Monday, October 23, 2006

Jewish Practical Innovation Starts HERE.

Jewish practical innovation (as opposed to theoretical) is inherently connected to Israel. Like it or not, the resurgence and application of Jewish Nationalism, through Shivat Tziyon, has propelled Judaism forward in a quantum leap like never before in our past 2000 years. The challenge of a Jewish State in a modern technological era is welcomed with open arms by many -- and instead of adopting old-world mindsets that "it's better not to put yourself into a halachic quandary posed by modernization", we rise to the occasion, and embrace it, lichatchila.

Israel has revitalized Hebrew, Lashon HaKodesh (The Holy Language) -- and modernized the language to the point of every day usage, adapted to a modern era.

Tanach is undergoing a revolution and is taught in yeshiva high schools. The "Bible Championship," Chidon HaTanach is a wonderful experience for religious (and non observant) teenagers to reconnect to Tanach. Who would have dreamed a hundred years ago of Orthodox teenagers learning Tanach -- it would have been Gemara Yiddish.

Reading this post on "A Simple Jew's" blog really bothered me:

"Reading an recent editorial entitled "For a kinder, gentler Judaism " made me think about a sensitive halachic issue at the shul where I daven. In her editorial, Linda Maurice wrote, "My 100-year-old observant grandmother did not go to shul on the first day of Rosh Hashanah this year. She did go on the second day. The reason for her absence the first day was not due to illness, but because her Orthodox rabbi did not want her to attend if she had to arrive in a wheelchair."

Linda Maurice's grandmother instantly made me think of "Shalom", a middle-aged paraplegic man who davens at my shul. Each Shabbos, Shalom's non-Jewish nurse drives him to shul and he makes his way inside with the help of his electric wheelchair.

I realize that this immediately raises many halachic problems since it involves violation of Shabbos prohibitions, and that Orthodox rabbis would counsel him to refrain from doing this. I also realize that Hilchos Shabbos will never be revised to make an exception for cases such as Shalom."

Here in Israel, we already have techno-halachik solutions for wheelchairs and the disabled. The Tzomet Institue has developed thousands of devices and solutions to complex halachik issues in the Modern Era. From pens that write on shabbat for medical and security forces to electric wheelchairs based on grama (indirect control), Tzomet meets the challenge of finding innovative solutions which "meet the letter of the law and the Spirit of the Torah."

A partial list of Tzomet innovations includes:
JoeSettler and I discussed why their motto includes "spirit of the Torah" and not "spirit of the law," and I pointed out that "spirit of the Torah" is a euphemism for a Judaism in a modern society. In a real-life modern society, such as Israel today, there need to be real solutions for issues involving security, emergency medical, police, fire departments and public safety (gas, water, electric, sewage and others). One could stick their heads in the ground and say, "Israel is a secular state, and therefore, it's not my problem", or one could say (G-d forbid), as I have heard from others, "It's so much simpler to live outside of Israel without all the complexities of Shmita, Truma, Maaser..."

While there will definitely be those who point to innovation in chutz la'aretz, we need to differentiate between innovation that results in restrictions (i.e., leafy vegetables are prohibited) versus solutions, such as the Gush Katif bug-free vegetables.
Obviously there are chidushei Torah and philosophical advancement made outside Israel today, but the pure-application of solutions are almost all being done in Israel.
Many people say, "Why bother with baking matzot on erev pesach, after "zman biur", when there are all sorts of possible issurim involved? Why even bother with the issue of going to Har HaBayit, (The Temple Mount), since there's the punishment of Karet for doing it wrong. Yes, the punishment is very severe, but does that mean we shouldn't try to find the correct, acceptable halachik perscription?
Tekhelet for tzitziyot, "Cool Jew Blue" has been revitalized...from Israel.

The challenge of Israel today is to find acceptable halachik (or technological) solutions for living in the complex reality of a modern-day Jewish state.

No one said living in Israel is easy (otherwise, I wouldn't be writing about a challenge). Yes, living outside of Israel has it's challenges as well - like affording yeshiva tuition, yet I would prefer Israel's challenges any day, which are on behalf of all of the Jewish people.

You can watch from the sidelines outside of Israel, but if you want to be part of the vibrancy of emerging solutions and innovation, this is without a doubt, the place for Jews to be.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael


JoeSettler said...

"While there will definitely be those who point to innovation in chutz la'aretz, we need to differentiate between innovation that results in restrictions (i.e., leafy vegetables are prohibited) versus solutions..."

In short you're saying, "If you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem!"

Anonymous said...

Joe Settler, that is not what I understood Jameel to be saying. Can you explain what you meant?

Cosmic X said...

"You can watch from the sidelines outside of Israel, but if you want to be part of the vibrancy of emerging solutions and innovation, this is without a doubt, the place for Jews to be."

