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Sunday, 23 March 2014

Should we expose our students to the anti-Israel voice?

Sukkah 47

There is a new Jewish student movement on campus.  They call themselves “Open Hillel,” and they contend that they should be allowed not only to present the pro-Israel side of the debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also the opposing view. 

This perspective is not limited to college.  Recently, a student group at a prominent Modern Orthodox high school insisted on hearing the voice of an academic who was less than sympathetic to Israel’s cause, causing a furor in the school and the Jewish world.

In Judaism, we pride ourselves on being open to discussion and debate. In the interests of academic freedom and openness, do these groups not make a valid point?

The Torah states, “In sukkot you shall dwell for seven days. . . On the eighth day, you shall have a cessation [of activity].”   This verse is the basis for our two connected festivals of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah. 

In the Land of Israel, we live in the sukkah for seven days of Sukkot and then return to our homes for an eighth day, called Shemini Atzeret.  In the diaspora, where we observe an additional day of every festival, we end up celebrating for a total of nine days.  The first seven belong to Sukkot; the ninth day is certainly part of Shemini Atzeret.  The eighth day, however, is complicated.  Is it the eighth day of Sukkot or is it the first day of Shemini Atzeret?

In other words, do we continue to dwell in the sukkah or not?  The Talmud concludes that we should dwell in the sukkah but not make the blessing over the mitzvah, so that we do not risk taking G-d’s name in vain.

How about the performance of the mitzvah of lulav?  Perhaps we should also do that sans blessing?  Tosfos demurs, citing an essential difference between sukkah and lulav.   Whereas there are no negative consequences of sitting in a sukkah, the lulav is different.  We are forbidden to pick up a branch on a holy day due to the prohibition of muktzeh, which precludes us from moving any unnecessary raw materials.  On Sukkot, the lulav branch is absolutely necessary for the mitzvah and therefore we may raise it.  On Shemini Atzeret, since it is of questionable necessity, it would be forbidden to move it.

Tosfos is teaching us that sometimes more is less.  We think that we are doing a mitzvah by taking the lulav on the eighth day – after all, it can’t hurt, right?  And Tosfos points out that yes, it could hurt.  If, in fact, it’s unnecessary for the festival, it becomes de facto prohibited.  In other words, one does more damage by taking the lulav on the eighth day than by not taking it.  And therefore we abstain from the mitzvah of lulav on Shemini Atzeret.

Throughout our daily lives, we encounter many situations where more turns out to be less.  The debate over Israel is one such instance.  While it might sound fair to present all sides of the debate, there is too much at stake here.  How do we guarantee that the student who attends the anti-Israel lecture shows up for the pro-Israel lecture?  How do we ensure that the pro-Israel speaker is as eloquent as the anti-Israel speaker? 

What’s more, we are talking about the safety and security of our people!  While there may be persuasive arguments on both sides, those who wish to destroy us are not interested in rational and objective deliberation.   They are banking on the delegitimization of Israel as the first step towards the destruction of the Jewish state, which ultimately leads to the annihilation of our people!

Does that mean that we should not dialogue with the other side?  Of course we should.  If we desire peace, then we must be prepared to come to the table.  But forums such as Jewish high schools and campus groups must be devoted to making sure that our students are educated and energized with a pro-Israel vigor that will guarantee the future of our people.   They must walk out with the strength to stand up to the Hamans who wish to destroy us, without any equivocation. 

Because the other side does not equivocate. 


On campus, sadly, our students are being fed more than enough surreptitious as well as overt anti-Israel bias in the classrooms and lecture halls.   Jewish student group gatherings are the only opportunities we have to counter this brainwashing.  We must be ever-vigilant in our efforts to teach the truth and protect the State of Israel and the Jewish people.