Monday, March 31, 2008

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Politics of Genesis
A Nonviolent Commentary on the Garden Narrative

2:15 Humanity works in the garden. Our tendency to envision paradise as a place where people do not work is an indictment of how coercive domination has defined and debased work.

2:17 The phrase “knowledge, good and evil” signifies our presumed ability to use evil means for good ends. Presuming this ability for ourselves is humanity’s greatest temptation, and is used to justify all manner of evil. The phrase reappears in reference to the discernment of kings (2 Sam 14:17, 1 Kings 3:9) who justify capital punishment, revenge, war, and slavery to secure their kingdoms and their legacies (1 Sam 8:11-18).

2:20 God creates the animals to be Adam’s partners but Adam gives names to all of them, symbolizing his dominion over them. None are his equals.

2:23 God creates the woman and Adam recognizes her as his equal. He does not name her. Although he does call her woman, the Hebrew word for name is not used.

3:1 The serpent is cunning or shrewd, words used to describe adeptness at using manipulative means and deception for one’s own ends. Whenever we are tempted to use evil means for a perceived good, we have fallen victim to a cunning justification and self-deception that often places the welfare of a selected group of humanity above others.

3:5 The ability to use and control evil means for good ends is beyond human capability. Its use by human beings is often justified by claiming divine authorization or inspiration. Violent behavior in animals is sometimes used to bolster the deification of the inequity and violence of the status quo.

3:7 In Hebrew, the word for naked looks like the word for shrewd. The humans now hide their intentions from each other.

3:12 The male is willing to sacrifice the female to save his own skin. He has learned how to morally justify his actions to himself.

3:14 “Having flagrantly exalted itself in a challenge to God, [the serpent] is now doomed to a posture of humiliation.”- Etz Hayim. Our image of God is to be learned from examples of human love and solidarity, not nature red in tooth and claw, which is decidedly not an image of god.

3:15 Our desire to affirm coercive domination as “natural” or necessary on the basis of violence in nature makes it harder for us to see the abundant examples of mutual aid in nature.

3:16a “The word etzev is not the usual biblical word for ‘pain.’ It recurs in 6:6 referring to God’s regret at the way humanity turned out in the days of Noah.”-Etz Hayim. Throughout history mothers have always suffered most and been the most active in opposing war.

3:16b,19 Coercive domination so debases our marital relationships and our working lives that for many it makes what should be joyous and spiritual into a curse. God is not doing the cursing. God is stating the consequences of our actions when some portion of humanity tries to act “like a god” over another part of humanity.

3:20 Adam names Eve, the Hebrew word for name is used just as it was used when Adam named the animals in 2:19-20, signifying inequality and domination entering into human relationships. Adam is acting “like a god” by adjusting the divinely created boundary between humanity (which is created in the image of God) and animals (which are not) so that some of humanity is placed with the animals. Alternatively, Adam can be viewed as “acting like a god” by creating a new boundary between humans of perceived higher and lower value. A third interpretation, which will reappear in the story of the tower of Babel, is that Adam is transgressing the boundary between heaven and earth, whereby he now perceives himself “like a god” with the divine authority to subjugate other humans. This act immediately precedes the expulsion from the garden and is concomitant with it.

3:24 God places winged sphinxes or cherubim with a flaming sword at the entrance to the garden. One can not enter back into the garden through the same means with which one left it, the means of domination of humans over humans. Instead we are called to model our communities on the basis of cooperation, equality, and love, in the image of God to get back home.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Not by Might, nor by Power, but by My Spirit, Says the Lord of Hosts

There are four books that go by the name Macabees. The book 1 Maccabees attribute the retaking of Jerusalem primarily to Judas Maccabeus and his army. However, this is not true of 2 Macabees or 4 Macabees which attribute the retaking of Jerusalem primarily (2 Macabees) or entirely (4 Macabees) to martyrs who suffered nonviolently for their faith. 3 Macabees covers different events entirely and is silent on the retaking of Jerusalem.

In 1 Macabees, Judas Maccabeus and his army violently retake Jerusalem with God’s help (3-4:35). They then rededicate the Temple after which the Hanukkah celebration is held (4:36-4:59). Emperor Antiochus later falls terribly ill as a result of his despondency over Judas’ victory (6:8-6:16).

2 Macabees tells a very different story. 2 Macabees includes the story of the martyrdom of Eleazer and of the seven sons and their mother (6:18-7:42). They accept torture from Antiochus rather than defy Jewish laws. The seventh son predicts that Antiochus will experience worse torture than the martyrs and that God will then free the Jews. “I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation (7:37-38).” The Macabees then take Jerusalem (8:1-36) and when the emperor Antiochus is about to attack, God strikes Antiochus with an illness that causes him to suffer torturous pain worse than those of the Jews he had tortured to death (9:1-10). Antiochus then repents, announces that he wants to become a Jew and decides to let the Jews live in freedom. (9:11-17) Only after this, the Maccabees rededicate the Temple and the Hanukah celebration is held (10:1-9).

