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A Window into the Chareidi World

Kislev 5759 - November, 1998 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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What Does Jewish Really Mean?

by Mordecai Plaut

"And Yaakov sent messengers ahead to Eisov his brother . . ."

It is well known that Chazal have studied this parsha over and over, whenever they had to confront the nations of the world. (See Ramban on Bereishis 33:15, quoting a medrash.) They reviewed and contemplated this ancient incident, including the preparations that Yaakov made in advance and the way he responded to Eisov face-to-face, before meeting world leaders over an issue of importance to the Jews. They would try to find some hint or idea that they could apply directly to the situation they were faced with, but, failing this, they were content to imbibe its spirit as thoroughly as they could.

The leaders of the Jewish people were concerned to respond for the Jewish people as Jews. This meant that their approach to the problems of the Jewish people and their solutions, their suggestions — anything they did in crucial matters that had broad implications for the Jewish people, would be deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and thoroughly based on it.

"It is not enough for me that the Israelis are Israelis. I want those who are Jewish, to be Israeli Jews."

This was said by a delegate from North America to a recent conference in Yerushalayim. It represents a sentiment that is heard more and more often, even from foreign Jews who are quite assimilated.

The reason is quite simple. The tie that binds the Jew in Los Angeles to the residents of Tel Aviv is Judaism, and it has nothing to do with their Israeli citizenship. It is the fact that Israel is a Jewish state that arouses feelings of kinship in Jews around the world. If the State of Israel becomes merely a state of its citizens, whoever they happen to be, as some advocate openly, then the ties to Jews who are not citizens will rapidly weaken and soon disappear.

However, those who feel the links that make the Jewish people one, and want to preserve them, must be made aware that the Jewish way of life is very broad and deep. It touches everything. It provides complete answers to what a person should be and how he or she should behave in any situation, even those that have no overtly religious content, such as negotiating with a powerful adversary.

In previous generations we used to encounter many prominent Jews who, even if they threw off what they could of Jewish tradition and especially the outward signs, were left with much personal content that remained Jewish which they did not discard, and probably could not have discarded.

In our sorry times, we see too many Jewish people whose inner content is not Jewish at all. There are even some whose behavior and dress marks them as unequivocally Jewish, but whose inner content is little different from any Western non- Jew.

What we cited at the outset is but a small example of the way that a true Jew lives. He should turn nowhere else but to the Torah for a complete solution to all his problems. The Jewish tradition that has preserved us through the ages can only be continued as an all-encompassing way of life. This requires a considerable commitment, and nothing less than the real Torah in all its aspects has even proven capable of eliciting the effort required to master it, nor has it proven its effectiveness.


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