By Stephen E. Lipken
Rabbis Shai Held, President and Dean, Hadar Institute; Jane Kanarek, Associate Dean and Professor of Rabbinics, Hebrew College and Ethan Tucker, President and Rosh Yeshiva, Hadar Institute met on Sunday, March 31st at Temple Israel Center, White Plains to address the topic, “Exploring the Dynamic Relationship between Israel and the Diaspora,” presented by the Rabbi Gordon Tucker Fund for Jewish Learning, Thought and Culture before a rapt, enthusiastic audience of over 200 community members.
Discussing “Reading the Talmud in the Diaspora: Reclaiming Lost Stories,” Kanarek talked about the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn. “With some Egyptian women unfaithful to their husbands—each child born from a different father—was a firstborn, according to Rashi.
“Although Bityah, Pharaoh’s daughter who found Moshe in the reeds was firstborn, she was spared because Moshe prayed for her.” It was debated whether firstborn girls should fast.
“However, that is not the custom (Maharil); Mishnah Berurah: ‘And this is not the custom, because the Torah does not grant holiness of the firstborn to a female in any matter,’” Rabbi Kanarek averred.
In “Center and the Diaspora: The Relationship of the Jewish Center in the Land of Israel to the Jewish Presence Throughout the Globe,” Rabbi Ethan pointed out that the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden was the first diaspora, saying that G-d protects Jews in exile.
Once they return, the protection ceases and their fate will be dependent on their actions. If they sin, they will be exiled and protection will once again safeguard them until they return to Israel.
In his concluding remarks, Israeli Journalist and Visiting Fellow Yair Ettinger, Shalom Hartman Institute of North America acknowledged that the relationship between North American Jews has always been complicated “except for a few days in 1967.”
The question of separation of church and state in Israel was raised. It was noted that Israel was founded by secular Jews but that Ben Gurion provided for a Central Rabbinate. “If you look carefully the Rabbinate is losing its hold,” Ettinger remarked. “It is difficult to perform conversions for young children. If his/her family makes teshuva (penitence) then the child can be converted. There is no separation of church and state in Israel.”
Rabbi Gordon concluded, “that a close interpretation of the Mishnah yielded that if you are directed to a place that you think of as exile, if a Torah is there, it is a Jewish home.”