4 Macabees is a sermon based on the martyrdom of Eliezer, the seven brothers and their mother described in 2 Macabees. It makes explicit what is implicit in the 2 Macabees account. The author of 4 Macabees tells us that “Through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an atoning sacrifice, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been mistreated (17:22).” Despite its name, 4 Macabees makes no mention of Macabeus or any act of war committed by Jews to win their freedom.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

From Isaac Bashevis Singer's 1978 Nobel Prize Lecture

The high honor bestowed upon me by the Sweedish Academy is also a recognition of the Yiddish language - a language of exile, without a land, without frontiers, not supported by any government, a language which possesses no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics; a language that was despised by both gentiles and emancipated Jews. The truth is that what the great religions preached, the Yiddish-speaking people of the ghettos practiced day in and day out. They were the people of The Book in the truest sense of the word. They knew of no greater joy than the study of man and human relations, which they called Torah, Talmud, Mussar, Cabala. The ghetto was not only a place of refuge for a persecuted minority but a great experiment in peace, in self-discipline and in humanism. As such it still exists and refuses to give up in spite of all the brutality that surrounds it. I was brought up among those people. My father's home on Krochmalna Street in Warsaw was a study house, a court of justice, a house of prayer, of storytelling, as well as a place for weddings and Chassidic banquets. As a child I had heard from my older brother and master, I. J. Singer, who later wrote The Brothers Ashkenazi, all the arguments that the rationalists from Spinoza to Max Nordau brought out against religion. I have heard from my father and mother all the answers that faith in God could offer to those who doubt and search for the truth. In our home and in many other homes the eternal questions were more actual than the latest news in the Yiddish newspaper. In spite of all the disenchantments and all my skepticism I believe that the nations can learn much from those Jews, their way of thinking, their way of bringing up children, their finding happiness where others see nothing but misery and humiliation. To me the Yiddish language and the conduct of those who spoke it are identical. One can find in the Yiddish tongue and in the Yiddish spirit expressions of pious joy, lust for life, longing for the Messiah, patience and deep appreciation of human individuality. There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love. The Yiddish mentality is not haughty. It does not take victory for granted. It does not demand and command but it muddles through, sneaks by, smuggles itself amidst the powers of destruction, knowing somewhere that God's plan for Creation is still at the very beginning.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamaret, A Rabbi of Nonviolence
By Rabbi Everett Gendler
This article appeared in Tikkun Magazine in 2003, on the 36th anniversary of the Six Day War.

Thirty-six, 36, lamed-vav: in its classical source, Isaiah 30:15–18, the number is associated with righteousness, justice, and the hopeful certainty of Divine redemption through "turning and stillness, tranquillity and trust." In later tradition, thirty-six alludes to the thirty-six righteous who, usually unrecognized, quietly sustain the world. Invariably poignant, on this year, the thirty-sixth anniversary of the Six Day War, the number also stirs in me pain and distress. Why?
Thirty-six years have passed since the "realists" promised us that peace was at hand due to the preponderance of Israeli power. In real-politik, after all, are not power and peace coordinates? Why, then, despite the plaintive cries for "peace, peace," is there no peace? Is it entirely obduracy on the part of those who oppose a Jewish Israel? Or is it that power was the wrong path? Certainly Isaiah would have been profoundly skeptical; he had long ago proclaimed that peace would be "the work of righteousness," and that the longed-for "tranquillity and trust for ever" would also be "the result of righteousness" (32:15–18).
If we follow Isaiah, this thirty-sixth anniversary of the war that redrew Israel's boundaries invites a re-examination of the possible elements of injustice, residues of unrighteousness, that were embedded in the very beginnings of the Zionist movement. These need full, yet sympathetic, acknowledgement if ever a peaceful future is to become a reality.
This is no easy task. Apart from unresolved general issues of social causality, there are also the passions of the moment. Who is to be trusted? To which voices shall we give ear? When are criticisms of Israeli injustice genuine, when do they mask other motives, provide expression for simple anti-Semitism? If only we could escape from the entrapment of our own times, hear a fresh voice that we can trust, know that its challenges and criticisms emerge from love of the Jewish people, not hatred, from fidelity to Jewish values, not their rejection!
There is, in fact, such a voice: Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamaret's final pained and impassioned critique of political Zionism, Sh'losha Zivugim Bilti Hagunim, Three Unsuitable Unions, written in response to the Hebron riots of 1929. (Does nothing ever change in the Middle East?) Born in 1869 and soon dubbed "the prodigy from Maltsh" in recognition of his prodigious talmudic and biblical learning, Tamaret served as rabbi of the village of Milejczyce, Poland, from 1893 until his death in 1931. In contrast to most of his Orthodox colleagues, he early joined the political Zionist movement, and was a delegate to the Fourth Zionist Congress in London in 1900. That experience was profoundly disillusioning to him, however, and after a period of distressed silence, he began to denounce Zionism specifically and nationalism in general, a denunciation that became more intense with the passing years.
But can an outcry from seventy years ago contribute to a critical inquiry today? I believe that it can, by affording us a fresh perspective on a number of recurrent basic issues, issues whose avoidance has impeded any genuine solution to the agony of the Middle East today. Here, I have provided English translations of Tameret's words along with my own commentary.

