Category Archives: Zionism

from the land

parshat lech lecha

In a previous post walking without pretext, I explore the lost Jewish gestalt of pilgrimage. It is one of my favorite posts since I was contacted by the author of a book that I quoted (A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful by  Gideon Lewis-Kraus) with gratitude for a “thoughtful blog post” and gladness that I enjoyed his book.  Writers of books and blogs love positive feedback!

In today’s post, I’d like to explore the flip side of lech lecha.  (Genesis 12: 1)

Now the LORD said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy land, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ

The word “Land” אָרֶץ ‘erets appears twice in the verse. Later in the Hebrew Bible, when the word “land” is used without modification, it refers to ‘erets yisrael, the Land of Israel.  In modern Hebrew, when one makes reference to “b’arets” (in the land) one is referring to Israel.  In this specific verse, clearly the first reference to “land” is to Abram’s land of birth, probably in the modern land of Iraq.  Using a small dose of poetic license, I would suggest that for the lech lecha gestalt to take full effect, one must both leave one’s land and go to one’s land… at the same time.

To really arrive in a new land, or for the Jew or Israeli, to truly arrive in a new Israel, he or she must both move away and towards the land.  When this happens, there is real progress.. there is real lech lecha.

Such a moment happened recently (this week) when Reuven Rivlin became the first President of Israel to attend the annual memorial ceremony commemorating the 1956 massacre at Kafr Kassem.  According to the headline in the Times of Israel “Rivlin condemns ‘terrible crime’ of Kfar Kassem massacre. President says Jews and Arabs must draw lessons from killing of 49 civilians in village by border policemen in 1956.”  It seems to me, that for Israeli leaders to recognize the crimes that were committed while establishing the modern State of Israel is an important step for Jewish Israelis in rejecting bigotry and racism and entering the next stage of redeeming the land.  It also provides a much needed example for Arab Israeli citizens as they create a narrative that both embraces their privileged citizenship in the only true democracy in the Middle East without having to betray their parents and grandparents suffering and victimization.  In order to move on (lech lecha) all Israelis need to recognize a past without artificial sweeteners while embracing a shared future. For more on the importance and implications of Rivlin’s historic act see Daniel Gordis: Israel’s Overdue Reckoning With Its Arab Citizens

In November 0f 2013 I was privileged to glimpse such a future.  I was in Jerusalem with my wife and our good friends Nachum and Chani from Tel Aviv told us about a weekend of tours scheduled in and around Jerusalem called Open House Jerusalem; part of the international movement www.openhouseworldwide.org.  They were going on a tour called Lifta – A Look from Within.  According to the blurb:

The tour will be led by the architect Shmuel Groag, who heads the Conservation Unit at Bezalel`s Department of Architecture. He will examine the village of Lifta from its architectural, anthropological and environmental aspects, as a site earmarked for preservation that is unique not only in Jerusalem, but in all of Israel.

The tour which was conducted in Hebrew and for Israelis (not tourists or a visiting mission) was extremely well attended.  We learnt about the unique architecture of this Arab town and it’s history. Most importantly we learnt of the controversy and legal fights to save Lifts from demolition and to make way for more Jerusalem housing sprawl.  We learnt of the movement by both Arab and Jewish Israelis to preserve the ruins of Lifta as a heritage site. For more (much more) on the history, significance and status of Lifta see: In the Midst of the Ruins: Activists Struggle to Save the Palestinian Village of Lifta, Tikkun Magazine, by Marc Kaminsky, May 2, 2013.  The author of the article took a similar tour as we did.

What I would like to add to the historical record is a video shot by my friend Nachum of the highlight of my tour… a chance meeting between our tour of Israelis and a grown son with his 80 year old father, returning to Lifta on the annual occasion of the father’s birthday.  As I watched, it occurred to me that this father and son were doing what many of us do… going back to the old country to visit the village they were born in… only the residents of Lifta resettled just a few kilometers away.  What struck me was the dignity of both of them, especially the dad who just wanted to get the dust off of his trousers.  These were not people stuck in victimhood.  They were well dressed and had clearly made a new life for themselves, even reestablished a community of Lifta; outside of Lifta.  To my eyes, these two generations of witnesses we met, showed no malice as they pointed out homes of well known families in the town, the mosque, shops and local workshops… all destroyed.  As important was the respect and profound interest of the Jewish Israeli visitors.

