Neutral Favor

In my message last week, I asked the question, what are schools for? This week, after a major Supreme Court decision requiring states to pay for students’ tuition at religious schools in some instances, the question continues to remain relevant. Not only are schools places where kids learn and provide childcare for parents so they can work; they are also battlegrounds for ideological conflict. 

The Supreme Court case, Carson v. Makin, centered on a program for rural students in Maine. In places where there are no local public schools, the state would pay the tuition for these students to attend private schools but refused to include religious schools in the list of approved institutions. The court ruled that this was discriminatory and violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states that the government cannot restrict the ability of people to practice their religion. 

The dilemma in this case is that there is another part of the First Amendment, the Establishment Clause, which prevents government from making one faith the official religion of the state. Those in favor of the court’s ruling this week argue that state funding of religious schools would not violate the Establishment Clause as long as the program is neutral. Any religious school (Jewish, Christian, or Muslim) must have equal access to the funding. The state would not be favoring any religion over another, but rather favoring religion in general. 

In fact, Nathan Diament and Maury Litwack argue that the recent Supreme Court decision is merely one more step in a shift in opinion about the Establishment Clause, moving away from the idea that it requires the state to “disfavor” religion to the idea that it must remain “neutral” toward religion. This is undoubtedly a major change with important implications. While in the past governments were allowed to provide limited funding for religious schools, now the precedent has been set to require governments to fund these schools in certain circumstances. 

Those who oppose this ruling object to the idea that their tax dollars should be used to support religious instruction that they do not believe in, and they fear the further entanglement of religion and state. But there are other implications to this new expansive understanding of the First Amendment. The court seems more willing to protect religious institutions and religious people in government spheres. Where will that lead next? 

As I have written in the past, it seems to me that there is an argument to be made that a ban on abortion would be a violation of the Free Exercise Clause since Jews believe that in certain circumstances an abortion must be performed. There now is just such a case challenging a sweeping abortion ban set to take effect in Florida on July 1. The lawsuit was brought by a synagogue and argues that the law violates the freedom of religion of Jewish Floridians. Will the case make it to the Supreme Court, and will the justices be willing to remain expansive in their view of the First Amendment? It’s too early to tell. 

There is a balance in America’s approach to religion between a concern for keeping a separation between government and faith on the one side and ensuring that religion can thrive in this country on the other. In past eras the court tried to keep the wall of separation high between church and state. Today, it seems that the court is searching for ways to support religion as long as it does not favor one kind over another. The next frontier may just be in challenging how far the court is willing to go in this new environment to protect the religious views of a minority. 

Substantially Equivalent

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reconsider so much of life that we took for granted before. Are business travel and in-person meetings really necessary? Is working from home as productive as doing the same tasks in an office? What exactly is the purpose of education for our children?

When schools shut down two years ago, many commented on the role that education plays as childcare. Parents send their kids to school so that they are looked after safely while the adults are at work, but we generally didn’t focus on this aspect until COVID. Instead, we worried about the quality of education and learning in the school, not the basic function of supervising large numbers of children so that they are protected from danger during the day.

Today we do appreciate schools as really good childcare facilities. In fact, it is tough to come up with alternatives, especially for working parents. A story on This American Life profiled a single mother who needed to leave her home for work during the pandemic, so she set up a system of cameras and speakers in her apartment to monitor her daughter during virtual school. The system seemed to work well, and she even used it after schools reopened, but she eventually found that her daughter wasn’t getting an experience at home that she needed.

What is the purpose of school? What interest does the public have in education? A Jewish case in the news today forces us to try and find answers to these questions. New York state is set to release regulations that ensure that Yeshiva students receive an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that at a public school. A judge recently ordered New York City to complete its investigation of a yeshiva where a mother complained that her son did not receive the secular studies he is entitled to under the law.

On the one hand, the state has an interest in every student receiving an adequate education: learning the basics so that they can be productive members of society. But what are those basics? As we learned during the pandemic, schools provide all kinds of education. There is social and emotion learning in addition to skills like math and reading. In fact, some argue that a yeshiva education is more rigorous and intensive than a standard secular education.

Critical thinking is buzzword in education today. School leaders and parents are less interested in students learning facts or skills that they may never use and often quickly forget once a test is over. Instead, students are encouraged to develop ways of problem-solving and analysis so that they can be successful in whatever challenges they face. One could argue that that male yeshiva students, in their intense study of Talmud, get some of the best critical thinking instruction in the world. In fact, some in South Korea admire Talmud study so much that they have adopted the teaching of that text for their students.