In the aftermath of World War I, Jews successfully appealed to the League of Nations to receive lands the British had won in what was then Palestine. The Balfour Declaration, and its implementation by Zionists, worried Tamaret, in that the terms of the Declaration appeared to validate the prior bloodshed and destruction of the War. He believed that this compromise with modern nationalism compromised both Jewish values and Jewish identity. He notes, for example, that Zionists (whom he often calls Balfourists) were willing to join forces with the ordinary Russians (whom he calls "Nikolai Nikolovitz") even though they had initiated pogroms against the Jews. Here are some of Tamaret's words on this issue, in translation from the Hebrew:

The World War should have been truly assessed for what it was: an unmixed defeat for humanity. Any decent man should have scorned its outcome, never excusing its brutality and blood-letting by any purported future results. For nothing can compensate for millions of young lives lost, millions of parents deeply bereaved, and millions of joyless, suffering disabled. And what of the utter pollution of the spiritual atmosphere, which turned men into beasts of prey and ambush!…men have become wolves to one another, life has deteriorated seriously, and Jews, always the target, are more maligned than ever.
…But our political Zionists have taken it upon themselves to praise and glorify this age of a new heaven and a new earth created by the war. Never do they cease from singing the praise of the spirit of "liberty" and "justice" which has awakened in the world as the result of nations girding themselves with swords and going forth to "free lands," or of the "righteousness" which has been awakened in the hearts of nations to correct the "historic burden" of Israel by returning it to its "birthplace."…
Not only in theory and words have our Balfourists shown solidarity with the rulers of the earth, but in practice as well. They founded the Jewish Legion to fight with Nilolai Nikolovitz—otherwise a persecutor of Jews—to liberate Palestine from Turkey. Nor was this help insignificant.
Physically, of course, the help of a few hundred Jewish soldiers was inconsequential compared with the millions of men fighting in the Allied cause. The ethical help, however, was substantial indeed, consisting, as it did, in the destruction of ethical feeling and the removal from men's hearts of any remains of religious reverence, prerequisites for enabling men to wage war and attack others whom they had not previously so much as seen or known. Such was the very considerable moral contribution of the Jewish Legion to 'Nikolai Nikolovitz.'

Tamaret took seriously the idea that Jews have a Divinely directed moral mission in the world, and while a fully observant, halakhic Jew, he understood our purpose in universal ethical terms. Using Torah terms, his belief that one small nation could influence the morality of the whole world might now seem archaic to us. Yet, even a cursory consideration of the current world interest in the Tibetan exile community, together with the adulation of the Dalai Lama for his nonviolent teachings, might suggest that Tamaret was an astute and realistic diagnostician of this deep human moral hunger. Am I the only one to whom it seems that, in recent decades, saffron robes have become the update of Jochanan ben Zakkai's tallit?
In the first half of the twentieth century, Jews played that role. To say so was not simply fantasy on Tamaret's part. For evidence in support of his contention, look, for example, at the excerpt from Judah Magnes' Journal in which Magnes reports on his interview with President Truman in May, 1948 ( especially pp. 494–495 in Dissenter in Zion, edited by Arthur A. Goren, Harvard U. Press). There Magnes recounts Truman's dream that "peoples whose life was based on the same moral code might get to understand one another." After referring to the common basis of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim moral codes, and his hope that this understanding "might help to lift the world from the materialism which was holding the world down to the ground and might destroy it, " Truman laments: "But here it is—you Jews and you Arabs are spoiling things. You are not giving the Jews and the Christians and the Moslems of the rest of the world a chance to have confidence in one another. That is one of the reasons why I deplore so deeply this conflict in the Holy Land." However one may evaluate Truman's statement, it is clear testimony to the importance of the Jewish and monotheistic moral stance in affecting human affairs.
It was Tamaret's clear sense of Judaism's role as a moral guide that led him to criticize the Balfourist nationalists so harshly. In Tamaret's view, if Jews were to adopt the time-dishonored, ethically tainted tactics of violent statecraft, a grievous moral injury would be inflicted on all of humankind.

