Israeli democracy needs ‘Sharanskyism’ not ‘Liebermania’

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

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By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-26-11

When I studied modern Jewish history in graduate school, one book in particular revolutionized my understanding of Israel – and helps explain Israel’s current democratic predicament — Prophecy and Politics: Socialism, Nationalism and the Russian Jews, 1862-1917. By following the migrations of Russian Jewish ideologues, especially to New York and Palestine, Jonathan Frankel showed their extraordinary influence on the two centers of my life, America and Israel. As modern Israel seeks suitable boundaries for democratic debate amid security threats, Frankel’s insights remind us how the Russians and other immigrant groups molded Israel. Considering that Russian impact, Israeli democracy today needs a big red purge of certain, destructive, Soviet impulses.

Linking the Jewish labor movement in New York with Zionism’s early stirrings in Russia and Palestine, Frankel’s book taught me how Russian Israeli culture is and how Americanized my understanding of Zionism was. I then learned from Melvin Urofsky’s American Zionism from Herzl to the Holocaust, shaped by Louis Brandeis’s marvelous mix of Zionism and American Progressivism. The great American Supreme Court Justice – and Zionist – cast the story of Jewish national liberation in American terms, emphasizing the Jews’ flight from oppression to pioneer a new, enlightened democracy in Palestine. This cocktail helped American Jews view supporting Zionism as an expression of Americanism, not a distraction or a betrayal.

Labeling Israel the Middle East’s only democracy exaggerates geography’s political relevance. Actually, culture counts. How Polish-Russian Jews like David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, born into the Czarist Russian Empire, learned to appreciate democracy and implement it in a country filled with immigrants from undemocratic regimes remains one of Zionism’s greatest achievements.

Zionism functioned as a centrifuge, mixing different cultures, ideologies, and values, then incorporating the best of them into this exciting new experiment in Jewish nationalism and state-building. The early Russian pioneers contributed a communal passion that still exists in creative tension with American Zionists’ Brandeisian individualism and liberalism. But while that collectivist zeal frequently elevated Israeli society, most nobly with the Kibbutz movement, it degenerated in Bolshevik hands into Soviet totalitarianism. Vladimir Putin demonstrates that within Russian political culture an authoritarian streak still resists free expression, especially untrammeled criticism, while longing for strongman rule.

That Soviet strain – which we can call in Israel Liebermania, named after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – propels the undemocratic ideas in Binyamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. Unfortunately, that repressive strain also appeals to a growing number of native Israeli Jews and those in the religious camp who misread Judaism as monolithic rather than disputatious and democratic. Culture is, of course, adaptive and dynamic, neither immutable nor genetic. Many who survived the Soviet regime – and Arab rule – emerged as champions of democratic expression and civil society. Natan Sharansky is only the most famous example of that counter-tradition.

And no culture is problem-free. Modern American political culture, especially the post-1960s progressive variety most American Jews embrace, tends to be highly self-critical, relativistic, and frequently blind to the presence of real enmity or evil. This approach encourages political reform and national self-improvement. But it discourages the necessary moves for self-defense embattled democracies must make while often accepting the narratives of critics and enemies over more patriotic and admittedly self-serving storylines.

Israel needs Sharanskyism rather than Liebermania, a vital democracy that is neither oppressive nor self-destructive. We must welcome Russians’ continuing concerns with high culture, science, and the collective national soul. But we also must purge that lingering Soviet influence – the totalitarian instinct to outlaw free speech we hate rather than refute it, along with the yearning for tough demagogues.

Similarly, Israel should help the United States – and the rest of the West – balance self-criticism with survival. The Zionist instinct toward self-preservation, and the blunt Israeli approach of “Ein Breira,” we have no alternative, serve as important correctives – within limits – to Western prosperity-laced guilt mixed with American “We are the World,” and “I’m OK, you’re OK” diplomacy. As we approach September 11th’s tenth anniversary we should remember that the day America was blindsided by Islamist terrorism – despite years of warnings – Americans turned toward Israel to learn how thriving democracies can fight terror effectively, so that the Constitution would not become “a suicide pact.”

In this struggle for Israel’s soul, Binyamin Netanyahu should lead not waffle. His background is American not Soviet, more Brandeis than Lieberman. As UN Ambassador and in his books, he argued that democracies could preserve core values while protecting themselves. As Prime Minister, he seems too concerned with preserving his coalition not protecting those values. Democratic ideals should be guiding principles he defends passionately – not just easy applause lines when dueling Barack Obama or Mahmoud Abbas.

