From the Lapid-Haredi battle to the Boston bombings, Lag Ba’omer is all around us

Ha’aretz 4/29/13

Lag Ba’omer is a day of vivid memories for me. It was the only day that my primary school in London would go on an outing, full of packed lunches and adventures, to celebrate and learn about the Bar Kochba uprising. We would shoot toy bows and arrows and generally have a good time.

As I grew older I learned about other themes of the day. The death of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva, who were the greatest Talmudic scholars of their generation, but were stuck down by a plague as they were disrespectful of each other. Lag Ba’omer was the day that the plague stopped.

There are many different explanations of this event in rabbinical teaching and many different lectures have highlighted how the small passage in Sefer Yevamot is packed with multiple meanings.

Historians point to the fact that the students were not killed by a divine plague, but in the Bar Kochba uprising. All of Rabbi Akiva’s students died and he fled to the south where he rebuilt the study of the oral traditions through five students.

In my yeshiva days there was always a stress on the concept of “derech eretz kedma la’tora,” roughly translated as “manners comes before religious observance.” It was the ideology of the German Orthodox Jews in the late 1800s. The historical narrative was not as important as the lesson embedded in the text; your learning is for naught if you cannot be a mensch.

If you are in Israel, you will know that Lag Ba’omer is a day that turns Orthodox Jews into pyromaniacs with bonfires marking the death of Shimon Bar Yochai with many making a pilgrimage up north to Meron where he is buried.

Lag Ba’omer this year can be seen in the events all around us. In Israel, the battles between the ultra-Orthodox parties and Finance Minister Yair Lapid can be seen as an attempt to get Torah students to behave with manners or as an attack on Torah students. The reading of the events depends on your perspective.

In the United States, we see students caring about one another and their communities in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. As someone who lived in-between Cambridge and Watertown last year it is amazing to see how the community has come together to support one another during this awful time. The U.S. equivalent of Rabbi Akiva’s students, the brightest of the bright, cared about each other and those around them during their tragic time. They did not see themselves as above the moral code of society, but rather steeped in it.

The messages and themes of Lag Ba’omer are rich and wonderful. It’s sad that it is one of the lesser-known Jewish holidays. There are so many different themes throughout the day, the activities are so much more fun then the more well known festivals, it’s a shame that it is unknown to so many.



Initial thoughts on the Israeli election #israelvotes

So I am happy to say I was wrong, like most other people – Yair Lapid was the major winner of the elections.

Of course the important factors are who will make up the coalition. In that regards I see a Bibi,Bennett,Lapid,(Mofaz if he makes it) being the core and the option for the religious parties to join if they want, but with few if any sweeteners.

There are three burning issues, the budget, religious /secular and the Palestinians, this coalition can go some way in answering the first two, and hopefully due to the size of Lapid’s bloc, can at least attempt to do no harm to the third. Though I work for the two state solution day and night, the fact is that Lapid is in the mainstream of the Israeli public discourse, sure on Two States, just uncertain how to get there. He will block any annexation attempt so it seems for now that worry is gone.

Additionally Bibi will not be able to dump him without going into the arms of the ultra-orthodox and in doing so destroying more of his base vote.

Interestingly it will be the Likud party that will be the hardest for Bibi to wrangle with and the least practice on a whole range of issues.

Despite the dictatorial nature of Yesh Atid (Lapid cannot be removed as party chair for 8 years) he seems to have genuinely brought in some great talent to the Knesset. I am very excited about Rabbi Piron and Rabbi Lipman going a long way to help heal the religious secular divides. Added to this Bennett who shares a lot of the same concerns on this issue.

What you will see is a far more moderate modern orthodox approach to both the office of the Chief Rabbi in Israel and other issues in education et al then we have seen before. I don’t believe that the progressive streams, Reform, Conservative, will get anything from this (their hope still is with Meretz and Labor) but the ultra-othodox hold over every aspect of state and religion seems to be crumbling.

The 6 for Livini and the 6 for Meretz shows that there are 10% of Zionist voters who put the Palestinain issues ahead of all others. There are of course people who value it who voted for Labor and others but those who put it front and center represent 10% of the country for sure. I worry about the lack of urgency but am happy that the anti-democratic far right vision that could of happened.

Additionally the healing of society on religious secular issues can go a long way to paving the way to have real discussions on other issues such as Two States among other things not from a tribal political standpoint but as a nation that is more united then divided.