1 — Basic principles
- The land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established.
- The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.
2 — The symbols of the state
- The name of the state is “Israel.”
- The state flag is white with two blue stripes near the edges and a blue Star of David in the center.
- The state emblem is a seven-branched menorah with olive leaves on both sides and the word “Israel” beneath it.
- The state anthem is “Hatikvah.”
- Details regarding state symbols will be determined by the law.
3 — The capital of the state
Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.
4 — Language
- The state’s language is Hebrew.
- The Arabic language has a special status in the state; Regulating the use of Arabic in state institutions or by them will be set in law.
- This clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.
5 — Ingathering of the exiles
The state will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles
6 — Connection to the Jewish people
- The state will strive to ensure the safety of the members of the Jewish people in trouble or in captivity due to the fact of their Jewishness or their citizenship.
- The state shall act within the Diaspora to strengthen the affinity between the state and members of the Jewish people.
- The state shall act to preserve the cultural, historical and religious heritage of the Jewish people among Jews in the Diaspora.
7 — Jewish settlement
- The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.
8 — Official calendar
The Hebrew calendar is the official calendar of the state and alongside it the Gregorian calendar will be used as an official calendar. Use of the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar will be determined by law.
9 — Independence Day and memorial days
- Independence Day is the official national holiday of the state.
- Memorial Day for the Fallen in Israel’s Wars and Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day are official memorial days of the State.
10 — Days of rest and sabbath
The Sabbath and the festivals of Israel are the established days of rest in the state; Non-Jews have a right to maintain days of rest on their Sabbaths and festivals; Details of this issue will be determined by law.
11 — Immutability
This Basic Law shall not be amended, unless by another Basic Law passed by a majority of Knesset members.
The Basic Laws of Israel (Hebrew: חוקי היסוד, ħuqey ha-yesod) are the constitutional laws of the State of Israel, and can only be changed by a supermajority vote in the Knesset. Many of these are based on the individual liberties outlined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The Basic Laws deal with the formation and role of the principal institutions of the state, and with the relations between the state’s authorities. They also protect the country’s civil rights, although some of these rights were earlier protected at common law by the Supreme Court of Israel. The Basic Laws are intended to be draft chapters of the future Israeli constitution, postponed since 1950, and act as a de facto constitution until their future incorporation into a formal, unitary, written constitution. Israel as of 2017 functions according to an uncodified constitution consisting of both material constitutional law, based upon cases and precedents, common law, and the provisions of these formal statutes.
Thing I like about the law
Basic Principles, 1 A and B
We as Jews should be able to have a state in our own historical homeland.
Israel looks to protect Jews around the world, regardless of their citizenship. Think of the Entebbe raid
Areas of concern
Can only Jews decide about the direction of the State of Israel? What happened to democracy?
What if the road to peace involved some sharing of Jerusalem in a way we can’t even imagine yet?
Arabic is (or was) an official language of Israel. Making official papers available to 20% of the population in the language they speak, does not feel like a huge inconvenience. But this is secondary.
The State of Israel is open to Jewish immigration is fine, but other people move to Israel as well, and yet there is no provision for anyone else coming to Israel.
Development of Jewish settlements. The idea that there might be settlements that are exclusively Jewish seems like a problem
I think that Shabbat and festivals as days of rest are beautiful. My problem is when the state ordains these days. Separation of Church and State does
I had an extraordinary experience yesterday. For the first time, I taught the Women’s Torah Study that meets Thursday mornings. I know many working women are not able to attend at that time, but for any woman who is available, it is an engaging and intelligent group who will leave you thinking. But this group of women did more than educate and inspire me; they emboldened me to explore one of the most important and consequential topics of our time.
Before we get there, let me take you back to the section of the Torah that prompted our discussion. This week we have a double Torah portion from the Book of Numbers: Matot and Masei. These portions take place during the forty years our ancestors wandered in the Sinai Desert, before they entered the Land of Israel. Moses has gathered the heads of each of the twelve tribes, and he is teaching them God’s new instructions for the community. He says, “If a householder makes a vow to God, obliging himself to do something, he had better fulfill his pledge.” A vow is simply a promise made in God’s name. We make vows all the time in the United States: “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” If you break a vow or an oath to God, it is serious, today as back then.
