What does this week’s parashah have to do with the military, political and economic security of Israel and the relations between the diaspora and Israel? Over the last two decades, as depicted in the last blog, an ethnic-nationalist identity rooted in tribal membership almost became predominant in Israel at the expense of individual rights and civic belonging. An apocalyptic future awaits Jews in both Israel and in the diaspora if that is the direction Jewish life takes in Israel. However, the rise of traditionalism married to individual rights has displaced ethnic nationalism as the growing trend. It should be the responsibility of most Jews, including orthodox Halachic Jews, in the diaspora to reinforce this trend in Israel while, at the same time, ensuring their own survival as Jews in the diaspora.
What has this to do with an apocalyptic story of the flood? “Apocalypse” (ἀποκάλυψις) in Greek means “revelation.” An apocalypse is “an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling.” Not even known by God. For after the flood, God learned that he had been mistaken and vowed that He would never again destroy every living being, for cleansing humanity of evil was an impossibility that God had failed to foresee. How was the flood an apocalypse, a revelation to God on the limitations of change? Before the flood, God had regretted having created humans on earth and was heartbroken. (Genesis 6:6) But after the flood, God said in his heart, “I will not again damn the soil on account of humanity…And I will not again strike down all living things as I did.” (Genesis 8:21)
All humans also learned a lesson – that as long as there remains one good person, that individual can save the world. Noach means “rest” or “repose.” Noah is the one who will bring security from God’s wrath and any apocalyptic destructive forces. Noah is called a “man of the land” (איש האדמה), either because he returned humans to enable them to live on and cultivate the land and/or because, through him, God removed the curse of the land and, once again, as in Eden, humans took responsibility for the care and nurturing of the land. Heretofore, the children had been herdsmen (Jabal), musicians (Jubal) or metal artisans and journeymen (Tubal-cain).
Whether the story of Noah was originally a story of a flood or an original version of a tale of an actual massive drought, Noah assumes responsibility as caretaker of the earth in perpetuity, endlessly, for all time, forever. By fire or flood, by the ground burnt up by an absence of water or flooded with an excess, humans are now charged with full responsibility for the security of the earth and, hence, their own security. They must act to prevent the destructive effects of a deluge caused by too much water or a draught caused by too little.
(I interpret the Unetaneh Tokef prayer recited on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prior to the Kedushah prayer as suggesting the exact opposite, that God makes the determination each year for each individual about how they will live and how they will die. As that magnificent and truly awesome poem describes, as awesome and terrible as the day to which it refers and as awesome as the Yom Kippur holy day, that theme is one totally inconsistent with how I read and interpret Torah. But that is a subject for a very different blog on another far away day.)
Fast forward. Noah’s responsibility has been delegated to nations for the lands on which they dwell. Those nations may, in turn, delegate that responsibility to sub-groups or tribes occupying specified portions of a nation’s lands – in Canada, provinces, in the U.S.A., states. Around the world, we now grow more than enough to feed everyone on this planet, but as the films and the remarks offered at Devour, the magnificent film/food festival that I attended all last week in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, we are irresponsible for how that food is distributed and used as well as growing sufficient amounts for everyone; from one-third to one-half of all that is grown ends up in landfill. Thus, although humans have re-created Eden in which, under the care of Adam and Eve, there was enough and sufficient for all, humans have not achieved the universal goal of food security for everyone on this planet.
Israel has played a major role in reversing this state of affairs of insufficiency. Certainly, Israel should continue to be a light unto the nations varying from its drip agriculture to its development of new strains of seeds. If for that reason alone, Israel’s security must be assured. And we in the diaspora must play our role in adding to that security. The problem has never been a failure of human willingness to work the soil by the sweat of one’s brow, but a failure to work the soil smartly, as Adam and Eve evidently did, so that by our work we can once again produce a surfeit for all. It is insufficient to have won a victory over the curse on the land; we must now remove the curse on humanity which has failed in ensuring responsible distribution.
On the issue of security in distribution and security for all life on this planet on the production side, Eden has been recovered. For non-Zionist and Zionist Jews, there should exist a consensus on this issue at the very least. But the responsibility for ensuring security for Israel in its own land is not shared by all Jews in the diaspora. The Noah story makes clear that just as the flood story was superimposed on a story of massive draught, in real life, in the history of our children’s lifetimes, a massive flood may be superimposed on our failure to take responsibility for ensuring enough and sufficient for all humans in the world. The military security of Israel is a crucial ingredient in that fight.
As a minimum, deeper ties with Israel must include acceptance by Jews of responsibility for the security of Israel, for its democratic character and for basic economic support for Jews and then all of humanity throughout the world. This entails inculcating in diaspora Jews a deeper sense of responsibility to serve the nation in its military defence or in alternative service. For Zionists, all Jews as a rite of passage should be expected to offer at least two years of service, either in the military or as volunteers in Israel or in the larger community, including community-sponsored assistance to other non-Jewish communities.
Further, Jews should be encouraged to take out Israeli citizenship wherever they live, but should also have as part of an expectation that as adults they live for at least a full year in Israel.
My most controversial suggestion, however, is an economic one. All Jews should be tasked with the economic obligations to support the Jewish collective enterprise. This may perhaps best be accomplished, particularly in the initial period, by Jews filing tax returns with the Israeli state. They would pay taxes on income at tax rates comparable to that of Israelis. However, they would be able to make deductions of taxes paid to the state in which they live and in which they are tax payers as well as deductions for any financial support given for Jewish religious, educational, institutional and charitable support in the diaspora.
What about a Jewish education? Should there be an expectation that Jewish children attend a Jewish school, particularly since education is a crucial element. There can be no such requirement, only a possible preference, as long as education is not supported from collective funds but remains a private obligation. Further, for many there are educational advantages in growing up in educational institutions with members of other cultures. And this poses a dilemma in reconciling two goods, namely, promoting pluralism in education versus the need and desire to have children master their own heritage.
I do not think it is necessary at this time to determine how the reconciliation between those two meritorious paths can be reconciled. However, a summary of the other propositions follow:
- All Jews should be strongly encouraged to master Hebrew; extensive communal resources should be put into realizing that aspiration.
- Extensive efforts should be made to strengthen Jewish religious institutions and to attract the participation of Jews at all ages.
- Voluntary military or alternative service by young people should become part of a progressive Zionist platform.
- Jews should be encouraged to live for at least a full year in Israel and even be encouraged to take out Israeli citizenship.
- A common tax base rooted in Israel should be created to facilitate Jews paying their fair share of support for Jewish institutions in the diaspora as well as Israel.
This is the final installment on my reflections for the Canadian JSpace conference in Toronto on 2-3 November. As one might observe, the reflections seem to be moving in a very different direction than that of JSpace in the U.S.A. as indicated in the very recent conference there.