So perhaps a yeshiva student may not know as much America history or calculus as the equivalent public high school student, but they certainly know how to analyze literature, an important skill in our increasingly text-based world. Even more important questions are whether they will get a chance to translate this skill into the secular workforce, and whether everyone in the ultra-Orthodox community has the ability to do such intense critical analysis. Some people are better with their hands and should be encouraged to find success in those endeavors.

I suspect that even if New York state requires yeshivot to add more secular studies, these ultra-Orthodox schools will still find a way to fulfill their religious curriculum. True, there are only so many hours in the day, but I still don’t see this dilemma as a zero-sum game. The Talmud is an expansive document full of stories, law, math, geometry, history, and science. Creative educators can use the text as a starting point to teach students all kinds of important knowledge so that the next generation can succeed in both the realm of the secular and religious.

Habsburg Solution

Whenever people ask me where in Europe my family came from, I usually say Vienna. That is the location where four out of five grandparents (excluding one “step-grandfather”) lived their adult lives before immigrating to America. Vienna had and still has a unique culture and language, even separate from the rest of Austria. Viennese describes not only a cuisine and dialect of German; it is also a state of being.

The reality, however, is that Vienna is a part of a larger country, so it is probably more accurate to say that my family background is Austrian, even if that doesn’t quite capture the milieu of my grandparents. If I wanted to be even more historically correct, I would say that they are Austro-Hungarian since four of my biological grandparents were born in that empire (three in Vienna and one in Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia).

Most people know very little about Austria-Hungary since it no longer exists as a state, being a victim, along with the German, Turkish, and Russian empires, of World War I. But unlike those other empires, there is no single successor state to carry on an ethnic legacy. At least 12 current nations occupy some territory that was once a part of Austria-Hungary. It was a truly multi-ethnic state full of a dizzying array of languages, religions, and cultures.

While some might see the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a relic of a bygone era, it may actually provide an intriguing what-if scenario and model for the future of conflict resolution. The empire, although not quite a democracy, was a community that allowed different ethnicities to work together within a signal framework. Austrians dominated, with Hungarians taking a secondary role, but other nationalities had a voice in governance too. What would have happened if the Great War had been avoided and Austria-Hungary survived?

This is just the scenario that Matthew Yglesias sketches out. He notes that many great scientists and thinkers (including a number of Jews) would not have emigrated from the country and instead created a “Habsburg renaissance” that would have seen Austria-Hungary excel in all kinds of economic and technological fields. Instead, war, population loss, and communist revolution set the region back.

The irony is that Europe today does in fact resemble the Austro-Hungarian empire, but with democracy in the form of the European Union. After two devastating world wars, European nations understood that they needed an overarching supra-national body to provide unity while maintaining national sovereignty. It’s too bad that it took an immensely bloody 20th century only to get back to a form of governing that already existed in the 19th.

Perhaps the Austro-Hungarian (and European Union) model can help resolve a seemingly intractable conflict of the 21st century. Recently, the former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief and current Forward editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren, wrote about a proposal for an Israel-Palestine confederation that would look similar to the European Union. The two states would retain sovereignty, but there would be open borders between them. Citizens of each nation would ultimately have the freedom to live in either country, just as a German today can live and work in Paris without issue.

A confederation would also help alleviate the thorny issues of refugees and settlements. Palestinians living abroad would be able to obtain Palestinian citizenship but live in Israel while Israel settlers would retain their Israeli citizenship but live in Palestine. The two nations would have to set up a mechanism to share Jerusalem as one city with two capitals.

The beauty of confederation is the ability to operate within the framework of two states for two peoples while also acknowledging the virtual impossibility of dividing such a tiny sliver of land. This solution might seem untenable, but the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary was also odd and yet it worked until World War I intervened. Perhaps an Israel-Palestine confederation is not realistic in the current environment, but it may end up being the most viable long-term solution. While the modern ethnic nation-state is the most common form of government, it by no means is the only way for people to come together and live in peace.

A New Way to Call

For the past two years, the Conservative movement has focused much of its energy and efforts on addressing the COVID pandemic. Our Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) has addressed questions like how to conduct services on Zoom and whether there is a religious obligation to get vaccinated. While COVID is still very much on people’s minds, and we are seeing a surge in cases recently, the religious questions raised by the pandemic have mostly been resolved.

