After concluding a rabbinic ordination test the examining rabbi asked his student to name the fifth volume of Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law). The student was surprised and answered that the Code of Jewish Law only has four volumes. The rabbi responded that common sense and good judgment is the fifth volume explaining that, “Without these all your rulings will be useless no matter how well versed you are in the other four volumes.”
This is a story that is repeated often in the Yeshiva (rabbinic seminary). Unfortunately is seems that the authorities in Israel lack knowledge of this fifth volume, namely common sense and good judgment.
This is all the more perplexing when one takes into consideration the fact that Israel is the most creative country in the world. Many of the technologies that we have come to rely on have their genesis in Israel or from Israelis. The recent book “Start-up Nation” does a fabulous job chronicling the stunning creativity and innovation that comes out of the Israeli business and high-tech community. This is why it is so frustrating when the Israeli authorities act with folly.
Israel often argues that according to the letter of the law they are doing everything legally. Yet one is still left wondering why things could not have been done differently. There are two recent examples of this that are glaring.
In the small Israeli town of Emanuel there was a dispute about a local religious girl’s school. Some of the haredi parents decided that they did not want their children educated together with other kids who they deemed were less religious. The supposedly less religious kids were Sephardic while the more religious families were Ashkenazi. Within no time this became an argument about racial discrimination. Soon the Israeli high Court got involved and ordered the school to integrate all of the students together. 43 haredi families defied this ruling.
Eventually this led to the absurdity is colossal where Israeli authorities incarcerated otherwise innocent parents because of their choice of school for their children. This obviously made international headlines. I couldn’t help but ask myself why the Israeli authorities, and the Israeli High Court no less ,could not find a more creative and common sense solution to this issue?
Then there was the recent flotilla affair. Granted that the Israelis were within their right to stop the ships heading to Gaza and defend themselves against any attack, but that is missing the entire issue. Clearly the flotilla organizers had no real desire to deliver aid to Gaza. Their real intent was to give Israel a diplomatic bloody nose. And in this they were massively successful, probably beyond their own wildest imagination.
Now it is true that the world has a double standard when it comes to Israel and the condemnation was unfair and had anti-Semitic undertones. And one can argue that Israel is the victim here and it is unfair to lay blame at its feet. However, none of this helps Israel in the long term, because this is the way it has been for many years: Israel reacts and the world condemns it. Only now it has become more intense than before.
Israel remains at war but the enemy has become creative and has changed its strategy and is bending the laws of war so that they can win. Israel’s enemy never loses an opportunity to embarrass Israel or to delegitimize it in the eyes of the world. Israel, however, has remained static. Instead of finding creative solutions to overcome the enemies’ new and effective tactics, it walks directly into their trap. It then cries foul saying that it was acting according to the letter of the law. Well maybe it was, but it forgot the “fifth volume” of the law, namely, common sense and good judgment—without which any legal ruling will be useless.
Israeli authorities must learn and adhere to the “fifth volume” not only with regard its enemies but with regard its own people as well, as the Emanuel School saga has shown. The good news is that the Israeli private sectors has an amazing capacity for common sense solutions and creativity—let’s hope that some of it will rub off on the Israeli political, military and justice establishment as well.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts