your are not my boss

parshat shoftim

When the month of Elul arrives, the Jewish High Holidays are soon to follow, but what is so Jewish about these High Holidays (ימים נוראים lit. Days of Awe)?  Unlike the three pilgrimage holidays (שָׁלשׁ רְגָלִים ), Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur don’t celebrate the Exodus from Egypt or the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People.  Their only commonality shared by all Jewish holidays is that they are an adaptation of earlier Pagan holidays. Unlike Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot which were originally agricultural and harvest holidays, Rosh Hashanah is a deeply political holiday and it’s adaptation was not so much a transition as it was a radical paradigm shift.

As we shall see, the most important holiday celebrated in both Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia was the annual New Year rebirth, judgment and coronation of the King as god. So the best introduction to Judaism’s rendition of this king-making celebration is to understand Judaism’s love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with kingship.

When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein; and shalt say: ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me';
thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, who is not thy brother.
Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses; forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you: ‘Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.’
Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites.
And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them;
that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left; to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel. Deuteronomy 17: 14-20)

 כִּי-תָבֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ, וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּה בָּהּ; וְאָמַרְתָּ, אָשִׂימָה עָלַי מֶלֶךְ, כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבֹתָי
שׂוֹם תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ:  מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ, תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ–לֹא תוּכַל לָתֵת עָלֶיךָ אִישׁ נָכְרִי, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-אָחִיךָ הוּא
רַק, לֹא-יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ סוּסִים, וְלֹא-יָשִׁיב אֶת-הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה, לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס; וַ ה’, אָמַר לָכֶם, לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה, עוֹד
וְלֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ נָשִׁים, וְלֹא יָסוּר לְבָבוֹ; וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב, לֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ מְאֹד
וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ, עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ–וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת-מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת, עַל-סֵפֶר, מִלִּפְנֵי, הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם
וְהָיְתָה עִמּוֹ, וְקָרָא בוֹ כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּיו–לְמַעַן יִלְמַד, לְיִרְאָה אֶת- ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹר אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, לַעֲשֹׂתָם
לְבִלְתִּי רוּם-לְבָבוֹ מֵאֶחָיו, וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן-הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול–לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל-מַמְלַכְתּוֹ הוּא וּבָנָיו, בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל

The institution of the monarchy was the ultimate divine concession to the shortcomings and shortsightedness of the chosen people.  This same sentiment is presented in the Book of Samuel (Samuel I 8: 4-22)

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah.
And they said unto him: ‘Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said: ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.
According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, in that they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit thou shalt earnestly forewarn them, and shalt declare unto them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.’
And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
And he said: ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots.
And he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots.
And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. …..
And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not answer you in that day.’
But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said: ‘Nay; but there shall be a king over us;

We should keep in mind that the appointment of a human King and the appointment of a human Messiah are one and the same.. both are a major concession to the lack of vision and faith by God’s flock.  Both a King and the Messiah are the anointed of God [1]

The monarchy was accepted, with legal restrictions and much of the prophetic tradition represents a check and balance on the monarchy [2]

Getting back the New Year’s Coronation Festival in the Ancient Near East, the Classical study was written by Henri Frankfort and called Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature and is available for download here.

Frankfort details how in Mesopotamia the festival of the new year lasted twelve days; it was a time of purification, of renewal of the vegetation. It was also a time of dramatic reenactments, the most important of which were the rites of the Sacred Marriage, and the recitation of the Sumerian creation epic, Enuma elish. It was at this time that the destinies of both gods and mankind were fixed, and the king began his reign on new year’s day.  (see)

One fascinating aspect of the Akitu involved a kind of ritual humiliation endured by the Babylonian king. This peculiar tradition saw the king brought before a statue of the god Marduk, stripped of his royal regalia and forced to swear that he had led the city with honor. A high priest would then slap the monarch and drag him by his ears in the hope of making him cry. If royal tears were shed, it was seen as a sign that Marduk was satisfied and had symbolically extended the king’s rule. Some historians have since argued that these political elements suggest the Akitu was used by the monarchy as a tool for reaffirming the king’s divine power over his people. (see)

Likewise in Ancient Egypt there was the Sed Festival held in the Fall hat celebrated the continued rule of a pharaoh. The ancient festival might, perhaps, have been instituted to replace a ritual of murdering a pharaoh who was unable to continue to rule effectively because of age or condition. … They primarily were held to rejuvenate the pharaoh’s strength and stamina while still sitting on the throne, celebrating the continued success of the pharaoh.   The Sed-festival developed into a royal jubilee intended to reinforce the pharaoh’s divine powers and religious leadership.

Writes Frankfort: “

The Egyptian calendar started with the first day of the first month of the Season of Inundation (1 Thoth), a day originally coinciding with the beginning of the rise of the Nile.  But four months later there was another new beginning: the inundation ended the Nile returned to its bed, and the new crops were sown.  The first day of the first month of the “Season of Coming Forth” (1 Tybi) was consequently celebrated as a rite de passage appropriate to a new beginning, although it was not the Calendrical New Year’s Day.  This “New Year’s Day” in autumn was presided over by a snake-demon called Nehebkau, a name which can be translated as “Bestower of Dignitaries” or as “Uniter of the Ka’s” (of Horus and Osiris), and we have , in both cases, an illusion to the definitive assumption of power by the new king.  … it was fitting that a king should be crowned to re-establish harmony between nature and society which had been shattered by the death of the previous ruler.  Hence it is said of Tuthmosis I, when he indicates the date for the coronation of Hatshepsut: “He knew that a coronation on New Year’s Day was good as the beginning of peaceful years.” (pp 103-4). [3]

This understanding of the context of the New Year’s Festival in the Ancient Near East, radically changes our understanding to the Jewish New Year holiday, Rosh Hashanah.  What Rosh Hashanah becomes is a radical statement of independence of all human rule.

On Rosh Hashanah we declare God King as a direct and vocal rejection of the widespread and widely known (at the time) traditions of making a human of blood and flesh… into a divine king.

Although God as king always enters into our prayers (e.g. Blessed are You King of the Universe…), it is on Rosh HaShanah that we have the focal point on Malchiot – Kingship, culminating at the end of the Neilah service where we end the service with the threefold repetition of “Praised is His name, whose glorious kingdom for ever and ever,” that recalls the threefold declaration: “The Lord is king (present), the Lord was king (past), and the Lord will be king (future).”

Ultimately, it is in our New Year’s Festival that we reject our people’s request for a human king (and a human anointed one) as we reject the rule of any human being and we declare God is King.  For a humanist… it doesn’t get any better, because the emphasis is not that God is King… but that no human can rule us.  We say to all tyrants and others attempting to form our opinions and curtail our actions and imagination… you are not my boss.