Small and humble is Jacob, and his ability to influence humanity for good is indeed limited. On the other hand, his ability to corrupt and pollute the moral atmosphere of the earth, should he pervert his way, is greater than anyone else's. For it unfortunately follows logically: if this frail and tender people, whose existence has always been secured by Moral Force, at last acknowledges the sword, how shall one answer those nations who have always lived by the Sword? …
For Jews have suffered each time they saw, even from afar, the glittering helmets and flashing spears of a troop of soldiers approaching, and know well the terror which sends innocents running from shelter to shelter…
But it is not only because of Israel's extraordinary suffering at the blade of the sword that Jacob, should he, too, now begin to lust after sword and ammunition, has this special capacity to befoul the ethical atmosphere more than any other nation; it is also because of his distinction as "the chosen people."
How terrible is that corruption which would result from any evil example set by "Jacob, selected by God, Israel, His special treasure," were he, also, at last to adopt the faith of Esau.… One may be sure that when Jacob behaves deviously or dishonorably, the example will be duly noted along with his distinction, and suddenly he will become a valued authority who serves to sanction their own misdeeds….

"Jacob's" role in the settlement of Palestine was all the more damaging to Jewry, in Tamaret's view, because the Zionists insisted that Judaism itself be redefined around the nationalist project. Tamaret rejected this Israel-centrism and Diaspora Jews' willingness to go along with it.

Political Zionism, as developed thus far, clearly imperils the character of Judaism, which has survived so many centuries free from the defilements of "nationalism" and "homelandism."
Additionally, the establishment of the desired political state with a Jewish majority would adversely affect Jews elsewhere, both physically and spiritually. Physically, this proclaimed preferable place for Jews gives implicit sanction to persecutors elsewhere who would like to oust "alien" Jews from other lands, for they can now say: Jews, what complaints have you against us? Why do you insist on residing here where, by your own Zionist admission, you are mere temporary aliens? Go on to your own country, Palestine, where you are now the dominant majority; and en route, be sure to thank us for our kindness in recognizing your "historic rights" to the land of Israel!
As for the spiritual damage to Jews elsewhere, by exaggerating the delights and the incomparable dignity which Jews supposedly enjoy in the "fatherland," Jews elsewhere will come to despair of the quality of their lives as Jews.
The Zionists, of course, insist that everywhere in the world Jews will point with pride to Israel, and the people there will come to subject themselves to the "fatherland," and will finally accept it as the source of a spiritual revolution.
Yet, I find these consolations offered the millions of Jews outside of Israel—namely, knowing that there, in the "homeland," a handful of Jews live a "life of honor" and "are equal to all men"—are even emptier than the promise of the Feast of Leviathan, which others offer to presently suffering Jews. For the latter at least promises a personal recompense in the future for the sufferings of the present, while the prophets of the idol called "homeland" offer merely generic consolations: that lowly Jews in the Diaspora shall enjoy vicariously the lives of the proud Jews in Tel Aviv who dance the hora, and be satisfied that they are members of the same family. And even this, only on condition that the Jews of the Diaspora place themselves under the influence of the fortunate ones in Israel.
Do you hear? We had always imagined that as a Diaspora people, purified and cleansed of the pride of the sword, we should be able to share a goodly teaching with others. But now come the Balfourists and reveal to us the secret that we are lowly creatures who have no salvation except to listen to what proceeds from the mouths of our distinguished brothers in the "homeland," to make of their teachings a crown for our heads and whose words shall be our light.
However, if it is simply by virtue of dwelling in a "homeland" or "fatherland" that our Balfourists have become superior men, sanctified already in the wombs of their mothers to be teachers and guides, providers of fare for the souls of all the Diaspora, then consider: distinguished teachers such as these already abound for Jews in the Diaspora! For in every single land where Jews dwell, there are many who try with all their might to stuff us with their own cultures, the culture of "by your sword shall you live." The Jews of the Diaspora have no need whatsoever to bring from afar such false bread as this!

Balfourists were intent not only on refocusing Jewish energy on the homeland, but on establishing Israel as Judaism's "spiritual center." Tamaret's principled religious rejection of this notion clearly reveals his understanding of traditional Judaism and its ultimate purpose.

As for building a "spiritual center" for Judaism, such advocates reveal a failure to grasp the nature of Judaism. For Judaism at root is not some religious concentration which can be localized or situated in a single territory…. Neither is Judaism a matter of "nationality" in the sense of modern nationalism, fit to be woven into the famous three-fold mesh of "homeland, army, and heroic songs." No, Judaism is Torah, ethics, and exaltation of spirit.
If Judaism is truly Torah, then it cannot be reduced to the confines of any particular territory. For as Scripture said of Torah: "Its measure is greater than the earth…" (Job 11:9).
Neither is Torah the monopoly of particular persons or particular places. Our Sages said of Torah (Yoma), and it is repeated by Maimonides (Laws of the Study of Torah): "The crown of Torah is prepared for all Israel." And in Abot our Sages said:
Prepare yourself to learn Torah, for it is not a biological inheritance." If Torah is not inherited from the womb, all the less is it the automatic inheritance of any "country."
If Judaism is ethics and exaltation of spirit, then its task is not simply to perfect peoples, societies, or other such abstractions, neglecting on their behalf the particular person. Rather is its task the perfection of the individual human being, living and actual.
Hence the true locus and center of Judaism is within the heart, within the heart of every Jew whose heart is of flesh, not of stone. Wherever on all this earth such a Jew is found, there is the place of Judaism.

