Yehoshua does not consider what the Jews have done in the Diaspora to be either Jewish as such or inspiring.
Yehoshua expects an exacerbation of the existing friction between the religious and the secular, or "nationalists" as he prefers to call the latter, with the onset of the coming peace between Israel and all its neighbors. This will necessitate initiating dialog, and in his view the best candidates to talk with the liberal elite are the national religious Jews. The latter, he explains, have both an abiding interest in the State and a knowledge of the source texts.

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