People try to pin me down into a standard Jewish affiliation, which in the last few years has become an increasingly difficult task, but people get nervous when they can’t neatly label the box the put you in. The kind of Judaism I practice in Israel makes sense only in that Israeli context, and the why of that became particularly clear to me during of this conference.

First of all, issues of Jewish Identity, Affiliation and Continuity are really Diaspora issues. It is one of the ironies of my life that I left America in part to get past those standard issues, and yet between Jewlicious, JTB festivals and conferences like ROI, it seems to be all I talk about.

Second, and perhaps more thought-provoking is something that Ariel Beery brought up: The idea that Judaism as we currently know it is an invention based on Diaspora Life. It is a system, designed at the time of the second exile, to ensure survival of a dispersed people. Sovereignty, and particularly life in your own sovereign state, changes everything.

The only other peoples concerned with preserving their ethnic identities like we are are people without a country; Tibetans, Native American Indians, Armenians. We now have our own country, yet the conversation remains the same.

In a world with Israel, basic Jewish survival is virtually assured. Perhaps the conversation needs to shift from continuity to context. OK, we will survive, now what do we want to survive as?

About the author

Laya Millman


  • Armenians do have a country, although it`s true that an overwhelming majority of Armenians live in a diaspora.

  • Lay, both of your past two posts are really great.

    But a question for you: Living in Israel, we both know that the issues of continuity, affiliation, etc. are rarely discussed. However, do you think that they should be? Diaspora Jewish life aside, should Israelis strive for some ideal Judaism or Jewish idenity (whether on a cultural, religious, or nationalist level)?

    See you laters…

  • You are ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who leave the country. I was just the other day in some hick town and I heard an Israeli in front of an apartment house talking on the phone. no Jews in this town.

    I don’t think the majority of cultured Israelis agree w/your perspective. Because as you stated, the diaspora produced in large measure all of the Talmudics and Religious holy men that produced volume upon volume of Torah thoughts and explanations on the Torah and other books.

    These are studies and referred to reverently by Jews throughout the world incl. Israel.

    As far as the point of this conference, what they are trying to do, applies to Israelie as well.

    In cases of religious educated children, this has proven to be an excellent remedy against intermarriage, this applies in Israel as well.

    In terms of those not getting this education, there are many programs that help. This also applies to Israel.

  • But there is still a question of identity: An Israeli is not the same as a Jew. That is despite the blurring of Israeli and Jewish identity in (and sometimes outside of) Israel. This is why many Israelis who leave Israel drop out of Jewish life (even if they were “masorati” in Israel because they did Jewish customs and traditions as a function of national life). At the same time, why should a non-Jew living in Israel and its Jewish society (i.e. not Arabs or religious Christians) fast on Yom Kippur (for example, but a common one)

    Also, the mitzvot still are important in Israel. In fact, according to the Talmud, they are supposed to be done in Israel and everything outside is practice.

    On the other hand, I think I agree with a lot of what you (and Ariel) said and I often wish that we could radically revitalize halakha with the issue of sovereignty (and have problems today with the idea of “remembering Zion” when we are building a a vibrant Jewish society in Israel (with its share of problems, no doubt) and when political sovereignty has been restored to the Jewish nation (the core issue for me) after 2000 years of exile (but the exile ended in 1948!).

    But, it’s simply “not enough” to live in Israel, because one needs that national consciousness (which is not the same as pure nationalism because we need the 3000 years of Jewish history as part of it) to contribute productively to Israeli society

  • Another issue: Should Jews put all their eggs in one basket? Should “virtually be assured” emphasize the “assured” or the “virtually?”

    I trust in Hashem, but still buy insurance. A Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael is wonderful, and I’ll defend it to the death, but I would be remiss in thinking that it is still not part of golus, and until the revelation of Moshiach, and all that entails (no war, etc.) its survival as a uniquely Jewish country is not assured (chas v’sholem).

  • You’re right that we will survive, but the question is whether that survival will have any meaning for the world. That depends both on numbers and what we do with ourselves. If we are a shrinking remnant, we’ll have decreasing impact. But if Jews lose sight of their mission in the world and can’t really make the leap from exilic Judaism to something that works with sovereignty and the modern world, than what difference does it make if we dwindle away? So the problems of survival and meaning are inextricably intertwined, and we don’t have the time or luxury of ignoring either. Thanks for asking the right questions.

