The houses of Shamai and Hillel never agreed on much of anything, and Chanukah was no exception. Beit Shamai believed that the candles of the menorah should be lit in descending order – eight candles on the first night, seven on the second, and so on, until only a single flame remains on the eighth and final eve. Beit Hillel argued the opposite – that the lights should be illuminated in ascending order.
As is the case in virtually all disputes between the two schools of thought, Jewish law sides with Hillel, while acknowledging that the opinions of Shamai are not necessarily incorrect nor inferior. And as we celebrate Chanukah, it’s important to remember Hillel and Shamai, and the core lesson of their famous disagreements: Judaism is built on a difficult questions and our ability to debate our central issues in a respectful manner.
With that in mind, here are eight Jewish issues worthy of debate this Chanukah.
1. The crisis in Jewish education is deepening, as costs spiral upward and families find it more and more difficult to afford tuition. Is there a solution that can save day schools? And what other forms might Jewish education take?
2. The Conservative and Reform movements are shrinking, while Orthodox Judaism is growing, but increasingly divided. What will it take for Conservative and Reform Judaism to reverse the trend? And is there any way to fix the rift in Orthodoxy?
3. The role of the rabbi is rapidly evolving. So is the Jewish web. As Jewish learning continues to expand online, how might the definition of “rabbi” change? What exactly is the role of the rabbi in an online age? And what role should the Internet play in Jewish learning?
4. As intermarriage rates continue to rise, what is the Jewish response? Is it better to welcome into the fold whomever we can? Or do we risk diluting Judaism to the point of no return?
5. At the heart of Diaspora Jewry is the need to balance support for Israel and the health of our own communities. Should we be focusing more on Israel? Or is the growth of Judaism in the Diaspora an equal imperative?
6. Black Jews, Jews with disabilities, Sephardi Jews, LGBTQ Jews – all have experienced difficulty when it comes to being welcomed into the larger Jewish community. What is being done to make marginalized Jews feel more at home? And how can these groups maintain their unique histories and ideals while also joining the larger Jewish community?
7. The Paris attacks have once again raised serious questions about the future of Europe’s Jewish communities. Can they survive, or will many, or most, Jews ultimately leave for Israel and North America?
8. Jewish federations have long stood at the centre of our communities. In many cases, they form the bedrock of our Jewish lives and act as the central nervous system for Jewish organizations and institutions. But for a younger generation, the federation message often doesn’t resonate. Can Jewish federations adapt? And how can young Jews contribute to a positive future for our federations?
Some food for thought while you enjoy your latkes.