Category Archives: Israel

Two-State Illusion

The Jewish people have been “refuseniks” long before Jews from the former Soviet Union heroically gave that designation such honor. Rav Soloveitchik explained that Yosef, nearly falling into the lecherous clutches of Potiphar’s wife, extricated himself in a way that the Torah (Breisheet 49:8) described in one word: “And he refused.” That word is set apart from the rest of the verse by a psik, a sort of bracket, after which Yosef offers several explanations to the trollop who pined for him. But those disparate explanations are not essential to the narrative. What is essential is that one word: “Va’y’ma’ein.” And he refused. Period. The refusal matters more than the reasons.

Avraham refused to follow the debauched trends of his generation and ushered in a new era for mankind. Yitzchak and Yaakov both refused to buckle to their enemies and their inner strength and courage inspires us until today. Jews have always been refuseniks, and we would not be celebrating Chanukah this week but for a group of refuseniks called Maccabees who defeated a powerful Syrian army, rejected Greek culture, and overcame the Hellenist Jews of their generation who were trying to curry favor with the hostile, anti-Jewish establishment. Jews can refuse the enticements of sin, whether moral, physical or financial.

Herzl, Ben Gurion and Begin were all refuseniks in their own way, and today, we too are again called upon to be refuseniks, as the world community (read: UN) spearheaded by an American government led by a president, for whom so many Jews are still enamored, who has been waiting for an opportunity to stick it to Israel since his favorite preacher schooled him in the perfidies of the Jews. Yes, yes, this US government has provided Israel with $25B in military assistance in the last eight years, most of it spent in America; the same government has also furnished Iran with $100B to spend as they wish on terror, mayhem and the development of nuclear weapons.

Some Jews are irredeemably leftists and Obama supporters and nothing can happen that will change their minds. They have a unique capacity to be spat upon and then to exclaim with joy that it is raining. Gishmei Beracha. Or maybe Gishmei Kelala. Those “Jews” – make no mistake; a disproportionate number of them are not halachic Jews but the product of the scourge of intermarriage that is devouring American Jewry – would sooner blame Israel than open their eyes to Obama. Spare me the crocodile tears of those Obama supporters, some of whom voted for Obama twice, who now castigate him and offer platitudes of support for Israel, and of course would have voted for him a third time given the opportunity.

Obama is as much a product of his background – anti-Israel, liberationist theology – as John Kerry is of his: grandson of an apostate Jew who changed his name from Kohn to Kerry to try to pass himself off as Irish. We are now, indeed, being encircled by the rings of Kerry who does not even recognize his delusions. For example, 2.75 million Palestinians do not live under “Israeli military occupation,” as Kerry claims. Even ignoring the inflated number of Arabs living in Judea and Samaria, more than 90% live under an autonomous Arab government. If they cannot vote, it is because the brutal Arab dictatorship under which they live does not allow elections. And if those Arabs cannot enter “Israel” at will, it is because Israel is supposed to be a separate country, especially according to Kerry, and countries have the right to determine who can and cannot enter. That should be obvious.

Obama’s treachery was widely predicted, including in this space, and it is still entirely possible that he will recognize a “Palestine” before he is shown the door. But, as is the case with almost everything that Obama did as president, certainly domestically, it can all be reversed and erased. That is not to say that it will be easy. It is entirely in keeping with Obama’s world view that he has alienated Israel (and other US allies) and befriended Iran and Cuba. He hates Netanyahu and loves Castro. He has a fierce hatred of the fulfillment of Jewish destiny in the land of Israel even as he has bolstered and promoted the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and presided over the spread of Islamic terror across the globe. What a legacy.

UN Resolution 2334, orchestrated by the Obama administration, is similar in many respects to another act of treachery by Jimmy Carter, later exposed to be a rabid Jew hater. On March 22, 1979, Carter abstained on UNSC Resolution 446 that condemned Israeli settlements, including Jerusalem (!), stated they had no legal validity, violated international law, and deplored … yada yada yada. But Jews are refuseniks, and since 1979, almost 500,000 Jews have populated Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. May the current resolution result in similar growth!

Resolution 2334 differs substantially in only two respects: it calls on the world to “distinguish in their relevant dealings” between Israel “proper” and Judea and Samaria, effectively lending support to a boycott of Israel. And it refers repeatedly to the “two-state solution” and how settlements impair the “two-state solution.” It is time for that narrative change.

The problem is as much branding as it is politics and Jew hatred. There are problems and there are solutions, even if sane, realistic people recognize that not every problem has a solution. The very phrase “two-state solution” is the kicker. If there is a solution to a problem, only a nut would reject the solution and allow the problem to fester. It hasn’t dawned on the geniuses in the striped pants world (although it certainly motivates those who favor Israel’s demise) that the two-state “solution” is no solution at all. No reference was made to a two-state “solution” in Resolution 446 because it was then a dead letter. No rational person believed then that partitioning Israel and awarding its sworn enemies half its territory would be a solution to anything, except to those who perceive Israel’s existence as a problem. No rational person should believe it today.

We have to change the brand. Every time someone says “two-state solution” just write, blurt out or yell “two state illusion.” It is an illusion – indeed, a delusion – to think that an independent “Palestine” will bring peace. There never was an independent “Palestine,” there is no such political identity, no historic Palestinian figures from the 19th century going back to creation, and no means for even a peaceful “Palestine” to sustain itself as a state on territory that lacks material resources and infrastructure. It is a fabricated identity, fabricated not to buttress Arab claims but merely to suppress and eliminate Jewish claims. It is therefore not surprising that the “Palestinians” refused a state before 1948, made no effort to create a state when Jordan and Egypt controlled these territories from 1948-1967 and have rejected several ill-advised attempts to award them a state in the last 15 years. Let’s get real.

“Two state illusion” rolls off the tongue, and when uttered repeatedly, it makes a “two-state solution” sound much less appealing or even sensible. And it is a tribute to a number of Jewish activists that the Republican Party platform this year withdrew its support for the “two-state illusion,” and the incoming Trump administration seems presently disinclined to advocate it. And why would it? It can’t work, and if it could work, it would have worked already.