Tamaret's analysis can neither be complete, adequate, nor without need of some qualification. Living before Hitler and the full Nazi expression of demonically destructive racist nationalism directed against Jews, Tamaret does not, of course, address himself to that appalling phenomenon. Would it have affected his analysis, attitude, or response? Might it have confirmed his worse fears about the ultimate distortions to which modern nationalism may be prone? Would it also have prompted a change of policy on his part, or would he have insisted that even then, "en kategor naaseh sanegor," that extending the malady of modern nationalism was no way to cure the cancer itself? Would he have agreed that under the circumstances the Jewish people had to become "like all the nations" in order to save Jewish lives, or would he have rejected this as, finally, both a short-sighted, illusory solution and an ominous renunciation of the Jewish Messianic function in world history? Who can say? The questions, unfortunately, must remain unanswered and unanswerable.
Notwithstanding, Tamaret's response to issues of hostile surroundings and persecution are important, for they strongly suggest that his stance would have been realistic if applied in the early stages of that period of horror, and that his position has relevance for us today. One example: Tamaret was, from the beginning of his rabbinate, concerned with societal problems; it was his activism that led to his early involvement with the Zionist movement. After breaking with political Zionism and directing his attention to matters near at hand, as early as 1905 he advocated the formation of groups of Jews to monitor the relations between Jews and the people among whom they resided, urging timely responses to tensions that arose. These responses were to include, internally, the Jewish communal cultivation of the spirit of "living in peace and amity with all people, whether or not they be of the Jewish religion;" and externally, "whenever plans are afoot to stir up hatred among the common people by intrigues and agitators, to turn to the masses of the common people, and in their language, invite them to peace and brotherhood, at the same time showing them clearly the falseness of the accusations leveled against us…" Tamaret also discusses the advisability of "revealing before the masses the source of these accusations and the destructive interests of their creators, whose only intention is to distract the eyes of the people from their own interests…"
Meaning what, in relation to Germany? First of all, even before the rise of the Nazi scourge, Tamaret would have been reaching out to his non-Jewish neighbors, trying to cultivate mutual understanding, establishing inter-religious communities of support that could have been appealed to in resisting the Nazi program. Could such solidarity have made a difference in the face of the Nazi onslaught? Would resistance by fellow Aryans to the Nazi program have affected events? There are cases where it did, among them the ending of the early euthanasia policy. Even more astonishing is the case of the German wives of Jewish husbands, who banded together against the Gestapo in 1943 and, by public demonstrations in front of Gestapo headquarters on Rosenstrasse, successfully saved their husbands from transfer to the death camps! (Nathan Stolzfus' Resistance of the Heart is a well-documented, probing study of this important episode.)
The cultivation and growth of inter-group sympathy, advocated by Tamaret as an important component of Jewish self-defense, was undeniably one significant factor in the rescue of the Danish Jews, and there are numerous other instances where it was a vital element in saving Jewish lives.

Tamaret's advocacy of inter-group sympathy provided the key principle for his alternative to the Zionist Yishuv. Tamaret was by no means opposed to Jewish immigration to Israel. He insisted, however, that such immigrants live at peace with their Arab neighbors, understanding that the current inhabitants would not look kindly on Jewish nationalists. It may be that the Arab and Palestinian peoples would never have accepted a large Jewish immigration, just as many Israelis now fear that the Palestinians and their Arab supporters will refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of any Jewish state in Israel-Palestine.
It is not clear, however, how true this belief is. What shall we make, for example, of the public proclamation last March, by all the Arab states, of readiness to recognize and establish relations with the state of Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from the territories occupied in the Six Day War? Regrettably, this offer was not, to my knowledge, ever explored.
"But look at the Palestinians' insistence on the right to return; doesn't this effectively deny the validity of the Jewish state?" is a frequent reply. In fact, I have heard from Palestinians who are willing to limit the annual numbers of their returnees to a percentage of Jewish immigration in that year. This surely bespeaks acquiescence to the Jewish need for self-determination, even if not concession of ultimate legitimacy. More to the point, however, is our unquestioning assumption of the self-evident justice of a Jewish state as we have come to know it. It may well be that at this point in time, it is the least unjust, least injurious solution to an increasingly intractable human impasse; a viable-two-state "solution," one Jewish, one Palestinian, does seem to me the least worst next step. But this is far from claiming inherent justice for Jewish sovereignty, power-political in nature, over a modern nation-state. Here again, Tamaret, a rov in a Polish shtetl, saw and articulated the profound ambiguity, from the very beginning, of settlement in a spirit of dominance rather than of sharing. Not for him the empty reassurance of "a land without a people for a people without a land;" such idle words did not set him at ease in Zion. Vividly he portrays what we might, perhaps, designate, from his perspective, as the original sin of the political Zionist settlement.

