Laura Ben-David
Sharing Israel with the world through my lens

The Torah isn’t yours

You don’t own Torah. Yeah, that’s right; I’m talking to YOU. You thought I was speaking to the other guy? Well, I am. I’m speaking to all of you. And to myself. Because NO ONE owns the Torah. Or, put another way, EVERYONE owns it.

This article isn’t about me or you; it’s about all of us. The Torah is all of ours, and no one group or individual has a monopoly on it.

What am I rambling about? You see, an unfortunate by-product of a Jewish State is the politicizing of religion. Understandable, predictable even, but most unfortunate. And we Jews must rise above it. Or, at least, we must try.

The points in this piece have been percolating in my mind for some time. The so-called ‘million-man protest’ (prayer rally?) motivated me to put it down into words. The follow-up protest in New York City pushed me to publish it.

A beautiful, yet isolated,  moment of unity wherein a religious IDF soldier chose to catch afternoon prayers at the haredi prayer rally.  Photo credit: Yonit Schiller
A beautiful, yet isolated, moment of unity wherein a religious IDF soldier chose to catch afternoon prayers at the haredi prayer rally. Photo credit: Yonit Schiller

There are many points of contention between Jews of differing levels of observance. Most are immaterial to the day-to-day life of the average Jew. Each goes about life, doing his or her thing, without much thought or even caring about the ‘other.’ Each region, community, synagogue, or even household, worries about itself, follows its own traditions, sets its own priorities, and is more or less unhindered by those of different philosophies or levels of observance. Unfortunately, for many reasons, this laissez faire policy doesn’t work in Israel.

Perhaps I am coming from a position of naïveté. If so, I highly recommend it. It’s a much less stressful and accepting place to be. Join me! Let’s take a look at what we’ve got:

What we WILL agree with is that Israel is the holy land of the Jews. We’ll agree that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is the first army since biblical times that exists to protect the Jewish people in their biblical land – and beyond. We’ll agree that for the first time since those same biblical times, there are more Jews in Israel than any other single place. And, dare I say, we’ll agree that someone needs to protect all of these Jews residing in a neighborhood of fairly hostile and unwelcoming countries.

When the subject of IDF service comes up between Jews in Israel of different backgrounds, there is often an underlying sense of tension. People put up their guard; prepare their defenses, maybe even an offensive. Guess what? You will NEVER convince the other guy of your opinion. Ever. So let’s move on from those efforts. They are tiresome and frustrating for all.

Obviously a solution – or solutions – to the IDF draft controversy must be found and implemented. But our People are hurting. And we cannot go on like this.

Among the many ideas that have come forth, some of the haredi leadership decided to have a massive prayer rally. I have no problem with prayer rallies. In fact I think it’s a great idea. But I have, dare I say, a better one.

There was one critical ingredient missing from the prayer rally in Jerusalem. And it is missing from the one planned in New York as well. And that is achdut – unity. I was crushed when I saw the video for the ‘theme song’ of the Jerusalem rally. Growing up on a steady diet of Jewish music, I was able to appreciate the catchy religious-sounding tune sung by Shlomo Cohen. Until I realized what he was saying. It’s almost beautiful: ‘We get up for Torah,’ he sings, with shots of the rally attendees, including dancing and joy. Then there are cut-ins of Israeli soldiers with the words, ‘They get up for useless things…’ Over and over.

Drop the song. Please. To quote Kiara in The Lion King II: “THEY are US.” We have allowed our differences to polarize ourselves to the point that we hardly see that ultimately we are all (with a few ultra-radical exceptions…) on the same side. At least we all should be.

The Torah is ALL of ours. No one has a monopoly on it. Loosen the reigns please. Relax.

Since no one has a viable solution, how’s this for a really radical idea? All the rabbis and leaders who are bringing their followers together for the purposes of their own communities should reach out to ALL of the Jewish rabbis and leaders and say, ‘Hey, nothing has worked so far. So let’s have the biggest, most awesome, united prayer rally and TOGETHER we can implore G-d to help us fix this once and for all!’

We’re really good at coming together when times are tough. When rockets are falling, buses blowing up… suddenly then we can unite. Let’s find it within ourselves to unite now. Lord knows we need it. Let’s celebrate our differences and appreciate each other. Let’s each in turn hold up on a pedestal both the precious value of Torah study and the sacred task of protecting ourselves. If you can’t find it within yourself to do that, at least be tolerant and respectful.

Perhaps I am ridiculously naïve. So what? Do we want to build bridges, or do we simply want to be ‘right’? Let’s lose the ego and lose the pride, but never lose sight of the big picture. We’re going to have to live with each other so let’s learn to work together. After all, that’s Torah as well.

About the Author
Laura Ben-David is a photographer, public speaker and Israel advocate. Inspired by her Aliyah experience, Laura began writing and never stopped. She is the author of the book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir of her move to Israel. She has spoken all over the world about Israel, Aliyah and other topics, often with beautiful photographic presentations. Formerly the head of social media at Nefesh B'Nefesh, Laura is the director of marketing at Shavei Israel as well as a marketing consultant.