Much of the chatter makes it seem as if the “two-state illusion” was long-standing American and Israeli policy. It is not. Even the Oslo Accords did not endorse a “Palestinian” state, and the US only signed on to it at the urging of Ariel Sharon in 2004. Sharon encouraged the Bush Administration to support such a state in exchange for recognition of the settlement blocs as legal. This, sadly, was another disastrous legacy of Ariel Sharon. George W. Bush issued such a letter in June 2004, but US support of the settlement blocs was repudiated by Hillary Clinton in 2009 even as she pocketed the “two state illusion” as US policy conceded by Israel. Well, times have changed, and as Einstein noted, only the insane keep repeating the same actions and hope for different results.

Judea and Samaria represent Israel’s past and future. It is immoral to say that Jews can live in Shiloh, Illinois and not the original Shiloh. To articulate that sentiment is to be on the wrong side of history and to mock the Bible. Obama and Kerry are on the wrong side of history. In the story of Chanukah, it is distressing to note that most Jews sided with the enemy, the Syrian Hellenists who tried to stamp out Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel and eradicate the Torah itself. Those Jews were on the wrong side of history. Many of the battles of the Maccabees were fought on land that neither Obama nor Kerry recognize as Jewish. But it was then and is now.

Those Jews who are turning on Israel are also on the wrong side of history. It is patently clear that the closer Jews are to Torah the greater is one’s commitment to the land of Israel, whose possession by Jews is obviously a major element of the Torah.  Of course, there are observant Jews who are still enthralled with the two-state illusion but they are an ever declining minority of the Torah world. So be it.

The battles that are being waged now for the land of Israel during the celebrations of Chanukah are reminders to us that the old antagonisms still exist in every generation, and that the spirit of the Jewish refusenik that has animated us throughout history will give us the strength and courage to refuse even the entreaties of people who perceive themselves as well-meaning in their quest to hound, diminish and weaken Israel.

That light still shines in every truly Jewish home, and will shine forever.

Happy Chanukah!

 

This Land is…

Here in the land of Israel, nothing is expected to be normal and events verify that conclusion on a daily basis. That is the reality, and not necessarily a bad thing.

The week of fires that swept across the land, more than 1000 in all, now seems like a distant memory except, of course, to those who lost their homes and possessions. It is nothing less than miraculous than no one died, and no one was even seriously injured. Every home was evacuated, and to those who have seen the effects of fires in other parts of the world, this was nothing less than “G-d’s kindnesses” on display for all.

The fires stopped because of increased vigilance on the part of the authorities, buttressed by the heavy rains that fell last mid-week that saturated the earth and left it less vulnerable to conflagration. The fires occurred in an atmosphere that was parched dry and the flames were fanned by heavy winds that were relentless for several days.

To be sure, not every fire was arson. Some were the result of negligence, some gross negligence. Many Arab communities have the quaint custom of disposing of their garbage by burning it, something I witnessed last month in the Arab village of Turmus Aya just south of Shiloh. The dry land and the strong winds caused some of those garbage fires to spread out of control. Of course, every arsonist that was arrested during the spate of fires is now claiming that he was just an inexperienced sanitation engineer, and that is something the courts will work out.

Neve Tzuf, and many other places, were clearly different. I visited Neve Tzuf last week and walked through many of the more than twenty homes that burnt to a crisp. The fire in Neve Tzuf was not an accident or due to negligence. On Friday night at 10:30 PM, two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the perimeter. Within seconds, the gale force winds had spread the fire on a direct line into the oldest part of the community, and within minutes – 20 minutes – the homes were burned. Families lost their possessions, which can be replaced except for sentimental items like photograph albums that were lost forever. In Bet Meir, an artist lost his life’s work; every painting was destroyed.

In Neve Tzuf, the winds were so powerful that logs caught fire and flew through the air. In one place, fiery logs literally flew over one house (that emerged unscathed) and sailed into the adjoining house. Logs, trees and branches flew all over, and naturally, some wooden homes were ignited. But the bravery of the firefighters halted the progress of the flames, and finally extinguished them – and again, with no loss of life or injury.

And the spirit was astonishing. Within minutes, every family in Neve Tzuf was safely evacuated to the adjacent settlement. A Bar Mitzvah scheduled in Neve Tzuf last Shabbat took place in nearby Aderet as scheduled. Every family has found temporary dwelling, and plans are afoot to rebuild as quickly as possible. The government has been very active in ensuring compensation and swift resettlement. The love of Jews for each other, especially in times of need, is extraordinary and inspirational. And it is what makes the coming tragedy so much more difficult to accept.

The community of Amona, located just a few miles north of Yerushalayim, is slated for demolition and the families for eviction on the first day of Chanuka after a long, protracted and still ongoing legal battle. It is still difficult to understand why there cannot be a resolution that allows the families, residents there for years, to remain in place. There is in the Amona story a toxic brew of politics, religion, hypocrisy, fear, and money. The facts themselves are complicated and it is almost impossible to sift through the conflicted record and ascertain the real truth, but who’s to say the real truth is what matters here?

The crux of the legal entanglement is that Amona was allegedly built on private, Arab-owned land and not on state-owned property, nor was Amona an “authorized” community but an outpost originally built without state approval. After years of litigation, the High Court ruled that the residents of Amona must go, and the Court demanded that the eviction take place no later than the first day of Chanuka.

Then the real complications present: how much of Amona was built on private land? It is not completely clear but residents say about one acre, or less than 1% of the total property developed by the residents of Amona.  Should an entire community be destroyed because 1% or 5% or 10% of the buildings are built on private property?

And this: Who is the private Arab owner whose land was allegedly seized by the residents? Here, all agree that no one knows. No individual Arab ever came forward in any court proceeding to claim that his rights were violated. The lawsuit herein was bought by a number of far-left and some anti-Israel groups who are opposed to all settlements  and who are funded by enemies of Israel in Europe and elsewhere. In effect, the Court is insisting that the Jews be evicted, and their homes destroyed, so the land can be restored to…no one.

Why would the Court do that? Well, among the left in Israel, the decisions of the High Court are the closest they ever come to the authority of Sinai, but it is no secret that the High Court has always been unrepresentative of Israeli society and a bastion of the far left. It has always been reliably hostile to the interests of the settlers and generally to religious Jews, and the presence of a token settler and religious Jew on the Court does not change that, especially when the token justices are ideologically compatible with the left.

