Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Tammuz 5764 - June 30, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Who Knows the Difference Between a Siddur and a Machzor?

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon summed up a heated exchange between Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Justice Minister Tomy Lapid at last Sunday's Cabinet meeting.

Shalom had said, "It is disgusting already to hear you attacking Judaism every time we talk about Jewish issues. Don't make fun of what is important to us."

Lapid responded by calling Shalom an "antisemite." To which Shalom responded that Lapid was "a racist, an antisemite and a clown."

The two soon "took back" their remarks, but the prime minister had the last word.

The Cabinet was discussing a report by the Jewish Agency on the state of world Jewry. The report, officially prepared by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (JPPPI) headed by former US envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross which was created and is supported by the Jewish Agency, says that there are many dangers to Jewish continuity in the modern world. The Cabinet session was devoted to hearing a summary of the report, and discussing the state of world Jewry. The report recommended that world Jewry be given a more formal institutional structure through which to make its views and interests known within the Israel political process.

In summing up, the prime minister himself complained about the situation today where the youth, "do not know the difference between minchah and ma'ariv nor between a siddur and a machzor."

Of the two sides in the Cabinet, Sharon definitely took the right one, and he deserves credit for the sichoh no'oh.

However the content of what he said only emphasizes the true nature of the real problem from which the Jewish people suffer.

The examples that Sharon gave of basic Jewish distinctions are of relatively minor distinctions. Albeit familiar to anyone with even a minimal connection to Jewish tradition, knowing how to tell the difference between a siddur and a machzor does not indicate that one has any significant familiarity with Jewish tradition, to say nothing of any in-depth knowledge or feeling for Jewish wisdom.

The examples given by the prime minister are superficial and attenuated instances of the real contrasts that Chazal noted that are basic to the Jewish view of the world. When prime minister Sharon reaches into his Jewish treasury for an example of contrasts, he finds two books that can be distinguished by their covers. But really this recalls the distinction that Chazal originally designated more directly as kodesh vechol, the much sharper, much starker distinction between the holy and the mundane, the two times when the machzor and the siddur are characteristically used.

Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, the other example grabbed by the prime minister -- between minchah and ma'ariv -- recalls the other sharp contrast drawn by Chazal in the Havdoloh prayer: between light and darkness.

The prime minister got two out of three. However the final one, which he left out, is no less important: bein Yisroel lo'amim -- the distinction between Klal Yisroel and the other peoples of the world. This is a distinction that Sharon has shown that he does not appreciate himself, in his demands to lower the standards for conversion.

Those who deliberate and influence the future of the Jewish people should be deeply connected to the Jewish people. Maybe Sharon knows the difference between minchah and ma'ariv and between a siddur and a machzor, but does he know the difference between kodesh vechol, and between ohr vechosech, and also between Yisroel lo'amim? One who presumes to speak in the name and interest of the Jewish people should be intimately familiar with these.

It is important to get the input of the people of the Diaspora in making policy in the State of Israel since what goes on here does have an impact on Jews everywhere else.

Yet it is no less important to bring the age-old wisdom of all Jews of generations past, to bear on the problems of the present.

The best and most effective way to do this is to consult with gedolei Torah who are the living repositories of the Jewish tradition and bring with them to the table a lifetime steeped in Torah as well as a deep kinship and connection with the entire Jewish people, past, present and future.

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