Without Torah and Mitzvah observance, our society is greatly diminished and is vulnerable to the very same social ills and challenges the USA is suffering from, in an unprecedented manner, since its founding in 1776. The signs are emerging in Israel as well.
Having served as a congregational Rabbi for decades, in one of the wealthiest and most liberal counties in the entire United States, I think that the following words will give us perspective, so that both the hareidim and the Tel Aviv intelligentsia can come to terms, without cancelling out each other, and perhaps even come to respect if not appreciate, each other's way of thinking.
If this does not happen - heaven forfend- we are on the road to an existence of futility and mayhem, returning to the wilderness of the past, without gains or success.
British historian and author A Study of History, Arnold Joseph Toynbee, (born April 14, 1889, died October 22, 1975) was not known to be particularly sympathetic or kind, when writing or lecturing about Jews or Judaism. In one of his essays appearing shortly after the conclusion of WWII, Toynbee opined that the decimation of over a third of world Jewry, was a death knell for Jewish culture and civilization going forward. He termed the Jews a "fossil race."
His opinion piece opining that Jewish culture will disappear from the world stage, was translated into the Yiddish language, and created quite a stir amongst Jewish intellectual elites, survivors of Hitler’s Holocaust.
At a rare appearance at one of the numerous Yiddish Literary Clubs that sprung up in Paris, Professor Toynbee was invited for a lecture and debate. The gist of his remarks was that as an historian, he cannot see how Jewish culture or civilization would continue to be relevant in the twenty-first century.
When Toynbee was challenged to define the difference between Civilization and Culture he hesitated to respond and asked the interlocutor to give his interpretation:
Culture may be defined as being built on language, literature, architecture, cuisine, art, theater, and entertainment. Civilization is primarily built on values, morality, beliefs, ethics, principles, and attitudes towards human life.
In brief – Abraham the first Jew, when tested by G-d to sacrifice his son Isaac, was commanded by the angel, at the very last moment, not to slaughter his son as a sacrifice to the Almighty. The principle conveyed was that all human life is sacred, and that humankind is created in the image of its Creator.
At the time of Abraham – human sacrifice was common practice. This episode is one of the very first foundational principles and teachings about being civilized.
Throughout the first Jewish commonwealth, lasting eight hundred and fifty years, beginning with Joshua and through King Solomon’s magnificent Temple, we do not find human sacrifice occurring among the Jews. Furthermore, throughout the second Temple period, the same was true.
However, in the Greco-Roman empires and those that preceded them – all could boast of building roads, impressive cities, universities, art, theater, and literature – however at the same time, they regaled the people with gladiators in the coliseums, violent gory battles between man and beast and between human beings as well. The more blood and gore – the greater the entertainment and thrill of the kill!
If anything, the continuity of the Jewish people, and the Torah they accepted and observed throughout the millennia, assures the world that there will always be a people who have the principles of a civilized life and ethical culture, thanks to the example of a kingdom of priests and a holy people in observance of the Torah.
With the above in mind, this Shavuot (coincides this year with the US Memorial Weekend Holiday) –is an opportune moment to attend Shul and to hear and experience the reading of the Ten Commandments.
Bring your child and toddler, your aged parents too, to accept and embrace this momentous transforming experience. To acknowledge the gift of Torah, transforming the wilderness of Sinai to a place where all human-life is cherished and sacred once again. Good Yom Tov!