Achdut = Sinat Chinam

I’ve had two remarkably eye-opening conversations in the last few days. One was with a major supporter of a senior secular politician in Israel and the other with a Rabbinic leader of the Dati Leumi movement. Remarkably each of my interlocutors had almost exactly the same objections to my Stream-based Constitutionalist concept.

They each believed:

1) The idea of Streams would drive the Jewish people to disintegrate

2) They had what it took to make the Jewish people come together behind their vision of what a ‘Jewish’ State should be

I was really blown away by the symmetry of argument. That very symmetry reinforces the importance of Streams. So long as everybody believes they can pursue and enforce their vision of Jewish Achdut, they will be in constant battle with those who have another vision. In other words, the pursuit of Achdut necessarily leads to Sinat Chiman – and the very existence of the Jewish State raises the stakes and increases the danger.

The fact is, I get where both the Rav and the Secular Politician are coming from. No concept is more historically universal than the idea that there can be “no peace without unity”. Faction has often been seen as the enemy of human peace. But human societies have also been defined by near-constant conflict, seemingly despite seeking unity. Why? Because disunity is human nature and thus attempts to eliminate disunity lead to conflict. Jews aren’t immune to this.

Disunity is not only human nature, it is nature. We live in a world in which the term ‘ecosystem’ defines reality far more than does the word ‘system.’ An ecosystem is a naturally evolving relationship of ‘organisms’ (whether species, cultures, economic actors or ideologies) rather than a top-down definition of exactly how things should run.

Stable bodies (including our literal bodies) are defined by competitive stalemates as much as they are by centralized management. Insulin levels are the result of competitive systems – they can’t be directed. Our microbiomes play a massive role in who we are – arguably more than our brains – and they aren’t even human. They are instead tens of trillions of independent ‘factions’ operating within our bodies. Our brains are fundamentally incapable of governing our bodies. They are not only too distant from many of the systems that govern us to provide sufficiently rapid response, there is no rational way to systematize the evolved reality that regulates us. We are not rational systems, we are ecosystems.

But Jewish, Islamic, Eastern and even European society by and large hasn’t recognized this. They want communalism reinforced by state power. They imagine a State governed by a wise leaders resulting in harmony and peace. They want the ‘brain’ to rule the body – even though we now know that that is not, and cannot be, how bodies actually function. The closest modern State to this vision is China – and it is a place that violently suppresses all dissent – including through genocide, mass surveillance, mass arrests, harvesting of healthy prisoner’s organisms….. It doesn’t even succeed on its own terms. It overreacts to situations, racks up incredible debts, commits massive ecological crimes, faces existential threats to its own food supply and suffers from immense corruption. It should not be a role model and yet somehow, for many, it is.

In Israel, Jews want a Jewish state. But Jews fundamentally disagree over what that means and thus they will forever be at each other’s throats trying to seize the reins of power. They may think it isn’t a violent game, but when the goal is to be able to coerce the other, it necessarily becomes violent. The only thing that checks that violence is the threat of greater violence from others. This is the classic Jewish story: we turn on G-d and each other and then Haman/Hitler/Kohmeini/Arafat steps in to force us together.

If we look at our history, it argues that Sinat Chinum is a direct result of trying to impose Achdut. To put it in English, senseless hatred is caused by trying to impose unity.

To give but one example: the great King Yoshiyahu was credited with banning Jewish practice of idolatry. Coercion failed. It always does. The people were not at peace.

The religious right thinks the answer is a religious coercion that will force Jews into a relationship with G-d. Of course, King Yoshiyahu showed this doesn’t work (He sent enforcers door to door to ensure the worship of idols was stopped but our own history records that people would simply hide their idols (the famous two-part doors)).

The religious right recognize the past failures, but imagine that kindness and just a bit of ‘soft’ Rabbanut control over marriage and the like will do the trick. I’m reminded of Luther and his belief that being nice to Jews would make them see the light of Christianity. It didn’t work for Luther and it won’t work for the Dati. Luther ended up being a massive and violent anti-semite and it isn’t hard to see Jews turning to violent opposition when the ‘make nice and coerce softly’ fails.

Of course, ‘soft’ Rabbunut control over things like marriage and the like is itself the subject of conflict. Even if we accept such control, the religious fight about who should be in control of such instruments – the Haredi, the Dati, the Chassidic…. The fights between the Litvakish (Lithuanian) factions are legendary. They have actually devolved into street brawls with hospitalizations. They theoretically belong to exactly the same camp of students guided by reason and the Torah’s light.