  • As long as there are pastrami on rye (with mustard) sandwiches the Jews will survive! 🙂

  • Pastrami on rye or bagels with lox, however good, are not the basis for self identity. It hasn’t worked for the current generation in America, which is why many of us turned/returned to a more religious framework. We go to shul and daven before enjoying the bagels and lox at qiddush: now, that’s a recipe for survival.

  • “In a world with Israel, basic Jewish survival is virtually assured.”

    Survival of Jews is virtually assured, but what about the survival of Judaism?

  • Let us never forget the main character of our story. To whit, G-d. You can’t have Hamlet without Hamlet.

    Only the Torah is eternal. Not pastrami. Not bagels. Not even shakshuka, pardon me.

    Oh! the revolution was on every tongue, the bastille had fallen, omg,

    so what did you eat that shabbat? I know what you prayed.

    it’s now called ‘the place de la concorde’. You know, agreement square. Hmm.

    shabbat shalom, ..

  • Having recently returned from Israel, I find myself feeling even “more Jewish” identifying, not only with my religion (which profoundly impacts the spirit of who I am, but with “my country, Israel”. All of a sudden, I find I have a home….I now consider myself an Israeli, Jewish, American.
    As most of the population of the world come from some country they call their homeland, they are able to incorporate their countries values, culture, etc. with their religion. Israel is unique to the Jews of the diaspora as most of us don’t come from Israel.

    I have no doubt that the Jews of the world will continue to grow, achieve and make our mark because that is intrinsically who we are, what we do, whereever we are. I see the State of Israel making this even more probable.

    Your question is a good one: Is Judiasm based on diaspora life or is it a living, breathing, spiritual entity? And what does being Jewish look like in the Jewish State of Israel? And does being Israeli necessitate the strict adherence to scripture……..and so it goes!!!

  • That’s a smart observation about Diaspora Jewish identity vs. Israeli Jewish identity, and the issue of continuity vs. context. One of the dangers, though, is that if we focus on context, and neglect the issue of continuity, Israeli Jewry and Diaspora Jewry will be headed down two very different roads until they become more and more distant from one another. Modern Judaism may have been invented to ensure Jewish survivial in the Diaspora, but if Israelis, now that they have a homeland, shun this Diaspora Judaism, they’ll also be divorcing themselves from their fellow Jews overseas — not to mention the previous few thousand years of Jewish civilization.

  • Laya
    do you really believe that our survival is certain because of Israel? this flies in the face of Jewish history and the Torah. But of course this is the line that I was sold as a Labor Zionist youth… Its just that it is a lie.

    The Jews lost Israel not once, but twice. (some say three times after the Bar Kochba revolt) And we can loose it again. Our lease on the land is contingent on our respect for the Torah and Hashem. We can be kicked out in an instant if God wanted it.

    And what is Israel worth if not to be doing mitzvos?
    Yes, just living there is a mitzvah, but that is not enough of a mitzvah to retain the lease on the land and to perpetuate our people.

    And in fact, why all the worry about perpetuating our people? God promised that we would never be erased. We don’t need conferences, a state, or even a blog for our survival. (Ok well maybe a blog.)
    I am not afraid of Jewish survival and either should anyone else. I am sad and worried about Jewish assimilation for a different reason.

    It is a tragedy when Jews are lost. It is a tragedy when 80 percent of American Jewry has been lost. (3 million Jews in the USA in 1910 should equal 45 million today).So many7 yidden lost that could have made such a positive contribution to world in a Jewish way.

    There must be room in our lives to be spiritually connected through the Torah and not to relegate it to a special “study time” a special place, and just there. Israel and Israelis need to learn the real reason that we live in Israel, and not be fed a manufactured identity of modern nationalism that usurps ancient symbols for profane causes.

    Really the Dati Leumi are the closest thing we have to Jews who get it. They know why they live in Israel. They study the Torah. They identify with Jewish history and mission. Thjey are not flocking in droves to LA, NYC or London. They pass this on to their children and grandchildren. Do I agree with all the politics? No. But Jewishly, they get it stronger than nearly any group today.