——————-

[1]

To-morrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be prince over My people Israel, and he shall save My people out of the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry is come unto Me.’ (Samuel I 9: 16)

 כָּעֵת מָחָר אֶשְׁלַח אֵלֶיךָ אִישׁ מֵאֶרֶץ בִּנְיָמִן, וּמְשַׁחְתּוֹ לְנָגִיד עַל-עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת-עַמִּי, מִיַּד פְּלִשְׁתִּים:  כִּי רָאִיתִי אֶת-עַמִּי, כִּי בָּאָה צַעֲקָתוֹ אֵלָי

And the spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man. Samuel I 10:6

וְצָלְחָה עָלֶיךָ רוּחַ ה’, וְהִתְנַבִּיתָ עִמָּם; וְנֶהְפַּכְתָּ, לְאִישׁ אַחֵר

[2]

As Frankfort, Wilson, and Jakobsen write in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay of Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (p348)  “A jealous concern for their traditional prerogatives was kept alive among the people by various agitators, notably the prophets.  Nathan’s rebuke of David, as Elijah’s of Ahab, was a direct denial of the assumptions of divine right and a bold affirmation of the principle that the king was amenable to the same standards of right, the same pervasive natural law as his humblest subject.  Here, too, it is apparent, was the principle basic to the entire attitude of the prophets and other progressive thinkers toward the monarchy: the king ruled, not by divine right, but under divinely imposed responsibility”

[3]

For further reading regarding Nisan and Tishrei as Kinmaking New Year’s festivals including actual Mesopotamian liturgy that has striking parallels to the Rosh Hashanah liturgy see Kingship and the Gods chapter 22 The New Year’s Festival pp 313-) here

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Filed under Bible, Chosen People, divine birth, divine right, Religion, Torah, Uncategorized

sustainable kashrut

parshat re’eh

Recently Italian archeologists dug 50 meters down and discovered small pieces of copper. After studying these pieces for a long time, Italy announced that the ancient Romans had a nation-wide telephone system. The Greek government was not that easily impressed. They ordered their own archeologists to dig even deeper. 100 meters down they found small pieces of glass and they soon announced that the ancient Greeks already had a nation-wide fiber network. Israeli scientists, not to be outdone dug 200 meters down & found absolutely nothing. They happily concluded that the ancient Israelites had a cellular network.

I was reminded of this joke when reviewing the source of kosher meat in Deuteronomy 12:20-21:

When the LORD thy God shall enlarge thy border, as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say: ‘I will eat flesh’, because thy soul desireth to eat flesh; thou mayest eat flesh, after all the desire of thy soul.
If the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to put His name there be too far from thee, then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock, which the LORD hath given thee, as I have commanded thee, and thou shalt eat within thy gates, after all the desire of thy soul.

 כִּי-יַרְחִיב ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֶת-גְּבֻלְךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר-לָךְ, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֹכְלָה בָשָׂר, כִּי-תְאַוֶּה נַפְשְׁךָ לֶאֱכֹל בָּשָׂר–בְּכָל-אַוַּת נַפְשְׁךָ, תֹּאכַל בָּשָׂר

 כִּי-יִרְחַק מִמְּךָ הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לָשׂוּם שְׁמוֹ שָׁם, וְזָבַחְתָּ מִבְּקָרְךָ וּמִצֹּאנְךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן ה’ לְךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ–וְאָכַלְתָּ, בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ, בְּכֹל, אַוַּת נַפְשֶׁךָ

Comments Rashi:

you may slaughter… as I have commanded you: We learn [from here] that there is a commandment regarding slaughtering, how one must slaughter. [Since this commandment is not written in the Torah we deduce that] these are the laws of ritual slaughtering given orally to Moses on [Mount] Sinai. — [Sifrei ; Chullin. 28a [1] ]

וזבחת וגו’ כאשר צויתך למדנו שיש צווי בזביחה היאך ישחוט, והן הלכות שחיטה שנאמרו למשה בסיני

This is how The Stone Artscroll Chumash translates Rashi:

As I have commanded you. “Since we find no explicit teaching in the Torah regarding kosher slaughter, this verse alludes to the existence of the Oral Law that was communicated to Moses at Sinai.  Obviously, therefore, God must have taught Moses at Sinai laws that are not in the Written Torah (Rashi)”

I will explore in a future blog the concept of a “Law given to Moses at Sinai”, but for now I marvel at the honesty of our texts and commentators.  It is clear that all the laws of ritual slaughter are nowhere mentioned in the Torah or in Biblical law.  Saying that the details were given to Moses is an elegant way of saying that the details were left to us, the people to figure out.  Most probably, the traditional practices used by the people and in the Temple were codified into law for consumer meat. At the time, they were undoubtedly cutting edge…..

The Sifrei that Rashi quotes goes further. The category of meat broached here in Deuteronomy (circa 8 – 6th century BC) is meat, not eaten in the temple for the purposes of sacrifice, but  ordinary meat for consumption  בָשָׂר תְאַוֶּה    (literally: “Meat of desire”).

As Dayan Dr, I Grunfeld writes in The Jewish Dietary Laws (pp52-53)

“Through permission was given man to take animal life for human food it was only done by a process of very gradual education and adapation.  According to Rabbi Ishmael (and most authorities agree with him cf. Babylonian Talmud Hullin 16b, 17 [2]) the killing of oxen, sheep or goats for ordinary meat consumption – Basar Ta’avah – was forbidden during the whole period of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, unless they had been consecrated as peace offerings – Shelamim…”

Dayan Grunfeld - concession

(see Hulin 84a and Samson Raphael Hirsch Deut. 12:20)

What IS written in the Torah and what does come out clearly in the texts is an ambivalence if not distaste to the consumption of meat and the slaughter of animals.

The Talmud remarks: “The Torah here teaches a rule of conduct that a person should not eat meat unless he has a special appetite for it” (Hullin 84a [3])

One of the seven commandments traditionally given to Noah and therefore for all of mankind is the prohibition of eating a limb torn off of a living animal (Ever Min HaChai אֵבָר מִן הֶחָי) as it is written (Genesis 9; 3-4)

Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all.
Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

כָּל-רֶמֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר הוּא-חַי, לָכֶם ה’ לְאָכְלָה:  כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב, נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת-כֹּל

אַךְ-בָּשָׂר, בְּנַפְשׁוֹ דָמוֹ לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ

Says Rashi:

shall be yours to eat: (Sanhedrin 59b) For I did not permit the first man [Adam] to eat meat, but only vegetation but for you (mankind after Noah), just as the green vegetation which I permitted for the first man, I have given you everything.

לכם יהיה לאכלה  שלא הרשיתי לאדם הראשון לאכול בשר אלא ירק עשב, ולכם כירק עשב שהפקרתי לאדם הראשון, נתתי לכם את כל

flesh with its soul: He prohibited them [to eat] a limb [cut off from] a living creature; i.e., as long as its soul is in it, you shall not eat the flesh. — [from Sanh. ad loc.] [i.e., if the limb is cut from the animal while it is alive, it is forbidden to be eaten even after the animal expires.]

בשר בנפשו  אסר להם אבר מן החי, כלומר כל זמן שנפשו בו לא תאכלו הבשר

It was only after Noah, allegedly saved all the animals in the Ark, that man was given the right to slaughter the animals that he saved…

What’s our take away from the clear biblical bias towards vegetarianism, aversion for animal slaughter and prohibition against unnecessary suffering of animals (Tza’ar Ba’alei Hayim).  What is our take away from the fact that the Torah leaves the details up to us?

My take away is that what is extraordinary about Jewish Law is that it not only exhibits a profound concern for animal suffering, but creates a link between that concern and the permission to eat animals.  The laws of Kashrut are, to my knowledge, the first legislation that links ethics with consumption.  If it’s not kosher, you can’t consume it.

This past week Nestlé announced animal welfare standards that will affect 7,300 of its suppliers around the globe, and their suppliers… [5] which is unprecedented accept for the fact that Jewish law has been sanctioning such certification and labeling for over two thousand years.

