Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
In March 2011, the Israeli Knesset passed a law called the “Naqba Law” that would punish public institutions for any reference to the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948 as “Naqba” (meaning “Catastrophe”). The Knesset law enables Israel to deny state funding to institutions that question the country’s existence as a Jewish state. The debate that led to the vote was heated and angry.
Right-wing Israeli lawmakers who introduced the law insisted that it was meant to defend Israel against delegitimization efforts within Israel and internationally by Israel’s enemies. Israeli liberals argued that the measure is inherently undemocratic because it restricts free speech, even though this particular speech challenges the existence of the Jewish State of Israel itself.
How should we Jews in the Diaspora regard this law? What does it mean for Israel’s democracy and Jewish character?
Though the law has been on the books already for more than a year, the issue came up on Israeli Independence Day when Palestinian Arabs took to the streets to demonstrate what they believe is a basic injustice to their rights and national identity. The law will likely be recalled, as well, on the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War (this coming Tuesday, June 5) when Israel took the West Bank and Golan Heights (and the Sinai Peninsula which it returned to Egypt in the Camp David Accords) in a war of self-defense imposed upon it by its Arab neighbors.
In the interests of a future peace agreement (should it ever come about) an accurate understanding of the true history of what happened in 1948 is important for Israelis and the Palestinians to understand beyond the myths perpetuated in each of their narratives.
In this blog and the next blog I will offer, as best as I can, a reconstruction of some of that history. Much has been written about it by Israeli historians on both the left and the right, as well as by scholars internationally. I have sought to glean only a few essential truths of that history.
The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was the most important and positive event in 2000 years of Jewish history because it meant the return of the Jewish people to our ancient national homeland and a return to history itself. There the flowering of the Jewish national spirit could occur, and indeed it has over the course of these past 64 years.
However, as extraordinarily inspirational as the establishment of Israel has been for the Jewish people it has been just as extraordinarily negative for the Palestinians, who call that event the “Catastrophe” (Naqba).
Despite the Palestinians within the Green Line (the armistice line established in 1949) living as full citizens in the only democracy in the Middle East, and despite their having greater freedom and more rights and opportunities in education, law, government, politics, medicine, religion, and the arts than in any other Arab or Islamic nation, Israel’s Independence represents for Palestinians what they regard as a great loss to their national identity and heritage, the loss of control over their ancestral homeland, their being prevented from returning to their homes from which they fled and were driven out, and the ability to establish their own state.
The Israeli narrative is, of course, much different. Theodor Herzl promised that the Jews would settle a barren wasteland devoid of people and build a new society and a state of their own. Indeed, the Zionist pioneers came and made the desert bloom. In doing so they confronted many obstacles, the most cruel of which has been ongoing terrorism and multiple wars.
Despite the violence against it Israel’s successive governments reached out to Israel’s Arab neighbors to make peace and asked that all the nations of the Middle East join to create a new prosperous, creative and cooperative region.
Two different worlds and two different perspectives! Each narrative is built upon fact and myth. However, peace will depend on mutual clarity about the objective truths of history, what happened, where injustice really lies, and the measure of accountability each side must take for its role in the perpetuation of the conflict. Confronting the truth of our mutual history, however, is so very difficult because that history carries much pain and loss, resentment, distrust, fear, and hatred.
We and the Palestinians are enmeshed in a very bad “marriage.” As in any bad marriage the only reasonable result is first separation and then divorce. With a successful divorce must come compromise, a division of property, and a sharing of the “children” (i.e. those things that both sides cherish). Divorce is always difficult and far too often there is very bad blood between the former partners, but if each partner wishes to live out a better life for itself and its progeny, it is necessary.
Following Shabbat I will offer a short list of “Claims/Myths” and the facts that abide within those claims and myths.