Thus, the worst aspect of the judicial system is that the Court is self-perpetuating. It remarkably has long played a decisive role in choosing its replacements, all of which keeps their ideological flame burning. That undemocratic state of affairs is one aspect of governance that Israel’s excellent Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, is trying to change, and she has run into a buzz saw of protests from the left who love their monopoly and use the High Court to impose their viewpoints on the masses that greatly outnumber them.

Add to this mixture the fact that PM Netanyahu has long championed the rights of settlers in Judea and Samaria at the same time he has been finding ways to limit the expansion of settlements. He takes credit in Israel for a sizable increase in the population of Judea, Samaria and Yerushalayim during his tenure as prime minister, while denying across the world that he has anything to do with it. And he feels pressure from Israel’s indefatigable Minister of Education, Naphtali Bennett, of the Bayit Hayehudi Party, who is an unabashed supporter of the rights of Jewish settlement throughout the land of Israel, and wisely wants to stabilize the legal status of the settlements after almost 50 years of living in limbo.

Add to this the fact that the legal status of Judea and Samaria is still undetermined after almost one-half century of Israeli possession. The previous owner, Jordan, left the scene almost three decades ago. The Palestinians are not a sovereign state and Israel refuses to declare its sovereignty. It is a real no-man’s land, except to the extent that Israel administers the territory, and even subsidized the building of Amona – what the court now claims is illegal – through provision of road, electricity, water infrastructure and the like. Complicated – but it is hard to argue that the “government” was unalterably opposed to Amona’s existence.

Isn’t the destruction of homes even built on private land somewhat Draconian? It is well known that there are dozens of Arab homes in Yerushalayim built on private Jewish property, as there as entire Bedouin villages that are illegally on state land between Beer Sheva, Dimona and Mitzpeh Ramon. Would the government ever consider evicting Arabs and destroying their homes? Aside from a few isolated cases because of dangerous code violations, it is not likely to happen. “Equal justice under the law” it is not, even granting the legal casuistries that would find a point or two of distinction between all these cases.

Absent an animus towards the settlers, a fair and equitable resolution is eminently presentable. There are legal doctrines of adverse possession (similar to the laws of chazaka) in a Jewish context that grant possession to new owners who took  possession under color of title and developed the land over a certain number of years. The doctrine prevents the squandering of resources that absentee owners present to a society. This would be normal.

What would also be normal is reference to what in Jewish law is called “takanat hashavin,” an ordinance that is designed to rectify a wrong even if a thief benefits. Thus, if a thief steals a beam and uses it to build his home, and is caught, we do not demand that he remove the beam and thereby dismantle his house. It is enough that he compensate the true owner for the value of the beam. And while the Rema (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 360:1) ruled that there is no “takanat hashavin” for land and houses built on stolen land must be destroyed, others disagree (see the Mabit and the Shaar Hamelech for details) especially when the encroachment is minor. Perhaps even the Rema would agree when there are no “owners” that are claiming the property, as in this case, for the Rema underscores the need to return the land to the “baalim,” its true owners. Here, there are no “owners” seeking recovery of their property.

To be sure, to the extent that the settlers are living on private land, the true owners should be financially compensated and, if necessary, furnished with an equal replacement for their lost territory. That would be fair, unless the real objective is to stick it to the settlers.

We should be careful about the rule of law and even about the honor of the Court but even more careful not to become overly legalistic. The rule of law is never deified; in fact, the opposite is true. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 30b) states that Yerushalayim was destroyed because they based all their decisions on strict Torah law and did not act “beyond the letter of the law” when the spirit of the law required it. Will Amona be destroyed because of strict justice that ultimately distorts what is moral and proper?

It would be bitterly ironic if after so many Jewish homes were destroyed by arson, to the great horror of the country, that Jews themselves would destroy other Jewish homes with bulldozers. It would be incredibly sad if such destruction took place on Chanuka, which celebrates the re-dedication of the Bet Hamikdash and the re-assertion of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel against the enemies of the day. (Amona overlooks the road where Yehuda HaMaccabee fought some of his battles and entered Yerushalayim.)

Hundreds of Israeli rabbis have signed petitions urging a fair resolution to this crisis that does not involve destruction of Jewish homes and displacement of Jewish families. Many here are hoping that the American rabbinate will offer their support as well. The prospective destruction of Jewish homes is painful to contemplate.

Perhaps it is due time we realize that all of Israel is built on private land? “For the land is Mine, and you are all strangers and sojourners with Me” (Vayikra 25:23). With good will on all sides, a resolution that reminds us that we are all on G-d’s land can be achieved, and together we can celebrate the joys of Chanuka and continue the process of building and settling the land of Israel.

 

 

The Beauty of Israel

Our Sages taught us (Kiddushin 49b) that “ten measures of wisdom descended to the world; the Land of Israel took nine, and the rest of the world took one. Ten measures of beauty descended to the world; Yerushalayim took nine and the rest of the world took one.” Other nations have a disproportionate share of wealth, poverty, arrogance, and might – all as the Creator saw fit to apportion.

Certainly faithful Jews accept the words of our Sages without question or hesitation, even if the notion of the pervasive wisdom in the land of Israel is not always obvious at first glance. Indeed, things happen here daily that cast doubt on that dictum. Even the beauty of Yerushalayim is not always apparent, unless the dictum refers to spiritual beauty, which it probably does.

Without being too brazen, I would edit the words of the Sages as follows: “Ten measures of beauty descended to the world; the Land of Israel took nine and the rest of the world took one.”

That seems about right.

There are many beautiful places across the globe, scenes of the majesty of nature, locations of such astonishing splendor that they serve as testimony to our Sages’ comment (Berachot 10a) “there is no Artist like our G-d.” I have been fortunate to visit many of them and even recite the blessing that acknowledges G-d “who made the works of creation.” I hope to visit others. But the Land of Israel is unique in the sheer number of stunning vistas that are compacted into what is, after all, a relative tiny country, barely the size of New Jersey.

I thought of this while gazing at three particular sites. To look out at the Mediterranean Sea as the sun is setting is to glimpse eternity, serenity and the infinite wonders of G-d’s world. The sea does not stop; it is as if there is nothing beyond it. It is exquisite in its tranquility. All the worries of life, all the turmoil around the globe –even in some of the countries that border on the Mediterranean – fade into nothingness. The Mediterranean, dubbed by our Sages the “Great Sea” because it borders the Land of Israel, has seen so much history and been at the center of civilization. Yet, its peace is undisturbed.

We spent two days in Mitzpe Ramon that overlooks the Machtesh Ramon, the Ramon Crater, Israel’s version of the Grand Canyon. (Yes, I know it is not technically a crater.) It was formed not by the impact of a meteorite or a volcanic eruption but by the receding of the ocean waters that once covered the Negev and receded during the third “day” of creation when G-d separated between the waters and formed dry land. It was essentially untouched since then, giving rise to rock formations of dazzling colors – and right in the middle of the desert. The canyon, the cliffs, the stark beauty of the hills and valleys all engender a profound sense of humility in the person who happens upon it. “A generation comes and a generation goes, but the earth endures forever” (Kohelet 1:4). That earth, that endures forever, is on spectacular display in Machtesh Ramon.

Just a few kilometers north of the town (which is less than 20 miles from the Sinai border) is the Kerem Ramon, the Ramon Vineyard, one of the largest vineyards in Israel. It encompasses hundreds of acres – and smack in the middle of the desert. The pioneers of early Israel vowed to make the desert bloom, in the famous cliché, and they largely succeeded. And here, modern pioneers, graduates of the Yeshivat Hesder in Mitzpe Ramon, have done it again. Across the street, literally, is desert, untended brown earth that has been barren for millennia. In the near horizon the mountains of the desert loom large, austere and forbidding in appearance. And that is what this vineyard looked like just a few years ago – bleak, brown earth – until faithful Jews acted on G-d’s promise to the Jews who would return to Israel after a long and bitter exile: “For G-d will comfort Zion and console all its ruins. He will turn its desert into Eden, and its dry places like G-d’s garden” (Yeshayahu 51:3). Indeed.

Perhaps the most striking feature that comprises the beauty of the land of Israel is the eye-catching array of colors. The blue of the sea and the blue of the sky; the greenery of the fields and the blue of the sky; the oases in the desert – the lush greenery set off against the austere brown – that offer  hope and suggest limitless possibilities. It is a panoply of rich and vibrant colors that bring nature, and the human imagination, to life, and invariably to appreciation for the handiwork of the Creator.

When I was a teenager, a Rebbe assigned our class a project in tefila (prayer). Each student was asked to choose a verse from the prayers and depict that verse in pictures. I chose a verse from Hallel: “The heavens are the heavens for G-d and the earth was given to man” (Tehillim 115:16). My pictures contrasted G-d’s domain with that of man and compiled them for my project. “The heavens are the heavens for G-d” – the azure sky with tufts of clouds lazily ambling about, the infinity of space where all is calm and peaceful, the sunsets that fill us with awe. “And the earth was given to man” – scenes of violence, terror, war and hatred (even then!). Scenes of the brutality of man to his fellow man that seemingly has no limits, no boundaries, and no end. Scenes of vulgarity and coarseness that belie the image of G-d with which every human being is endowed.

Of course, the Rebbe told me that I misconstrued the verse, which is just as well, but nonetheless. When will the beauty of the natural world – especially of the Land of Israel – be appreciated by mankind enough to call a halt to man’s volcanic eruptions of hatred, anger and violence?

Perhaps when, despite my emendation above, the Land of Israel also reclaims the nine measures of wisdom with which it was blessed and shares its conclusions with willing listeners across the world. Then the beauty above will be matched by beauty below as well and He who has made peace in the heavens will bring peace upon us, all Israel and His troubled world.

The Crucible and the Womb

The Torah refers to the Egyptian experience in a number of ways. Some are literal – exile and house of bondage – and depict our alienation from the land of Israel and the nature of our sojourn in Egypt – and one is figurative: “I removed you from the iron crucible of Egypt” (Devarim 4:20). How was Egypt an “iron crucible”?

The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem 3) quotes the Midrash (Shocher Tov on Tehillim 116) that Chazal added another simile as well. In addition to Egypt being a crucible (“just like the goldsmith reaches in and extracts the refined gold from the furnace, so too G-d reached down and extracted Israel from Egypt”), the Maharal adds that the Exodus from Egypt was similar to a fetus still in the womb of the cow, for which the shepherd reaches in and extracts it. So too G-d delivered us from Egypt “removing one nation from another nation” (Devarim 4:34). What is the difference between these descriptions – the gold emerging from the crucible and the fetus emerging from the womb – and how do they reflect on the Exodus?

The Maharal explains that in the crucible, the gold is simply the tool of the goldsmith. The smith has all the power, control and authority. In Egypt, the Jewish people were dominated, oppressed, and defenseless, with no hope of any independent existence. The Egyptians were simply too strong, and we were too weak – so the master goldsmith took us out from the fire and created a nation.

But the second simile – the calf emerging from the womb – has a different emphasis than the first. There it is not the fearsome might of the enemy that kept us enslaved but rather the mindset, the mentality, and the dependencies of the victim. Like the calf in the womb, as long as we saw ourselves “as attached to Egypt and inferior to the Egyptians,” then we were still unworthy of any independent existence.

We were enslaved not only because of the power of Egypt, but especially because of the inherent weakness of our national body – as we were just an extension of the Egyptians, one of many foreign tribes they had enslaved.

As an “exile” or a “house of bondage,” Egypt was a punishment; as an “iron crucible” or as a womb, the Egyptian exile was not only a punishment for sin but also a necessary step in nation building. That is why the redemption was so painful, so wrenching, and so difficult for many Jews – it was like being refined in fire or passing through the birth canal. Spiritually we were adrift, sunk in the immorality of Egypt; culturally, we were assimilated into Egyptian society, having long since moved beyond Goshen; and nationally, we saw ourselves as Egyptians, so attenuated was our Jewish identity.

The redemption therefore had to account for two phenomena: the physical might of the Egyptians and the spiritual weakness of the Jews. Slowly, Moshe and Aharon, the 10 plagues, the mitzvot of Korban Pesach and the celebration of Pesach itself enervated the spirit of the Egyptians, and revitalized our national identity. The “strong hand” of G-d broke the Egyptians, and His “outstretched arm” inspired the Jews. That is why the redemption from Egypt was so momentous, and that is why it is the paradigm for the future redemption as well.

