President Rivlin spoke at the Haaretz Judaism, Jewish People and Israel Conference on Wednesday and said “the effort to create Jewish-Hebrew culture is not a matter of the battle between right and left. It is part of our history, our identity, our cultural depth.”
“Regrettably,” he said, “the press, who contributed so much to this discourse, is moving away from it. It is, I believe, a mistake. Judaism needs the media to enrich this discourse.”
The president also noted that “for many years, Jewish discourse was conducted in traditional Jewish institutions. Synagogues, Batei Midrash, the literature of questions and answers – these were the places where Judaism was brought to its believers. The Rav’s sermon, the Rosh Yeshiva’s lessons, Divrei Torah of the Hasidic Rebbe, the halachic rulings of the posek – these were where the borders of Jewish tradition were set, tested and sometimes breached.
“The Enlightenment, the Haskala, gave voice to the revolutionary ambition of modern Jewish intellectuals who wanted to go beyond the Beit Midrash and assume an independent status as voices and cultural innovators of Jewish society.
“They established journals and periodicals, which for the first time themselves offered a secular Jewish discourse. No longer would the conversation be held only in religious institutions. Rather, Jewish discourse was held freely, without mediation. The opposition raised by those who wanted to maintain the status quo created the divisions that are with us until today.
“In fact, those journals already included not only intellectual debate, but also news. In effect, they were the basis for the Jewish and Hebrew press as it evolved, and as it exists today. For many years, the publishers and editors of the Jewish and Hebrew press continued to engage in the questions of Judaism. They were careful not to leave Jewish discourse to the synagogues and Batei Midrash.
“In the case of today’s conference organizer, Haaretz, the newspaper carried Ernst Simon’s article ‘Are we still Jews?’ – a piece of writing that rocked the world of religious Zionism. Haaretz published part of Yeshayahu Leibovitz’s response to Simon, later part of his book ‘Judaism, the Jewish People and the State of Israel.’ On the pages of Haaretz newspaper, Kurtzweill wrote some of his most important reviews of ‘secular literature.’ Ha’aretz published some of Gershom Scholem’s works. Today, they are all critical cultural assets of Jewish literature.
“There were many outcomes of the struggle against people of the Enlightenment. But today it is clear that Jewish discourse is not only conducted in synagogues and in Batei Midrash. Jewish conversations take place on social networks, at universities, in books that are not religious, in personal posts by believers and heretics, in observations on the Torah and think-pieces that people write in WhatsApp groups, in live Facebook study sessions, in movies and in art, and in every possible way.
“Regrettably, the press, who contributed so much to this discourse, is moving away from it. It is, I believe, a mistake. Judaism needs the media to enrich this discourse. Judaism needs Haaretz to nourish this conversation.
“The effort to create Jewish-Hebrew culture is not a matter of the battle between right and left. It is part of our history, our identity, our cultural depth. If Haaretz and other newspapers do not talk about the global Jewish community, about contemporary Judaism, its experiences and thoughts, there is a fear that Judaism will retreat and be found only in the synagogues and the Batei Midrash.
“That would be a mortal blow to the secular population.
“But it would also by a mortal blow to the religious, traditional and believing population, who often look for a different, open platform to think about Judaism from a different perspective.”