To be continued…
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5.23.13 at 9:22 am | The larger question is 'does Jewish tradition. . . (30)
May 31, 2012 | 9:42 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The Torah portion this week, Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) presents us with the strange and pure commitment of the Nazir, a Hebrew word meaning “consecrated” or “separated” from the community.
The most famous Nazirite in history was the Biblical Samson, arguably the most physically powerful figure in the Hebrew Bible. His hair was illumined by a thousand suns, and his strength was drawn from his direct spiritual connection with God.
The Nazir could be a man or a woman who voluntarily undertook the self-disciplined and self-denying life. The Nazir was forbidden to cut his/her hair, drink wine or have contact with the dead.
Each year at this time when the Nazir presents itself in our weekly Torah readings I find myself fascinated by his/her commitment and motivations of heart, mind, body, and soul. Here are my poetic musings on such a life.
That chasm just doesn’t go away,
The yawning gap between You and me,
Between Your infinity and my infirmity.
We seekers yearn to know You and be near,
To breach the darkness
And merge into Your Light.
We’ll consider any way to You.
And some will do any thing,
Follow any one,
Even dip their burning toes into any pool
Or enter any lion’s den,
If they believe Your promise is their reward.
We seekers call You by many names -
Yahweh, Jehovah, Jesus Christ, Vishnu, Buddha, Allah.
We Jews have had our ecstatic prophets
And mystic souls,
Lured by otherworldliness,
The Ain Sof of being-less-ness.
We are infinity-seeking,
Some suffer mightily in their quest,
Their hearts quartered and bleeding,
Flesh crawling and yearning,
‘O Ecstasy,’ they cry,
‘To be any thing but me!
To be any where but here!
To be one with You,
That is my quest,
My life’s yearning,
My soul’s delight!’
Eternal One –
Is this the thing?
Is this what You ask of me?
Of us all?
If so, how do we come near?
Is not performing the mitzvot enough?
Or should we become Holy offerings,
Given-over, burned and denied,
Turned into ash before You?
Must we wait for death
When our souls are released
And they return to You
To know You truly?
For me, here and now –
Your Torah must be enough.
Its letters and words,
They are beautiful in my eyes,
Graceful upon my lips,
Life-giving within my breath
The inspiration of my love.
Yes, this must be enough!
As for other seekers,
Those who wish
Can have the life of the Nazir.
May 24, 2012 | 7:53 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Mi at – “Who are you?” (Ruth 3:9) - So asked Boaz. It is a question that every human being asks from time to time. Especially on this weekend of Shavuot, of the great meeting between Israel and God on the mountain, we ask ourselves individually and as a community - “Who am I/Who are we” in this time and place, at this stage of our lives, as individuals, as a people, and as a nation.
This Shabbat we begin the fourth book of the five books of Moses, Bamidbar (Numbers; lit. “in the wilderness”). If the Book of Genesis is about human and tribal origins and beginnings (mirroring childhood), and Exodus is about human freedom (representing the driving force amongst adolescents), and Leviticus is about the need to adjust to the rules and regulations imposed on society in order to live productively (characteristic of young adulthood), then Bamidbar is about the mid-life journey.
In this fourth book we see that the bloom is off the marriage between God and Israel. Doubt, disillusionment and struggle define our people’s lives. We rebel. Our faith is broken. We want to be somewhere else, anywhere else if it brings relief and renewal. We confront our limitations and mortality. We wonder if this is all there is. We’re caught in the unfettered and cruel desert, a vast wilderness of silence. Our hearts pound. The quiet thunders in our ears. We’re alone and afraid. We yearn for safety and solace.
The wilderness of Sinai is far more than a physical location. Bamidbar is a human wasteland, where everything falls apart. We wander, without a shared vision, without shared values, or shared words. Leaders of every kind attempt to lead, but no one is listening and each is marching to the sound of his/her own drummer. Driven by fear and jealousy, ego and greed, the people are moved by basic things; hunger, thirst and lust. God’s transcendence is elusive. The book is noisy, frustrating and painful.
