Ethics and Israel

This past week was quite a roller coaster.  The theme of our learning has been ethics – in the most general sense.  We have been dealing with the philosophical issues of ethics and the process of psak Halakha.  Is a rabbi supposed to attempt to remove his ethical biases from the making a decision or, perhaps, we are encouraged to engage our ethical intuitions in the very fashioning of Halakha?

We hade a tiyyul to Chevron.  We met with three different groups of people.  First was David Wilder who is a representative of the Jewish community of Chevron.  For him, more important than 1948 and 1967 were 1929 and 1994.  1929 were the Chevron massacres – marking the destruction of a community that was never really able to return until ’67. Purim 1994 was the Baruch Goldstein massacre – an event that changed the community forever.

We also met with a group call Shovrim Shetika.  This is a group of soldiers who are trying to ‘break the silence’ about what it means to be a soldier in the Israeli army.  They are, for the most part, dati and are committed to serving in the army for both religious and nationalist reasons.  At the same time, they are bothered by some of what they see.

We then met with a Palestinian resident of Chevron who had an entirely different understanding of what it means to live in this city.

Davening maariv at the maarat hamachpela, after a day of ‘ethical encounters,’ was tumultuous.  It is difficult for me, as an outsider to pass judgment on what I saw.  All I know is that my appreciation for the complexity of Chevron has grown tremendously.

We then spent a day up in the North at a place called Kibbutz Manara.  We met with Rachel Rabin, Yitzchak’s sister, and she told the story of building this Kibbutz with her own two hands.  She then shared with us about last summer.  The Kibbutz is less then 100 meters from the Lebanese border.  Until last summer the residents of the Kibbutz were often closer to their Lebanese neighbors than to their Israeli neighbors.  That all changed drastically with the Katyushas.

The foundational ethical question that we have been studying is as follows:

Socrates: And what do you say of piety, Euthyphro?

Is not piety, according to your definition, loved by all the gods?

Euthyphro: Certainly.

Socrates: Because it is pious or holy, or for some other reason?

Euthyphro: No, that is the reason.

Socrates: It is loved because it is holy, not holy because it is loved?


The answer to Socrates’ question has animated philosophers – Jewish and non – for centuries.  In Israel, that question is very much alive today.


2 Responses to Ethics and Israel

  1. Jon Fox says:

    Or, it is only holy when it becomes lost?

    In the years following the Seven Day War many Israeli’s flocked to Chevron to see the patrimonial sites that had been “lost”. But well before the First Intifada the curiosity and fervor about Chevron had waned (except among the fanatics). As the sense of loss dissipated, so did the “holiness”. And a majority of Israelis approved of giving Chevron away in exchange for a more peaceful life.

    The “holiness” of the Kotel is also ambiguous. In the years after ’67 when one could feel the joy over having regained that which had been lost, one could feel the mystique when standing at the Kotel. Today one needs to go during very quiet times of the day in order to muster up that same holiness. Between the crowds of tourists, the schnorrers, the cellphones and the general noise, it is almost impossible to pray at the Kotel. In regaining it, we have diminished its holiness.

    Net, Socrates, perhaps to be holy something must be lost and unattainable.


  2. mike says:


    I’m just writing to tell how much i appreciate your wonderful blog, you’ve really utilized the internet in a positive Torah way…makes me think that ”they created it for us!”.

    I’m also trying to make a little difference B”H using the net. I just created a website called It’s a free online service that helps jews around the world find or post a request for a Torah study partner/class. Its not that known yet but i hope that people will use it to meet and learn very soon its a sort of Jdate for learning Torah.

    I hope the idea and website appeals to you and you’re great work,
    bracha vehatslacha,

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