Soon after, the rabbis were bused to Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement block east of Jerusalem that has sparked controversy over Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
For some, crossing the Green Line meant crossing a personal line, and they chose to stay behind. For the rest, even those opposed to settlements, the visit was eye-opening.
The first Gush Etzion was destroyed in Israel’s War of Independence of 1948. It was re-established after the Six-Day War, and now comprises 15 communities with a population of 85,000.
At Yeshivat Har Etzion, the rabbis settled in for some intense Torah study. Professor Mordechai Friedman proved a tough taskmaster, teaching a shiur (lesson) about why Jews eat three meals on Shabbat. Like Formula One drivers jostling for position, the rabbis fired responses to Friedman’s probing questions.
They were utterly in their element.
“I’m opposed to settlements politically,” said Rabbi Steven Chester of Reform Temple Sinai in Oakland. “Yet I would love to go and study at that yeshiva. Would I agree with their theology or politics? No, but with the pure aspect of study, my eyes really opened up. It was very exciting.”
Rabbi Roberto Graetz of Lafayette’s Temple Isaiah shared Chester’s excitement, but it was not unqualified.
“I liked what I saw in terms of the people and the work,” he noted. “But at the end of the day, even though [Jews] may have historic reasons to be there, we are seen by the local population as occupiers, so it’s still a problem for me.”
So, it's history and religion vs. how we are seen at the present. No eternity, no vision? No future hope? It's all today? That's Judaism?