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An Ancient Craft

‘Last night I sat with bankers, human resource managers, and computer programmers, and read a tale about farmers living thousands of years ago, punctuated by 50-year-old songs about the joys of working the land and watching this nation bloom. A celebration of tradition embraced by middle-class individualists, because the former is intertwined with a love story and the latter have catchy tunes and evocative lyrics. It’s a testament, I think, both to the skill of the Biblical author and to the human desire to belong to something greater than ourselves that this tale of tradition triumphant still resonates even with modern Israelis, who for decades have been forced to watch helpless as a thoughtless adherence to the letter of the law, coupled with venality and foolishness, have all but severed the ties between Israelis and their rich cultural heritage. When greedy, unthinking religious institutions force secular Israelis to jump through hoops in order to be granted to right to marry, divorce, adopt children, or even assert their Jewish identity, is it any wonder that ordinary Israelis recoil from the merest whiff of religion? Is it any wonder that the Jewish holidays dwindle into nothing more than an accumulation of tropes and empty gestures, with nothing to support them? I am gratified, therefore, that there still exist groups like the one I attended last night, whose members are willing to let themselves be conned by a story like the one in the book of Ruth, who are willing to consider the lesson that Jane Austen offers in her novels–that tradition, when tempered by generosity and by the understanding of the inevitability of change, can be a force for good, both for the community and the individual.’