As a result, the community can return to important questions that are constantly being raised by Judaism in a contemporary world. As modern life evolves, so does Jewish practice. Recently, the CJLS passed a teshuvah, a rabbinic legal responsa, on the question of “Calling non-binary people to Torah honors”. During the Torah service, many synagogues have the tradition to call people up for aliyot, honors, by their Hebrew names. The challenge is that Hebrew is a gendered language so how can we continue this practice for people who do not identify with either the male or female gender?

The teshuvah notes that the practice of calling people to the Torah by their names is widespread, but not universal. It began in the Middle Ages in Ashkenaz (Western and Eastern Europe), but then spread to other communities as well. At Adath Israel, we happen to not call people by their Hebrew names for aliyot, which is somewhat unusual in the Conservative movement. When I came to the synagogue I asked about this practice and remember being told that it was instituted because not everyone knows their Hebrew name and might feel embarrassed to take an honor as a result.

One option for synagogues, then, would be to adopt the Adath custom and not call people by name unless they request it, but this was not the route that the teshuvah authors chose for two reasons. One, calling aliyot by name is a beloved custom in many communities, and two, even when names are omitted, people are still referred to by gendered language. Instead, the teshuvah offers ways to avoid referring to people as either men or women.

While Hebrew speakers are working on making the language more inclusive for all through creative solutions, including designing new fonts, the rabbis who wrote the latest tehsuvah decided to find non-gendered language within the current framework of Hebrew grammar, for example by using the infinitive of the verb “rise”, which is neutral, and substituting the phrase “from the house of” for “son/daughter of”. These solutions allow for a maximum preservation of tradition and continuity while embracing all people in the community.

The teshuvah notes that the origin of calling people up to the Torah by name was to prevent arguments and embarrassment. Without the practice, people might not know it is their turn or two people might think they have the same aliyah. In today’s world of fluid language, the longstanding custom has the power, ironically, to increase confusion and embarrassment for those who identify as non-binary. With this new teshuvah we have the tools to make sure that one of the most beloved of our services, the reading of the Torah, is open and accessible to all.

All the Help We Can Get

After each tragic mass shooting, politicians and people on traditional and social media go to their respective corners and offer the same phrases and arguments that have been made over and over again. They would argue that they must continue to say the same things because nothing has changed. It has been 23 years since Columbine, 10 years since Newtown, CT and yet disasters like the school shooting in Uvalde, TX continue to occur.

So what can be done? Perhaps there is no possibility of political compromise in our polarized society. After previous mass murders I wrote about the mystery of motive. We want to know why the perpetrators do it so that perhaps we can stop similar situations in the future, but often we are left with more questions than answers.

I have also written about potential comprehensive solutions. As a compromise, why not take the answers proposed by all sides and roll them into a proposal. Let’s add more funding for mental health and help schools hire armed guards to secure a single entry point, but let’s also improve background checks for guns, limit assault rifle sales, and impose waiting periods.

While I might find this kind of kitchen-sink solution compelling, there is very little chance it will succeed. Most likely, the Uvalde shooting will fade in the news cycle as we move on to other issues like high gas prices and the impending abortion decision at the Supreme Court. While our attention is focused on this issue, however, perhaps it is worthwhile to look to Jewish tradition to see if there are ways of approaching gun control that may cut through the partisanship.

In the Babylonian Talmud (Avodah Zarah 15b – 16a), the rabbis prohibit selling weapons to gentiles, on the principle that these weapons will be used for violence, especially directed at the Jewish community. Before you protest that this law demonstrates Jewish chauvinism, know that the rabbis also prohibited the selling of weapons to Jewish violent criminals and even to Jewish non-violent criminals, under the assumption that either they would use the weapons to commit crimes or use them in self-defense, which would lead to harm for others.

The rabbis did, however, permit the selling of weapons to the Persians. They were, after all, living in the Persian empire and had a vested interest in serving a government that was tolerant of the Jewish community and protected it. One could boil down the Talmudic debate to the conclusion that selling weapons to law enforcement and responsible civilians is allowed while selling to criminals or anyone with the potential to do violence is not.

From the rabbinic perspective we have an obligation to protect society from harm and must do everything possible to prevent weapons from getting into the wrong hands, even if it means blocking sales to those who have never been violent before. While this Jewish approach does not include an American style right to bear arms, it certainly is not inconsistent with the Second Amendment. Many of the rights enshrined in the constitution are circumscribed by regulations designed to protect the public. If we are not allowed to shout “fire” in a crowded theater despite the First Amendment, then certainly we can tighten the rules on who can and can’t own which kind of guns.