This is an educational and ideological challenge. North American Zionists, watching this struggle, should not cut and run. Saying “Israel is pushing me away,” as one Huffington Post blogger recently complained, is immature. Here is a noble cause, a delicious struggle, an opportunity for Anglos — and other freedom-lovers — to import our values to shape Israel’s future. In this fight, advocating a ‘Big Red Purge’ challenges those who escaped Soviet tyranny to explore what destructive impulses they absorbed unintentionally. Yelling “McCarthyism” repeatedly, in addition to being historically inaccurate, doesn’t resonate with that audience – and reflects the self-referential elitist bubble encasing Israel’s left.

Israel is a young country still forming. Our challenge, our opportunity, amid all the surrounding threats, is to ensure that Israel fulfills its core Zionist vision, becoming a model state that welcomes immigrants from different cultures, culling the best of what they bring, while retaining democratic and Jewish values. Making that effort succeed can be one of the great adventures of modern life, injecting, as Jonathan Frankel’s Russian thinkers did, a touch of prophecy into everyday politics.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

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Doubly disgusted The boycott bill and its hysterical opponents

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-19-11

The continuing fight over the anti-boycott law is doubly depressing. Although the law is unnecessary and counter-productive, most opponents nevertheless overreacted, once again hysterically claiming that Israeli democracy is dying. It is hard to believe free expression is imperiled in a country that debates such laws so loudly.

I support citizens’ rights to boycott people, products, and places of business on principle. Yet I also consider the current move to boycott Israel evil, anti-Semitic in effect and frequently in intent.

I was raised on the self-righteous feeling a good boycott brings. Whenever I saw a Jew driving a Volkswagen or a Mercedes-Benz, I felt superior, knowing I rejected German goods. Boycotting Germany let me register continuing disgust with the Holocaust.

I understood boycotting as a tool, neither inherently good nor bad. The Arab boycott against Israel was wrong. But we responded with our own boycott, against Pepsi, for succumbing to Arab pressure, and for trading with the Soviet Union. To this day, when I drink those sugar-bombs we call “soft drinks,” I prefer Coke, which was all over Israel when I first visited – as were German-made Mercedes-Benz taxis, which really confused me.

Boycotting is a wonderfully democratic move. It injects an alternative ethical calculus into the selfish and self-indulgent consumerist equation. It makes politics personal. And it is transportable. Like kashrut, which kept me “doing Jewish,” at least three times daily, no matter where I was, boycotting German products – and Pepsi – affirmed my Zionism wherever I traveled, whenever it came out –sometimes in unexpected ways.

When I registered with my fiancée (now my wife) for wedding gifts at Caplan-Duval’s, a Montreal Jewish institution, I made my stand. I was already unnerved by this basic training in marital materialism, as I adjusted from buying an entire 40-piece dish set for $29.99 to registering for one China setting at $299 a pop. And I was embarrassed that in the Montreal fishbowl, the registry was so public, as Jews learned who was marrying whom by seeing who registered for what. When our only choice for knives was Henckels, I refused to register to buy German knives for our Jewish wedding. “Don’t worry,” the saleswoman replied, “all our Jewish clients buy Henckels” – whispering the word “Jewish.”

At the same time, I detest the entire BDS – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions — strategy hatched by the hate-Israel mob, rebranded by Toronto activists as the “Blacklist, Demonization and Slander” campaign. I have spent far too much time combating the boycott, co-chairing a task force against BDS during the Foreign Ministry’s Global Forum against Anti-Semitism and once flying from Jerusalem to testify on Parliament Hill in Ottawa against the anti-Israel boycott.

When testifying before a multiparty parliamentary commission investigating Canadian anti-Semitism, my panel included representatives of the pro-boycott postal workers’ union. Defining bigotry as an essentialist attack on a group, repudiating the group itself not particular actions, I quoted the union leaders’ rhetoric to charge them with anti-Israel bigotry, illustrating how they were either being morally sloppy – or malicious. I insisted that, given the Arabs’ systematic, anti-Semitic campaign against Israel – with its genocidal overtones calling for Israel’s destruction – the moral onus was on them to distance themselves from this abomination.

