Reformim in Israel; Direct Descendents of Caleb
What is Israel like today? Who lives there? What do they look like? What is the country like? Can we make a place in the land, our land given to us by God, even if it means conquering those who are already there?
This was the charge of the 12 scouts or spies, one from each of the 12 tribes, to make sure that the entire Jewish people had a stake in the report and a reporter who was one of their own upon whom they could rely.
In the Torah portion Shelah Lecha, the scouts return to report on the “land flowing with milk and honey.” As proof, they brought back a bunch of grapes so large that it had to be carried by two of them on poles. But, they also reported that those who lived in Canaan were “fierce and the cities fortified” and that the people were giants. This majority report, with a dissent by Caleb, and its acceptance by the Jewish people just two years out of slavery, was proof that this group was not ready to conquer the land and to reclaim it for the Jewish people. Rather, it would take another generation, formed by the harshness of 40 years of wandering in the desert, but who were born in freedom, to accomplish the task of recreating Israel. The slave generation was not prepared to make the transition to national and personal sovereignty.
If you were to be charged today to be one of those to scout our Israel, how would you report? Would you bring back to the home crowd a micro-chip processor that is the fastest in the world? Maybe you would bring a heart valve that can be implanted without open heart surgery, or a drip irrigation system that is so efficient that it uses 96% less water than irrigation for a crop, while improving the crop yield by 30-4-% due to efficiency.
Perhaps you would report on the people who are various shades of color, who arrived speaking dozens of languages, and who today resemble a Hebrew speaking arc of the variety of Jews.
Some would report on the religious life of the Jews as strictly following Orthodox ritual practices, or following none at all. But, here allow me to be the dissenting positive voice of Caleb in our time. On matters of Jewish religious life, Israel is evolving and changing and, in large measure, it has the Reform community to thank.
It has been the “reformim” who have gone to court and have begun to win equal rights for their Rabbis. It is the “reformim” who have placed a Progressive rabbi on a city religious council. It is the “reformim” who are developing Jewish curriculums for the national public schools. It is the “reformim” who are creating Bat Mitzvah and an equal role for women in the Jewish religious life of Israel. And, it is the “reformim” who represented ultra-Orthodox women in a case before the Israel Supreme Court that found gender separation on public transportation to be illegal.
The “reformim” today are the new generation, born in Israel, educated in Israel, and having served in the Israel Defense Forces. They are no longer the “dor hamidbar,” the generation of the desert – or in the case of “reformim,” mostly Anglo- olim. These Israeli native “reformim” are, as a group, the Caleb of their time. When the report by the majority of the spies said that the Jewish people could not conquer the land, it was Caleb who disagreed. He said “We should go up at once and posses the land for we are able to overcome it” (the land, the people and the obstacles).
The “reformim” of Israel demonstrate by their actions, not merely their words, that Israel is ours as much as it belongs to any Jew. That Israel is our home as much as it is the home of any Jew. That Israel is a place that is the fertile ground for our movement to grow. That our ideas are influencing the Israeli public square for the better. It is the “reformim,” the bearers of the prophetic tradition, that are continuing to support and create a democratic, Jewish, pluralistic, and inclusive Israeli society. We are the “reformim,” and thus the direct ideological descendents of Caleb who are going up to Israel and raising up the best in Israeli society.
Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah