Repairing the Brokenness - Yishai Gezundheit ‘02

As someone who quite often dabbles in Jewish texts, I sometimes sense a feeling of fading, of crumbling away, of being lost in the infinitesimal nature of this world; the Bible and its amalgam of commentaries, the captivating world of our Sages, Philosophy, Kabbalah, Shulchan Aruch, modern thought, response literature, Shai Agnon, Sarit Hadad. The People of the Book are never at rest; we are always telling tales, countless, boundless tales. The words of the Ancient Lord is a single ray of light being shattered through a kaleidoscope, turning over and glittering again and again, available to all those who seek it.

Every generation has somehow found a way to encapsulate the story, to reformulate it and pass it onwards. The process is both brutal and brilliant, and demands creativity. There will always be those who contest and dispute it. The ultimate question is what will be enshrined in the cultural capsule, and what will be shelved as archival waste? (Bialik posed this ambitious question at the beginning of the 20th century; it has since been relevant and pressing and yet inadequately handled, due to its sheer weight).

The national education system has recently introduced a new study topic, ‘Jewish-Israeli Culture’, which is meant to combine all Jewish studies under one roof, from kindergarten through 12th grade. I see this as a great blessing, as pluralistic Jewish education is the lifeblood of Zionism. And yet the fact that this subject sits atop a rumbling volcano of momentous cultural questions calls for responsibility, caution and an ever-so-gentle discourse; these are necessary tools if this endeavor is to succeed. Over the past year, as part of an educational project I am developing along with a wonderful partner, I have attempted to harness technology – specifically 3D and social sharing – to create a ‘capsule’ of sorts: a virtual exhibition, a model of personal ‘gathering projects’ which will assert the need for creative encapsulation on the part of the students. The project is titled Emuse – you are welcome to follow us on Facebook ☺

Recently I have been grappling with one essential saying attributed to Rabbi Amital Z”L, formerly the head of ‘Har Etzion’ yeshiva in Alon-Shevut. He used to say that Judaism could not have survived without ‘the bull that gored a cow’. By this he meant that academic Talmud study - replete with theoretical casuistry, as had been developed over the past few hundred years in the Litvak yeshivas (and is a central part of Hesder yeshivas today as well) – is a vital factor in sustaining a significant Jewish culture which grasps a person by one’s soul. This was one of the justifications for the truncated army service handed to students of the Hesder project, one of the founders of which was the aforementioned Rabbi Amital. I am uncomfortable with this assertion, and that is precisely because I acknowledge the importance of an intensive educational platform which is demanding - even sapping - when it comes to Jewish studies: ‘Torah study equals all other Mitzvot’. I still have significant difficulties with the elitist, sectoral tone associated with Rabbi Amital’s assertion. I have several brilliant students at the high school I teach at in Beersheba. They are highly curious and opinionated, and have fantastic analytical and discoursal capabilities. And yet I know that after three years of studying the Talmud, the furthest they will get in terms of Jewish studies is – at best – a year at a pre-military academy. Secular yeshivas are few and far between. My furtively held fantasy is that, in a few years’ time, I will meet several of my former students at the kitchenette in the Judaism Studies department in Ben Gurion University. Unfortunately, right now there is no worthy alternative to serious, profound Jewish studies in the national education system. But I do have faith – there is no other way.