Spiritually and nationally, we are still a divided people, unable to agree even on basic issues – who is a Jew, what is a Jew, what do we represent, what do we want, and what is our destiny. Culturally, many Jews are Westernized and often unwittingly drawn to the most meretricious aspects of Western life. The enemy that surrounds us threatens the world as well, and the commitment to prevail against that enemy is tenuous at best.

Nevertheless, just like we did in ancient Egypt, we have to perceive the travails of our modern world – as painful as they are to endure – as refinement, as the crucible through which we pass in order to embrace our destiny. When a powerful and merciless enemy does not break us, we are emboldened and strengthened. And just like in Egypt, we have to perceive the troubles as the birth pangs of a nation and a new era – so we can distinguish between friends and allies, so we can detach ourselves and re-assert our own identity, and so we galvanize ourselves for the struggles ahead, so we can strengthen ourselves in Torah and Mitzvot, in love of Israel, and return in true faith to the traditions that have sustained us for millennia.

Just as in Egypt, where we looked not to others for our salvation but to G-d who revitalized us and gave us the tools and confidence to move forward, so too in the days ahead our mettle will be tested. We too will need the inner strength to follow G-d into an unsown land. We too will determine who can resist and who will succumb, who will despair and who will be resolute. We will yet see who emerges from the crucible of our era intact and emboldened.

To the faithful, Pesach is always “a night of protection” for all Jews who yearn for and anticipate redemption. And so may it be in our day as well.

 

To my brothers and sisters across the Jewish world, Chag Kasher v’sameach to all!

 

 

 

In G-d’s Name

After Amalek’s sneak attack on the Jewish people soon after the Exodus from Egypt, the Torah declared eternal war against this enemy in a dramatic way: “And he (Moshe) said: ‘G-d places His hand on His throne – as if to take an oath – G-d’s war against Amalek is from generation to generation” (Sh’mot 17:16). Rashi notes that the words for throne and G-d’s name itself are spelled deficiently – kes instead of  kisei and Y-ah instead of G-d’s ineffable name of four letters – in order to teach us that G-d has sworn that neither His name is complete nor His throne is complete until the name of Amalek is completely annihilated (“Ein sh’mo shalem v’ein kis’o shalem”). What does that mean?

We can understand that G-d’s throne is “incomplete” in the sense that His kingship is not recognized by all as long as evil is extant. A king whose authority is not heeded is less of a king. As long as there is a nation or people extant whose ideology is grounded in not fearing G-d, then G-d’s throne is deficient. But what does it mean “His name is incomplete”? G-d’s name is His essence; how could it be incomplete? Said another way, G-d’s throne reflects our perception of Him – as King. But His name is not dependent on our perception. So how could His name – Y-ah instead of YKVK – ever be deficient?

A second question worthy of analysis is this: why does G-d have to wage eternal war against Amalek? G-d is G-d; He can eliminate Amalek at any time, from the inception of their history and until today? Why must G-d’s war be an eternal one?

For sure, Amalek has always existed, lurking in the shadows of history, and emerging at various points to attempt to weaken or destroy us. And Amalek exists today as well, certainly as an ideology of an implacable and baseless hatred of the Jewish people

This will not change, and there is nothing we can do to change it. We do not provoke their hatred, as much we enjoy castigating ourselves. Even if our Sages perceived the occasional sin or flaw that prompts an Amalekite attack, nothing justifies it from Amalek’s perspective. Amalek’s initial offensive against the Jewish people was a suicide mission; after all, G-d had just saved us miraculously at the Red Sea and in the process destroyed the army of the most powerful empire in the world, Egypt. It made no sense, not any more than the plethora of Muslim suicide bombers today – first against Jews and now against Jews, Christians, Europeans, Americans and other Muslims – makes any sense.

It makes no sense, just like the hatred of Jews in Europe (where so few Jews live) makes no sense, like the hatred of Israel and Jews on many college campuses makes no sense. The BDS movement that targets Israel as the only human rights offender in the world, and not just the worst, because there is no movement to boycott, divest and sanction any other nation on the globe, that cause is as inexplicable as it is evil. One would think that presumably intelligent people would occasionally ponder the hypocrisy in their own actions, their moral corruption, and the ethical decay that should be eating away at them. But they don’t.

None of it is rational; it makes no sense. It is not supposed to make sense. Consider Sartre’s classic definition of Jew hatred as a passion – not even an idea but a “criminal passion.” It’s not at all rational. Jews are often quick to find something within us to blame because that, at least affords a measure of psychological security.  Oh, that’s why they want to kill us. So if I don’t do that, then all will be good. It’s a common but horribly wrong approach.

Rav Shlomo Aviner once wrote that we should never delude ourselves into thinking that if we satisfied our enemies’ desires, if we surrendered our land to the Arabs, if we gave them whatever they wanted, they would be transformed into lovers of peace and pursuers of peace. The Maharal (Gevurot Hashem, Page 236) wrote that Lavan wanted to murder everyone associated with Yaakov, even Lavan’s own daughters and grandchildren; Pharaoh of Egypt wanted to murder every Jew at the Red Sea; and so it goes. We are not like other nations who have enemies for a reason – there is territory or resources that others covet, there is an ideology that others want to uproot. “Israel has haters and enemies for no cause,” no reason, no justification, and no explanation. That is the ideology of Amalek. They hate the Jewish people because we are the Jewish people.

G-d’s war with Amalek is eternal because He has given all man free choice. Just like we are given free choice in deeds, so too we are given free choice in thought. And ever since G-d created man, or at least soon after in the generation of Enosh, man has free choice to deny G-d, to distort His name, and even worse, to perpetrate the greatest evils in His name.

What does it mean that “His name is incomplete until Amalek is destroyed”? G-d’s name is “incomplete” when it is distorted, when it is misused, when it is taken in vain, and when it is defiled by those who claim to be His followers but in fact are His enemies. The three deadliest words in the English language are “in G-d’s name,” because in G-d’s name the worst atrocities have been justified. The two deadliest words today in Arabic are “Allahu Akhbar,” i.e., “God is great.” What should be a sublime and exalted praise of G-d is too often the prelude to the torture and murder of innocents, from Yerushalayim to New York, from San Bernardino to Bali, from Paris to Brussels. G-d’s name is incomplete when evildoers can decapitate or detonate the innocent and invoke “god” at the same time. That is an incomplete name.