True but it is much more than that. Even the mitzvot that a Jew can perform abroad have a totally different spiritual quality when they are performed in the land of Israel. Donning Tefilin in Israel is not the same as donning tefilin in Boro Park or Monsey. This this the land that God gave us. It is here he intended that we live and carry out his commandments, to be a mamlechet cohanim vegoy kadosh.

JoeSettler said...

As I understood him, Jameel was saying that there are people in galus that will say that they are coming up with innovative answers to halachic issues.

But in reality those "innovations" are simply more halachic restrictions or situational avoidance.

In Israel we are coming up with solutions to "problems" that don't involve diminishing/negating/avoiding any connection to the desired goal.

Examples are: Eating leafy vegetables, living on a high floor of a building, owning a farm, keeping your home alarm activated on Shabbos, etc.

The line "if you're not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem" just popped up into my head.

I think what I meant by that is that if as a whole you are not being innovative within halacha to find workable solutions to practical problems (such as how to maintain the national electric grid on Shabbos in a Jewish country, or getting to shul in an electric wheelchair) and instead avoiding the problems (sucg as not living in Israel, or not going to shul), then you aren't being part of the the solution...

PsychoToddler said...

Interesting post. Kinda like the effect war has on technology. When there is no other alternative, society is forced to innovate or die.

In Israel, you put yourself on the "halachic edge" so to speak, and there is no way to weasel out. So you have to come up with a solution.

My concern is what happens when you don't come up with some technical gimmickry to nullify a halachic prohibition? Judaism, here or there, has to be able to deal with it in a realistic way.

Lion of Zion said...

an interesting post, relevant to some comments on gil's post todah on hatikvah.

i am reminded of an essay on eliezer berkovits but can't think which one.

Lion of Zion said...

that should read "by eliezer"

Jack Steiner said...

Good post.

Nachum said...

It's funny you should bring this up. This past Shabbat, I went to the Kotel with my new brother-in-law's (non-Israeli) siblings- not the most observant of people. They were tremendously impressed with the sign pointing out how the metal detector did not involve chillul Shabbat.

Anonymous said...

I really like the fact that when I pay my taxes here (albeit much higher than anywhere else) they're going to help support and defend other Jews. Anywhere else, you'd have to give tzedaka for what I get out of my taxes!

In addition, I just wonder how much certain communities here (read: Haredi) really love these innovations you're talking about...

Anonymous said...

GREAT post.
Calling the way you see it.That is the only way to do it.

JoeSettler said...

Oleh: Actually Jameel and I discussed some of the various Chareidi viewpoints towards practical innovation. Perhaps he'll post them.

Another interesting thing is seeing how many Americans don't accept these technical innovations as kosher. It may not be as bad anymore, but I remember hanging out in the Sheraton Plaza on Shabbos and watching all the Americans use the stairs instead of the (certified kosher) Shabbos elevator.

What does that mean?

Lion of Zion said...


"What does that mean?"

that we are in better shape. or claustrophobic.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Joe, I see a clearer picture now!

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Mike: It's probably because many of Tzomet's devices are not always lechatchila (or in a few case, it's not so clear they're mutar at all!).

Living in a modern wolrd where you need to do actions on shabbat which would normally be assur, but are permitted for the sake of pikuach nefesh (security, medical, etc.) -- then one could bidi'eved do the melacha. By adding in grama, then the action could be done lichatichila.

What devices do posit are not muttar at all? (And yes, the organization you mentioned is a very good one as well) -- they are affiliated somehow with Machon Lev...

Phillip Minden said...

After a casual reading - there are some good points, but I don't get yet what it has to do with the state's being Jewish or not. B"n, I'll have a closer look at what you (and the commenters) wrote, if I may.

westbankmama said...

Great post! I linked to you - because I just put out a call for "only in Israel" stories and this one was fantastic!

kasamba said...

Great post Jameel!!!

Lion of Zion said...

west bank moma:

i have some nice "only in israel" stories to share, but tonight i must share a negative "only in israel" story. i just came home to find a letter from eldan charging me for using their car on a toll highway this past august. now i used the highway once, and only because i made a wrong turn and got lost, and for processing the $3.07 toll eldan is charging me a NIS 50 fee + vat (which i don't think i am supposed to pay anyway). i called to complain that it is ridiculous i am paying 50 sheks for a 3 dollar one-time mistake but they don't care. even thought this is the 3rd time i've rented with eldan. in america they would have waived this fee for a repeat customer who clearly made a mistake. but i guess only in israel . . .

(does anyone out there have some protektziyah with eldan. and jameel, how about a post on protektziyah?)

Lion of Zion said...

i tried calling eldan's customer service, which is supposed to open at 8am, but all i get is a recording to leave a message and they will return my call in 48 hours. fat chance of that happening.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Ari: Good idea...I hope to post on it shortly ;-)

Nick said...

I'm on a ventilator and use an electric wheelchair. how does the shabbas wheelchair work?

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