Peace Now demonstration against Boycott Bill (Marc Israel Sellem)

So yes, the current anti-Israel boycott is wrong. But so too is the Knesset legislation. Part of the boycott strategy is a poison pill strategy – trying to trigger Israel into making self-destructive moves in overreacting to a threat which, so far remains marginal. Flailing is not leadership. Laws that result from panicked attempts to outlaw political positions are like the shouts of a substitute teacher – the louder the yelling or the more heavy-handed the law, the more weakness it shows.

Predictably, opponents within Israel and outside have done what they always do when criticizing Israel – go to offensive extremes. Zvi Bar’el in Ha’aretz decried the settlers’ impeding “conquest” of Israel, comparing the settler “minority” trying to control Israel to the dictatorial Alawite minority in oppressive Syria; others compared Israel to theocratic Iran. In the Jerusalem Post, Larry Derfner claimed “There’s no Right and Left anymore, only a Right and a Further Right.” Then, he said, “I’ve written against the boycott, but the anti-boycott law is giving me second thoughts.”

Opponents overlooked the fact the United States itself enacted anti-Arab-boycott laws in the 1970s. The Department of Commerce prohibits American firms from participating in foreign boycotts the United States does not sanction. Punishments for non-reporting let alone participation include fines and imprisonment.

Israeli democracy will survive – whether or not the Supreme Court bails out the Knesset by disallowing the law. But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu failed once again to stand up for an important principle and a pragmatic strategy in fighting de-legitimization, which should unite left and right in defending the country, rather than becoming another flashpoint. Those of us on the front lines seek left-wing voices to fight de-legitimization, understanding how important pro-Palestinian voices can be in making the argument that delegitimizing Israel makes compromise more difficult by shifting the fight from a potentially negotiable fight about borders to an existential fight about Israel’s survival. Publicly, the government and the Knesset could fight de-legitimization better – and improve Israeli political culture too – by nurturing broad-based alliances rather than concocting heavy-handed laws that polarize and won’t work. The issue is too important to leave to partisan politicians playing to their extremists. Israel needs good arguments not bad law.

The fight against de-legitimization requires subtlety. In this PR fight, Israelis must not only ask “do we have the right to take this action,” but “will it play right?” Last year, Israel was justified in boarding the Mavi Marmara but was far more effective this year with a subtle campaign that undermined, mocked and dismissed without fighting directly. Similar tactics will defeat boycotts too.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow. He is the author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” and, most recently, “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”

Rabbi Hartman offers a ‘theology of response’

By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 7-14-11

Although he moved from Montreal to Jerusalem in 1971, Rabbi David Hartman still inspires many Canadians with his warmth, his passion and his brilliance.

Similarly, as his new book makes clear, his experiences as a Montreal rabbi continue to shape him, too. In The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting & Rethinking Jewish Tradition, Hartman continues struggling with some of the dilemmas congregants shared with him. His response has triggered his bold approach to Halachah, Jewish law, as he seeks to “embrace a tradition that embraces a God who embraces life.”

A courageous thinker, Rabbi Hartman runs toward the very conflicts others flee. Struggling with the agunah question, the purgatory a woman suffers when her husband does not give her a signed divorce decree, he recalls one “major modern Orthodox halachic authority” who told him: “This is my personal Akedah,” comparing his frustration over this archaic rule with the test of faith God imposed on Abraham by binding Isaac for sacrifice. “Your Akedah,” Rabbi Hartman snapped. “Is that supposed to bring comfort to the abandoned woman whose life is passing her by?” Rabbi Hartman recoils from “this theological posturing, with its distasteful rhetoric of rabbinic helplessness and suffering.”

As a young rabbi, Rabbi Hartman was so busy encouraging his congregants to observe the commandments he overlooked what he calls “many of Halachah’s darker moral trends.” He tells the story of Peter, a 45-year-old single congregant who fell in love with Susan. Although both were serious Jews, Peter as a Kohen – a priest – was forbidden from marrying Susan, a convert. This reading of Jewish virtue when it comes to conversions, along with, as he puts it, “the systemic moral challenge of feminism,” propelled Rabbi Hartman into a “meta-halachic” search, trying to understand the central principle underlying Jewish law.

Rabbi Hartman regretfully rejects the “theology of halachic permanence” articulated by his beloved teacher, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. In a powerful chapter asking Where Did Modern Orthodoxy Go Wrong?, Rabbi Hartman critiques Rabbi Soloveitchik’s approach, which freezes Jewish law “permanently and uniformly in place,” ignoring “the passing of time” and “the shifting of culture.” Hartman finds the approach “deeply inhuman,” saying, “I must part company with a view of Halachah that takes it out of history and out of human experience…. I do not think that loyalty to and love for this tradition requires exiting history or exiting life.”