To me it was a Lech Lecha moment.  Watch for yourself.

20131108_134231

 

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still crazy after all these years

Ki Tavo

Call me crazy, but I love it when I spot the first time a word is used in print, especially when it’s a Hebrew word in the Bible.  And I go Crazy-Eddie crazy when it’s a seminal word whose meaning and associations are closely associated with our people.

So what’s the word of the day? It’s Meshugah and it first appears in Deuteronomy 28.

In the original version of the Sermon on the Mount, Moses has half the tribes stand on one mountain; Gerizim, and the other half stand on an opposite mountain; Ebal, and details all the blessings the chosen people will receive if they obey the commandments. So far so good and so ends the similitude to the other Sermon on the Mount.  It’s in detailing all the curses that will befall the Jewish people for disobedience that Meshuga, the quintessential word for Jewish idiosynchronicity, even exceptionalism, gets it’s first mention.

But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee…. (28: 15)

The LORD will smite thee with madness, and with blindness, and with astonishment of heart. (28: 28) [see Strongs H7697]

 יַכְּכָה ה’, בְּשִׁגָּעוֹן וּבְעִוָּרוֹן; וּבְתִמְהוֹן, לֵבָב

The fruit of thy land, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed away:
so that thou shalt be mad for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see. (28: 33-4) [see Strongs H7696]

 וְהָיִיתָ, מְשֻׁגָּע, מִמַּרְאֵה עֵינֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר תִּרְאֶה

In it’s first instance, being meshugah is not a good thing.  It’s a curse and relates to the primal response one has when viewing something so abhorrent and hurtful that one loses one’s mind.

The word always retained this meaning as in Zachariah

And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will make Jerusalem a stone of burden for all the peoples; all that burden themselves with it shall be sore wounded; and all the nations of the earth shall be gathered together against it.
In that day, saith the LORD, I will smite every horse with bewilderment, and his rider with madness; and I will open Mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the peoples with blindness.  (Zechariah 12 3-4)

 בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא נְאֻם-יְהוָה, אַכֶּה כָל-סוּס בַּתִּמָּהוֹן, וְרֹכְבוֹ, בַּשִּׁגָּעוֹן

But madness also was used in conjunction with creative genius and vision.

First as a false prophet as in:

for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in the stocks and in the collar. (Jeremiah 29: 26)

 לְכָל-אִישׁ מְשֻׁגָּע וּמִתְנַבֵּא; וְנָתַתָּה אֹתוֹ אֶל-הַמַּהְפֶּכֶת, וְאֶל-הַצִּינֹק

And next as a prophet of truth to a false people – the man of spirit to a people without spirit:

The prophet is a fool, the man of the spirit is mad! For the multitude of thine iniquity, the enmity is great. (Hosea 9: 7)

 אֱוִיל הַנָּבִיא, מְשֻׁגָּע אִישׁ הָרוּחַ–עַל רֹב עֲו‍ֹנְךָ, וְרַבָּה מַשְׂטֵמָה

Ultimately, when the world becomes crazy, it is the crazy who speak the truth.

As it says in the Talmud (Baba Bathra 12b): Rabbi Johanan said: Since the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from prophets and given to fools and children.

But it is madness as a strategy that seems to have really resonated with our leaders and our people.. starting with David.

David is running away from King Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. David’s reputation precedes him and the servants of Achish  question: “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing one to another of him in dances, saying: Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?”  David takes these words to heart and is fearful and plays the madman.

And he changed his demeanour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.
Then said Achish unto his servants: ‘Lo, when ye see a man that is mad, wherefore do ye bring him to me?
Do I lack madmen, that ye have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?’ (1 Samuel 21: 11-16)

 חֲסַר מְשֻׁגָּעִים, אָנִי, כִּי-הֲבֵאתֶם אֶת-זֶה, לְהִשְׁתַּגֵּעַ עָלָי; הֲזֶה, יָבוֹא אֶל-בֵּיתִי

And thus was born the Meshugenah Defense.