    We are fooling ourselves if we think that Jews can survive somewhere as Jews, even with fighter planes and tanks, without the Torah and God.

  • Really the Dati Leumi are the closest thing we have to Jews who get it. They know why they live in Israel. They study the Torah. They identify with Jewish history and mission. Thjey are not flocking in droves to LA, NYC or London. They pass this on to their children and grandchildren. Do I agree with all the politics? No. But Jewishly, they get it stronger than nearly any group today.

    we happen to agree on this point. I have a feeling we don’t agree on how we ended up with this situation, but your statement is true and I also don’t agree with some of their politics.

  • Rabbi Yonah, I agree with so much of what you’ve written. While someday I’ll visit Israel and, who knows, maybe live there, I have a commitment to where I am now; it’s my home. And while I may not have Yerushalayim or millenia of Jewish history here, I do have a Jewish community in which I have a stake.

    Like the Dati Leumi, the great example of Jewish continuity, we, here, strive to make our place a permanent, non-transient base for Torah, mitzvot and God. It’s not Israel, but it’s certainly not a consolation prize.

    So, I obviosly disagree strongly with anyone who feels that Israel is the entire key to continuity and that diaspora is its downfall. We can, and will, survive and flourish nearly anywhere.

    But if we’re going to survive, we need to teach our “young leaders” the basics of fostering community, no matter where they are: find some close friends who practice Judaism in a way that’s compatible with yours, whatever that is. Learn to daven and make a seat “yours” in shul. Go even when you don’t feel like it. For God’s sake, help make minyan as often as you can. Don’t settle for lousy kosher restaurants. If you hear that someone’s sick, bring them flowers and a bag of fruit. Make sure your kids play together. Send them to dayschool and stay involved so you make sure they’re getting the best education possible. Invite people over for lunch on Shabbos. Make your home a place where Judaism naturally resides and isn’t like a sweater that you take off and put on from time to time.

    Is this stuff even being addressed at the conference?

  • Rabbi Yonah said:

    And in fact, why all the worry about perpetuating our people? God promised that we would never be erased. We don’t need conferences, a state, or even a blog for our survival. (Ok well maybe a blog.)
    I am not afraid of Jewish survival and either should anyone else. I am sad and worried about Jewish assimilation for a different reason.

    We talked about this once on jewlicious, here!

  • The problem w/ this post imo, is that it is too preachy. So it makes people react. but not in the way Laya intends. That is because there is hypocracy in just about everyone.There ar some exceptions but I haven’t seen one lately. Yosef Mendelevich for example, he is authentic. After spending years in a Russian jail for Zionist activities and asking to make aliyah, he is finally freed, gets to Israel. First thing he says, first I am serving 3 years in the IDF.

  • Judi is so very correct.

    We are from twelve tribes, each with a different personality, though all were at Sinai. We are fine with not being all the same!

  • JM, I wonder if that’s really the case. Every time I say something about choosing not to be Orthodox, someone More-Pious-Than-Thou comes and lectures me about how terrible that is. I am at best grudgingly accepted as a member of the 12 tribes. It is a conscious choice on my part, just as for many B’T Jews being Orthodox is a conscious choice on their part — and I have no problem with them making that choice. I just have no use for fundamentalist religion of any sort.

  • What does it mean to not be Orthodox or to be Orthodox? Judaism is governed by halakha and halakha is the framework in which Jewish life has always been. You can call halakha whatever you want, you can live it within whatever political framework (and ultimately “Orthodoxy” is a political and social framework and is not equivalent to “halakhic” although there is significant overlap). Nevertheless, it is what has united the Jews.

