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Extracts from an address by Professor Moshe Kaveh
President of Bar-Ilan University
As delivered in Cleveland, Ohio last January

My speciality as a physicist is the study of stable and unstable systems. And I am constantly asking myself: Is Israel a stable state? Are the Jewish people a stable system? Will Judaism and Jewish identity be preserved over generations?

To answer those questions, first we need to acknowledge the dangerous gaps between Jews, because reducing these gaps is the way to unity. I think this is the need of the hour, this urgent search for unity.

More and more Israeli columnists, politicians and ordinary people on the street denounce all the Orthodox as medieval or uncultured, to treat everyone who wears a kippa as some kind of dark and evil force.

Lately the behaviour of the Supreme Court of Israel is troubling to many religious Jews, who feel it shouldn't be ruling on religious issues like conversion and matters of Jewish identity. I myself believe that our activist Supreme Court is moving into corners where it shouldn't go. How do we close the dangerous, growing gaps that separate Jews from Jews, especially religious Jews and the non-religious? And how do we build a state that is both Jewish and democratic? We need concrete ideas and concrete action.

Right now, in Israel, there is a battle between the extremists of both the religious and secular camps. The majority of people - who are moderates - unfortunately are getting swept into the fray.

One source of the problem is that there are too many rabbis who believe that halacha is everything in life, that halacha is all encompassing. If so, there is a problem with the notion of a democratic state.

On the other hand, the judges in our Supreme Court and many of our politicians and intellectual leaders believe that civic law and democratic norms are everything that you need in a country.

In physics, we know that you cannot have two bodies occupying the same space simultaneously. And that is the nature of this conflict. We have two systems of law and authority in Israel and each imperialistically believes that its laws and norms must supercede all others.

According to Isaac Luria, the 16th century Kabbalist, when G-d created the universe he had to withdraw, make tzimtzum, from some parts.

We Israelis - and other Jews also - could use a little tzimtzum right now. If everyone reduced and contracted their ambitions a bit, if everyone withdrew a step or two, if each side stopped trying to impose its view of the world on our complex society, then we might be able to avoid the explosion of raw hatred that threatens us now.

This means that the rabbis should stop using the halacha as the basis for statements about political issues. They should restrict themselves to the halachic point of view on Shabbat, on prayer, on what the Torah and Talmud say about contemporary life, but not politics. That's tzimtzum.

In the same way, the Israeli Supreme Court doesn't need to aggressively and defiantly apply civil law to every aspect of life. In a democracy the decisions of the Supreme Court must be obeyed, and for this reason it must abstain from ruling on spiritual matters, that too is tsimtzum.

Our religious schools increasingly are afraid to confront or deal with secular culture, which is perceived as inherently corrupt and opposed to a Jewish way of life. As a result, young people in those schools are sheltered and cut off from mainstream Israeli life.

Likewise, most of our secular shelter and cut off their students from any contact with Jewish tradition and Jewish wisdom. The idea that the Torah and the Talmud have profound wisdom to offer all Jews, whether or not they believe in G-d, seems to have escaped many of Israel's educational leaders.

We now have in Israel a small but growing number of wonderful dialogue programs. Secular and religious students are meeting each other. They are talking, studying together, developing tolerance, discovering that they have much in common, and Bar-Ilan University professors are actively involved in many of them. We teach that Judaism and democracy are complimentary values.

Even in the haredi world, there is a growing understanding that the tools of the modern world - like math, like social work, like computers - will help young Jews without depriving them of their Jewishness.

We need to develop a stable society whose basic values are shared by those who keep kosher and those who don't, by the young people in the cafes of Tel Aviv and the yeshivah scholars.

An important rule of Jewish life should be the primacy of Klal Yisrael, the community of Israel.

In Jewish tradition, we place a great emphasis on the sanctity of life. The sanctity of life supercedes the Torah, we are taught Jewish wisdom and Jewish law indicate that Klal Yisrael supercede Jewish life. We go to war and risk our life to protect our loved ones and friends and neighbours and Jews we don't know. But since Jewish life is secondary to Klal Yisrael, then Klal Yisrael supercedes the Torah.

It's unfortunate that some sectors in the Jewish world believe they and they alone are Klal Yisrael, that they and they alone are the Jewish community. In fact, in Israel, Klal Yisrael includes the heredim, the dattim or national-religious, and the secular sectors, each and every Jew. In the United States, Klal Yisrael includes the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and the unaffiliated. Imagine what our life would be like if our Israeli rabbis understood that Conservative and the Reform Jews are also Klal Yisrael. Imagine how imaginative their rulings would be if they believed that, when dealing with the conversion of Reform Jews, Klal Yisrael is the supreme value. Imagine how much more welcoming they would be to Orthodox women who want a bigger role in Jewish rituals.

Right now, in Israel, we teach our children to die for Klal Yisrael but not to live for it. We do not teach them how to devote themselves to making sure Klal Yisrael is preserved in times of peace, as well as in times of war.


Scribe: The virtue of lying.

It is noteworthy that the Ten Commandments do not contain a prohibition on lying. But some Rabbis believe that a commandment "Thou shalt not lie" is equivalent to all the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments.

In his speech at Cleveland, Ohio, Bar-Ilan President, Dr Moshe Kaveh, came out with another advice, namely that when you have a confrontation between peace and the truth, peace is more important than truth.

As an example he goes on to cite the case of a woman who became pregnant and had an abortion and then she became religious and married an ultra Orthodox, then gave birth to a "first born" son. There is a special redeeming ceremony (Pediom) which we conduct for first-born sons. Except that the woman knew that this child was not the "first-born fruit of the womb", she had never told her husband of her previous life, pregnancy and abortion. Should she now? She asked Rabbi Obadia Yosef, the leading Sephardi halachic decisor of our generation: "Should I tell my husband? It will cause tremendous pain and conflict. "Rabbi Yosef's wise response: "Whenever you have a conflict between peace and truth, peace prevails. Don't tell your husband".

Dr Kaveh's general advice to resort to lies for the sake of harmony and peace is hard to swallow.

Moreover, Dr Kaveh who is an Orthodox Jew was speaking to an American audience composed mostly of Reformed Jews and his whole lecture shows that he was playing to the gallery.


Isaac Luria's idea that G-d had to withdraw from part of his Creation, to make room for man's independence is untenable. The presence of G-d is everywhere in the Universe. The only concession that G-d made to man was to give him a measure of free will.



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