The word Meshugah is more well known as a Yiddish word than as a Hebrew word, because it was in exile and using the language of exile that we Jews really perfected craziness as a defense mechanism. Was it not meshugah to think that we could survive without a land or borders.  Was it not crazy to believe that one day we would be back in Jerusalem.  Jewish humor, at it’s core is a survival mechanism, and at its best, it reveals and helps us cope with the absurd.  Only a madman can believe in mankind after the atrocities of the Holocaust…

Thomas Friedman, cannot be accused of being an apologist for the State of Israel or the current Netanyahu government, but even he understands that in a world gone crazy, you are forced to act crazy.  In a recent column he characterized the recent Israel strategy in in Gaza:

No one here will explicitly say so, but one need only study this war to understand that Israel considers it central to its deterrence strategy that neither Hamas nor Hezbollah will “outcrazy us.” I don’t believe Israel was targeting Gaza civilians — I believe it tried to avoid them  — but, at the end of the day, it was not deterred by the prospect of substantial collateral civilian casualties. Hamas used Gaza’s civilians as war-crimes bait. And Israel did whatever was necessary to prove to Hamas, “You will not outcrazy us out of this region.” It was all ugly. This is not Scandinavia. (Thomas Freidman, Dear Guests; Revelations in the Gaza War).

What’s the lesson to all of this mushugas?  I suppose we need to always remember that one day’s curse is another day’s blessing.  We need to nurture and cultivate the life of our language and explore our cultural tics. And for the survival of the Jewish People and the good of the world, we Jews need to stay still crazy after all of these years.

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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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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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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…

—————–

[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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wear big tzitzit and follow a rebbe whose not afraid

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on parshat shalach

Earlier this week I was randomly browsing SoundCloud and I came across an audio recording of a young  Shlomo Carlebach.   There are only three audio files posted and one,  from a late 80’s Ruach Retreat in upstate New York was on parshat shalach.  Ok, Ok,.. so when it comes to Reb Shlomo, maybe there’s no such thing as random….

Carlebach, known as “The Singing Rabbi” who wrote melodies that have enhanced every aspect of every denominational liturgy also wrote Am Yisroel Chai;  the anthem of the Soviet Jewry movement.  You may have also heard his stories preserved in a CD set.  But he was much more than a singer or story teller.  Carlebach was an original thinker and charismatic leader who affected thousands of change makers in the Jewish world.

The audio talk that you are about to listen to is brilliant in its audacity and passion and surprisingly timely.  It relates to those living outside of Israel who criticize Israel.  It relates to “small” and fearful rabbinic authority and leadership and, with a little extrapolation, it relates to a modern Israeli trend of secular Jews (hilonim) taking back Judaism on their terms.

I am pleased to share this audio file on Madlik and in the tradition of the Yeshiva, I provide below the imagined sources (mareh mekomot) and context of Rabbi Calrebach’s talk below.

 https://soundcloud.com/carlebach-legacy/reb-shlomo-on-shlach-how-does-one-make-it-in-this-world