While Jewish law is applicable to only a small segment of America, there is no reason why its principles and values cannot be of use in the great debates of our time. Perhaps this 3,000-year-old tradition has the power to break through the stalemate and lead to some commonsense approaches to the issue of gun safety and mass shootings. No one wants to have to hear about another senseless tragedy, and we need all the help we can get to prevent it.

Blink of an Eye

Recently, I listened to a radio story about the composer John Cage’s piece 4’33”, which consists of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence, or more accurately, four minutes and 33 seconds in which the musicians are instructed to not to play their instruments. This distinction is important to note because Cage’s piece does not actually consist of silence. Instead, the audience is directed to listen to the sounds of environment all around them.

While one may think of 4’33” as a piece that is identical each time it is performed, in fact the opposite is true. A conventional song may be played differently by different musicians, but 4’33” is completely unique each time it is heard. The sound the audience hears one time might be the whoosh of the HVAC system in a hushed performance space, while birds chirp in the distance at an outdoor venue.

During the radio story, the commentator argued that Cage’s masterpiece forces us to appreciate the ephemeral nature of music. Noise travels via sound waves that require air. Those waves can only go so far before they dissipate. Even if you had the most powerful speaker imaginable, the sound would still stop at the edge of the thin bubble of atmosphere that surrounds our planet.

In contrast, light waves can travel billions of lightyears intact throughout the cosmos. In fact, recently scientists, including a team from Israel, detected the most distant single star ever seen at 12.9 billion light years away. The star was named Earendel, after the Old English name for “morning star”, which was also a source for a character named Eärendil created by J.R.R. Tolkien in his The Lord of the Rings.

While a single photon of light can reach us after traveling for 12.9 billion years, it needs some help. We are able to see galaxies that old fairly easily but detecting a single star in one of those galaxies is like picking a needle out of a haystack … from orbit. Scientists were helped in their endeavor by a technique theorized by Albert Einstein called gravitational lensing. Because massive objects create distortions in space-time, we can use that effect as a giant telescope to magnify something even more distant, in this case a single star in a primordial galaxy at the edge of the universe.

Some phenomena live forever in our world, while others fade almost as quickly as they begin. These are the two poles through which we journey in life. There are constants, like those photons of light that travel across the cosmos, and there are fleeting moments, like the sound waves that are heard for a brief moment and are gone. How blessed we are as human beings to stand in a unique position, able to see what has existed for eons but also able to hear what will be gone in the blink of an eye.

One in a Million

The story of art looted by the Nazis has been a genre of fascination for many as of late, including the books (and movies) Monuments Men and The Lady in Gold. The idea that there are treasures out there, hidden in caves or in someone’s home, waiting to be discovered, appeals to our fantasy of coming across an undervalued object at a thrift store or yard sale. What if we could go on Antiques Road Show and find out that we own a piece of art worth millions?

A woman in Texas recently got to live the dream when she discovered a genuine ancient Roman bust in a Goodwill store for $34.99. But it turns out that you should indeed be careful what you wish for. While the sculpture may be worth a lot of money, she cannot profit from it directly. The portrait, from the late 1st century BCE or early 1st century CE, was looted during World War II and must be returned to its rightful owner.

The twist in this story is that the bust did not belong to a Jewish family who had it stolen by the Nazis. Instead, it came from the collection of a Bavarian king and must be returned to that German state’s government. Most likely it was looted by an American soldier who brought it back to the States only for it to wind up in an Austin Goodwill store over 70 years later.

This story is right out of another novel, And After the Fire, which was the selection for the One Book One Jewish Community program in 2017. In the book, an American GI brings home an antisemitic manuscript of a cantata written by Johann Sebastian Bach. The protagonist of the novel must decide what to do with it and whether it should ever see the light of day.

We generally think of looted World War II art as a Nazi phenomenon, but of course allied forces brought back their own trophies, souvenirs, and treasure. Any pieces of art should certainly be returned to their rightful owners, but I can’t help but feel that while the Roman bust will be quickly returned to Bavaria after going on display at the San Antonio Museum of Art, the ownership of Jewish pieces have been harder to resolve.