For their part, the secular left believes the answer is secular coercion that will break the religious and bring us all into some other reality they support. You can see secular opposition to eruvim worldwide as an example. Of course, the secular fight about what that reality is, whether Communist, Socialist, Capitalist or, increasingly Hedonist and Naturalist. They inevitably would take power and devolve in the same ways that the religious would. Just look at the fights between Communist factions before 1917 (many of which were heavily populated by Jews).

The only way to get rid of these fights while seeking unity is to absolutely suppress them – and even that doesn’t work for long.

The thing is, I believe Jewish or secular Israeli society can’t walk away from the concepts of Achdut (unity). It is simply too ingrained in both secular and religious thought. But if we keep grasping for Achdut, we will destroy ourselves.

So, what can we do?

For me, the answer is Streams. Let the groups define their own coercive rules, their own vision of a communal ideal. This would be applied in the critical areas of education, welfare and civil law. It would put a limit on that coercive power by not extending it to criminal law – but also enable them to act in the areas they believe are key to creating the ideal communal society. Then let each communal vision display the effectiveness of its model while letting other Streams not feel threatened because of the limits of Streams. No, each Stream wouldn’t get to dictate the lives of others (just those who voluntarily join the Stream) – but they also don’t have to fight to make their version the official version or to prevent the official version from imposing on them.

They do have to make their case by demonstrating in reality how well their vision works. There is no one measure of ‘well’, which is why people will always choose the Streams that make the case they feel is most rewarding.

Critically, this approach enables Druze, Muslims and others to do the same thing. It enables them to have that more-encompassing path, that has long defined their own societies, open to them. They could have Stream leadership by unelected Imams or majority-elected smooth-talkers. That is their call. But it limits how threatening such choices are to others – because those who don’t belong to those streams wouldn’t be subject to them.

I pointed out to the rav that the only Mitzvah almost universally kept in Israel is the commandment not to drive on Yom Kippur. And that commandment is not in the law.

Streams do break the vision of Achdut (Unity). This concept of Achdut is clearly embraced by both the secular and the religious. But this very embrace of a broadly encompassing Achdut – and complete disagreement about what it would lead to – is exactly what dooms it.

The pursuit of Achdut inevitably leads to Sinat Chinam.

The pursuit of Unity inevitably lead to senseless hatred.

We are living it – but we don’t need to.

Embrace and share the Constitution of Streams!

One key question I must face as a religious Jew is: how I can square this with the classic Jewish concept of Achdut. After all, the Torah says you can’t simply do what you think it right. – you have to do what G-d thinks is right. It imposes severe constraints on those who represent wormwood and gall. But every society has its boundaries. We do not accept child sacrifice (despite that concept being extremely widespread). It is a red line. A Jewish society will have unacceptable redlines – but they must be, and can be, defined very broadly. That is the State – beyond Streams. Murder is a criminal offense. Of course, I also think my version of an ideal (a society that walks in the path of G-d who creates and then rests and experiences that which is beyond time and change) will draw people in. Not through coercion, but by demonstrating the fulfillment that such a life delivers for those who practice it. I believe we are meant to walk in the path of G-d and will embrace the opportunity to do so. Of course, my vision is accepting of many kinds of people – including the secular and Haredi and everybody in between – so long as they can see the complementary value in each others’ life approaches.

  1. Jenny says:

    I see the current Israeli society as a prelude to the streams you are proposing. Unlike in America and especially Baltimore, many Israeli Jewish neighborhoods are little streams of like-minded people. You have to apply to live in the neighborhood (unless you’re an Arab and the secular supreme court forces acceptance). Yeminite here, chassidish there, Litvish somewhere else. I also see “Achdut “not as an active plan, but as a philosophy–a way of making room for the “other” kind of Jew in your heart if not always in your every day life. I think achdut would be an antidote to sinas chinam if only it was taken seriously. I know that I have to listen to mussar every day not to forget what I should have remembered from the day before. In other words, It’s hard work to run our own lives and protect and care for our own families and still have the energy for the righteousness to practice ahavas Yisroel in the best possible way. But should we just forget about Achdut so we can live in small little peaceful tribes? I guess it’s worth a try.

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