Does this mean that we should be satisfied with the current state of Kashrut or rest on our laurels?  Hardly… what I would love would be to have Rabbis (and here is a grand opportunity for non-orthodox Rabbis) to have the courage to review more humane methods of slaughter than those of traditional shechita.. such as stunning the animal.  We should accept any technology that minimizes the suffering of animals… (initially in conjunction with the traditional method of shechita, but eventually, whether it includes a traditional knife or not…).. this is in accordance with the spirit of “as I have commanded thee”  ַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ   this open ended admonition, that we supply the details.

Other areas where Kashrut has an opportunity to live up to it’s first-mover advantage is in the area of fair labor laws and sustainable farming and herding practices.

Following the raiding by Federal Agents of the Agriprocessors kosher food plant, the Conservative Movement’s Hekhsher Tzedek Commission Announced the Creation of Magen Tzedek and Orthodoxy suggested a Yashrut standard… I’m not sure what has become of either of these initiatives.  It seems to me that the biggest barrier to increasing the social component of Kashrut is cost… Kosher meat is already prohibitively priced. This does not have to be the case.  Grow and Behold Foods brings delicious OU Glatt Kosher pastured meats raised on small family farms. They adhere to the strictest standards of kashrut, animal welfare, worker treatment, and sustainable agriculture.

There’s something special about a Kosher Home.  Those of us who grew up in one and continue this tradition know how it, along with Friday night Shabbat dinners profoundly impacts our life, family and the continuation of the best in Jewish tradition.  We need to continue to explore ways to reinvent the kosher paradigm to permit it to continue to serve our people and the world at large.  Kashrut might well be an invisible cellular network that connects us with our past and with a growing commitment by our youth to social responsibility and sustainable living.

———————

[1]

Rabbi says. The verse: And thou shalt slaughter . . . as I have commanded thee, teaches us that Moses was instructed concerning the gullet and the windpipe; concerning the greater part of one of these organs [that must be cut] in the case of a bird, and the greater part of each in the case of cattle.

[2]

AT ALL TIMES ONE MAY SLAUGHTER. Who is the Tanna who holds this view? Rabbah replied: It is R. Ishmael. For it has been taught: [It is written] When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border, as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say: ‘I will eat flesh’ . . . (Deut. 12, 20) This verse, says R. Ishmael, is stated specially in order to permit the Israelites to eat flesh at will.( Lit., ‘of desire’. I.e., on entering the Holy Land the Israelites would be permitted to slaughter animals at will and eat the flesh without having recourse to sacrifices.) For in the beginning they were forbidden to eat flesh at will, (When the Israelites were in the wilderness they were not permitted to slaughter and eat flesh at will. The animal had first to be offered up as a sacrifice, v. Lev. XVII, 3 and 4.) but on entering the land of Israel they were permitted. But, now they are exiled, it might be said that they should revert to the former restriction; the Mishnah therefore teaches us: AT ALL TIMES ONE MAY SLAUGHTER. Babylonian Talmud Hullin 16b

[3]

Our Rabbis taught: When the Lord thy God shall enlarge thy border, as He hath promised thee, and thou shalt say: I will eat flesh. The Torah here teaches a rule of conduct, that a person should not eat meat unless he has a special appetite for it. I might think that this means that a person should buy [meat] in the market and eat it, the text therefore states: Then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock. I might then think that this means that he should kill all his herd and eat and all his flock and eat, the text therefore states: ‘Of thy herd’, and not all thy herd; ‘of thy flock’ and not all thy flock. Hence R. Eleazar b. ‘Azariah said: A man who has a maneh may buy for his stew a litra of vegetables; if he has ten maneh he may buy for his stew a litra of fish; if he has fifty maneh he may buy for his stew a litra of meat; if he has a hundred maneh he may have a pot set on for him every day. And [how often for] the others? From Sabbath eve to Sabbath eve.

[4]

Maimonides. Guide for the Perpexed III, 26

Thus killing animals for the purpose of obtaining good food is certainly useful, as we intend to show (below, ch. xlviii.); that, however, the killing should not be performed by neḥirah (poleaxing – hitting the animal), but by sheḥitah (cutting the neck), and by dividing the œsophagus and the windpipe in a certain place; these regulations and the like are nothing but tests for man’s obedience. In this sense you will understand the example quoted by our Sages [that there is no difference] between killing the animal by cutting its neck in front and cutting it in the back. I give this instance only because it has been mentioned by our Sages; but in reality [there is some reason for these regulations]. For as it has become necessary to eat the flesh of animals, it was intended by the above regulations to ensure an easy death and to effect it by suitable means; whilst decapitation requires a sword or a similar instrument, the sheḥitah can be performed with any instrument; and in order to ensure an easy death our Sages insisted that the knife should be well sharpened.

[5]

“In the digital world, everyone has a smartphone and they want to know where things come from and share that information,” said Kevin Petrie, chief procurement officer for Nestlé in North America. “Is it good for me? Is the quality good? Has it been responsibly sourced?” The new policy, he said, was another step in Nestlé’s efforts to address risks in its supply chains like child labor and palm oil, the production of which is damaging to forests. Consumers today know far more about how components in their food are made — and they are far more willing to share that knowledge to stir up a fuss on social media, he said.

Before Social Media, Judaism had a complete oversight of the supply chain from farm to table… (ed)

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practicing judaism and ethics

parshat ekev

In a recent op-ed in the NY Times, Israel’s Fair-Weather Fans, Shmuel Rosner  references an Israeli  song “Ein Li Eretz Acheret”  “I have no other country,”.   Writes Rosner:

“I was reminded of the song in recent days as I read a string of articles by smart, savvy, knowledgeable, non-Israeli Jews, who say that the brutal war in Gaza has made them question their Zionism.

What unites these writers, of course, is that all of them do have another country. And that’s why, when push comes to shove, the Israeli government doesn’t — and shouldn’t — listen to them.”

It’s a powerful op-ed and it should be read in full.  This is not the first time a social commentator has identified the profound difference in perspective that living in or out of the land of Israel can have on one’s Judaism or opinion of the Jews.

In popular culture, the term Am Ha-Aretz” is used to refer to an ignorant Jew.  Since this derogatory label translates as “People of the Land” it makes sense that this pejorative actually refers to Jews who had a special connection to the land of Israel.  Writes Aharon Oppenheimer in his classic: The Am Ha-Aretz: A Study in the Social History of the Jewish People in the Hellenistic-Roman Period, 1997 (note to page83):

AmHaaretz

The Jews in Babylonia, led by Ezra and Nechemia had changed the face of Judaism.  When the first temple was standing, washing and purification before eating food was relegated to the priests and Levites and to eating temple sanctified food.  The returning Babylonian Jews had extended this requirement to every Jew and for all foodstuff.  Similarly tithing was continued by the Babylonian Jews, even though the priests, who benefited from such tithing, no longer had a Temple to work in.  The Jews who had remained in Israel, known as the Amei Ha-aretz had not gotten this memo and probably thought that the Babylonian Jews were living in denial… there was no longer any reason to ritually wash nor tithe.

The point is not which of these groups was in the right.. the point is that Jews in Israel see things in a unique perspective which can, and maybe should unnerve outsiders.

This is not the last time that Jews living outside of the land of Israel looked down upon the religious practice of indigenous Israelis.  How many Jews (both religious and non-religious) come to Israel expecting Israelis to be more observant and are disappointed that they are not.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, the Rabbis were equally critical of Jews and Judaism outside of the land of Israel.