  1. Meraglim – These are the 12 biblical “spies” appointed by Moses to scout out the land of Israel (Eretz Yisroel) in Numbers 13.  Ten of these scouts returned with a negative report which resulted in a 40 year delay in entering the land of Israel.
  2. Carlebach talks about the positive commandment to wear ritual fringes (tzitzit) and he talks about the morality play of the biblical scouts.  These two themes adjoin each other in the text of Numbers 13 – 15 and Reb Shlomo, like Rabbinic scholars before him provides an explanation for the connection between the two seemingly unrelated subjects.The traditional answer relates the word  “to EXPLORE (la-tur) the land… TO EXPLORE the land of Canaan” (13:16-17) with “You shall not EXPLORE AFTER (lo taturu acharei) your hearts…” (15:39) (for more see: “You Shall Not Explore After Your Heart and After Your Eyes…” By Rav Amnon Bazak).  The scouts sinned by what they observed, the fringes are meant to correct one’s moral vision. Carlebach takes this implicit connection further by contrasting “little” tzitzit to small vision (see below)
  3. Reb Shlomo talks about little ztitzit and big zitizit and compares them to the little Shabbos and the Big Shabbos.  This is based on a statement in the Talmud Berachot 57b that our weekly Shabbat is one sixtieth of the world to come.  This concept is the source of the prayer in the Sabbath grace after meals “May the Merciful One grant us a day that shall be entirely Shabbat and eternal rest.הָרַחֲמָן הוּא  יַנחִילֵנוּ לְיוֹם שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ שַׁבָּת וּמְנוּחָה לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָמיםand the sixth stanza of Ma Yedidiut, a song sung at the Shabbat Table: Meayn Olam haba Yom Shabbat Menucha
    מעין עולם הבא יום שבת מנוחהI believe that Carlebach’s extension of this concept to another commandment, such as tzitzit is novel.  In any case, his point is that the spies or scouts could only see the small fringes, and we need leaders or rebbes who have the large tzitzit.
  4. Reb Shlomo tells an outrageous miracle tale typical of Hasidic stories about a student (talmid) of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Hasidic Movement).  You can hear the smile in his voice and laughter in the background. The Zanser Rebbe is reputed to have said of such miracle tales, “If you believe them, you’re a fool (“tippish”). If you don’t believe them, you’re a heretic (apikoris).”
  5. Baal Teshuva – A Baal Teshuva is literally a master of repentance and is traditionally a term applied to a sinner who changes his ways and returns to a life of observance.  In the 80’s, in large part through the efforts of Chabad and outreach yeshivot such as Eish HaTorah, many young Jews (yiddin) who were searching for their spiritual roots returned to Judaism and gave birth to what has been called the Baal Teshuva Movement.  Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi  both started as Chabad emissaries but as they addressed the spiritual needs of the children of the ‘60s they broke out of the constrains of Orthodoxy and created a Jewish Renewal that has enhanced all aspects of Judaism.  There is a tension between these newly inspired Jews and the pre-existing Orthodox community that Carlebach makes reference to. (his quote that Baal Teshuva is a nechtiga baal avera and a hyntica Am Ha’aretz Yesterday’s sinner is today’s ignorant Jew; is priceless..)
  6. Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873–1934), Israel’s national poet, famously exclaimed, “we will be a normal state only when we have the first Jewish prostitute the first Hebrew thief, and the first Hebrew policeman.” Carlebach uses this quote as if he is quoting a traditional Jewish text.  This is radical in and of itself.  What is more radical is where he takes it.  Reasons Carlebach, if we will be normal when we have secular Jewish thieves and a Jewish Underground, then we will really (mamash) become normal when we have our own [secular Jewish] Rebbes.  I’m not sure Carlebach envisioned the secular (hiloni) movement in contemporary Israel to take back Jewish texts and learning spearheaded by Bina, Elul, Beit Hillel and Ein Prat and other organizations, but his Bialik proof text works for me.
  7. Shietal is a wig for head covering
  8. Majority decides – see Exodus 23:2 “after a multitude to pervert justice”
    אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים—לְהַטֹּת
    and Babylonian Talmud Hulin 11a “From here we learn we go after the majority”. See also the story of The Oven of Akhnai (Babylonian Talmud Baba Metzia 59b) which ends with the punchline  “the Torah was already given on Mt. Sinai, and it says in it, “Follow the majority’s ruling” (Ex. 23:2). So we do not obey voices from Heaven.”Carlebach argues here, that when it comes to big decisions like going to the Land of Israel and seeing it’s potential, or …. Choosing a mate… or women learning Torah… we should not follow the majority, nor any rebbe, but follow our inner voice.
  9. “Thousands of Jews would have stayed alive if they had not listened to their Rebbes” Carlebach’s family fled Germany and where spared the Holocaust.  Carlebach is here squarely putting the blame for the death of thousands of faithful Jews on their rabbinic leaders who advised them not to emigrate to the secular yishuv in Israel.  Those same Rabbis are advising us on whether women can study Torah, and I would add are advising us (on the left) to take part in BDS boycotts of Israel and (on the right) to indefinitely occupy land located in Greater Israel.  I think that Carlebach is saying that we learn from the meraglim that we cannot be governed by fear, rebbes or majority opinion … we need to consult our conscience.

I believe that this SoundCloud recording was posted by the Shlomo Carlebach Foundation which can be supported with a tax free contribution via PEF Israel Endowment Funds here.

young shlomo

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