Hosting: Rabbi Josh Weinberg

Masekhet Atzmaut

Rabbi Weinberg presents The Independence Tractate (Massekhet Atzmaut), an educational edition of the of Israeli Declaration of Independence. Compiled by the Education Department of Rabbis for Human Rights, the Declaration of Independence is treated as a talmudic text, embedded at the center of a page and surrounded with commentary. We are made aware of how ‘biblical’ was the intention behind the creating of this historical document, in content, as well as in form. In Hebrew we call it “Megillat Ha’atzmaut” – literally, ‘The scroll of Independence’. It was written by sofer stam (scribe) on vellum, so as to resemble the five biblical “megillot”. Like each of the traditional megillahs, it is associated with a holiday.  Song of Songs is recited during Passover, Ruth in Shavuot, Esther in Purim; Lamentations in Tisha josh_weinberg1Be’av; Ecclesiast in Sukkot… and megillat Ha’Atzmaut, presumably, should be recited at synagogues during Yom Ha’Atzmaut – the holiday of independence, minted in 1948.

These stylistic choices were meant to present the founding of the modern Jewish state as a continuation of Jewish history. Rabbi Weinberg, however, urges the Room to not to merely recite, but to analyze the veracity of the assertions in the declaration. Already in the first phrase a question mark is suggested. The scroll states:  “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained  statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.” Since the Torah was given in Sinai, however, and the Talmud written mostly in ’Galut’ (exile), is it correct to state that the birthplace of the Jewish people is Israel? Well, there’s the debate, and in this debate might (if we choose) hear echoes of post Zionism. When the text is read aloud at The Room, it was impossible not to notice the murmurs, giggles and ironic asides. It is grandiose, and it probably reminds people of their childhood schooling, when Israeli Nationalism, and triumphalism, was in vogue. But this cynicism seem like a defensive posture. The text; the historical moment is, indeed, of biblical proportions. Ben Gurion and his fellow signatories made a big assertion, declaring what being Jewish is all about. They were leaders in the full sense of the word. Personally humble and nationally ambitious, they took huge risks. They acted pragmatically in order to achieve a huge dream. They were capable of making this biblical-size assertion because they were, themselves, giants of biblical proportions. And we, by contrast, are dwarfs. What’s left for us is to add our commentaries on the edges of the scroll that they had written.

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