An Additional Fast Day, Israel’s Crisis, and a Conversation on Monday

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 24, 2023 / 2 Nisan 5783

Summary: While many of our congregants and others in the Portland Jewish community are in Israel, I thought I would focus this column on the continuing national crisis Israel is experiencing and invite you to an important conversation on Zoom this coming Monday, the 27th.

Reading Time: Three minutes

On Wednesday, many Israelis observed a Yom Kippur Katan, a day-long fast at the urging of Rabbi David Stav of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization. Tzohar has been an interesting and moderating religious force in Israel. While an Orthodox organization, they have maintained a broad view of Israeli society, reaching out and serving countless secular Israeli Jews. The precipitating reason for this fast is that the ongoing polarization in Israel over the discussion of Judicial reform, which I wrote about back on March 3rd, threatens to destabilize the country, leading perhaps to a civil war or violence. Many organizations signed on in support of the fast and its message, including the Masorti movement, which is the name for the Conservative Movement in Israel and much of the world.

To understand the significance of this fast, it’s worth examining the history of Tzohar itself, which was founded after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Having seen firsthand how religious rhetoric flared into bloodshed, Tzohar has been committed to providing a positive sense of Jewish identity to religious and secular Israelis alike.

Casting our historical net more broadly, we learn that Jewish communities have sometimes added additional days of fasting onto their annual calendar. Usually, these fast days were a response to communal tragedy, such as drought, famine, or pogroms. Some individuals would fast after a nightmare to avert the omens contained in their dream material. Our ancestors also fasted after the destruction of the Second Temple, which, according to rabbinic imagination, occurred because of our “senseless hatred” toward one another.

One powerful feature of the fast on Wednesday was the fact that it was a preemptive call to avoid the sorts of catastrophes we have previously endured, as opposed to a response to tragedy. While the ostensible reason for the fast was to encourage compromise on the proposed Judicial Reform that has led to the greatest civil unrest Israel has ever experienced, its symbolic weight was far greater. By linking the greatest tragedies of Jewish history to the current moment, this religious nationalist organization was implicitly acknowledging that we are facing a moment of such unimaginable tragedy that drastic spiritual action was required. Long ago, Jews routinely added public fast days to the calendar; today, it is a practice that has fallen into desuetude. Until Wednesday, optional fasting as a religious act was virtually extinct.

It is for that reason that I waded into Israeli politics on March 3rd, going so far as requesting that congregants reach out to our elected officials. It was not a stance I took lightly; as I have mentioned at various times, I tend to address politics from a Jewish lens, taking strong positions rarely, usually only when the full weight of Jewish tradition favors a particular approach. Yet when I see a systematic issue that would be problematic regardless of one’s politics, I also tend to speak up. In this moment, I feel the risk to Israel’s democracy can’t be underestimated, nor, therefore, the threat to world Jewry.

While some were grateful for my leadership, my position understandably upset some congregants. Some thought I didn’t go far enough; others were offended that I would ask congregants who might not understand the complexities of judicial reform to contact our senators; still others didn’t like it because they support Netanyahu and thought my position partisan in nature. Because this issue is unlikely to go away soon, and because its ramifications are vast, I have asked Avinoam Sharon to lead a lunch and learn that will address the intricacies of what is at stake. Rabbi Sharon is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli Army; an attorney with expertise in international humanitarian law, criminal law, national security, and counter-terrorism; he also serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Israeli Supreme Court Project at Cardozo School of Law. He is deeply knowledgeable in these matters, so I urge you all to join for an enlightening presentation. The program will be held this Monday, March 27th, from 12:30-1:30 PST.

A conversation about Israel’s “Constitutional” Crisis with Rabbi Avinoam Sharon

Click HERE for Zoom Link

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. On a completely different subject, how are your Passover plans and preparations going? What topics will you discuss at seder this year?

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