Times Will Tell

PODCAST: Author Micah Goodman on Israelis’ ongoing search for Jewish identity

Popular philosopher lays out Israeli Jews’ foundational religious and secular thinkers, ultra-Orthodoxy’s ‘optical illusion’ and the paradox of Purim

This week on Times Will Tell, the Times of Israel’s weekly podcast, we’re speaking with popular Israeli philosopher Dr. Micah Goodman, whose book “The Wondering Jew” just came out in English.

The book is a deep dive into the Israeli search for Jewish identity from both the secular and religious sides. He breaks down the three differing foundational ideologies of secular and religious Israelis and discusses how they connect and divide the nation. Near the end of the book, he proposes a middle path, which includes a way in which an increasing number of secular Israelis are “observing” Shabbat.

During the free-ranging conversation, we speak about the ultra-Orthodox community’s loud and proud noncompliance to coronavirus rules. Says Goodman, the Israeli ultra-Orthodox population is “highly misunderstood.”

“They’re misunderstood because it’s probably the most diverse society in Israel, but the image we have of haredi Israel is the most homogeneous society in Israel… You have the most diverse disagreements among haredim, the most diversity in haredim,” says Goodman. “It’s one of the most interesting paradoxes in Israel.”

He further estimates that there’s an almost evenly divided split among Israeli ultra-Orthodox between those who wish to become more mainstreamed into modern society, and the younger segment of the population who wish to be even more isolationist and conservative.

Police officers clash with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Ashdod, Israel, January 24, 2021. (Oded Balilty/AP)

“Here is the optical illusion: When we see angry haredim protesting on the street, we like to think they are protesting against modern Israel. No, they’re protesting against the modernization of parts of haredi Israel.

“So who is more loud? The haredim that want to become more modern? Or the haredim that are reacting to those who want to be more modern? Obviously, the people who are reacting,” he says. “So they’re more loud and we think they are the ‘real thing,’ because they are more visible. Maybe they’re reacting to the ‘real thing,’ which is the more modern.”

To close out the conversation, we discuss the role of God in Purim and why it is a mitzvah to get drunk on the holiday. (Spoiler: It’s not what you think.)

The Times of Israel podcasts are available for download on iTunesTuneIn, Pocket CastsStitcher, PlayerFM or wherever you get your podcasts.

Check out last week’s Times Will Tell Podcast here:

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