Rabbi Eddie Feinstein has written (“The Wilderness Speaks”, The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary, pps. 202-203):
“Bamidbar may be the world’s strongest counterrevolutionary tract. It is a rebuke to all those who believe in the one cataclysmic event that will forever free humans from their chains. It is a response to those who foresee that out of the apocalypse of political or economic revolution will emerge the New Man, or the New American, or the New Jew. Here is the very people who stood in the very presence of God at Sinai…who heard Truth from the mouth of God…and still, they are unchanged, unrepentant, chained to their fears. The dream is beyond them. God offers them freedom, and they clamor for meat…”
L’havdil – I am not Moses, nor has my experience been his remotely, yet as a congregational rabbi I understand our greatest leader’s burden of leadership. In the course of Bamidbar “everyone in [Moses’] life will betray him. Miriam and Aaron - his family members – betray him, murmuring against him. His tribe rebels against him… his people betray him in the incident of the ten spies… and finally, even God betrays him [when he hit the rock and lost his dream of ever entering the Promised Land].” (Ibid)
Numbers is a book about burdens, not blessings.
“Everyone has found himself in that excruciating moment when words don’t work – when we try and say the right thing, to heal and to help, but each word brings more hurt. Everyone has tasted the bitterness of betrayal – when no one stands with us, when those who should know better stand against us. Everyone has felt the deep disappointment of the dream turned sour. It could have been so good! I should have turned out so differently! Where did I go wrong? Everyone has tortured himself with the torment Moses feels in Bamidbar. And that’s the ultimate lesson. Listen to the Torah’s wisdom: the agony, the self-doubt, the frustration are part of the journey through the wilderness. Anyone who has ever worn Moses’ shoes or carried his staff – knows the anguish of Bamidbar. But know this, too: You’re not alone. You’re not the first. You’re not singled out. And most of all, you’re not finished. The torturous route through the wilderness does not come to an end. There was hope for Moses. There is hope for us.” (Ibid)
Where does hope come? In the turning of the heart, the turning of a page, the discovery of shared values and shared purpose, of shared life, and shared listening, and shared doing. In Deuteronomy, the fifth and last of the five books of Moses (representing our senior years when we begin to integrate who we are and rediscover our greater purpose), we’ll hear Sh’ma Yisrael – Listen O Israel.
In Devarim (Deuteronomy), “words” return and we’re able to share as a people in listening to God’s voice and to each other. In this, there is hope yet to come.
May 21, 2012 | 2:50 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
In my introductory remarks to the Peter Beinart-David Suissa debate at Temple Israel of Hollywood last Wednesday evening (May 16), I said the following to help give political context to what we would be hearing from each speaker:
In a thoughtful piece published this past week, Professor Shaul Magid of Indiana University, wrote that the response and rancor around Peter Beinart’s book “The Crisis of Zionism” represented four broad groups in the American and Israeli communities – the ideological left and right and the pragmatic left and right. A brief word about each:
Those in the ideological left question the viability of a Jewish state preferring a liberal democratic state in a one-state solution; this means the end of the Jewish State of Israel.
The ideological right includes a combination of Zionist revisionists and theological messianists and understands territorial maximalism (i.e. a Jewish state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea) as necessary for Jewish survival; this might mean the survival of a Jewish state, but this “Israel” would not be a democracy because the Jewish minority would rule over the Arab majority.
The pragmatic left often uses rhetoric from the ideological left but emphasizes the welfare of the Jewish people and the importance of a Jewish democratic State of Israel. They are concerned that the occupation of the West Bank is compromising Israel’s democracy. Included among these are J Street, Shalom Achshav, B’tzelem, and Peter Beinart.
The pragmatic right uses the rhetoric of liberalism but looks to Jewish history rather than theology and argues that security must be the over-riding priority for the Jewish state in any two-states solution. This group includes AIPAC, The Shalem Center in Jerusalem, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, and David Suissa.
