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