2. The Increasing Politicization of Communal Life
In Elazar’s terms, we could say that the collective expression of the Jewish political tradition has become increasingly political.
Whether in the Diaspora or in Israel – Jews today are subject to the pervasive influences of the contemporary culture. In pre-modern times, Jewish life was comprehensive, but modernity attempted to restrict modes of Jewish expression into a tight religious and private frame, as the terms for entering emancipated Western societies. With modernity, also came the search for political revival through Zionism and, to some extent, ethnic identity. Some may lament the current lack of authentic Jewish identification; however, most Jews in the modern epoch do not express their Jewishness solely through religious identification or practice, if at all. There is also a notable post-modern trend for extended and creative approaches to Jewish life and Jewish identification: through culture, shared causes, and alternative modes.
Political leadership is a way of expressing one’s Jewishness, too. In this sense, leadership is replacing the mantle of Keter Torah - in the areas of communal welfare, Israel-Diaspora relations and the external spheres of contemporary Jewish life.
Notwithstanding the occasional exceptions provided by such spiritual giants and luminaries as the Vilna Gaon, the Lubavitcher Rebbe www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/528345/jewish/The-Rebbe.htm and Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose erudite wisdom and council broke through the barriers of Keter Malchut - the reality is that today's generation X is feeling the consequences of the major factors that have shaped the Jewish community worldwide:
The breakdown of the traditional community;
the secularization of Jewish life;
the establishment of the State of Israel; and
the changing characteristics of leadership.
Elazar argued that, paradoxically, where once traditional norms (Keter Torah) maintained the organizational machinery for all that pertained to the development and operation of communal leadership, the dominant role of political leadership today (i.e. Keter Malchut) stems,
… from its function as the only domain where Jewish unity can be maintained under the current conditions, where representatives of the main streams of Jewry are prepared to work together.
While not everyone will agree with Elazar’s views on unity at the lowest common denominator, it is true that the current institutions of Keter Malchut, including the World Zionist Organization, the World Jewish Congress, the Knesset, Jewish Federations, Representative Councils, and national Boards of Deputies, do incorporate organizations from as wide a spectrum of Jewish organizations as possible.
From an organizational perspective these bodies are also moving, ever so slowly, towards partnership - and away from the pedestal building that marked their relationship to Israel and its leaders in the early years of the state.
There is also a parallel retreat from the search for those unusual individuals capable of resolving all problems and be 'all things to all men', as in the past – one might speculate that the community has, at the same time, been moving towards a model of leadership hierarchies that encapsulate both the professionals and the lay leaders in a comfortable partnership.
Elazar went so far as to talk about the emergence of a world Jewish leadership consisting of a confederated body of representatives in the reconstituted Jewish Agency, whose common influence overrides what could be achieved by any of the constituent members alone.
It is argued that this republican kind of system – belonging to the public and being the private reserve of no-one – allows for public participation and provides for a system of checks and balances.
Furthermore, the amorphous nature of the community’s boundaries and the lack of a comprehensive set of institutions (or instruments) of governance allow leaders to wear many hats - and enable a more efficient use of their skills.
By the same token, it also broadens the catchment area for potential leadership cadres.
Were the processes of change in the leadership and the community related – and, if so, how?
In your opinion, how will they impact on the future of the community as a whole?
What would be your criteria for effective Jewish leadership?