Instead, Rabbi Hartman offers what he calls a “theology of response” based on the talmudic teaching not to “ascribe false things to God.” The “God who hates lies” wants us to respond to our experiences, to our moral sensibilities, as they develop, to “incorporate” them “into our spiritual and ritual lives.” Accepting the premise that “reality speaks,” Rabbi Hartman identifies an authentic, historically rooted, Jewish theology that allows Peter to marry Susan because “identity drawn from choice and behaviour” trumps “identify as a biological gift of the God of Israel.”

This morally driven theology will honour as a Jew the Russian-born Israeli soldier who dies fighting for the Jewish people, even if he may have some non-Jewish blood. This person-centred approach is open to honouring women as equal human beings having been “created in the image of God.” And this sensitivity to history reframes the discussion about religion in the sovereign State of Israel by welcoming new moral horizons, as well as a deeper understanding of peoplehood, loyalty, and identity with a Halachah conceived in Jewish powerlessness now applied and adapted to the new reality of Jews having power.

Critics will rush to caricature Rabbi Hartman’s argument as yet another reformer’s appeal. But serious readers of this book will realize that such a dismissal is too facile. This book is “God-intoxicated” – Rabbi Hartman’s phrase – and text-intoxicated, steeped in a passionate, erudite, creative yet reverential engagement with Jewish tradition. Rabbi Hartman is simply too learned to be ignored so easily. He knows his Maimonides and his Talmud, his Tanach and his Tosefos, rooting his humanistic halachic vision in a lively, learned, traditional reading of the sources.

In the 40 years since he left Montreal, Rabbi Hartman has been a revolutionary, doing good in Jerusalem and throughout the Jewish world. This prophet of pluralism, this philosopher who rejects falsehood, this rabbi of reason and reach has now posed a serious challenge to his Orthodox colleagues. It is incumbent upon them to read, respond – and maybe even reformulate, if not reform.

Jerusalem’s magical mix of old and new, East and West

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-12-11

I am tired of Israelis complaining that Jerusalem turned “black” – the dismissive shorthand for ultra-Orthodox. And I am tired of visitors on missions visiting Jerusalem on the “seam” – only viewing the real city through the prism of conflicts – between Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Sephardi – then waxing poetic about its spirituality, reducing it to a Jewish theme park. The real Jerusalem magically mixes old and new, East and West. This modern metropolis is also a living repository of history and holiness. It struggles with challenges but is also uniquely positioned as the Jewish people’s capital, and a world class city where modern, entrepreneurial, democratic values meet traditional, communitarian sensibilities.

Jerusalem does what cities should do, centralize and synthesize as well as symbolize. The sociologist Richard Sennett in The Fall of Public Man says a city is “a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet.” The words “city” and “citizen” share common roots. Linking these two ideas, cities work when they unite different people through a shared sense of responsibility. Cities become great when a critical mass of creativity and community feeling develops, so these newly-bonded citizens can express their accomplishments individually, institutionally, monumentally.

In this reading, Jerusalem’s diversity enhances the city. Visitors should watch Jerusalemites cooperate, rather than assuming differences always cause conflict. We could define Jerusalem by the few ultra-Orthodox fanatics who desecrated the Sabbath last week by stoning drivers just outside their neighborhoods. Or, we could define Jerusalem by the vast majority who prayed peacefully in one of the most exciting living laboratories in Jewish history, South-Central Jerusalem. There, every Shabbat, thousands of learned, pious Jews live tradition amid modernity, balancing continuity and change. This quest is best exemplified by the many creative experiments involving women in prayer, but goes much further. And it flourishes in a spirit of acceptance, with open dialogues and even, believe it or not, socializing between women who cover their hair and those who bare their shoulders, between men who always wear kippot and those who keep a kippah conveniently rolled in their pockets – folding leaves creases.

This Sunday, my wife and I again experienced Jerusalem’s breathtaking range. Our evening began on the Israel Museum’s magnificent terrace, viewing vistas of modern monumental Jerusalem, especially the Knesset, symbolizing Israeli democracy. We attended the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy’s (CIJA) reception celebrating Canada Day and Canada-Israel relations. In true Jerusalem style, the Director of CIJA’s Israel office, David Weinberg, toasted Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, with the perfect Biblical allusion, comparing Harper’s warmth toward Israel with “the magnificent, unique friendship” King David and King Solomon both enjoyed with Chiram, the Phoenician king of Tyre in Lebanon – who helped build the Temple.