    Also, personally, I find the idea of “culinary Judaism” to be extremely biased. It leaves out the other ethnic groups in Jews. It tends to minimize Judaism to New York Ashkenazi culture which is a 20th century invention. Not that I mind “modernity” or anything as it is an important continuation. That is, I like a good bagel myself as an American-raised Ashkenazi Jew but that doesn’t resonate to non-American or non-Ashkenazi Jews. To minimize Judaism to American Ashkenaziut leaves out the experiences and voices of the culturally diverse Jewish people. Also, “Jewish food” is really what was eaten by the surrounding culture. Borsht comes from a region of Russia. Bagels from a part of Poland. Just as kube comes from Iraq (how many of you here know what that is) or melewach (which, in Israel, is more common than bagels or matzah ball soup) from Morocco. So what is culinary or cultural Judaism? This is, of course, not to diminish Jewish ethnic food or literature. They all play important roles in teh continuing coversation of Jewish peoplehood but a pre-requisite to this conversation implies a certain level of Jewish literacy and knowledge of halakha and history (which, I must add, a knowledge of Jewish history is one of the major things lacking in the Orthodox world).

    There must be a foundation and the foundation is Jewish literacy — legal codes, language (Hebrew over all though once one masters Hebrew there is, of course, also Ladino, Yiddish and Aramaic etc), history, philosophy, etc. (Although history and halakha are the cores, I think, although that requires some Hebrew literacy). Also, in 30 years when most Jews will live in Israel, most Jews really will be Hebrew as their first language, so this cannot be overemphasized as an important tool.

  • just to be clear, I’m am not advocating the wholesale chucking of tradition.

    No where am I saying that all is peachy with Judaism here in Israel.

    All I am advocating is that we move past the conversations about intermarriage, assimilation and affiliation and move towards the conversation that asks just what kind of people do we want to be.

    If we became a people with a mission again, if we had more working models of a vibrant, committed and fulfilling Judaism, those problems would largely take care of themselves.

  • If we became a people with a mission again, if we had more working models of a vibrant, committed and fulfilling Judaism, those problems would largely take care of themselves.

    Reb Shlomo used to say that we had to make sure that yiddishkeit was never stale.

    I think we do have models of vibrant fulfilling Judaism out there, but they are demanding. They take energy and time and commitments, and relegating authority to sources outside of ourselves on personal matters.

  • “In a world with Israel, basic Jewish survival is virtually assured.”

    Since when does Israel’s existence assure Jewish survival? Your statement assumes that Israel’s survival is assured – but is it? When almost a majority of the worlds population wants Israel wiped off the map, it is only with the coming of Moshiach that we can be sure of Israel’s survival. Until then, I say -don’t put all your eggs in one basket – History shows that it was only through the Diaspora that Jewish survival was possible. In Fact, Israel’s existence in the first place germinated in the diaspora. Today both Israel and the Diaspora are (at least) equally parts of the Jewish Identity.

    (And with the looming possibility of Nucleur Catastrophe -Jewish survival, and Mankind’s survival for that matter, are best facilitated by spreading out. Stephen Hawking recently said that includes spreading into outer space.)

  • You should hang out with Dr. Ra’anan Gissen. He came to Washington Hebrew (in D.C.) and talked about Israel and the idea of the Jewish people and continuity. He said the same thing. We reclaimed the land, now we must reclaim the people. I guess his wasn’t so much a “how” but a firm statement that we must be reclaimed.

    So what do we need? The rebuilding of the Temple. But we know that’s, well, let’s just say we’re without great KINGS of our time.

  • Laya is absolutely correct. What has happened is that the aish gangsters, have dictated policy for too long.

    They, these millionaire functionaries in North America, have an ever expanding payroll, and benefits that they dole out to themselves and their flunky’s.

    To meet this incredible financial need that they are posessed with, they must constantly find new recruits, who will then pay their outragegeous class fees, and then later, will make substantial donations for the org. to then dish out as bonuses, pensions, profit sharing, etc.

    aish uses many useful idiots, known as volunteers to help rope in more customers.

    They have indoctrinated an entire people, an entire nation, into the belief that it is more important to fund aish and kiruv work, than the already frum to help those who have tuition obligations of 20-30 thou a year, and more, and on top of that, camps, trips to Israel, all of the requirements that a normal frum family has to incur.

    Of course, this they leave out of their dopey classes. They give people a simplistic boring day or 2 hour class, some sushi, and collect hundreds of dollars per family for this.

    They they hit them up periodically with more classes, and requests for donations.