G-d’s name can only be complete when all creatures honor it with life not death, with integrity not corruption, with mutual respect not hatred. His name is complete only when every nation and every individual can be described as “G-d –fearing.”

In the final stage of the process of redemption, the false ideas about G-d will crumble, along with the nations that embody them. The hypocrisy, dishonesty and venality of those who oppose the G-d of Israel and therefore the people of Israel will all reach epic and unfathomable levels. This too shall pass, and the joyous holiday of Purim that reminds us of both the struggle and the triumph in the past will be a harbinger of the day when G-d’s name will again be complete, when “G-d will be One and His name will be One” (Zecharia 14:9).

 

 

 

New Leadership Needed

Not long ago, someone asked me why we do not say Tehillim in shul after davening because of the “situation” in Israel. (We recite Tehillim every afternoon as a prayer for the recovery of the day’s wounded.) I answered with a question: if a poor person approached you and said he was starving, and you had food or money to give him, would you say Tehillim for him or give him the food or money? He answered, “of course, I would give him the food or money.” I continued: “Well, G-d has blessed the Jewish people with sovereignty over the land of Israel, and blessed the State of Israel with guns, tanks and planes. G-d has made the Jewish state the eighth most powerful country in the world (according to the Indian group that measures these things). If the government – for whatever reason – chooses not to use their guns, tanks, planes and power against their enemy that dwells within, and instead chooses to subject their citizens to the threat of daily attack, then what exactly do you want G-d to do?”

Make no mistake about it – I am pro-Tehillim in a misnagdic way. But the person who is ill and spurns medical treatment and prefers to rely only on Tehillim is (Ramban aside) acting improperly. Prayer without our own efforts is hollow; our own effort without prayer is disjointed. Passivity in the face of danger is usually criminal.

One can certainly disagree with the theology but one point should be indisputable: G-d generally gives every individual the tools to deal with whatever problem arises. Certainly in the instant case, it is so. There are many such tools available. After seven years in office, PM Netanyahu has run out of steam and is failing to provide the most basic needs to his society – to use the tools at his disposal to protect them and to defeat the enemy. That failure of leadership – of vision, ideas and implementation – means that it is time for him to go. With the government on the verge of collapse anyway for unrelated missteps or internal politics (It clings to power by one seat), it is timely to appreciate his accomplishments in several spheres and graciously usher him into retirement.

Of course, that won’t happen, as the Israeli voting public is as malleable as is the American voting public. Both respond to powerful speechmaking regardless of what follows, and no one in Israel today gives a better, tougher, more impressive speech than Binyamin Netanyahu. In the next campaign, he will promise security and how only he knows how to deliver it; he will vow that Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon, and how Yerushalayim will not be divided, and how the settlements will grow, flourish and prosper under his rule as never before and as only he can. And he says it with such passion that few seem to realize or care that every promise is false. And they are made in campaign after campaign, as Israel continues to elect right-wing governments that implement leftist policies.

Take the latter, for example. Israel is routinely criticized by the Obama Administration, the European Union and the United Nations for building settlements in the “occupied lands.” It was the cause of Hillary Clinton’s 45 minute tirade against the PM several years ago – building apartments in the northern part of Israel’s eternal capital city. The world regularly and repugnantly equates the building of settlements with Arab terror, excusing Arab terror by explaining that Israel provokes it by building settlements. The world is on a campaign to boycott products from the settlements in Judea and Samaria, beginning with mandated labeling, as recently ordered by the Obama administration accompanied by the falsehood that this was an old policy. (Perhaps Israel should insist that American products come labeled with “Made in Occupied Indian Territories.)

And the sad reality is that there is very little building in the settlements at all. There has not been a new settlement built in decades, and even natural growth has been limited. The Defense Minister retains control over building in Judea and Samaria, and every single act of construction needs his permit – which he is loathe to give.  Even legally purchased properties – good Jewish money given to Arab sellers eager to sell, profit and move on – are disapproved. In Hevron, just a few weeks ago, Jews were expelled by the IDF under orders from the Defense Minister from a property that had been bought, paid for and registered. Now they are in limbo – they can’t move in, and of course they can’t get their money back from the Arab seller. Right-wing government…Likud…sure.

So Israel finds itself in the worst position: blamed for building settlements while not actually building settlements. The logical response should be, well, if Israel is being blamed anyway for building Jewish homes in the heartland of Israel, they might as well do it. At least deserve the calumny!

These travesties could be overlooked if the Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, was at least fulfilling his assigned task and maintaining security. But he is not, all his bluster and tough talk aside. Jewish blood is spilled in the streets of Israel on a daily basis, and this week, non-Jewish blood as well – an American student from Vanderbilt University, graduate of West Point, tours of duty with the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, met his untimely fate in Jaffa, stabbed to death by an Arab terrorist. And what is done to take the war to the enemy, to change the dynamic, to secure Jewish rights in the land of Israel in perpetuity, to assure that innocent people can walk the streets of Israel without threat of being stabbed, speared, gored or shot?

We know much more about what is not done. Last week, a Cabinet Minister in Israel recommended that the families of terrorists be expelled from Israel. That suggestion was shot down: it can’t be done, collective punishment, etc. Another recommended that the bodies of the killed terrorists not be returned to their families for a hero’s burial; that, too, can’t be done. It’s not nice, and it will only rile them up even more. (That the terrorists currently hold the bodies of two murdered Jewish soldiers doesn’t seem to matter.) Destroy their homes? It takes years, and that too is collective punishment. The new Attorney-General recently said that if the family turns in the terrorist, their home will be spared (otherwise, they won’t turn them in). In other words, more immunity from retribution; the terrorist murders innocent people, he will be caught anyway within a short time, if alive, but the family can save their home by having him arrested. How convenient, how foolish, and how much does that incentivize terror?

Both the Chief of Staff and the Defense Minister recently criticized those who kill the terrorists who are committing their terrorist acts. “There is no need to empty a magazine on a 13 year-old girl with a knife.” Spoken like people who never walk in public without being surrounded by six bodyguards. Perhaps they don’t realize that pedestrian traffic on the main streets of Israeli cities is way down in the last half year. Only those without a choice – without any other options – walk freely but cautiously. And the Prime Minister speaks eloquently about the perseverance and tenacity of the Israeli public, of the fortitude that has seen Jews through tougher times, and how Jews should not give in to fear but continue to move about the land of Israel without restraint. Spoken like someone who never walks in public without being surrounded by twelve bodyguards, and with a square kilometer of streets around him closed to pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

This is classic politician talk: idle praise of the constituents distract from his failure to act.