But here is where the text becomes both deeply problematic and also surprising. We know that biblical society was a strict and severe patriarchy. I think, I hope, that we are all happy to leave the worst elements of patriarchy behind. We’ll talk about that more in a moment. So, we know that if a man or boy makes a vow or oath to God, the oath remains in force. He has to fulfill it, and there is no one who can release him from that vow or oath. Here, then, is the troubling part. If a woman makes an oath, the “man” of the house can annul that oath. A woman might say, “I make an oath to God that I will dedicate part of my income to the Temple.” Her father or the husband can hear that and say, “No way! Your words don’t count.”
When we studied this together, I was deeply moved by the stories of the women in the group who shared their experiences of having their words not count, of being ignored or not believed. One facet of the #MeToo movement is this sense that a woman’s word is neither believed nor valued. Like the man of the house in our Torah portion who dismisses his daughter’s or wife’s vow, there are so many women who spoke up about being disparaged or mistreated or worse, their words dismissed. With a modicum of empathy on the part of men, we should be able to imagine the diminishment and disparagement that women felt and continue to feel when their words are simply rejected or minimized. It’s a pain that has built up over years and decades, centuries and millennia.
It’s important that we recognize the limitations of our ancestors’ perspective. They lived in a very different time and place. But it’s also important to delve just a little deeper into their words, to see if there are any lessons that we should learn from their practices. Because, in this patriarchal biblical society, the husband’s ability to disregard his wife’s or daughter’s vow is actually fairly limited. It’s true and troublesome that the husband can dismiss his daughter’s and especially his wife’s oath; however, according to the text, he can only dismiss it on the day he hears about it. If a woman in his home vows to give up Starbucks for a year, and the husband hears about it on the thirtieth day, he can say, “You are no longer bound by that vow.” That doesn’t mean she has to begin drinking Starbucks again, only that she no longer has the obligation to give up drinking Starbucks. But if he hears about it on the thirtieth day, he has to say something that day, or the woman’s words stand. Even during this most patriarchal of times, there were significant limitations placed on the man’s ability to dismiss a woman’s words. I don’t want to idealize this time or to suggest in any way that we should go back there. We shouldn’t gloss over the many salient examples where women were in a horribly inferior position, but neither should we ignore this important principle: whoever is in power must have limitations placed on them, even in patriarchies.
In the Women’s Torah Study, we talked about this idea of anyone in power needing limits placed on them because we are in the midst of a colossal and welcome shift in power. It has been needed forever, but it has been coming on for over a hundred years—at least since the suffragette movement. While before, men had almost all of the power, the balance is shifting, slowly and awkwardly. Before our very eyes, the rules of society are being rewritten and our understanding of what is acceptable are being replaced. This is a good thing because, as the women in the Torah study group impressed upon me, the discomforts, indignities, and real damages, both physical and psychological, are real and should not be ignored.
But transitions are difficult, even positive ones. As a congregation, we know it; and as a society we feel it. In many ways, our society is like the children of Israel wandering in the desert. We didn’t like being in Egypt, but at least we knew the rules. Now we are traveling through the Sinai desert, and the old rules are being shed like a shawl on a hot day. Some men and, I suppose, a few women are saying, “We liked the old rules.” Many more men and women are saying, “We know the old rules were wrong, but we don’t know what the new rules should be.” In the Sinai desert, God simply gave us a new set of rules. However, as a society, we have to make those rules up together as we go. Let’s be honest, this is hard. How many of us held one set of beliefs years ago only to be uncomfortable or embarrassed by those beliefs today? I would bet that in quiet personal reflection, we could all identify examples of those beliefs within ourselves.
So how do we move forward? How do we traverse this desert when the old rules seem inadequate and the new rules have yet to be written? Is it, for instance, okay for a boss to proposition a subordinate? I think we can all agree that is wrong? Can either one express interest in dating one another? That still seems like a problem. What about an adult teacher and an adult student? That still seems dicey. What about coworkers? Can they have a relationship? Can they express interest in each other?
Thankfully, we are moving beyond some of the horrible social norms that were, at the very least, tolerated, but as we move through our Sinai desert, I think that there are three brief lessons that we might learn.
The first lesson is about listening and owning. It is almost certain that we know people who have acted badly in the past. We may be embarrassed at our own past actions, perhaps only recently realizing the hurt we may have caused. Healing comes first by listening to the pain of those around us who have been hurt by our words and actions. Rather than defending our past behavior, it is better to simply acknowledge the pain we may have caused. In other words, own the action. It is a sacred act for us to listen to someone’s pain and then express honest remorse for how we may have contributed to it. For any women or men who have been hurt in the past, I want you to know that I can only imagine the pain you have experienced, and if you want to tell your story to someone, I am ready to hear it.