The second paragraph of the Shema (Deuteronomy 11 13-21)  is a repetition of the first (Deuteronomy 6: 5-9) in terms of providing that Jews teach their children the Torah and put on Tefillin and mezuzot. The difference is that the second paragraph admonishes the Jews to: “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and ye turn aside… and ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you.” (Deuteronomy 11: 16-17)

Rashi, commenting on Deuteronomy 11: 18 is bothered by why the commandment to put on tefillin is repeated in this second commandment and quotes the Sifrei.

Therefore shall ye lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 11:18)

וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֶת-דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה, עַל-לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל-נַפְשְׁכֶם; וּקְשַׁרְתֶּם אֹתָם לְאוֹת עַל-יֶדְכֶם, וְהָיוּ לְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם

And you shall set these words of Mine: Even after you have been exiled, make yourselves distinctive with My commandments: Put on tefillin and make mezuzoth , so that these will not be new to you when you return. Similarly, it is said, “Set up markers for yourself” (Jer. 31:20). – [Sifrei]

ושמתם את דברי אף לאחר שתגלו היו מצויינים במצות, הניחו תפילין, עשו מזוזות כדי שלא יהיו לכם חדשים כשתחזרו. וכן הוא אומר (ירמיה לא, כ) הציבי לך ציונים   [2]2

This is a remarkable text, because what it is saying is that Judaism outside of the Land of Israel is just a rehearsal… just for practice.  Israel is not the main stage, it is the only stage. I have written about this text, including the opinions of the classical commentaries and the double meaning of “Zion” ציונ  in another post: the hiker’s guide to zionism

But here’s my question.  If you practice something for 2,000 years doesn’t it get a little stale?  Practice may make perfect, but too much practice leads at best to  an empty shell of robotic activity and at worst אם an overacted and overgrown perversion.

Salt can preserve meat and fowl and refrigeration can preserve perishables, but ultimately the salt must be washed away and frozen food must be thawed.  The great Zionist thinkers all observed in one way or another that, the return to Zion would not only provide a refuge for a persecuted people, but just as importantly would provide for the rejuvenation of a people that had lived an anemic existence for 2,000 years.

By way of example, A. D. Gordon the great labor Zionist wrote:

The Jewish people has been completely cut off from nature and imprisoned within city walls for two thousand years. We have been accustomed to every form of life, except a life of labor- of labor done at our behalf and for its own sake. It will require the greatest effort of will for such a people to become normal again. We lack the principal ingredient for national life. We lack the habit of labor… for it is labor which binds a people to its soil and to its national culture, which in its turn is an outgrowth of the people’s toil and the people’s labor. … We, the Jews, were the first in history to say: “For all the nations shall go each in the name of its God” and “Nations shall not lift up sword against nation” – and then we proceed to cease being a nation ourselves. (see)

Similarly, Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew writes:

“True literature can emerge only in a social environment speaking the language in which that literature is being written.  Haskala literature in Russia is artificial, alienated from the sources of true artistic creativity – life itself. (see The Making of Modern Zionism, Shlomo Avineri p 85)

For each Zionist thinker, there was another vision for what the new Jew would be and for what 2,000 years of life without a land, language, army or economy had done to the Jewish People.

But 2,000 years of Jewish life produced more than just an oversized religion.  Two thousand years of a sterile existence in exile also produced an overgrown moral and ethical sense, divorced from the responsibilities of land, government, politics and defense. If the Jews greatest gift to Western thought was our fine-tuned morality and social activism, it may also be our most questionable gift.  Certainly our gift of morality divorced from political life is one that has come back to bite.

If one is willing to question a Jewish Religion that developed in such an artificial and sterile existence, certainly one needs to question the other intellectual  legacies of  the Jewish People brewed in the same petri dish of exile.

This is the question that Jewish thinkers and Western thinkers who have been so influenced by the best of Jewish thought ought ask.

As for Israelis, it’s a little more simple… they have nowhere else to go.

———————–

[1] for more recent scholarship on this subject see Daniel Boyarin , Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity p. 251 note 122

AmHaaretz boylerin

[2] Here is the complete text of the Sifrei Deuteronomy 43…

sifrei Ekev

Another thing “and ye perish quickly from off the good land.. and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand”  Even though I exile you from the land to exile, you are still commanded in the commandments so that when you return they will not be like new.  Analogous to a king of flesh and blood that is angry with his wife and casts her to the house of her father.  Says he, you should adorn yourself with your jewelry so that when you return they should not be like new. So said the Holy One to Israel:

Set thee up waymarks, make thee guide-posts; set thy heart toward the high-way, even the way by which thou wentest; return, O virgin of Israel, return to these thy cities.
ow long wilt thou turn away coyly, O thou backsliding daughter? For the LORD hath created a new thing in the earth: a woman shall court a man.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: yet again shall they use this speech in the land of Judah and in the cities thereof, when I shall turn their captivity: ‘The LORD bless thee, O habitation of righteousness, O mountain of holiness. (Jeremiah 31:20)

“waymarks” these are the commandments that Israel was commanded, “guide-posts” this is the destruction of the Temple. And also as it says “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy” (Psalms  137:5).

“even the way by which thou wentest”  (Jeremiah 31:20)  Says The Holy One to Israel “See in these ways you walked and have repented, immediately you will return to your cities as it is said: “Return O virgins of Israel, return to your cities.”

 

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neither/nor

parshat vetchanan

Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

  שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ, ה’ אֶחָד

Rabbi  Yehoshua ben Korcha along with his peers understood the Shema (Hear O Israel) as an acclamation of faith and acceptance of God’s Kingship that pre-empts and supercedes all of Jewish practice.

 “Accept the yoke of Heaven first, then accept the yoke of the commandments. – Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 13a

קבל עליו עול מלכות שמים תחלה ואח”כ

יקבל עליו עול מצוות

 

I was  introduced to the world of Musar by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (and see); one of the last greats of this 19th Century School of ethical thought and practice.

He recounted a story told of Rav Yerucham the spiritual head of the Meir Yeshiva in Poland.  Rav Yerucham had approached a student and asked if he had ever said the Shema?  The pupil was taken aback and replied:, “Yes, of course, Rabbi.”

Said Rav Yerucham, “Tell me, while you were saying the Shema did you feel a hint of rebellion against God?”

“Chas v’shalom,” (God Forbid) replied the pupil, “Of course not.”

“So you accepted the yoke of God’s Kingdom of Heaven (עול מלכות שמים)… on your feet, and anywhere they take you, on your hands and all your activities, on your eyes and anything you see, on your heart and emotions, your mind and your thoughts, imagination and curiosity… You accepted the yoke of heaven on all 248 limbs (traditional number of limbs in human body and number of words in the daily Shema declaration) …. and you never protested or stiffened in rejection?

“Then you have never said Shema ” replied the Rabbi [1]

I was struck by this interpretation of the Shema when I first heard it as I am now.

Did the Rabbi mean that unless one has felt the tingle of rebellion, at least once, one has never accepted the faith? Is this a one-off episode of a crisis of faith, or is this an ongoing dialectic?  As one’s faith and understanding of the true meaning of the “Yoke of Heaven” grow, must one’s sense of rejection and rebellion grow in-kind? Is the flip side of acceptance; rejection and vis a versa?

How ironic that it is precisely in a declaration focused on “ONE”  אֶחָד  that we focus on this tension between faith and rejection.

Once a musarnik, always a musarnik…  I have thought on this question for years as I have similarly asked myself.. what about this question so appeals to me.  I realize that what appeals to me about faith and observance in Judaism is exactly this duality within the unity.