Obviously, each work of art is unique and comes with its own circumstances, but why was this situation concluded so easily, with a modest finder’s fee given to the discoverer in Texas? Why can’t Jewish art be returned to the proper owners with similar alacrity? The thought of finding a hidden treasure is alluring, but so is finding justice for those who were robbed and persecuted during the Holocaust. Discovering a priceless sculpture in a Goodwill store may be a one-in-a-million occurrence, but doing what is right should happen all the time.

Undue Influence

Outrage this week over the leak of a draft Supreme Court ruling overturning the Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion rights has been divided into two camps: those upset over the publishing of the secret document, and those upset over the content of the secret document. The first group tends to be conservative abortion opponents angry that the leak might lead to a more watered-down decision that leaves Roe intact. The second group tends to be liberal abortion advocates who are alarmed that there are at least 5 votes on the court to remove a right that women have enjoyed for 49 years.

On the question of the leak itself, I ask, why do the deliberations of the Supreme Court need to be conducted in secrecy at all? I tend to think about the judicial process from a Jewish perspective. In the Conservative movement, we have a Committee on Jewish Law and Standards which votes to endorse (or not) opinions on halakha (Jewish law) written by rabbis or groups of rabbis. While draft teshuvot (opinions) are not published, the authors are usually happy to send them to anyone interested in reading them. Meetings of committee are not broadcast live, but neither are they completely closed off. I remember being in rabbinical school and attending sessions that were held at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

One might argue that the Supreme Court should not be subject to undue influence from the public while deliberating on cases, but are the justices really shrinking violets that need to be protected? Perhaps if their drafts were published, outside legal scholars could offer advice and constructive criticism. It is not as if the public has no idea of the issues being discussed behind closed doors already. There is already a tremendous amount of scrutiny on the Supreme Court’s deliberations. If everything was out in the open, the justices could choose to ignore what they dislike, as they do now.

Perhaps allowing the public more of a role in the Supreme Court’s process would be a healthy development, especially considering the low state of the court’s reputation today. Many people already consider it to be a political body, unconcerned with the needs of society. Making the court more accessible might change that opinion.

As to content of draft opinion, I have already written about Judaism’s nuanced approach to abortion. The Conservative movement has condemned the potential ruling, while the Orthodox Union issued an odd statement that the institution was “unable to either mourn or celebrate” the draft. The OU tried to strike a balance of wanting to ensure that abortion is available to Orthodox women for the limited situations that halakha allows it, but also stating that it was against the idea of “abortion on demand”.

It struck me reading the OU statement that while they seemed to present a position outside the simplicity of the “pro-life”/”pro-choice” debate, they cannot escape the need to take a stand on the substantive question of whether the decision to have an abortion is in the hands of the state or the individual woman. The OU would like women to make a choice guided by halakha, as interpreted by a rabbi, which means that broadly speaking they must support a “pro-choice” position even if they may not support the choices of individuals who choose “abortion on demand”, whatever that may mean.

Women, including Orthodox women, make the decision to have an abortion for many different, often gut-wrenching, reasons. Having the state decide when or if a woman can have an abortion would infringe on Jewish women’s ability to fulfill their religious obligations because Judaism, in some instances, requires an abortion to protect the life of the mother.

Before Roe was decided, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a lawyer for the ACLU, wanted to challenge abortion bans on the basis of sex discrimination and religious freedom, not the right to privacy, as was the case with Roe. Her case became moot before it could reach the Supreme Court. As I suggested a few months ago, perhaps if Roe is struck down, as the draft seems to indicate, Jews in a state that bans abortion should bring a case along the lines that Ginsburg envisioned. If they were to win it would be a Jewish victory for all Americans.

The Old is New

Those of us who live in New Jersey like to say that Israel is the same size as the Garden State, which is true from a mathematical perspective but doesn’t quite capture the breadth of the Jewish State. While both states may have roughly the same square mileage (8,723 for Jersey, 8,550 for Israel), there is so much more diversity to Israel, a tiny country with forests, swamps, deserts, cities, towns, farms, and archeological sites.

Whenever I visit, as I did for the past two weeks, I am struck by how small the country is, but also how expansive. I was fortunate to drive all over the country with my family and experience many different places, some that I had seen before, others that were new to me. Zionist pioneer Theodore Herzl envisioned the Jewish state as an Altneuland, an “Old-New Land”, and while many of his wacky utopian ideas were never implemented, he at least understood that Israel would be a land of contrasts.