A few thoughts:
1. The debate was friendly and civil. Each speaker spoke and I asked questions. Peter Beinart answered every question I posed and addressed every claim David Suissa made. Peter’s remarks were factually based, nuanced, pro-Israel, pro-peace, critical of Palestinian terror and mistakes, critical of Israeli policy vis a vis the Palestinians, and pragmatically left.
2. David Suissa’s presentation was emotionally based, rhetorically charged, and avidly pro-Israel. He avoided answering two of my questions but eventually did, the first on the Arab demographic threat to Jewish democratic nationalism in a “greater Israel,” and the second on whether Jerusalem should serve as the capital of both Israel and Palestine in an end-of-conflict peace agreement.
3. I asked both men that if Israel and the Palestinians were unable to agree on a two-states for two-peoples solution, which would they prefer? (1) A single Jewish state over “greater Israel,” or (2) a partitioned land accommodating two states, Israel and Palestine. In #1, Israel’s Jewish character would be preserved but it would lose its democracy. In #2, Israel would be able to retain a Jewish majority and its democracy. Peter affirmed #2. David challenged the premise that Israel holding onto the land it currently controls would mean that there would be an Arab majority. He made this claim by excluding Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians from a Palestinian state. The bottom line for David was that he did not accept partition of the land nor a shared Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine. Indeed, he seemed not to support two-states for two-peoples. That being the case, I mis-characterized him in my introduction as a part of the “pragmatic right.” Rather, David is likely ideologically right.
4. David claimed that only 1% of the West Bank is populated by Jewish settlements. The actual percentage is far greater because each settlement includes security zones surrounding it, and both the settlement and its respective security zone are part of land controlled by Jewish regional councils. Taking everything together, settlements in fact control 40% of the West Bank. Of that 40%, both B’tzelem and Settlement Watch of Shalom Achshav (two Israeli human rights organizations) claim that one third is owned by private Palestinians. Peter made these points during the debate, but he passed over them quickly and I felt it important to restate them here.
The debate between Peter Beinart and David Suissa reflects the vast difference of opinion and perspective that animates the discussion both within the American Jewish community and in Israel itself on the nature of the conflict and the possible solutions. One of my Israeli friends, a significant leader in the State of Israel, watched the debate and reflected that to solve this problem will require new and original thinking because the status quo is unsustainable for Israel as both a Jewish and a democratic state.
I believe that Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism is a must-read for anyone interested in peace, Israel’s security, viability and future.
View the entire debate here.
May 17, 2012 | 7:26 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Last night (Wednesday, May 16) Peter Beinart (author of A Crisis of Zionism) and David Suissa (President of The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles) debated before a crowd of 450 people at Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles the role of the American Jewish community vis a vis Israel, the arguments left and right relative to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the challenges to democracy and the Jewish character/demography of the state that a non-resolution of this conflict present. I was honored to moderate the discussion.
You can watch the entire conversation on the Jewish Journal web-site here.
I recommend reading Peter’s book as it spells out clearly, factually and historically what has become of the Zionist enterprise and how the American Jewish establishment (i.e. AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the ADL, and AJC, among others) and community have changed and evolved over the course of the past 64 years since Israeli statehood.
Though vilified by some on the Jewish and Israeli right for the positions he takes in this book and in other writings, others have praised Peter’s book including President Bill Clinton, philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, former Congressman and Vice-Chair of the 9/11 Commission Lee H. Hamilton, and Naomi Chazan, former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and President of the New Israel Fund.
President Clinton said the following:
“Peter Beinart has written a deeply important book for anyone who cares about Israel, its security, its democracy, and its prospects for a just and lasting peace. Beinart explains the roots of the current political and religious debates within Israel, raises the tough questions that can’t be avoided, and offers a new way forward to achieve Zionism’s founding ideals, both in Israel and among the diaspora Jews in the United States and elsewhere.”