The Rabbis have a way of changing a letter or word and standing a verse or a law on its head.  We had an example of that in the previous post where the Sifre changes a verse describing the Children of Israel’s time at Mt. Sinai that is normally interpreted as a description of bounty: ‘You have dwelt long enough at this mountain’. (Deuteronomy 1:6) רַב לָכֶם שֶׁבֶת בָּהָר הַזֶּה to a description of malaise: “It was bad for you to have dwelt at this mountain” רע הוא לכם ישיבתם בהר הזה

The giving of the Torah was good… but it was also bad… and, seeming to say…  if you don’t get this, then you have never received the Torah.

Another of my teachers who introduced me to the world of Hasidism and mysticism was Rabbi Moshe Wolfson.  Sitting in the woods at Camp Torah Vodaas summer camp in the Catskills he cited the text in Pirkei Avot:

Rabbi Yaakov would say: One who walks along a road and studies, and interrupts his studying to say, “How beautiful is this tree!”, “How beautiful is this ploughed field!”—the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life. (Ethics of the Fathers 3:7)

המהלך בדרך ושונה ומפסיק ממשנתו ואומר מה נאה אילן זה, מה נאה ניר זה – מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו מתחיב בנפשו

Asked Rabbi Wolfson “ How could admiring God’s works of nature be considered a crime worthy of death?” To which he answered… Anyone who is studying God’s Torah and considers it an interruption to study and admire God’s works of nature… for such a man the Torah considers it as though he had lost his soul… for the real Torah Scholar.. admiring nature is a continuation of Torah study….

Torah texts can isolate you from the truths and beauty of the world around us.. when they do, then you are no longer studying the Torah.

One Purim I was standing in the Yeshiva next to another Ba’al Teshuva (sometimes abbreviated to BT, a term that refers to a Jew who turns to embrace Orthodox Judaism). We both had had a few drinks.  I had always been proud of the fact that I was in the Yeshiva by-choice, not birth.  This guy turns to me and quotes the Talmud (Berachot 34a and Maimonides Hilchot Teshuva 7:4)

“In the place where Ba’alei Teshuvah stand, even the completely righteous are not able to stand”

Berachot 34b four amot

“Do you know why a tzadik can’t stand in the same place as a repentant?” Asked my friend.  “Because the spiritual level attained by a repentant is too holy” I replied with a smile.

No, said my buddy… according to the Kotzker Rebbe, A tzadik can’t stand next to a Ba’al Teshuva, because it stinks too much!

A little harsh.. but the lesson is clear… Being self-righteous is as much of a temptation for the pure as for the purified.. if you feel self-righteous you’re probably not.

The “ONE” at the end of my Shema is complex and is as much a challenge to any unified theory of God or the universe as it is an answer.  I think the same holds true for most Jews.  This profession of faith mixed with a question of faith is the core of my Judaism and, I believe the basis for Jewish humor.

I just saw a wonderful production of Fiddler on the Roof and Teviya’s constant questioning of God, while talking to God and his “you’re right too” response to the criticism that both sides of an argument can’t be right… is the crux of the play’s charm and the survival of his people.

Professor Sidney Morgenbesser, my college adviser and philosophy professor, was in great pain before he died.  He asked a student “Why is God making me suffer so? Is it because I do not believe in him?”

The tough-love aspect of the responses of Wolbe, Wolfson and the Kotzker are desperately needed in a world that seems to love platitudes in it’s religion, secularism and politics.

I read a powerful article this week criticizing superficial celebrities who use anti-Israel catch-phrases to give themselves painless (and brainless) righteous indignation.  The author cites a disposition that German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “Cheap Grace,”.  I had not heard of Bonhoeffer before, but he seems to follow in the footsteps of a great Christian thinker; Søren Kierkegaard, who I studied in my youth and admired greatly. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was so impressed by Kierkegaard that he wrote a book comparing Kierkegaard to the Kotzker named A Passion for Truth.

Kierkegaard did not believe in cheap grace, cheap truths or cheap faith.  He wrote a whole book on the attempted sacrifice of Jacob entitled Fear and Trembling in which he shows; in gruesome detail how wrong it was for God to ask and for Abraham and Jacob to acquiesce to such an immoral and irrational request.  Only after a total rejection of the Akeda can one accept it in a leap of faith…   I’m not sure that I can make this particular leap, but I do agree with Keirkegarrd that faith is not cheap.

Side Note: Kierkegaard never got married but he did write a large two-volume work on the pros and cons of marriage called Either/Or … it would seem that love and marriage are not cheap either…

Kierkegaard is considered the father of Existential Philosophy and the inventor of the never-ending dialectic where an idea such as acceptance is informed by an idea such as rejection, which leads to a higher idea of acceptance which is informed by a still higher idea of rejection and so on…

The problem with the cheap grace shown by celebrities affecting righteous indignation for suffering civilians without investing in learning the context of the conflict is that it does an injustice to the suffering on both sides and to the unknowing celebrity-watcher who want cheap facts.  The worst casualty of this cheap grace is that it makes those of us who wish to learn the context to naturally try to minimize the suffering cheapened by the celebrities and the too easy to process photojournalism.  We dare not.

Getting back to the iconic declaration of faith of the Jewish People.. the Shema; it is clearly a declaration of unity that includes a duality.  If unity was all it was looking for, it would have said “God is One” or “Hear O Israel, God is One”.

Rashi catches the duality and writes: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one: The Lord, who is now our God and not the God of the other nations-He will be [declared] in the future “the one God,”

 ה’ שהוא אלהינו עתה ולא אלהי האומות, הוא עתיד להיות ה’ אחד

Rashi sees a dialectical journey in human history and eschatology, I see in the Shema, our religion and peoplehood a challenge to travel a dialectical crevasse where neither faith, unity, nor love or peace are cheap.

—————

In a search on the internet, I found this story twice, both times told about Rabbi Wolbe himself and a student (as opposed to a story R. Woble told of his Rebbe R. Yerucham) and both, mitigating the power of the story with a limitation of Did you ever say the Shema with kavanah [intent] … but that’s not the way I remember it.  See and see.

 

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a new jew

Parshat devarim

The book of Deuteronomy is  a summary, some would say re-interpretation of all that is before and preparation for all that lies ahead.  It is the beginning of a paradigm shift.

 ‘You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. (Deuteronomy 1:6)

 רַב לָכֶם שֶׁבֶת בָּהָר הַזֶּה

As if to say “move on”, it is time to shift from a group of freedom fighters and to join the family of nations.

The fact that this book was first written (“discovered”) in the middle of the reign of King Josiah (ruled 640 – 608 BCE)  [see Kings II, 22:10-) and embellished over time, makes it even more interesting as a record of a paradigm shift from Exodus/Revelation to Nationhood/Exile. [The First Temple was destroyed in 587 BCE, a mere 21 years after the reign of Josiah]

What is striking is how negatively it begins.

In verse 2 Moses points out that the journey that took more than 40 years should have been accomplished in eleven days! Rashi quoting the Sifrei paraphrases Moses: “See what you caused!”

In verse 9 Moses complains that ‘I cannot carry you alone.”

  לֹא-אוּכַל לְבַדִּי, שְׂאֵת אֶתְכֶם

And continues: “How can I bear your trouble, your burden, and your strife all by myself?”

  אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא, לְבַדִּי, טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם, וְרִיבְכֶם

The author of this intro to Deuteronomy and Jeremiah in his Book of Lamentations use this same word “how” אֵיכָה to lay blame on the Jewish People.

