As the High Holidays draw nearer, J Street Philadelphia member Rabbi David A. Teutsch reflected on how the work of J Street connects with long-standing Jewish values. Rabbi Teutsch is the director of the Center for Jewish Ethics and Wiener Professor Emeritus of Contemporary Jewish Civilization at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pennsylvania
Rosh Hashanah has its roots in an ancient re-enthronement ritual that acknowledges God’s sovereignty. The metaphor of God as king, however, is inaccessible to many contemporary Jews. I prefer to focus on asking what we carry out as ultimately important instead of on a more literal re-enthronement. As the High Holy Day liturgy makes clear, justice, which is a prerequisite for peace, is near the top of our hierarchy. But justice alone is too difficult and demanding. Hence the Talmud asks, “What is God’s prayer? That God’s mercy will overcome God’s justice.”
As we contemplate ongoing violence and displacement in Israel, moving forward requires justice and mercy. Justice requires ending terrorism. Justice requires ending settlement building on the West Bank, providing equal treatment in government spending for Israeli Arab villages, and allowing Palestinians and Arab Israelis to build on their own land. Mercy requires the caring treatment of Palestinians at roadblocks, universal access to medical care, rebuilding the social safety net and genuinely listening to the other. Our other values — such as democracy, religious pluralism and inclusion — must also play a role as we seek solutions to the conflict and other problems in Israel.
Re-enthroning the values we see as sovereign is not accomplished only by prayer and a fresh mental commitment. The proof of our success is whether our commitments show up in what we do every minute of every day. Concerning Israel, those values should guide our charitable giving and how we spend our time. It is a commitment worth contemplating during the High Holy Days and the months ahead.