May 13, 2012 | 7:12 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
In his recent book The Crisis of Zionism, journalist and writer Peter Beinart argues that a dramatic shift is taking place in Israel and America. In Israel, the deepening occupation of the West Bank is putting Israeli democracy at risk. In the United States, the refusal of major Jewish organizations to defend democracy in the Jewish state is alienating many young liberal Jews from Zionism itself. He has asserted that in the next generation, the liberal Zionist dream-the dream of a state that safeguards the Jewish people and cherishes democratic ideals-may die.
On Wednesday evening, May 16 at 7:00 PM at Temple Israel of Hollywood, Peter Beinart will make his only Los Angeles appearance. He will be in dialogue/debate with David Suissa, President of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. I will moderate this conversation. For those who cannot be present, the debate will be streamed live on the LA Jewish Journal Website. For those attending, plan to arrive early as people will be seated first come-first serve. We expect a large crowd.
Peter Beinart is Senior Political Writer at The Daily Beast, the online home of Newsweek Magazine, editor of the Daily Beast blog “Open Zion” and the former Editor of New Republic Magazine. Most recently he is author of The Crisis of Zionism (Times Books, 2012) which has sparked international debate as well as both praise and condemnation.
President Bill Clinton had this to say about The Crisis of Zionism:
“Peter Beinart has written a deeply important book for anyone who cares about Israel, its security, its democracy, and its prospects for a just and lasting peace. Beinart explains the roots of the current political and religious debates within Israel, raises the tough questions that can’t be avoided, and offers a new way forward to achieve Zionism’s founding ideals, both in Israel and among the Diaspora Jews in the United States and elsewhere.”
The May 16 evening of conversation is sponsored by Temple Israel of Hollywood and the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, as well as co-sponsored by five sister Los Angeles synagogues, Temple Emanuel, Temple Isaiah, Ikar, Beit Chayim Chadashim, and Kol Ami.
This past Saturday, The Crisis of Zionism was reviewed by David Lauter in the Los Angeles Times, Calendar Section, page 1. For more information about Peter Beinart and The Crisis in Zionism, see these links:
May 10, 2012 | 7:08 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Last week’s Torah portion K’doshim (Leviticus 19) and this week’s Emor (Leviticus 21-25) each, in different ways, addresses the prerequisite attitude necessary for the fulfillment of the tasks assigned to the Kohanim (Priests) in their service before God on behalf of the Israelites. Though our Jewish world is fundamentally different from that led by the Kohanim two thousand years ago, Leviticus and subsequent Jewish literature inform us of the necessary spiritual orientation for us to live “holy” lives.
In last week’s portion we read K’doshim tihiyu ki kadosh Ani YHVH Eloheichem (“You shall be holy because I, Adonai your God, am holy.”).
Rabbi Abraham Heschel explains: “One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word kadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the Divine…[holiness] was at the beginning of creation when there was but one holiness in the world, holiness in time. When at Sinai the word of God was about to be voiced a call for holiness in humankind was proclaimed: ‘Thou shalt be unto me a holy people.’”
The question begs for an answer - what do we need to know about living lives based in holiness? Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev offered that we begin with humility and from there everything else flows. It is written in Proverbs 22:4: Ekev anavah yirat Adonai osher v’chavod v’chayim – “The reward of humility is yirat Adonai (i.e. “Fear/reverence/awe of the Lord even more than the attainment of riches, honor and life itself.”).
Rabbi Akavya ben Mahalalel famously taught along these same lines far earlier (1st century BCE) that our relationship with the Divine is dependent upon three things: “Know from whence you came, where you are going, and before Whom you are bound to give account and reckoning. ‘From whence you came’ – from a putrid drop; ‘where you are going’ - to a place of dust, worm and maggot; and ‘before Whom you are to give account and reckoning’ – before the King of kings, the Holy One, Praised be God.” (Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:1)
The crass formulation is deliberate. Humility begins in our base recognition of the yawning chasm between our lowly creatureliness and God’s exalted Divinity. Levi Yitzhak reminds us that so often we humans, when striving to evaluate ourselves and be self-critical, are tempted to look at our achievements first. Rather, he said, it should be the opposite because though we may feel rightly proud of our accomplishments pride is the greatest threat to holiness. If our self-esteem is lifted because of our achievements, it isn’t really self-esteem that is enhanced, it is ego-enhancement.
