On the Disappearance of Jewish Wisdom, Far Out at Sea

By Jeffrey Goldberg

I had breakfast this very unhappy morning in Jerusalem with Daniel Gordis, the author of many wise books, including one I just began reading, "Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End." Gordis opens the first chapter with a quote from the Babylonian Talmud: "Who is wise? The one who can foresee consequences."

There is a word in Yiddish, seichel, which means wisdom, but it also means more than that: It connotes ingenuity, creativity, subtlety, nuance. Jews have always needed seichel to survive in this world; a person in possession of a Yiddishe kop, a "Jewish head," is someone who has seichel, someone who looks for a clever way out of problems, someone who understands that the most direct way -- blunt force, for instance -- often represents the least elegant solution, a person who can foresee consequences of his actions.

I don't know yet exactly what happened at sea when a group of Israeli commandos boarded a ship packed with not-exactly-Gandhi-like anti-Israel protesters. I learned from the Second Intifada (specifically, the story of the non-massacre at Jenin) not to rush to judgment without a full set of facts (yes, I know what you are thinking: So why have a blog?). I'm trying to figure out this story for myself. But I will say this: What I know already makes me worried for the future of Israel, a worry I feel in a deeper way than I think I have ever felt before. The Jewish people have survived this long in part because of the vision of their leaders, men and women who were able to intuit what was possible and what was impossible. Where is this vision today? Israel may face, in the coming year, a threat to its existence the likes of which it has not experienced before: A theologically-motivated regional superpower with a nuclear arsenal. It faces another existential threat as well, from forces arguing that Israel's morally disastrous settlement policy fatally undermines the very idea of a Jewish state. Is Israel ready to deploy seichel in these battles, rather than mere force

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/05/on-the-disappearance-of-jewish-wisdom-far-out-at-sea/57471/