After you have told your story and feel truly heard, I think it is important to recognize the difficulty of making these large societal changes. We, and by that, I mean both men and women, will make mistakes. We will fall into old patterns or we will cross a boundary that may still be in the process of being worked out. Gone are the days when you are expected to remain silent. Your words and feelings are important. As those words come out, I hope they can be clothed in the kindness and compassion that was too often denied to you. Being kind is not an obligation limited to women; we should not ask anyone to fit into a traditional gender stereotype. My hope is that men and women will show kindness to other human beings who are trying honestly to figure out these new social rules, even if these people inevitably misstep.
The last insight is one that I am most interested in discussing with you in the months and years to come. We learned from our Torah portion that even in patriarchal societies, fathers and husbands had power over their daughters and wives, but even these men had limits placed upon them. As power shifts more evenly among men and women alike, I wonder how that new power will be wielded and checked. Some actions that men have done are so egregious that they deserve to be condemned and even prosecuted, and those men who are guilty should live with the just consequences for their actions. But how do we distinguish among those egregious acts and unrepentant people, and people who made mistakes in the past and who are working to own up to them and change their behavior, and, finally, those people who are trying their best to navigate this difficult and changing social landscape and occasionally messing up. I want to know if you think we should treat these groups differently. And if so, how do we set limits on those who which to condemn and expel everyone who breaks any boundary?
Last week, I said that I want a community of honesty and kindness where we can honor one another as we create a better society. That is what I hope we are beginning tonight with this first conversation. I want to admit to you that talking about this makes me nervous because the possibility of causing pain and being misunderstood is so great. But I believe the promise of TAE is that we can be kind and honest where hearts are open and people are heard. Compassionate conversation is our very best tool to ennoble ourselves and heal our society. This too is an act of tikkun olam. I hope you will join me in repairing our world.
People often ask me, Rabbi Diamond, what do you like to do for fun. Usually I tell them innocuous things like playing guitar, going on long walks, reading, but that’s not really true. What I really like to do is go on YouTube and watch videos of the Slingshot Ride. If you don’t know what the slingshot ride is. Imagine a two roller coaster seats that are attached within a sphere made out of pipes. The sphere is attached to two cables, one on either side that are attached to two huge towers. Imagine a slingshot of the Jolly Green Giant. In order to ride, they strap you into the seats, and the pull the metal ball down with the two people inside, and they launch them fifty or sixty feet into space, but the cables are still attached, so the people shoot up and then to down and up and down. Often they spin head first in the air as the bounce up and down.
But the best part are the videos where the camera is attached to the sphere, pointing at their faces. The greatest part is seeing the shock or joy or delight as they are first catapulted up, but the more interesting moments are after they strap the riders in. The attendants slowly pull the sphere into what looks like a hole in the ground. Then there is a pause for one, two, three, four or five seconds, and that pause tells their entire story of how they relate to life. Some scream, some cry, a few say, “No, no, no, I changed my mind.” That pause is the same pause that often comes before a tornado hits or between aftershocks.
It is the pause that they children of Israel are experiencing this week as they are about the head into the Land of Israel. And from their pause, we can take some lessons about how we approach the challenges that we often face within our own lives.
What do we do when we come to the edge. The ski jumper at the top of the run. I would ask, Are my bindings tight? Are my skis waxed? Can I sneak away without anyone seeing me?
Sometimes our greatest challenge is our success.
We often need to be prompted into action 1:6
6“When we were at Mount Sinai, the Lord our God said to us, ‘You have stayed at this mountain long enough. 7It is time to break camp and move on.
It has been a long two weeks for my family. After a valiant fight against cancer, my stepmother’s life came to an end. At the time of her death, I was driving a U-Haul from Dallas to California, rushing to be at her side and the sides of my father and step-siblings, hoping to say one last good-bye.
For Shabbat, I removed my kriah ribbon, the black cloth that we tear, representing the person torn from our lives. And, following Jewish tradition, I will not shave my beard or cut my hair until someone reprimands me for looking too scruffy. Which means I’ll be shaving on Sunday because my wife, Sandy, thinks I look scruffy. But the reason that we wear ribbons or refrain from shaving is partially so we can silently and subtly tell people in our Jewish community that we are in mourning—that we recently stood at the threshold of life and death—because Judaism teaches us that thresholds should not be crossed alone.