There are many Arabs who are employed by Jews and so have easy access to stores, malls, roads, etc. and then exploit this compassion to murder their employers and customers. The prudent suggestion that Israelis stop hiring Arabs was also rebuffed – unfair, will provoke more terror, bad for the economy, etc. The Arabs and their leftist Jewish sympathizers have become adept at discouraging any possible means for deterring or preventing Arab terror, except for their favorite one, surrender. The law, and a bizarre notion of morality, is a powerful weapon in the terrorists’ arsenal.

There are many measures that could be taken, especially in a Middle East racked by turmoil and instability, that could greatly ameliorate the problems. But, as noted here in the past, the Netanyahu government has taken a conscious decision to tolerate a certain number of dead and wounded Jews (and non-Jews) in order to achieve ephemeral policy goals. And despite Netanyahu’s efforts to court the American non-Orthodox establishment through formal recognition and carving up the Kotel, the Reform and Conservative leadership and base would be the first to turn on Israel if any effective measures were ever taken to suppress and then eliminate Arab terror. After all, war has to be antiseptic, bloodless, compassionate and quick, or liberal American Jews will be offended; we can’t allow that…

The bottom line for the Israeli impotence is this equation: can’t + can’t + can’t = won’t. And this equation:  Won’t + won’t + won’t = Jewish blood spilled on Israeli streets every single day. Netanyahu and Yaalon have run out of ideas. They should be thanked for their service and move on. The time has come for new leadership – a leadership of proud and faithful Jews who will prioritize the preservation of Jewish life, the Torah and the land of Israel. That new leadership can take all measures necessary to quell the threats to the safety of the Israeli citizen, and the public relations will take care of itself.

The only question is how many more Jews must be murdered or maimed until this is done. Perhaps we should be saying tehillim – that G-d in His mercy should send us righteous and wise leaders in the short term, or maybe even the Messiah in the shortest term.

 