Moses proceeds to recount every divine intervention during the forty year wandering in terms of the overwhelming burden on him and the failings of the Jewish People… (appointing administrators and judges, sending the scouts, unsanctioned military operations).

Depending on whether this is Moses speaking or God… It really sounds like “bitter party of one” or “bitter party of ONE”, respectively.

No surprise that one interpretation given by the Sifrei for “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain” substitutes “bad” רע   for “long” רַב

רע הוא לכם ישיבתם בהר הזה

“It was bad for you to have dwelt at this mountain”

It’s almost as if Moses and the author of Deuteronomy have bought into the theory offered by latter day Christians and Moslems [1] that the Jews were given the myriad of commandments and prohibitions at Sinai as a punishment for their sins…. Not a reward for being the chosen people….

Following this deflating introduction, Moses (and the author(s) of Deuteronomy) begin to introduce another concept.. namely that if and when the nation of Israel loses a battle or is cast into exile it is because of it’s sins.

This self-pummeling, guilt-ridden and power-phobic aspproach to life and state-craft is the ultimate message of the upcoming fast-day of Tisha B’av and it’s text; Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations.. see for instance Lamentations 1:8:

Jerusalem hath grievously sinned, therefore she is become as one unclean; all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness; she herself also sigheth, and turneth backward.

חֵטְא חָטְאָה יְרוּשָׁלִַם, עַל-כֵּן לְנִידָה הָיָתָה; כָּל-מְכַבְּדֶיהָ הִזִּילוּהָ כִּי-רָאוּ עֶרְוָתָהּ, גַּם-הִיא נֶאֶנְחָה וַתָּשָׁב אָחוֹר

This perverse belief that failure shows the disapproval of God, especially when it comes to the use of power, appears first in Deuteronomyץ In the context of Jews of the Exodus generation who decided that they did not want to die in the desertץ  Unsanctioned by God, they began the conquest by attacking the Amorites.  It was not a successful campaign and they were chased and killed by the Amorites “as bees do”

So I spoke unto you, and ye hearkened not; but ye rebelled against the commandment of the LORD, and were presumptuous, and went up into the hill-country.
And the Amorites, that dwell in that hill-country, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and beat you down in Seir, even unto Hormah.
And ye returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD hearkened not to your voice, nor gave ear unto you.

Says Rashi: but the LORD hearkened not to your voice: As if possible [to say of God], you made His attribute of mercy as though it were cruel.

ולא שמע ה’ בקלכם כביכול עשיתם מדת רחמיו, כאלו אכזרי

Moses continues this rant to it’s logical conclusion in Deuteronomy 4: 23 and 26

Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which He made with you, and make you a graven image, even the likeness of any thing which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over the Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.

This “you sinned therefore the nations of the world punish you” might work for a Saturday morning sermon, but it is dangerous stuff for statecraft and for public consumption by your enemies.

Ruth Wisse in her book Jews and Power refers to this inward-looking response as a “long-range strategy of accommodation to defeat.” (p24).

“In a cyclical pattern, adjustment to exile reinforced the habits of self-accountability, which permitted adjustment to exile.”

Wisse goes on to argue that the rebirth of the State of Israel was made possible only by an implicit rejection of this type of self-accountability that leads a people to adjust to exile and persecution.

Liberal intellectuals, religiously motivated anti-Semites and even-anti Zionist Orthodox Jews who disproportionately criticize Israel for real and imagined injustices, share the same pernicious belief. That when Jews are attacked it is self-inflicted and when they defend themselves or take their destiny into their own hands they are somehow sinning by not accepting the punishment meted out  by a God…  Or in the non-theistic version, they sin against an idealized  liberal ethic by daring to live in a real world.  In either case the Jew who dares to stand in defence is an affront to their belief system.

In the irony of ironies, the source for this “accommodation to defeat” is itself, self-inflicted and appears for the first time in the Hebrew Bible itself.

We have dwelt long enough at that mountain… fortunately there is a New Jew.  The resilient citizens of modern-day Israel and the brave soldiers of the IDF represent a new generation of Jews who do not have a problem with defending themselves… and what is best in our religion and in liberalism.

Postscript -

This year more than most, I really have no desire to commemorate Tisha B’av [2], read Lamentations or sit on the ground wondering “how” אֵיכָה..

I will continue to do what I have been doing over the last few weeks of the current conflict between Israel and it’s enemies.  I’ll watch CNN and Israeli TV, read the news feed in concern and solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Israel… and I’ll stand proudly with Israel.

—————–

[1] See for example Quran sura IV:160 and will add other sources in due course…

[2] I also have no patience for anyone who says the the three weeks and Tisha B’av is an inauspicious time to defend oneself or engage in life threatening endeavors… we have dwelt long enough at that mountain too.  enough with the magical thinking…

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gimme shelter

parshat massei

Sanctuary: 1. A place of refuge, especially for political refugees 2. immunity from arrest

The Concise Oxford Dictionary

With the army of a victorious Henry VII bearing down on him, a terrified Francis Lovell made for the only place he knew he would be safe – a church.

It was 1485 and his master Richard III had just been killed on the battlefield at Bosworth and Francis had every reason to believe his head would be next.

But he made it in time to St John’s Abbey in Colchester where he invoked the ancient law of religious sanctuary. It made him untouchable.

Claiming sanctuary in a church to avoid being punished for a crime was abolished in England in 1623 but the idea persists to this day. (see)

The antecedence for refuge in a sanctuary hark back to Numbers 35: 9 -

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer that killeth any person through error may flee thither. And the cities shall be unto you for refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation for judgment.

 דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם:  כִּי אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן, אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן

 וְהִקְרִיתֶם לָכֶם עָרִים, עָרֵי מִקְלָט תִּהְיֶינָה לָכֶם; וְנָס שָׁמָּה רֹצֵחַ, מַכֵּה-נֶפֶשׁ בִּשְׁגָגָה

 וְהָיוּ לָכֶם הֶעָרִים לְמִקְלָט, מִגֹּאֵל; וְלֹא יָמוּת הָרֹצֵחַ, עַד-עָמְדוֹ לִפְנֵי הָעֵדָה לַמִּשְׁפָּט

The six cities of refuge were designated for all inhabitants regardless of citizenship “For the children of Israel, and for the stranger and for the settler among them,” and where designed to break  the pre-existing rules of Blood Feuds whereby a relative of the murdered was required to redeem the blood    גֹּאֵל הַדָּם of his relative by killing the murderer, even if the murder was accidental.

The City of Refuge is first and foremost the antidote to the negative aspects of clan  and tribalism.  The refuge cities עָרֵי מִקְלָט along with the monetization of lex talionis (eye for eye see Lev. 24:19 and Talmud Baba Kamma, 83b–84a) represented the Hebrew Bible’s frontal assault on the zero-sum mechanics of blood-for-blood honor killings.

Ironically, Israelis call a bomb shelter a Miklat  מִקְלָט.    The connection between the modern day bomb shelter and the Biblical city of refuge is profound. The modern day Miklat protects Israeli citizens from the attacks of  terrorists who wish nothing positive, but only to take revenge for prior injustices and to redeem the blood of fellow clan members.  In a very real sense, the Iron Dome Missile Defense system, the Miklat, and the security wall are all designed to end the cycle of violence.

When these same terrorist shoot rockets without  sheltering their own citizens  from the inevitable return fire, they are striving to escalate the blood feud, ditto for the use of their citizens as human shields.

The cinematic image we share of the fugitive finding refuge in a church shows how this legal institution of the City of Refuge survived in Church law and popular culture, but what is less well known, is how primary this message was to Muhammad’s message and early Islam.