The Chassidic tradition urges us to suppress our egos at all times in acts of bitul hayesh (lit. “denial of ‘isness’”) and to strive for yihud, becoming one with God and losing ourselves in the Divine Self because only in this way are our souls able to experience true spiritual uplift. Everything else is false. Pride, ego, self-satisfaction might afford us a temporary good feeling, but such sensation is always short-lived and illusory in the face of the greater Divine reality.
According to the Tanya (18th century), a tzadik gamur (“a completely righteous soul”) is in essence the most humble of souls. The tzadik is aware that there are two levels of yirat Adonai (“fear of God”). One is yirat ha-onesh, fear of punishment, and the other, the higher one, is yirat ha-ro-m’mut (“the awe of the overwhelming superiority of the Creator.”).
Moses was the latter, and the mystical literature explains that he was so because more than any other human being he was able to concentrate on the ain sof (the infinite God). He became what is called in Torah an ish Elohim (“a Godly man” - Deuteronomy 33:1), and he was known as ish anav m’od mi kol ha-adam al p’nei ha-adamah (“the most humble human being ever to walk upon the face of the earth!” Numbers 12:3).
One concluding thought about the tzadik and the effect of his/her achieving the quality of humility - such a person on Yom Kippur is afraid not of God’s punishing wrath for sins committed during the year, but rather of God’s loving-mercy, because the tzadik understands that if God judged him with rachamim (“compassion”) that is a sure sign that he had failed his Divine parent. The very last thing the tzadik wishes is to fail in service to God.
That is humility – that is love – that is selflessness – that is the nullification of ego and the submission of pride – and the degree to which we grow in true humility is the measure of the elevation of our souls.
May 10, 2012 | 6:52 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Bernie Avishai writes on Open Zion on The Daily Beast about what Prime Minister Netanyahu’s and new Kadima leader Mofaz’s merger in the government might mean.
It is certainly sly political maneuvering on both sides, and it might give Bibi a way to avoid challenging the authority of the Supreme Court on the one hand and at the same time sidelining Leiberman’s Russian right-wing Yisrael Bateinu party as well as extremist religious and settler parties. Everything will depend, of course, on what the real deal is with Mofaz (i.e. what he will get out of joining the governing coalition) and whether Bibi wants to make history as a peace maker.
Mofaz is a former Defense Minister, and he says he wants progress with the peace effort and the Palestinians. Now that the voice of Bibi’s father has passed into Eternity, will the Prime Minister be released from his father’s ideological fundamentalist extremism to be the practical politician many say he is?
Once again, Israel is ever-dynamic, interesting and democratic.
PS – For those of you living in Los Angeles, next Wednesday, May 16 at 7 PM at Temple Israel of Hollywood (my synagogue) we will welcome Peter Beinart in his ONLY Los Angeles appearance as he enters into dialogue with David Suissa, the President of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and founder of Olam Magazine.
Peter Beinart is the political editor of The Daily Beast, the former editor of the New Republic Magazine, and the author of the controversial book The Crisis of Zionism.
President Bill Clinton has said that those who care about the future security, democracy and peace of Israel, should read this book! The book has been both praised and vilified, as has Beinart himself.
The evening will be sponsored by Temple Israel of Hollywood and the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, and co-sponsored by 5 sister synagogues – Temple Emanuel, Temple Isaiah, Ikar, Beit Chayim Chaddashim, and Kol Ami. All are welcome. Come early.
The entire event will be live-streamed on the Jewish Journal Web-site.