Travellers to Israel never entered as simple immigrants, merely desirous of a peaceful place in which to work and create a life for themselves, a place which would satisfy their romantic desire to hear echoes of the Biblical age still resounding on the mountains of Judah and which would, in due course, nourish their spirits with that revivifying air of the land of Israel.
A modest arrival of this sort would not have frightened and aroused the Arabs, and so it would have been possible gradually to establish there, in the land of our ancestors, a Hebrew settlement to the satisfaction of Jews everywhere, even though this yishuv did not dream of "statehood" and "sovereignty," nor presume to dominate Jews everywhere as "teacher of all Jews in the Diaspora." It would have been possible to establish a simple Jewish settlement in the land of Israel like Jewish settlements everywhere on this earth, that the land of our forefathers not be less than lands elsewhere. Thus Jews in the land of Israel would have joined Jews everywhere in waiting for the true coming of the Messiah, that ideal moral redemption which is anticipated in Scripture and Rabbinic Teachings….
Armed with a piece of paper, the official permit obtained from Balfour, and with that pride which comes from having seen the face of the king, the Zionist leaders began to proclaim loudly and openly that they had come to establish a "Jewish State" and to become lords of the land. They further began to urge Jews to hasten from the four corners of the earth to the land of Israel, not because Jews personally needed to emigrate, but in order to achieve a Jewish "majority" and thereby become the "dominant people," outnumbering the original Arab inhabitants of the land, who would then become a "tolerated" minority….
… the Zionists hid their eyes from the fact that the actual place was not a newly-discovered, unsettled island located at the far ends of the earth, but was a place already inhabited by a people which was sure to feel the "nationalist" and "sovereign political" aims as a needle in its living flesh.
Thus the result resembles the tale told by Rabba bar Hanna (Baba Batra 73b). A group of seafarers saw a slope which from afar resembled an island, and so they approached, left their boats, and spent several days resting on it. During this interval they wandered about, spread themselves out, and soon felt like absolute owners of the place. Finally they lit a fire with which to bake bread and roast meat, and at last discovered that, although it had appeared to their eyes as a lump of inert clay, this was not an island but rather a living whale. As soon as the fire was felt by the fish, he turned on his back, quaked, raged, and tossed them all into the sea. Had their boats not been near to rescue them, they might have drowned in the sea. The application is painfully evident.

The sharpness of his analytical knife and the heat of his cauterization are enough to induce surgical shock; extraordinary, also, is his ability to experience and express the phenomenon of Jewish settlement as the Arabs then living in the land might have felt it. Would that current returnees from "solidarity missions" with Israel could offer us some comparably empathetic report on how Palestinians have experienced life under occupation since 1967. And what healing effects might we hope for from our serious self-scrutiny of felt injuries by the original Arab population, however unintentional on our part? Perhaps such a human perspective, gleaned from personal meetings, would enable us, as a community, to respond more adequately and more constructively to what is evidently deep despair and destructive hostility among the Palestinians. Might this be somewhat analogous to the moving efforts of the Christian church to look afresh at anti-Jewish elements in Christian tradition, even in the Gospels, and to try to respond to them? The healing effects of this teshuvah, this turning towards recognition of the deeper sources of pain and conflict, dare not be disregarded by a tradition such as ours, for which it occupies such a central place both in ethics and in theology.

But what of Tamaret's rejection of the nationalist doctrine of Jewish sovereignty over the Holy Land? Does this not represent the abdication of responsibility for providing a place of refuge for Jews in need of protection? In evaluating this claim, it is vital to remember that there were committed Zionists living in Palestine who, even in 1948, were vocal in proclaiming their opposition to the United Nations partition of Palestine and the establishment of two states. They included Judah Magnes, first president of the Hebrew University, Martin Buber, Ernst Simon, and, until her death, Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah. They, residing in Palestine throughout those years, can hardly be dismissed for lack of knowledge of the situation there. Neither dare one accuse them of lack of concern for the rescue of Jews in need.
A case can be made, I believe, that a policy such as Tamaret's or, later, that of Berit Shalom, might have saved more Jewish lives during the Holocaust than the nationalist approach. How so? An analogy may be helpful. Compare William Penn's approach to the native inhabitants of Pennsylvania with the cowboys-versus-Indians approach all too common elsewhere. Was not the peaceable acceptance of Penn's newcomers testimony to the possibility of immigration and settlement in a spirit of mutual respect? Remember, also, stories of natives around Plymouth instructing the newcomers in helpful methods of agriculture in the new world.
Tamaret was entirely sympathetic to Jewish settlement in the holy land, but in a particular spirit.