It is especially at thresholds that we need people surrounding us. I particularly feel blessed to have been surrounded by my family as we moved from living with my stepmother to remembering her. And my family was blessed by being embraced by my stepmother’s friends at her funeral, as well as by the many members of this TAE community who attended.
We read about thresholds in this week’s Torah portion, called Pinchas. In our parashah, God tells Moses to ascend a mountain. There, God informs Moses that he will not cross over into the Promised Land; instead, Moses will remain on this side of the threshold, forever outside the Land of Israel. Moses is told to call forward Joshua, whom God has selected to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Moses and Joshua remind us that there are often two types of people who stand at thresholds. There are the people who remain at the door, peering in but not entering. Many of our loved ones are like Moses. They escort us along our life’s path until they reach their threshold. I can’t help but think of our Moseses of this congregation who have helped us move forward: Rabbi Greenbaum; Rabbi Riter; our dear friend, Rabbi Dubowe; and Rabbi Straus, along with the many other leaders and members of our congregation who helped to create and sustain this community. Somehow, it is at these threshold moments that we bring them to mind and express our gratitude for their having moved us along our path. Then there are Joshuas, who are willing to pick up the mantle of leadership and carry it forward, at least a few steps.
It is interesting that just as my father and Sandy and I were blessed to be surrounded by family and friends at the threshold of my stepmother’s funeral, we also feel blessed to be surrounded by you at this threshold that we stand at today. Returning to this congregation that we love so much reminds us of the power and importance of walking this life as a member of community. The importance of community was illustrated in the Torah portion when Joshua was made leader. Rather than God selecting him and introducing him merely to the heads of the twelve tribes, as we might expect, God directs Moses to present Joshua before the entire community. Every single one of the Israelite was able to see Joshua, their new leader, and hear the high priest charge him with his sacred mission. But why should it have been done this way? Why was it so important to establish Joshua’s leadership role in public?
I think the answer is as perceptive as it is timely. The Torah realizes that Joshua, like every leader, has weaknesses and foibles. He will have successes and will certainly make mistakes. By having Joshua receive his divine commission in front of all of Israel, each person can feel a sense of ownership in Joshua’s leadership. Each person can say, “I was there when he became the leader.” And each person can recognize that although Joshua is only a flawed human, he still has the trust of God and the authority to lead.
This insight—that our leaders must be able to lead even though they are imperfect—is the deep wisdom that our country’s founders understood as well. Perhaps with a hint from this week’s portion and other parts of the Torah, and certainly with the wisdom of Enlightenment philosophers like Baruch Spinoza and John Locke, our founders understood that all human beings have flaws—every member of a congregation, every member of the board, every member of the clergy. We all have flaws because we are human beings. And because our founders recognized our common human weaknesses, they chose to organize our country around a covenant, not with God, but with one another. In that covenant, we collectively gave power to our government and then divvied that power up to different groups, all of whom would watch and check one another. The great accomplishment of this country is not that our forebearers declared our independence from England 241 years ago, although that certainly took courage. Our founders’ brilliance is that they created a form of government founded on the will of the public and built on a sober understanding of human nature. That understanding has allowed this country to create one Joshua after another. Each new leader, in turn, may lead us to the next threshold and, like Moses, pass along the power and promise to the next Joshua.
It’s not just about leaders, though; it is also about followers.
While our founders recognized that every human has shortcomings and they tried to address it with our form of government, they also understood that no form of separated powers and checks and balances can ever make up for a citizenry where there is no commitment to truth and compromise and tolerance. It is within communities that we shape and nurture the values and character that sustain our country and its freedoms. For many people—I dare to say, most people—we may not naturally act charitably or kindly to those who are outside our immediate circle of friends and family. Think of the last time that you made a donation to some cause. Was it because you felt called on to support the cause, or was there some larger communal effort that encouraged you to do the good that you know deserves to be done? We act better when we are in a community that encourages us to act better, encourages us to examine our own behavior, and supports us as we try to improve our conduct and our world. That is what I would like to be a part of here at TAE. I want a community that encourages us to reflect on our behavior and our sense of higher purpose and meaning. I want a community where our members care about one another, and then I want to extend that circle of care out beyond our own confines. I want a community where we can develop the character to participate meaningfully and productively within our society and world. I want this community, and I want it with you.
Let’s cross this threshold together. Let’s have hard conversations together. Let’s hold each other gently accountable to become our best selves. And let’s delve into our treasury of wisdom and beliefs as we deepen our relationships with God and with one another.