Kotel Controversy

Here in Israel, the recent Cabinet decision to segregate the Kotel (the Western Wall of the Temple Mount) into traditional/Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Western-influenced modes of worship have ignited passions on all five sides of the issue. From one perspective, the decision merely enshrined into law what had become a de facto non-Orthodox place of worship for several years already. From another perspective, the decision enshrines into law not only a violation of the status quo that had been in effect for more than fifty years, but also authorizes an especially vulgar violation of the sanctity of the holiest site in Jewish life. It’s not a mixed blessing but a mixed curse.
We start with the positive aspects of the decision. Permission to the non-Orthodox to hold sway over part of the Kotel defuses a major source of tension between Israel and part of American Jewry, and counteracts the incessant pressure and threats they make against Israel when they feel disrespected. Threats by Jewish secular politicians and the Jewish “religious” politicians to reduce their support for Israel if their demands were not met bore fruit, even if those threats were idle. (Remove the “Israel factor” from non-Orthodox life, and the substance of their Jewish commitment largely reads like the Bernie Sanders platform.) But reduction of acrimony is always a good thing.
Secondly, the decision has effectively banished the Women of the Wall and their provocations away from the main Kotel plaza and into the non-traditional section. This most certainly must stick in their craw, but does accurately define how the Torah world perceives them. Thirdly, as the location is not visible from the main plaza and need not be seen by traditional worshipers at the Kotel, the Kotel will no longer be a constant flashpoint for media stunts and public relations ploys. Rather, each Jew can choose his/her place of worship and not be affronted by the presence of the “other.” As such, it fulfills a pluralist vision, for those who worship in that temple. It purports to express a “live and let live” philosophy.
Sounds great? Here are the problems and they are serious. The decision, purporting to be accommodating, is one of the most divisive acts in Jewish life in decades, and perhaps not since the Reform movement’s patrilineal descent ruling in 1983. One of the greatest expressions of Jewish unity – that all Jews could gather at this sacred space, the remnant of the Holy Temple, and worship precisely as our fathers and mothers did for centuries – has now been shattered. The fraying bonds of Jewish unity will be further torn, hanging by a bare thread.
Secondly, and this irony should not be lost on any thinking person, the laws of Mechitza are derived (Masechet Succa 51b) from what took place on the Temple Mount. The fact that Jewish law requires a separation between men and women during prayer is derived from the very practice that took place on the Temple Mount that stands directly above the place where descendants of those very Jews are now brazenly flouting that very provision. So, why exactly are they there?
Some, to their discredit, have pointed out that there was no Mechitza in place at the Kotel until 1967, and generations of Jews prayed there in mixed or at least separate fashion. The ears that hear such a statement should tremble: for 19 centuries, the Kotel was controlled by non-Jews: Romans, Byzantines, and then for centuries, Muslims, followed briefly by the British. Should we act today in the sovereign State of Israel exactly as our enemies treated us – and the Kotel – during the years of our dispersion and persecution? To answer in the affirmative is to acquiesce in a breathtaking lack of Jewish pride, sense of Jewish nationhood and awareness of the historical moment. There was no Mechitza for centuries because our enemies, occupiers of Yerushalayim, did not allow it. And sovereign Israel should do the same?!
Additionally, even if we ignore for a movement that the Reform movement for generations rejected the concept of the Return to Zion, it still renounces the traditional Jewish dream and objective of rebuilding the Temple. Do they recite the thrice-daily prayer that the Temple should be restored speedily and in our days and the order of worship therein be restored? I think not. So, why exactly do they want to be there?
And the only way we identify the place in question as the Temple Mount is through the Mesora, the unbroken transmission of Jewish law and lore, that is rejected by the non-Orthodox movements. Indeed, the official position of the Palestine Authority is that there was no Temple Mount, fanciful and spiteful to be sure, but a clear denial of our tradition. (Not to belabor the incongruity, but the “Palestinians” are the group that lacks any tradition of living in the land of Israel for any appreciable amount of time.) In essence, Jewish groups that deny the Mesora are claiming their “right” to worship as they see fit in a place that is ours due to our Mesora and preserved by those faithful to that Mesora.
Furthermore, the non-Orthodox must surely concede that the way they wish to worship – mixed pews – is itself a violation of that very Mesora. And, although the decision currently prohibits the use of musical instruments or flagrant desecrations of Shabbat in the non-Orthodox zone, give that time. The will of the G-d of Israel, to them, must always defer to the gods of pluralism and religious freedom. Religious freedom is the freedom to construct your own religion. That is a Western value that animates too many Jews; but is it a Jewish value that should find expression in the holiest place in the holiest city in the holiest land on G-d’s earth? No.
It is inconceivable that the Vatican would open a Protestant church in its jurisdiction, or that Shiite sites might allow Sunnis to worship as they wish. (Given the world scene, free people can differ as to which scenario today is more unlikely!) Thus, allowing “all Jews” to worship as they wish in the name of pluralism engenders a variety of interesting possibilities? Jews for Jesus? Joint and commingled prayers among all religions? Should the new Kotel area become a venue for the performance of intermarriages? After all, one good Churban deserves another… On some matters “live and let live” shows a religious relativism that undermines what is sacred.
The decision, which I believe is well-meaning, harms the unity of the Jewish people, the sanctity of the place, and the integrity of Halacha, and those are in no particular order. It turns the Kotel into a shrine, in the worst sense of the term: the sanctification of a wall, of stones, with little consciousness of the G-d whose presence sanctifies the place, the G-d whose law we are enjoined to obey, and of the generations of Jews whose faithfulness and fidelity to Halacha kept alive the prophetic vision of Jewish national life that is now being realized.
There is something to be said for the notion that the Israeli-Jewish public is composed of a variety of tribes that has to find some way to co-exist, not just in order to deal with the real and pressing threats of our foreign enemies but simply because that is the way it has always been. In the ancient past, each tribe had its own character and interests, even if all were committed to Halacha. Our modern tribes differ in that commitment, and so historic compromises were made to foster co-existence. Control of Jewish status issues – marriage, divorce and conversion – were given to the Rabbinate. Public observance of Shabbat and Kashrut were guaranteed. Both commitments ensured the unity of the Jewish people. What is today characterized as “caving in to the ultra-Orthodox” was the simple recognition that the guardians of the Jewish faith and way of life – Torah-observant Jews, and not only the “ultra-Orthodox,” which the elitists use as a slur against a segment of the population that the average Jew is supposed to dislike – were best positioned to maintain the traditions, the unity and the faith of Israel. Here’s the open secret: we still are. That fact alone should promote a measure of deference to changes in the religious status quo.
It is unconscionable that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the Rabbinate of Yerushalayim were not consulted on this matter, and that the Rabbi of Kotel was consulted and basically ignored. The Minister of Religious Affairs was similarly not consulted. A neutral observer would likely conclude that matters of religious practice at the Kotel fall under the jurisdiction of any one of the aforementioned agencies. It is interesting that just two weeks ago Israelis were expelled from a building they had lawfully purchased in the holy city of Hevron because they allegedly did not have the appropriate authority from the Defense Minister under whose jurisdiction such purchases come. I suppose the difference between encroachments on the jurisdiction of the Defense Minister (who then unabashedly reverses the actions that were taken) and encroachments on the jurisdiction of the rabbinical authorities (which are ignored) is that the former has men with guns at his disposal and the latter do not.
What is well-meaning in the decision is not just the desire to reduce tensions in the Jewish world but also the attempt to keep the non-Orthodox in the fold, to limit the alienation they feel from Israeli life and Jewish destiny by placating them. The problem with this legitimization is that it almost closes the door to a complete return to true Jewish observance, and that is ultimately unfair to them and to their children. The reality is that the non-Orthodox movements exist – but the undeniable and tragic reality also is that their rate of assimilation, intermarriage and attrition from Jewishness is horrifying and catastrophic. We are losing souls, and the process of accommodation that the current decision implies has proven to be a failure.
The proof will soon be apparent. Some perspective is necessary and perhaps this too played a role in the decision. The fact is that the Kotel location will be available 24/7 but will be rarely used. Don’t expect a vatikin minyan or a midnight Maariv. Daily public prayer has not been a focus of the non-Orthodox for many decades, and the new space will be as unpopulated on a daily basis as are the non-Orthodox temples on a daily basis, notwithstanding that there might be a few exceptions. Their Kotel area, born in rebellion against G-d, will be a place for special events – and those who demanded it will still not be satisfied and will make further demands and threats.
I do recognize that there is even a difference between the informal use of the Robinson’s Arch area and official approval that ratifies a new situation. But can it be stopped? In this regard, there have been many unfortunate Israeli initiatives in the past that have been thwarted by the Arabs. As if on cue, the Wakf, the PA and the Jordanians have expressed their vehement objection to the plan. Expect the resurrection of the deceitful Arab claim that Israel is trying “to undermine Al Aksa.” Indeed, the location here is closer to Al Aksa than all the other times this lie was uttered; this too is a lie but Arab lies often affect Israeli policy. The plan may have to be abandoned in order to forestall Arab rioting.
Additionally, the Jerusalem Post reported last week that 60% of Israeli Cabinet decisions are never implemented. Many are announced to great fanfare and receive significant media attention – and then, nothing. One example: a Cabinet decision around ten years ago to move all (or most) government ministries to Yerushalayim. The politicians were lauded, the hypocritical world was outraged, the West denounced it, and since then, nothing. One reason suggested was the lack of money to implement many decisions, notwithstanding the great enthusiasm generated when they are announced. A better reason might be the frequent change of governments and ministers, each with their own priorities, which sees these pronouncements place on the back burner.
Who knows what the future of this decision, scheduled for next year, really will be? What is more pressing than accommodating all types of worship at the Kotel is the disastrous loss of souls to the Jewish people. To my mind, this will hasten that process, not delay it. Worse, the place on earth that was most suitable to unite all Jews will no longer exist in that form and serve that purpose.

I once heard Nechama Leibowitz z”l quote her brother as suggesting, after the Six Day War, that Israel should return the Kotel to Jordan. Otherwise, the day won’t be far off when Jews will turn the Kotel into a “Discotel.”   Those who are rejoicing should take notice, and focus more on substance than on symbols.