According to Joseph Schacht, the celebrated Columbia professor of Arabic and Islam, Muhammad reformed the norms of retaliation with the introduction of  blood-money “because of the main aim of the Prophet  – [was] the dissolution of the ancient tribal organization and the creation of a community of believers in its stead.” [An Introduction to Islamic Law, Joseph Schacht, p 13-4)

See Quran Sura 4: 92

And never is it for a believer to kill a believer except by mistake. And whoever kills a believer by mistake – then the freeing of a believing slave and a compensation payment presented to the deceased’s family [is required] unless they give [up their right as] charity. But if the deceased was from a people at war with you and he was a believer – then [only] the freeing of a believing slave; and if he was from a people with whom you have a treaty – then a compensation payment presented to his family and the freeing of a believing slave. And whoever does not find [one or cannot afford to buy one] – then [instead], a fast for two months consecutively, [seeking] acceptance of repentance from Allah . And Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.

According to Schacht, Islam after Muhammad continued this evolution away from tribal revenge killings and toward the rule of law and restitution.

The Umayyads did not interfere with the working of retaliation as it had been regulated by the Koran, but they tried to prevent the recurrence of Arab tribal feuds which threatened the internal security of the state, and they assured the accountancy for payments of blood-money, which were effected in connexion with the payment of subventions. ibid. Schacht p. 24

Schacht, who was not Jewish, believed about Islam what many of his contemporary Jewish Scholars had concluded about Judaism, namely, that there was at one time a  “living tradition” where ideas took on a life of their own and evolved forward, even if projected back to engender authenticity. (see Remembering Joseph Schacht (1902‑1969) by Jeanette Wakin) [1]

With regard to the subject at-hand, Schacht concludes that:

 The considerable restriction of blood feuds was a great merit of Muhammad’s. According to Bedouin ideas, any member of the tribe of the killer, and even more than one, could be killed if homicide had occurred. Islam allows only the killer himself (or several killers for one slain), to be put to death, and only if he is fully responsible and has acted clearly with deliberate intent; Islamic law further recommends waiving retaliation. Ibid Schacht p 185

It’s a shame that, in the Islam we encounter today, the movement by the Prophet Muhammad and early local schools against tribalism and blood feuding was not permitted to develop further.  It’s a shame that both Jews and Muslims do not have a miklat, a shelter, refuge and sanctuary to protect them from the evils of bloodletting and the cycle of violence that it drives.

In the meantime, the civilized world should honor and emulate the shelter that Israel provides it’s citizens as not only an acclimation of life but also as a concrete and practical strategy to break the cycle of violence and bloodletting.

 

———————

[1]  Writes Wakin: “Not surprisingly, scholars in the Muslim world in general are unable to accept Schacht’s discoveries or face their implications. … The understandable fear among modern Muslim scholars is that the great edifice of the religious law, and thus Islam itself, will collapse if it is shown to have been the product of human minds. Schacht’s findings can, of course, conceivably be put at the service of a liberalizing movement, but this has not yet been attempted.”

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the compromised land

parshat matot

Previously, when Moses is confronted with a difficult question requiring a pragmatic solution he lets God do the heavy lifting.  As the Children of Israel stand on the cusp of the Promised Land, Moses finds the moxy to craft the compromise.

Moses is approached by the leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad.  These men are herders not farmers.  They have noticed that the land on the East Bank of the Jordan River is more suitable for livestock.  Following in the footsteps of Zelophehad’s daughters and Jethro before them, they approach Moses and the Elders. (Numbers 32)

The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying: … the land which the LORD smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle.’ And they said: ‘If we have found favour in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession; bring us not over the Jordan.’

 וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי-גָד, וּבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן; וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, וְאֶל-נְשִׂיאֵי הָעֵדָה לֵאמֹר

 הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר הִכָּה ה’ לִפְנֵי עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל–אֶרֶץ מִקְנֶה, הִוא; וְלַעֲבָדֶיךָ, מִקְנֶה

  וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אִם-מָצָאנוּ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–יֻתַּן אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לַעֲבָדֶיךָ, לַאֲחֻזָּה:  אַל-תַּעֲבִרֵנוּ, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן

One can just picture Moses’ face dropping in disbelief and sadness.  Here, the land of Israel had not even been possessed and already two of the twelve tribes want to modify and dilute the dream.  The tribes of Reuben and Gad were the first post-Zionists, only they hadn’t even settled in Zion yet!

Moses’ anguish is deeper. The student of the Hebrew Bible will recognize that from the days of Cain and Abel, there has always been a biblical tension between the farmer and the herder.  While both are necessary, it is an agricultural society, with laws of tithes and sabbatical years that fill the Hebrew law code for the new land.  The slaughter of animals is relegated to the sacrificial cult.  The farmer invests in the land and lives off the sweat of his brow; the herder takes from the land and moves on. The life of the nomad, the hunter and gatherer had served the people well in exile, but now that they were settling in the Promised Land, it would be sustainable agriculture which insured the future.

It was not just that these two tribes didn’t want to complete the journey, their chosen profession manifested a rejection of something deeper.  Just as the word for Cain קַיִן  is derived from the word possessions (see Genesis 4:1) so too does the word for cattle  מִקְנֶה has a materialistic  sense to it.   Rashi picks up on the misplaced materialism of these two tribes projected in the text…

They approached him and said, “We will build sheepfolds for our livestock here and cities for our children. (Numbers 32:16)

 וַיִּגְּשׁוּ אֵלָיו וַיֹּאמְרוּ, גִּדְרֹת צֹאן נִבְנֶה לְמִקְנֵנוּ פֹּה, וְעָרִים, לְטַפֵּנוּ

We shall build sheepfolds for our livestock here: They were more concerned about their possessions than about their sons and daughters, since they mentioned their livestock before [mentioning] their children. Moses said to them, “Not so! Treat the fundamental as a fundamental, and the matter of secondary importance as a matter of secondary importance. First ‘build cities for your children,’ and afterwards ‘enclosures for your sheep’” (verse 24) – [Mid. Tanchuma Mattoth 7]

 נבנה למקננו פה -חסים היו על ממונם יותר מבניהם ובנותיהם, שהקדימו מקניהם לטפם. אמר להם משה לא כן עשו, העיקר עיקר והטפל טפל, בנו לכם תחלה ערים לטפכם ואחר כך גדרות לצאנכם

There is another element inherent in the request of these tribes that must have peeved Moses.  The promise of the Promised Land was to put an end to the incessant wandering of the Hebrews.  The Hebrews (עברים) were the descendants of people like Abraham and the wanderers in the desert, who had forged (passed over עבר) the river and come to settle in the land.  These tribes, like Cain were choosing the life of the wanderer. they were asking permission not to cross the Jordan both physically and ideologically.

אַל-תַּעֲבִרֵנוּ, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן

Moses barely hides his anger.  He points out that these two tribes are setting a bad example and missing the whole point of the episode of the 10 scouts who were responsible for the 40-year delay in returning to the Land of Israel (Numbers 32: 7 – 13)

And wherefore will ye turn away the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them? … Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. .. Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed Me; … And the LORD’S anger was kindled against Israel, and He made them wander to and fro in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed.

