The Abnormal Matzav

Jeffrey Saks Tradition Online | October 16, 2023

The author's soon-to-be son-in-law near the northern border.

The author’s soon-to-be son-in-law near the northern border.

At this writing, ten days into the war, the initial shock, horror, and trauma have in no way abated and all thoughts are on the “matzav.” In the three decades I have lived in Israel, it seems there has never been a period without a matzav – a situation. While some episodes stand out, memory blurs and blends others into an ongoing situation, until the point that one might be forgiven for thinking that reality is all one long matzav. But this time is different, not just in scale and scope but in type. How that is, I will not attempt to analyze here and now. TRADITION is not a platform for political commentary or analysis; we are also not well suited to respond in real-time to unfolding events. But neither can we continue to produce or publish our normal offerings of scholarship in Orthodox Jewish thought. In time, thoughtful thinkers will write intelligently about the meaning of our current moment, but before the war has even been named it is too early to imagine what such writers will say. (Will we call it the Simchat Torah War? I hope not.) Our subscribers in North America have begun to receive our Fall 2023 issue, with its usual array of insightful essays—some of which seem to this editor, in hindsight, as not well-timed or even tone-deaf with the matzav. That’s OK. You understand that scholarship ferments over many months and it often appears in print much disconnected from any one moment. We are, after all, not a blog. Leave the new issue on your coffee table until you’re able to come back to it. On the other hand, some entries in that issue seem presciently relevant for today’s headlines, and in the coming days, we will be featuring that content online and on our Podcast.

Our Summer issue featured a special section commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. So many parallels between then and now have already been drawn since the outbreak of this “Yom Tov War” (a euphemism if ever there was one) that you scarcely need me to point them out. Revisiting the insights of those essays—all of which were written months ago, none of which could have imagined what we are currently experiencing—if viewed through the lens of this week, will offer much on which to reflect. Toward that goal, we have made the entire contents of that symposium open access here.

In the early days of the war, TRADITION hosted an online forum bringing together contributing authors to that special issue, the recording of which is available online. Over the days and weeks ahead we will be offering other appropriate content, and trust you forgive us if we don’t keep up with our usual publication schedule on the website.

My suggestion that TRADITION does not attempt to respond in real-time to current events aside, allow me to share a thought that arrived on one of this week’s sleepless nights. As is often the case in Israel particularly, and in the Jewish world in general, we have all been heartened by signs of Jewish unity at this unprecedented moment. As a journal serving readers who take their Religious Zionism seriously, we could not go unaffected by scenes of treif Tel Aviv eateries kashering their kitchens to cater to hayalim; or by stories of bareheaded, tattooed soldiers requesting tzitzit, “the best armor.” From the other direction I was moved to tears by haredi yungermen handing out Israeli flags at a Jerusalem intersection; and by reports of some of their yeshiva havrutot volunteering to draft. The fact is, this show of ahdut comes about following a period of extended and bitter national strife and division. Some with greater prophetic insight than I might claim this mahloket was the very cause of our troubles. Remember, just one day before the attack we were arguing about a mehitza in Tel Aviv—the irony of that particular “dividing” symbol should be lost on no one. And yet, if ahdut means only that those on my right and those on my left who yesterday disagreed with me, and behaved differently than I do, now align themselves with my positions and practices—what kind unity is that? In what ways should members of our community be open to a realignment in ourselves for the sake of enduring Jewish unity? Religious Zionism was once a unifying force in the Jewish State and Jewish world, or at least aspired to be so. Perhaps returning to and reinforcing those values, a way to bind the nation’s wounds as we care for its widows and orphans and those who bore the battle, will be a challenge our community will meet following our current abnormal matzav.

הכותב בדמע – Jeffrey Saks, Editor

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