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Thursday, May 03, 2012

The 140 character pitch for Judaism and the Jewish state

In last night's much heralded debate between Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart, there was an intriguing question asked at 56:36.

The question was that both of them had written about the tragedy of young American Jews who do not identify with Judaism or with the Jewish state. If they had two minutes to make a pitch for one of them to re-engage with Judaism and Zionism, stuck in the proverbial elevator, what would they say?

Gordis, who is a Conservative rabbi, answered that he wouldn't engage in the conversation at all. Bringing up the famous story of the person who demanded that rabbis Shammai and Hillel teach him the entire Torah while he stands on one foot, Gordis said that he would side with Shammai and refuse to answer - it is a dismissive, loaded question, and one cannot teach the big questions of life in two minutes.

Gordis railed against today's culture where people think that big ideas can be adequately expressed in a text message. He said that if one is serious to know the answer, he'll be happy to spend the months and years necessary to answer the question.

Unfortunately, this is the wrong answer. We do live in a time where people are thinking in soundbites and text messages and tweets, and we have to adapt to it. Arguments for Judaism and Jewish nationalism must work on all levels.

And I felt it was an intriguing question, as there was nothing in the question that presupposed that the young Jew in the elevator was hostile, but rather that he or she was clueless, as most - unfortunately - are.

I feel that Hillel's answer was good as well - because he ended it off with "go and learn." The response, both then and now, should not be a real answer - but it must be a hook to get people to want to find out the real answers for themselves

So I took it upon myself to respond to that question. But since I like a challenge, I didn't want to use a rather expansive two minutes, but I wanted to craft a response limited to the 140 character limit on Twitter.

Here it is:

Learning about other peoples and cultures is wonderful, but learning and internalizing about your own people and history is a prerequisite.