I believe it is time for a revolution in the Jewish arts. I do not mean specifically religious, though I feel that religious Jewish artists should be in the vanguard. The Jews are intended as a "light unto the nations" and a light is meant to illuminate and guide the way. The world is at a cusp, staring down into abyss. Unspeakable evil is being encouraged to flourish. The Jewish nation, as the receivers of the torah, must take its place as the moral compass of the world. Dialectic is the way to influence the mind but artistic expression is the way to influence the heart and soul.
Just before World War II, there was a revolution in Yiddish literature. I believe it came as a reaction to World War I, which was, in many ways, more shocking to humanity than World War II. It was the first time chemical warfare was used, airplanes flew into battle, and automatic weapons were seen. War was no longer a battle of brute force, man against man. A team of two men could kill dozens with the press of a single trigger. A plane could kill practically with immunity. A soldier could die just by walking into the field of battle without a gasmask. Trench warfare was horrific, killing a larger proportion of Europe's population than WWII. The world had gazed into the darkness of its own soul and seen horrors that had never even been dreamed of before. It reacted strongly, creating the Geneva Conventions, a previously unheard of concept to limit mankind's ability to destroy itself. The League of Nations was created, and one of its first acts, The Mandate for Palestine in 1922, was moving towards returning the Jews to Israel. The Balfour declaration came, not as a reaction to the Holocaust, but as a reaction to the non-Jews nearly destroying civilization in WWI. Theodore Herzl wanted a Jewish homeland as a refuge for the Jews against non-Jewish aggression. The non-Jews wanted to return the Jews to Palestine as a prelude to the Messianic Age which, after the horrors of WWI, was a desperate, illogical attempt at self-preservation from the darkness in their own collective soul.
The role of the Jews in the world had changed. The Jew had gone from being the nefarious stranger amongst them, the shylock, to being the biblical figure, the keeper of the holy flame that would bring redemption and save the world from its own evil and ability to self-destruct. Religious Jews had the traditional role f building walls and being insular as a means of protecting torah from foreign influences and the Jews from assimilation and destruction. A few enlightened Jews, with one foot inside the locked, hidden, world of torah Judaism, and the other foot in the secular world, understood the need for change in the Jews self-perception of their relationship with non-Jews. This changing role was epitomized when Napoleon offered Jews citizenship in France after the French revolution. The French Revolution was, in essence, an attempt to create an idealized state. This drive towards social idealism brought into the French Christian mind the desire to emancipate the lowly and despised Jew and make him a brother. Religious Jews almost universally rejected the offer because it required lowering the walls that had protected Judaism form outside influence. After WWI, the world held out its hand again, and Judaism was again challenged to lower the walls and go out into the world as an equal and not as a stranger.
This time, the challenge was met with a different response. Jews, at least some of them, seemed ready to leave the ghetto. I understand I. B. Singer's Gimpel the Fool and Peretz's Bontsha the Silent to be challenges to the Jewish role in European society as the perennial victim. Non-Jews were seeing Jews in a different light, as a necessary guide to save them from self-destruction, and the Jews were intrigued by the offer. After WWII, the non-Jews saw themselves as having no choice. With fingers twitching on buttons that could make Hiroshima and Nagasaki look mild, with human bodies still smoking in ovens, the world was considering the possibility of instantaneous self-annihilation. It required a solution, a safeguard against its own desire for evil, so it naturally looked towards the children of Israel.
I believe that situation has arisen once again. I prefer to state the evils that anyone can view at the touch of a button anywhere on the internet. A death cult is sweeping the planet. Righteous anger threatens to return the world to the dark ages and wipe away any advances that have been made in human rights and civil kindness. The world wants Israel to return to the borders of 1967. The date seems random, irrelevant to the plight of the Palestinian people it is intended to help. It would seem more fitting to demand a return to the UN instituted borders of 1948. I believe the world wants to return to 1967 when, for the first time in over two-thousand years, the Jews stood on the Temple Mount. In 1967, we had the opportunity to take our proper, God given role in the world as a priestly nation, creating a bridge between God and man. We would serve the nations, and not just perform a measly percentage of the commandments that pertained to dietary laws and the Sabbath. Prayer as practiced by Jews today is a pale compromise meant to remind us of the Temple service. It was never intended as a replacement. The Jews stood at a crux, a moment of great potential, and chose to walk away from their spiritual role and responsibility to the world. The non-Jews were disappointed and have not forgiven us. They want us to go back to the '67 borders and try again.
I feel that the Jews must make a change in how they see their role in the world. Torah Judaism is designed to prevent change in order to preserve torah from being influenced by a world in which the majority is non-Jewish. That reality no longer exists. At least not in the state of Israel. Torah Judaism used to have a one-way door. Jews left but never came back. In most places in Europe, it was illegal and even suicidal to convert to Judaism. The present practice by the Rabbis of pushing the potential convert away does not have a halachic source. Judaism used to actively proselytize. The present system for converting Jews is a mess because for two thousand years, the precedent has been set by a fear-based reaction to relating to non-Jews. It was an anomaly for a Jew to want to return to Torah and it was a threat to bring a non-Jew into the fold. Converting Ivan's daughter today meant a pogrom tomorrow. Rabbis are befuddled by the flood of baal tshuva and converts. They should be. They had nothing to do with it. The baal tshuva movement began right after Jews conquered the Temple mount. Being on The Temple Mount brings with it a spiritual power. We have partial ownership, so the baal tshuva/ger movement began. It certainly did nt begin due to a rabbinic structure based on Christianity and priests. For two thousand years the rabbis have turned torah learning and torah law into something it was explicitly never intended to be; a process of contraction and stringency based on "we don't know". The only basis for a surrogate in the Torah is the priestly class. The function of Rabbi has no precedent in Judaism until it went into the Diaspora. In the land of Israel, the Sanhedrin was a legal body that required dynamic innovation, based on meritocracy and scholarship (mostly).
When I first went to yeshiva, I was fascinated by tchelet, the blue thread in tzitzit the fringes on our four cornered garment. I asked my teacher a question. It is a mitzvah that is mentioned in the shema, which we say twice a day and figures so prominently in our service to God. How could it be that for two thousand years, this twice daily reference was ignored by Jews who were passionate about their service to God? Men who worked at making the dye and garments suddenly and collectively stopped showing up to work? Are we, in our present day ignorance, suddenly aware of something they were not aware of? My teacher answered me. He said, tchelet is the color of the ocean, which is the color of the sky, which is the color of God's throne of glory. The spiritual and the physical are so closely related that you cannot change one without changing the other. When the temple was destroyed, the color of the sky changed. Tchelet, that specific shade of blue, ceased to exist. Our desire to return tchelet to the world is a precursor to building the temple. It is the beginnings of desire that have no name or focus. I began to wander around with my eyes gazing skyward. I was searching for a new shade of blue that I had never seen before.
I would like to establish a publishing group that will focus on a new type of Jewish fiction that explores the changing role of Jews in the world and their relationship to non-Jews, through literature and fiction.