   וְלָמָּה תנואון (תְנִיאוּן), אֶת-לֵב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–מֵעֲבֹר, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַן לָהֶם, ה

   כֹּה עָשׂוּ, אֲבֹתֵיכֶם, בְּשָׁלְחִי אֹתָם מִקָּדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ, לִרְאוֹת אֶת-הָאָרֶץ

 אִם-יִרְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים הָעֹלִים מִמִּצְרַיִם, מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, אֵת הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב:  כִּי לֹא-מִלְאוּ, אַחֲרָי

  וַיִּחַר-אַף ה, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיְנִעֵם בַּמִּדְבָּר, אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה–עַד-תֹּם, כָּל-הַדּוֹר, הָעֹשֶׂה הָרַע, בְּעֵינֵי ה

Writes Rashi (picking up the Cain motif):

He made them wander: He moved them about from place to place, as in נָע וָנָד “a wanderer and an exile” (Gen. 4:12).

 וינעם – ויטלטלם. מן נע ונד

Knowing Moses’ frustration and anger management issues, one would have expected him to lash out.  And while he does engage in a vigorous debate with these non-settlers he resolves the issue with a grand compromise.

The leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad agree to participate fully in the conquest and only once their brethren are settled will they return to their outpost on the East Bank of the Jordan. (Numbers 32: 18-19)

We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.

For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan, and forward, because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side of the Jordan eastward

לֹא נָשׁוּב, אֶל-בָּתֵּינוּ–עַד, הִתְנַחֵל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אִישׁ, נַחֲלָתוֹ

 כִּי לֹא נִנְחַל אִתָּם, מֵעֵבֶר לַיַּרְדֵּן וָהָלְאָה:  כִּי בָאָה נַחֲלָתֵנוּ אֵלֵינוּ, מֵעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן מִזְרָחָה

In a sense, the permission by Moses for these outlier tribes to settle on the East Bank of the Jordan, was a testament to his maturation and growth as a leader and his understanding that ideologies need to be compromised in order to achieve dreams.

Three thousand years later when Ben Gurion and the mainstream Zionists were given the choice of a partitioned promised land they too accepted the compromise.  Ironically, those rejectionists let by Ze’ev Jabotinsky who rejected the Partition Plan used Reuben and Gad’s East Bank settlement as the basis for an argument against compromise and for a Greater Israel.

The East of the Jordan (Hebrew: שמאל הירדן‎) is a poem written by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the Revisionist Zionist leader, a song that became one of the most known leading songs of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, Betar. The song includes four Stanzas. Each stanza ends with the following line which is the main political message and theme of the poem:

Two Banks has the Jordan
This is ours and, that is as well.

The main theme of the song also influenced other Zionists’ poems, and its main theme appears also in Raise Up the Barricades, by Michael Eshbal, also one of the Betar youth movement’s well known poems, which says of the Jewish state: “To establish the state on both sides of the Jordan”.

(see Wikipedia  The East Bank of the Jordan) and see note below with complete lyrics and background of the heated debate between Jabotinsky; the uncompromising revisionist, and Weizman; the pragmatist. [1]

The rift between these two groups culminated in the Altalena Affair where in 1948, Ben Gurion, the heir to Weizman and the leader of the month-old State of Israel squared off against Menachem Begin, the heir to Jabotinsky and head of the now illegal paramilitary group; the Irgun.  To make a long story, short, Ben Gurion ordered the sinking of the Altalena. Sixteen Irgun fighters were killed and more than 200 were arrested.  Begin never forgave Ben Gurion, but in 1979, it was Begin who made the ultimate compromise in returning Sinai to Egypt.

The Altalena was our Hamas moment.  The Palestinians have absorbed many ideas, concepts from the Zionists. The Palestinians use words like “right of return” and “diaspora” and also have adopted a nationalistic desire for a state similar to the Zionists.  It is time that they also learn to compromise their ideals and unconditionally reject rogue players and ideologically driven militarists.  There was no room for the Irgun once the State of Israel was established, and there is no room for non-state players like Hamas if the Palestinians are to have their own state.

Today, as once again Israel is forced to wage war with Palestinian rejectionist and terrorist groups, we need to remember and remind the world not only regarding the sacrifices that we have made, but also the equally courageous compromises that we and our most idealistic leaders have made.

We will have peace with our neighbors not only “when they love their children more that they hate us” (Golda Meir), but also when they learn, that in order to deserve a Promised Land, you need to accept a Compromised Land…

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[1]

In 1922, in an effort to appease Abdullah, British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill excluded 77% of Palestine from all legal stipulations dealing with Hebrew aspirations. The first in a series of four White Papers was issued, significantly limiting Jewish immigration and severely truncating the Israeli homeland’s borders. A Hashemite Arab kingdom was consequently established in the majority of Palestine. This artificial state came to be known as Trans-Jordan. Thus the Jews were left with only 23% of what the Balfour Declaration and League of Nations had stipulated.

During Jabotinsky’s stay in the United States, he received news of Britain’s perfidious White Paper. While the more pragmatic Zionist leaders, led by Chaim Weitzman, were willing to accept whatever borders they could receive, Jabotinsky contested the injustice on principle and even composed a song championing Israel’s claim to both banks of the Jordan River.

As a bridge is held up by a pillar
As a man is kept erect by his spine
So the Jordan, the holy Jordan
Is the backbone of my Israel.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

Though my country may be poor and small
It is mine from head to foot.
Stretching from the sea to the desert
And the Jordan, the Jordan in the middle.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

From the wealth of our land there shall prosper
The Arab, the Christian, and the Jew,
For our flag is a pure and just one
It will illuminate both sides of my Jordan.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

My two hands I have dedicated to the homeland,
My two hands to sword and shield.
Let my right hand whither
If I forget the East Bank of the Jordan.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

In the wake of Zionism’s meek response to Churchill’s treacherous White Paper, Jabotinsky condemned what he called the “erosion of Zionist demands” – the leadership’s apprehension to clearly state that the goal of the Zionist Movement is a sovereign Hebrew state. He argued that Zionism no longer demanded but instead adopted the exile attitude of “shtadlanut” – trying to curry favor in gentile eyes. The issue of Trans-Jordan and the evolutionary leadership’s inability to state clear Zionist goals became issues of heated discussion within the Movement, leading to Jabotinsky’s resignation from the World Zionist Executive. His resignation, however, did not stem from disillusionment with the Zionist ideal, but rather with the officials at the helm. It occurred to Jabotinsky that his generation was not ready for the revolutionary character of Herzlian Zionism. A movement had to be born that would create a new type of Jew, free from the idiosyncrasies and inferiority complex of the exile – like the champions featured throughout the Hebrew Bible. By bringing about a revolution in values and self image, Jabotinsky hoped to revive the ancient spirit of the proud Israeli hero. Along with a number of veterans from the Zionist Movement, he established the Union of Zionist­-Revisionists (Hatzohar) which called for the immediate establishment of a Hebrew state with an Israeli majority on both sides of the Jordan. (see:  Zionist Freedom Alliance)

Revisionist Zionism came into being as a direct challenge to the policies of Chaim Weitzman. Two diametrically opposed ideologies were now battling for commandjabotinsky over the Zionist Movement. Jabotinsky advocated a forthright approach of presenting fundamental Zionist aims explicitly. He was against the propounding of half truths, whether to the Hebrew masses or to the gentile nations. Like Herzl before him, Jabotinsky rejected “muted Zionism” and refused to “turn the Zionist Movement into a fraternity of whispering, conspiratorial smugglers”. Opposing him, Weitzman advocated a cautious struggle and the application of “one step at a time” tactics. But Jabotinsky demanded a return to Herzlian Political Zionism with stated goals set forth in a charter.

 

 

 

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