The Canadian Ambassador Paul Hunt, the Minister for Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein and MK Yochanan Plesner celebrated the common values of innovation and democracy, freedom and multicultural tolerance, uniting the two nations. Illustrating Jerusalem’s role as Israel’s capital, Ambassador Hunt and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman then signed the latest bilateral agreement encouraging Canadian-Israeli research and development.

We then dashed across town to the Talpiot industrial zone, a gritty corner of the real-life city, to a fabulous Henna ceremony celebrating the marriage of my friend Moshe’s daughter, Shelly. Moshe is one of those storied cab driver-philosophers brought to life – memorialized in the line from Tel Aviv Taxi, the 1956 Israeli film classic by Larry Frisch featured this week at Jerusalem’s Film Festival that Israeli cabbies are like all cabbies, except they are better story tellers.

Moshe immigrated to Israel from Algeria in 1948 when he was a toddler and has grown up with the state. His delightfully peppery mother Miriam told us that when he served in a legendary Golani combat unit during the 1967 Six Day War – which was B.C., before cell phones — she wandered the Golan Heights looking for him, shouting his name, until she found him.

Henna is a gloopy, chocolatey plant extract pressed into guests’ palms, dying the skin orange temporarily – for lasting good luck. This ancient Middle Eastern custom provides a great excuse for a pre-wedding party. Minutes after leaving our subdued, sophisticated Canadian-Israeli cocktail, we were bobbing on the Club Kazablanka’s dance floor, rhythmically pumping beautifully wrapped and beribboned trays over our heads filled with Sephardic delicacies. I had doffed my sports jacket and, at Moshe’s insistence, donned a fez and a djellaba, the flowing, Arabic robe – mine, poetically, was blue and white.

While dancing with the joyous Mediterranean abandon for which Israelis are so famous, we were moved by the reverence for their elders and their heritage the young revelers displayed. The throbbing crowd parted to let the parents and grandparents advance to the front and bestow gifts on the couple. The parents and children all wore Moroccan dress and headdresses. Unlike me, they pulled off the feat without looking ridiculous, feeling thoroughly at home – even as their traditional costumes covered cell phones and our usual digital gadgetry.

The two contrasting parties were actually in concert with each other. City Councilor Rachel Azaria insists that Jerusalem must feature affordable housing, flowing traffic, and great schools, as well as accessible monuments, a splendid story and an alluring aura. Jerusalem’s salvation will come from what has emerged as this characteristic Zionist mix.

Great accomplishments will result from the kind of tomorrow-oriented innovative spirit and democratic values the Canada-Israel evening celebrated. But deep meaning still derives from the poetry of everyday life, preserving traditions and imbuing them with the youthful passion we experienced at the Henna. Jerusalem itself should become the ultimate model of urban renewal, demonstrating the old and new magic stored in any great city but particularly defining this ancient yet still evolving metropolis.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

Rabbi Hartman’s heartfelt answer to the heartless rabbis

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 7-5-11

Anyone who doubts the importance of protecting freedom of speech should watch the farce unfolding in Jerusalem over that despicable book Torat HaMelekh, which misreads Jewish texts to justify killing non-Jews during wartime. By summoning the leading rabbis who vouched for the book to deny allegations of incitement, the police gave the book a publicity bonanza. Hundreds of young Yeshiva hooligans protested – sometimes violently. The media confused this defense of the rabbis with a defense of that hateful book, further publicizing it. Meanwhile, rightists wondered why their rabbis get interrogated while leftists advocating terrorism are undisturbed. The police should ignore them all.

Freedom of speech reflects faith in the people along with distrust of the authorities. I trust the people – and the free marketplace of ideas – to reject the book’s ugly lies. And I doubt the Israeli police’s ability to handle this complex halakhic argument effectively.

Silly me. I want the police preventing burglaries, solving murders, untangling traffic, crushing the underworld – while avoiding politics and intellectual life. Especially considering that officers felt compelled to interrogate Avigdor Lieberman the day after he became foreign minister, yet 27 months later the case remains open, I confess to trust issues with the Israeli police – or any police force – regarding delicate political or intellectual matters.