Tel Aviv, the great metropolis, is in fact the Hebrew translation, or more accurately a gloss, of the title of Herzl’s novel envisioning the new nation. A tel is a mound formed by successive layers of settlement, and aviv means “spring”. So Tel Aviv can be thought of as “a renewal of the past”, and that is what we experienced there on our recent trip. Walking the streets of Jaffa, with its flea markets selling old clothes and knickknacks as well as delicious malabi and knafeh, we could see the old coming to life.

Later, we were guided on a graffiti tour by a local street artist who lamented the soaring prices of his hip Floretin neighborhood, like any cosmopolitan victim/beneficiary of gentrification. He helped us interpret the meaning of the art we saw on the walls of homes and stores. There were political statements as well as artistic expression all blending together in a riot of color.

Just for fun we went sand surfing in the desert, sliding down dunes created by a type of sand blown all the way from the Sahara and only found in a few places in Israel. As we wandered a nearby remarkably well-preserved ancient Nabatean town on the incense route bringing frankincense and myrrh from Arabia, I wondered if residents of the area back in the 7th century also played on those dunes. From treasures buried in the sand, we drove past a station harnessing the 21st century treasure of the desert: the sun. In 2019, Israel completed a solar power plant that uses hundreds of mirrors to focus light on a tower to boil water for a steam turbine. The spooky light can be seen for miles as you drive the lonely highway.

Some of the best experiences on any trip are the chances to meet with residents, and we got to meet a lot of new people as well as reconnect with old friends. We learned how kibbutzim must reinvent themselves by renting to high end lifestyle spa resorts or turn their dining halls into bakeries. City dwellers looking to escape the congestion can find comfortable, homey living in the formerly collectivist villages.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, a former chief rabbi of Israel, once said “hayashan yitchadesh, v’hechadash yitkadesh – the old shall be made new and the new be made holy.” One of his goals was to integrate the new Zionist project of renewal and development with ancient Jewish tradition. He saw the work of building a modern state as not just a necessary concession but as an act of holiness. Traveling up and down this country that is tiny but wide, both old and new, Rav Kooks words could not have been more appropriate.

Under Pressure

It has been 10 months since the current government of Israel was sworn in, practically an eternity in the current political environment. The odd coalition, including parties representing the entire political spectrum – secular and religious, Jewish and Arab, left and right – has been relatively stable. No one expected the government to be able to pass significant legislation or make dramatic decisions given the complexity and delicacy of its composition, but its mere survival has been a surprising success.

Now it seems we have come to the beginning of the end of this unity government as a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s party jumped ship and abandoned the coalition. With a razor thin margin of 61 votes out of 120 before this latest crisis, Bennett has now lost his majority. While the coalition will not be able to pass laws, it still can stay in power as a minority government.

The precipitating controversy that caused the party member, Idit Siman, to defect was over the question of whether to allow non-Kosher for Passover food into hospitals during the holiday, but political observers doubt this was the real reason that she jumped ship. An analysis in the Times of Israel suggests that the right-wing politician has been the subject of a sustained campaign of pressure since the formation of the government.

On social media, in newspapers, even at the gas pump, Silman has felt the anger of her community. Her relationships have been damaged and friendships have been lost. In the end, she couldn’t take it anymore. Perhaps she will also receive a better position with the opposition Likud party as a result, but trusting Binyamin Netanyahu is a dicey proposition. He has broken many promises in the last few years.

In fact, Netanyahu may not be able to reward her with a choice place in the Likud list in the next election. Because she defected, Bennett has the option of preventing her from running as a member of an already existing party. It may be that Silman’s actions were not caused by political ambition, but by a successful pressure campaign by activists.

Israel’s divisive politics often mirror that of the United States. Both countries are bitterly divided along ideology, ethnicity, religion, and culture. The difference is that American politics is winner-take-all. You either win an election or you lose. In Israel, the multiparty parliamentary system requires rivals to work together. In some ways, this is what we say we want, for politicians to reach across the isle and do what is best for the country.

One could argue that the current Israeli government is a sterling example of compromise where leaders have put the good of the nation ahead of the good of the party. While that is laudable for many, other more ideologically minded opponents find it intolerable. It is an important lesson for us in America. Getting politicians from opposite ends of the spectrum to work together is really hard, not just because they are true believers. They also have lives. They don’t want to be harassed at the supermarket or lose relationships they care about. In the end, we want to fit into our group, and that desire just might sink a government.