… one who travels to the land of Israel must go for his own sake, not for the purported sake of the Jewish people. Let him there build for himself a house, plant for himself a vineyard, take for himself a wife, sire unto himself children and grandchildren. But let him not build a "national home" for the Jewish people nor a "spiritual center" for Judaism!
The Jew who immigrates to the land of Israel for self-fulfillment, and does so without any pretense of perfecting the Jewish people as a whole does, in fact, yield satisfaction to that people; for it is a delight to the spirit of the people that its children are to be found living in the holy land of its longings and desires. Such immigrants are indeed precious to all the Jews of the Diaspora.
But one who enters the land of Israel with trumpets and shouting, who proclaims that he "goes up" for our sake, the community of the Diaspora, that he goes to the "homeland" and the "national refuge"—such a one is, plainly put, a "troubler of Israel." For whoever builds a "national refuge" acts mistakenly, conceding thereby the Sodomite measure by which the dwellers of this planet are declared to be either "owners" or "intruders," with the former having the privilege of disposing of the latter as they see fit. Furthermore, such a one narrows the universal image of Judaism, demeans the image of Diaspora Jews, and casts upon them shadows of despair.

Think now of a Jewish settlement process that had followed the spirit proposed by Tamaret, and which every step of the way took pains to establish relations of mutuality with those already living in the land, at no point threatening dominance. If such a basis for amicably sharing the land had been early established between Jews and Arabs, cannot one imagine that there might have been some Arab predisposition, or at least willingness, to offer refuge to other Jewish settlers in desperate flight from the Nazis? This is, of course, mere speculation after the devastating fact of the Holocaust. But don't we permit ourselves speculation about how a sovereign Jewish state would have altered the outcome of events of those years of horror? Indeed it might have. But so might a process of settlement as advocated by Tamaret. And which might have offered the greater long-term security to Jews settling there? The question is again one which cannot be answered, but I would urge that we not unconsciously assume that the answer is obvious.

Finally, a brief word in support of the political realism, even today, of policies in the spirit of Tamaret, that is to say, policies which accord full, generous-hearted recognition to the valid human needs of "the Other." In a remarkable "Letter from Porto Allegre: At a Leftist Summit, Cheers for a Separate Mideast Peace" (Forward, Feb 7–14, 2003), Lucy Komisar reports that "20,000 participants in the stadium were crying and cheering as the peace statement was read with the sound system playing John Lennon's 'Imagine.'" Instead of an anticipated resolution condemning Israel and questioning its legitimacy, a statement emerged that, in Komisar's words, while it might cause even some "Jewish doves (to) flinch," was "a powerful pro-Israel statement from the point of view of many activists on the far left prone to rejecting the very legitimacy of the Jewish state." How did this come about? There was serious dialogue and preparation before the Forum by local Jewish and Palestinian communities in Porto Alegre; Brazilian Chief Rabbi Henry Sobel was involved; there was support from new President Lula da Silva's Workers Party; and personally present were Shulamit Aloni, Galia Golan, Ely Ben-Gal, Zyad Abu Zyad (a member of the Palestinian Parliament), Alam Jarar, and Lana Nusseibeh. The statement affirmed "peace, justice, and sovereignty for our peoples, an end to Israeli occupation of the lands occupied in 1967, the creation of an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel along the lines of 4 June 1967 with Jerusalem as an open city, the capital of each of the two states, an agreed just and fair solution for the Palestinian refugee problem in accordance with UN Resolution 194," and an end to violence on both sides of the conflict. That such a statement could evoke cheers, tears, and tumultuous applause at an alternative global summit of nearly 100,000 people, and that it could be characterized as "the highlight of the conference," testifies, I submit, to the profound wisdom of Tamaret's insistence that conducted in the right spirit, Jewish settlement in Palestine could enjoy the support and esteem of all.
Tamaret's outcry can, I believe, open our souls to fresh, creative responses to the tragic Middle Eastern tangle which is the focus of so much attention, concern, anguish, and longing. It can also help us towards a much needed re-definition of the proper relation of Judaism, Diaspora, and Israel. For his courageous, unflinching statement I am grateful.

Rabbi Everett Gendler is the Chaplain Emeritus at the Phillips Academy, Andover and Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Emanuel, Lowell, MA.

Friday, May 11, 2007

We are Pharaoh

Leviticus 25:46 You may keep them [non-Israelite slaves] as an inheritance for your children after you, for them to possess as holdings; for the ages you may make them serve you. But as for your brothers, the children of Israel, each man toward his brother, you are not to have dominion over him with crushing labor.

