Chaim Ingram


The Lookjed site for Jewish educators worldwide recently featured a vexed posting from a religious Israeli who opens his home to yeshiva bakhurim and seminary girls for Shabbat. One of his invited guests asked if he could email his host a list of hekhsherim approved by his yeshiva, requesting to be served nothing else. Both the host and his wife took offence as they felt they had an excellent kashrut standard despite using hekhsherim not specified on the list and told the bakhur politely that while he was very welcome at their home if he felt unable to accept their kosher standards they would understand. Apparently the bakhur turned up anyway and ate.

Our sidra features not only the quintessential experience in Israel’s history, the Sinaitic Revelation, but also the most significant ideological statement in the Torah. It can be defined as the Jewish mission statement – to be mamlekhet kohanim ve-goi kadosh “a kingdom of chaplains and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Mamlekhet kohanim mandates us to be a part of the world. Goi kadosh requires us to be apart from the world. The ability to synthesise the two is the supreme challenge for the Jew. That is a subject for a book in itself!

R’ Samson Rafael Hirsch offers a celebrated definition of this key phrase – indeed it forms a central plank of his ideology. “A kingdom of kohanim” – just as the role of the kohen is to minister to the spiritual needs of the nation of Israel, so vis-à-vis the world, each individual of the nation is to be a kohen, a chaplain, spreading, by his word and by example, the knowledge of G‑D and fealty to Him. And a holy nationas a nation you are to be unique, not seeking greatness in might but in the absolute rule of the Divine Torah. Less would not be sufficient for your future; more is not required.

Let us try to grasp the enormity of what R’ Hirsch is saying. There is a subtle but distinct differentiation between the focus of each component of our mission statement. To be mamlekhet kohanim means that every Jew is challenged to utilise his individual talents, abilities and qualities to instil Divinity into his fellow-human. Vis-à-vis his fellow-Jew this will mean disseminating knowledge of and promoting allegiance to total Torah; in relation to the rest of humanity it will mean the value-system of the Noahide code Every Jew is invited to make his unique contribution to the betterment of each individual uniquely as well as to Am Yisrael and the world as a whole.

On the other hand, we can only fulfil the directive of goi kodosh as a nation. The concept of a part of our nation separating itself from other parts of our nation on ideological grounds was never intended as part of the Divine mandate. As far as I am aware, there were no special enclaves at Mount Sinai where charedim were taken aside after Matan Torah and urged to safeguard Shabbat, kashrut or sexual morality more rigidly than their less spiritually-endowed fellow Israelites. Chumrot (stringencies) of the sort that are divisive and impinge adversely on others simply aren’t worth it because the ona’at devarim (wronging with words) and halvanat panim (shaming one’s fellow) – both Torah prohibitions – caused in their wake are far too serious.

Two millennia ago our ancestors, the adherents of rabbinic Judaism, became known as perushim (Pharisees) – meaning “separatists” – because, of necessity, they had to distinguish themselves from Jewish deviationist sects. The largest of these deviant sects were the Sadducees who denied the Oral Torah and the immortality of the soul. If left unchecked, they would have killed Judaism. In instances where the fight is against would-be destroyers of Torah then eit la’asot laShem, we have to stand up and be counted.

But even here, there are appropriate and less appropriate ways and methods. There was an extreme separatist group around the same time called the Essenes who secluded themselves from their fellow-Jews and shunned the world thus forfeiting their role as a mamlekhet kohanim while distorting the concept of a goi kadosh. Heaven forbid that any responsible sector of religious Jewry today should follow that example!

A recent survey in Israel has proven encouraging beyond expectation. 80% of Israeli Jews believe in G‑D. 65% (including many secular Jews) believe the Torah is from G‑D. 67% believe in our chosen mission. 76% eat kosher and a staggering 94% affirm the singular importance of b’rit mila (circumcision).

If this has proven anything it is that no one sector of Israeli society owns holding rights to Torah Judaism. Neither the charedim nor Yesha nor any one group dare set itself up as the sole kohanim of our nation. We are a mamlekhet kohanim. Nor is there any place for the ‘holier than thou’. We are a goi kadosh.

Less is not sufficient. More is not required.

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. He can be reached at