An Edah Editorial
By Rabbi Joshua Feigelson
Rabbi Joshua Feigelson is a graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical
School and the Campus Rabbi at the Fiedler Hillel Center of Northwestern University
Hillel in Evanston, IL.
A COVENANT OF FATE
Do you know anyone serving in Iraq?
I intend to ask this question this year at Yom Kippur services.
Of the 1,500 people who will hear it, I expect no more than a handful to say
they do. I, for one, do not. Do you?
As it is for most of America, the Iraq war is an abstraction
to many American Jews. We dont know by name anyone in uniform on the ground.
And so, like most of America, it is hard for us to become motivated to take
action. After all, what do we personally have at stake?
Contrast this scene with the historic events in Gaza two months
Fifty-three thousand soldiers and police were deployed - one percent of the
population, or the equivalent of 3 million Americans. Even if an Israeli did
not have a son, daughter, or husband immediately involved, they likely had a
friend who did. And even if they didn't have a friend connected to the events
on the ground, just watching the pictures created a certain sense of inevitability:
that could have been me in uniform.
Compulsory military or national service is the greatest factor
in cementing solidarity between the citizens of Israel. Every child in Israel
is raised with the assumption that they share the same future as their friends
and neighbors: they will all go to the army. They are included in the same fate.
Rabbi Joseph B. Solveitchik termed this concept of shared fate
"brit ha-goral", a covenant of fate. In his work Kol Dodi Dofek,
the Rav argued that in light of the Holocaust, every Jew shares the same fate
as every other Jew - no matter his or her connection to the Jewish people: The
individual, against his will, is subjected and subjugated to the national, fate-laden,
reality. He cannot evade this reality and become assimilated into some other,
different reality. The implications of this reality include a shared sense of
suffering with, responsibility for, and action toward fellow Jews.
Times have changed in the nearly fifty years since Rabbi Soloveitchik
wrote Kol Dodi Dofek. Israel, though threatened, is vastly more secure. Here
in America, we are two generations removed from the Holocaust, and the concept
of brit ha-goral, a collective fate, rings hollow with this generation. Today
we are all about choice, not fate.
Unlike in Israel, where the typical child orients his or her
entire life around wearing a uniform in service to the nation, the American
child is brought up to orient his or her life around - in the words of the U.S.
Army itself! - being all he or she can be.
In Israel, the Disengagement provoked a national therapy session,
a shiva house spanning the entire country. The tone of Israeli society was unbelievable:
shared suffering, shared responsibility, shared fate.Israelis witnessed their
children crying with each other, praying with each other, tending one anothers
wounds. And in those moments all of Israeli society psychologically channeled
itself into the homes in Gush Katif, and assumed collective responsibility for
whatever fate lay in store.
And here in America? Despite its mounting toll in lives and
treasure, the Iraq war has still not overtaken American society as the number
one topic of conversation. The lives of celebrities, sports and entertainment
are still further toward the center of our national consciousness. The suffering
lies with the families of the soldiers; the responsibility lies with the administration;
the fate simply lies.
American Jews have been looking for a meaningful way to respond
to the Disengagement. Some sent money to the evicted families. Others sent pizzas
to the police. Let me propose something much more immediate and much more demanding:
that we, who have not chosen to move to Israel, engage our civic duty and develop
here, in American society, the exemplary kind of solidarity that our brothers
and sisters in Israel displayed last summer.
In its most substantial form, this would mean advocating for
reinstatement of compulsory military service, with a national service option
for conscientious objectors. If we immediately shy away from this notion, we
must at a minimum confront the moral question and explain why someone elses
child should be asked to risk his life while our own children lie sleeping ten
thousand miles away.
Independent of this debate lays the clear moral and religious
obligation to identify with those who are putting their lives on the line, and
to support and sympathize with their families. Our synagogues should host returning
soldiers and invite them to share their stories. Our communities should provide
forums for anxious and grieving families to share their pride and their pain.
In a word, we must make the effort to share their fate.
The central ritual of Yom Kippur in Temple times was the offering
of two goats: one was sacrificed to God, the other thrown off a cliff in the
wilderness. The goats were identical. All that separated them was a goral, a
lot, an act of fate.
We no longer perform the sacrifice of the two goats. But we
read their story as part of the Yom Kippur service. Let us resolve this year
to embrace the brit ha-goral, the Covenant of Fate, that binds us as Jews here
and throughout the world, and to create a society of shared fate here in America