The expulsion from the garden is intimately related to men taking the boundary that divides humanity from the living things over which humans have dominion and distorting the boundary so that women are placed with the dominated, to be possessed by men. Leviticus 25:46 distorts the boundary even further by putting words into God's mouth so that some men, the “non-Israelites” may also be dominated and possessed by Israelite men. This is the sin of Sodom, the sin that divides the world into native and foreigner and assigns human worth unequally across this boundary.

We are Pharaoh.
In the Torah, the term "crushing labor" occurs only in Leviticus 25 and in Exodus where it refers to the crushing labor that Pharaoh imposed on the Israelites. The word choice implies that Israelites may act like Pharaoh towards non-Israelites. The message of this verse is that we are Egypt. We are Sodom. We are Canaan. We construct boundaries that divide people into “us” and “them.” We call the people on our side of the boundary good and worthy and peaceful. We call the people on the other side of the boundary evil and unworthy and violent. . It is only by creating this boundary that one can justify using means on one side that we deplore when used by the other side. By focusing only on differences we may be able to convince ourselves that there is no moral equivalence between us and our opponents and thereby embolden ourselves to commit new levels of atrocities against our fellow human beings.

Boundary-Crossing Historical Analogies
When Amnesty International compared Guantanamo Bay to the Gulag and when President Carter compared the occupied territories to Apartheid, they exposed the man-made boundary as a lie. It is inevitable that there will be aspects of Gulag and Apartheid in any institution in which one group of people dominate another group. By comparing our situation today to those in the past on the other side of the boundary, Amnesty International and President Carter remind us that we are all capable of great evil and that if things continue on the present course we should expect the similarities with Gulag and Apartheid to grow.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Portion 24 Vayikra Leviticus 1:1-5:26, Portion 25 Tzav Leviticus 6:1-8:36

Olah, the burnt offering 1:1-17, 6:1-6
For what sin does the olah (burnt offering) atone? Noah offers a burnt offering in Genesis 8:20. Rabbi Tamarat and several others say that Noah sinned by not interceding on behalf of the people to urge God to refrain from unleashing the flood. Likewise Moses did not intercede on behalf of the Egyptians when Pharaoh offered to let the Israelites go free if they left their livestock behind. Perhaps the burnt offering is a perpetual atonement for the sin of not acting on behalf of justice for our oppressors. Sometimes we care for our own animals better than we care for our human opponents. Psalm 51:16-19 expresses the idea that one can get the message of animal offerings in other ways, and that if one does so, then they are not required. Ibn Ezra considered Psalm 51:20-21, which contradicts 16-19, to be an addition.

Minchah, the grain offering 2:1-16, 6:7-16
Perhaps a mincha offering serves the purpose of a burnt offering for those without means. In 6:12-16 the priest offers a mincha offering on the occasion of his anointment. Perhaps a mincha offering by a layperson is a reminder that we are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The combination of incense and unleavened bread implies that we are to conduct our society in such a way that the poorest among us are to be treated with the same reverence that we treat our priests.

Zevach Sh’lamim, offering of thanksgiving 3:1-17, 7:11-38
One of the purposes of the thanksgiving offering is that the ritual makes what might otherwise have been an individual expression of gratitude into a communal expression of gratitude. The offering of a thanksgiving must also include a minchah offering. Perhaps this is a reminder to welcome the poor to the festive meal. Deuteronomy 12:15 allows the pure and impure alike to partake of a festive meal together.

Chatat, purgation offering 4:1-5:13, 6:17-23
4:3 I have been told that the Hebrew word often translated as blame, also has the connotation of shame. The people aren’t guilt for the priest’s offence, although the entire community is shamed when it’s spiritual leader sins.
4:6,17,25,30,3: Dipping our finger in our wine and sprinkling it out during the Passover Seder when the plagues are read is reminiscent of the priest dipping his finger in the blood and sprinkling it on the alter as part of the purgation offering. This part of the Seder can therefore be interpreted as an acknowledgement of our culpability in wars fought in our name.

Asham, reparation offering 5:14-26, 7:1-6
In Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1-24:18, reparation must be made for a criminal act. One of the reasons that killing a criminal is so sinful is that it deprives the guilty of their sacred obligation to make reparation.

Blood prohibition 7:26-27
In all of the offerings, blood belongs to God and is not to be consumed by people “for the life of the flesh is in the blood and I have assigned it to you for making expiation for your lives upon the altar; it is the blood, as life that effects expiation.” - Leviticus 17:11
We do not eat the blood of an animal as a perpetual reminder that we are not God and do not have the authority to extract the life from another human being. The penalty for doing so is to be cut off from the people, as Cain was for killing Abel, and Moses was for killing the Egyptian taskmaster. Perhaps the prohibition against eating the fat around the organs that are offered up is a similar prohibition against usurping God’s role.

8:1-36 Moses performs the priestly role in anointing Aaron and Aaron’s sons. In a dramatic break with the biblical pattern, the younger son gives the blessing to the sons of the oldest son.