    Laya is right, it is high time, high time, that the nation remove this fifth column, called aish hatorah from our midst.

  • People like to have a program of action, to move forward toward something. That is absolutely fine. But it is also part of our assignment simply to be. To enjoy, to love, to do mitzvot and grin and have another bagel, bowl of shakshuka, or baby. Seriously. Laya is asking, so what do we DO. She is great. But it is also a BE thing.

    If a Jewlicious person has a child, is it a Jewlittle?

    I like Laya’s aunt.

  • Steves Rick, Aish is just doing what those people’s parents did NOT do. What you sound like you ARE doing, for your children. Not everbody was as lucky a your children! THAT is why catch-up is SO expensive!

    Maybe it could be done cheaper? Belief is, theoretically, financially, free.

  • Half-true…

    Even if Israel give us a kind of protection toward blood assimilation, it doesn’t give you the values immunity…
    Protecting our values, our duties, our laws, and way of life…
    Sharing, respect, etc..
    All this heritage, must be above all others..

  • JM, aish is alot of pr. Most of their places are empty, they make it sound grand, field offices, torah centers they call them. Bupkis. They get a few people to come on a regular basis.

    They lie and take the good hearted Jews donations.

    There are so many other successful Yeshivas and outreach programs incl. Chabad that do so much more for less expense.

  • I fail to see your vehenemence against Aish. Mind you, I have my own problems. But please don’t use Chabad as an example. As one prominent rabbi said, when asked the closest religion to Judaism, “Lubavich.” Chabad has become a messianic offshoot of Judaism with its rebbe-as-moshiach line (which is more widespread than you think).

    We need kiruv and we need foundation and strong, high quality Jewish ed.

  • Both Aish and Chabad have their uses. They are valuable. People can take in as much or as little as they want. There may be problems but as we are not in Eden, we cannot expect perfection.

    There is a lot to be said for commitment and enthusiasm, which they have. The optimism of religion is its core point, often forgotten, alas.

  • Am Echad, Chabad has become everyone’s target to slander. It’s like, if I contemplate going to the beach on Shabbat, but I don’t do it. is that a sin?

    All I can tell is from first hand experience of aish in several ‘small town’ setups they have.

    They are atrocious. They are driven primarily to bring in donors so that the Manhattan executives can continue to live their lavish lifestyles.

    They are totally full of hot air.

    Chabad, I have seen in many places, build a minyan and community slowly, into something. I have never heard the word Moshiach there. Let alone the Rebbe was.

  • SR, I’ve had numerous opposite experiences from yours with Chabad. Similarly, I’ve had many similar experiences like yours from Chabad.

    It’s a fact that Chabad has broken up into sub-sects and the Meshichistim are crackpots. Which ones you encounter depends where your travels take you to.

    I’m not sure what your last statement means but it was during the last years of the Rebbe’s lifetime that the Mashiach campaign began and it was blatantly obvious who Chabad Hassidim were refering to as the Mashiach, whether potential or actual.

    As for Aish Hatorah, it seems to have become your target of slander. Here in Jerusalem, I bump into endless Aish attracted Jews who were influenced by the local Aish reps in their hometown communities.

    If you have a documented expose to show the abuse of donated funds to some organization, then by all means present it, to let everyone be aware of the facts.

  • But … I like Aish’s website and its Torah commentaries ESPECIALLY those of Noson Weisz who is brilliant.

  • Right. And, where is the comparable thing from the middle of the road Modern Orthodox, the Yeshivish, the Mitnagdim. They, too, should be doing some outreach! But they don’t think that way. They don’t even provide a passive pathway in, if you simply get curious on your own. Their rabbis should provide a little guidance from the bima about “how to draw in your secular acquaintance in the right way, if you feel like it”. A pamphlet or an occasional class on how to do this constructively and what to be careful of.

    But they don’t. They don’t think that way. So don’t knock Aish and Chabad too much as they are the only ones holding out a hand of any kind.

  • Now that the Jews 4 Yossky are here in force every little bit helps. Frummies! Talk to your secular friends! Look into their eyes and respectfully explain you are not a ritual-besotted medieval ant-science lunatic!

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