We should remember Natan Sharansky’s “public square test” for healthy democracies, asking if citizens can denounce their government publicly – and even say hateful things – without fearing arrest or bodily harm. We also should remember that in today’s media-ocracy, conflict rules, making this hysterical media circus predictable – and best avoided.

Israel – led by religious Zionists – needs a strong chorus refuting the book. Professor Menachem Kellner of the University of Haifa – a renowned Maimonides scholar who learned at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva – is one of many religious scholars disgusted by the book. Claiming the authors spend more than 200 pages “misusing Maimonides” to support their “twisted conclusions,” Kellner calls the book biased, “intellectually dishonest,” “seriously anti-Zionist,” guilty of “conceptual confusion” in failing to “distinguish among gentiles, Noachides, and idolaters.” The book makes “the “astounding (and wholly unsupported in the halakhic tradition) assumption that the lives of Gentiles who are not ‘resident aliens’ have no meaning and no legitimacy.” The authors, Kellner concludes, are “either evil, or idiots, or both.”

Rabbi Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, urged Orthodox rabbis worldwide, especially Israel’s chief rabbis, to denounce the text “as a perversion of Judaism, cloaking itself as an authoritative interpretation of Jewish biblical law.” And the “Twelfth of Heshvan,” a coalition of Religious Zionist organizations recalling the day of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, petitioned the Supreme Court seeking to confiscate the work and arrest the authors. While rejecting these methods, I am glad to see religious forces fighting this evil.

Fortunately, one of the world’s leading philosophers and rabbinic authorities, Rabbi David Hartman, just published a powerful book criticizing the underlying culture which spawned these perversions. Hartman’s concerns are tamer – issues of conversion, women in Judaism, and the need for Haredi and religious Jews to embrace Israel’s great moral potential as a modern Jewish state. But his vision of what he calls a “God-intoxicated Halakha,” Jewish law consecrated by God and tradition yet responsive to the developing wonders of the world God created, implicitly counters the petty, insular, immoral, ideological cesspools where distorted readings of Jewish tradition fester.

Rabbi Hartman’s “meta-Halakhic” approach spurns modern Orthodoxy’s rigidity, as articulated by Hartman’s beloved mentor, Rav Joseph Soloveitchik. Hartman rejects Soloveitchik’s “theology of halakhic permanence” for freezing Jewish law “permanently and uniformly in place,” ignoring “the passing of time,” neglecting “the shifting of culture,” and sometimes snubbing Jews the rabbis originally discounted, especially women and converts. Hartman believes that The God Who Hates Lies – the book’s title – would never want halakha taken “out of history and out of human experience.”

Instead, Hartman builds his “theology of response” on the Talmudic teaching not to “ascribe false things to God.” Having created humans in His own image, God wants us to “incorporate” experiences, moral imperatives, new insights “into our spiritual and ritual lives.” Mixing human needs and moral development into the midrash’s “living waters” of tradition will create a more vital, humane, and authentic halakha.

Hartman seeks this individually and collectively, excited as he is by the theological possibilities offered by the great political revolution of re-establishing Jewish sovereignty in Israel. He wants to explore the “religious significance of Israel’s experiment in building a total Jewish society.” And he wants an “Israel where we could witness the ethical spirit of Torah manifested in a sovereign Jewish society.”

Hartman’s relationship to God is intense, personal. His book brims with passion while being embedded in substance. Religious and non-religious Jews should answer his call. This is one formidable Jew whose Judaism throbs with the sensuality of Yehudah HaLevi, the rigor of Maimonides, the depth of the Vilna Gaon, the wisdom of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the moral “musar” of Israel Salanter — leavened and actually more fully realized by the liberalism of John Stuart Mill, the idealism of Martin Luther King, the humanism of Betty Friedan – many of whose ideas, of course, stemmed from the Bible.

Alas, this important, challenging, spiritually-stretching and rich text is not making headlines. I would prefer to see Israelis debating Rabbi Hartman’s grand ideas than those of the hateful little rabbis. I would prefer to see Israel, Zionism, and Judaism judged by Hartman’s pluralism and openness than by the provincial Yeshiva hooligans swarming the Supreme Court. While I am sure his publisher and the Shalom Hartman Institute he founded – where I have a research fellowship – have a publicity plan, maybe someone knows an overzealous police captain who wants to ban the book, and help it sell?

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com