Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
As the new Egyptian Constitution passed its first go-around yesterday in a national referendum that non-Islamist parties acknowledge threatens civil liberties and the rights of women and minorities, we Jews have our own conflict with the encroaching influence of fundamentalist religion against the rights of Jewish women to pray at the holiest site in Judaism, the Kotel (i.e. Western Wall).
Two years ago I attended a prayer service at the Kotel with “Women of the Wall” on Rosh Hodesh (The new Hebrew month), which this group of religious women have been doing for a number of years. I reported on that event then which can be read here - http://womenofthewall.org.il/2010/11/praying-with-the-women-of-the-wall/.
That constitutes among the ugliest experiences in my Jewish religious life.
The issue of Jewish women’s religious rights at the Kotel has only intensified in this time. Media Line reported fully on the events of the past week at the Kotel
WOMEN DETAINED AT JERUSALEM'S WESTERN WALL FOR DONNING RELIGIOUS ITEMS http://www.themedialine.org/news/news_detail.asp?NewsID=36697
The ultra-Orthodox claim that these women are desecrating God’s name by donning tallitot and t’filin and praying quietly at the Western Wall in a group. But who is the real desecrater of the Holy Name? Certainly not these women!
12.7.13 at 5:18 pm | Joseph and Nelson Mandela demonstrate that a few. . .
12.3.13 at 6:33 am | Anat Hoffman's letter and a link to include your. . .
12.2.13 at 7:19 am | To acknowledge vulnerability is to accept our. . .
11.29.13 at 6:59 am | The recently published Pew Study of the American. . .
11.27.13 at 8:45 am | The two pieces below published in today’s. . .
11.24.13 at 12:15 pm | Kerry turned to the Jewish community to enlist. . .
12.3.13 at 6:33 am | Anat Hoffman's letter and a link to include your. . . (95)
12.7.13 at 5:18 pm | Joseph and Nelson Mandela demonstrate that a few. . . (84)
6.19.12 at 7:13 am | One has to ask why would so many people would. . . (46)
December 14, 2012 | 8:03 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Last year I wrote in this blog about the symbolic importance of Hanukkah for Zionists, American liberal Jews and Habad Lubavitch. I reprint it below.
I also include a link to a study that asks whether or not Hanukkah is simply a Jewish Christmas. (The Economic Journal, Ran Abramitzky, Liran Einav and Oren Rigbi, Volume 120, Issue 545, pages 612-630, June 2010).
Neither piece is for the purpose of reducing the joy of this festival of lights. Rather, they are to help us understand from the view of the anthropologist and historian the significance of Hanukkah in our contemporary Jewish world.
Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War (first published, December 2011)
Noam Zion, a fellow of and the senior educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, spoke before the Board of Rabbis of Southern California last year on this theme:
“Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War between Zionists, Liberal American Judaism and Habad – Who Are the Children of Light and Who of Darkness?”
Noam offered a comprehensive view of Hanukkah from its beginnings (© 165 B.C.E.) through history and how it is understood and celebrated today by Israelis, American liberal non-Hareidim Jews and Habad. Based on Hanukkah’s tendentious history and the vast corpus of sermons written by rabbis through the centuries, Noam noted three questions that are consistently asked: ‘Who are the children of light and darkness?’ ‘Who are our people’s earliest heroes and what made them heroic?’ ‘What relevance can we find in Hanukkah today?’
Though religiously a “minor holyday” (Hanukkah is not biblically based, nor do the restrictions apply that are associated with Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Succot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur), Hanukkah occupies a place in each of the ideologies of the State of Israel, American liberal Judaism and Habad.
For example, before and after the establishment of the State of Israel the Maccabees served as a potent symbol for “Political Zionism” for those laboring to create a modern Jewish state. The early Zionists rejected God’s role in bringing about the miracle of Jewish victory during Hasmonean times. Rather, such leaders as Max Nordau, Theodor Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, Jacob Klatzkin, and A.D. Gordon emphasized that Jews themselves are the central actors in our people’s restoration of Jewish sovereignty on the ancient land, not God.
For 20th century liberal American Jews Hanukkah came to represent Judaism’s aspirations for religious freedom consistent with the American value of religious freedom as affirmed by the first Amendment of the US Constitution. Even as the holiday of Hanukkah reflects universal aspirations, the Hanukkiah remains a particular symbol of Jewish pride and identity for American Jews and their children living in a dominant Christian culture.
For Habad, Hanukkah embodies the essence of religious identity on the one hand, and symbolizes the mission of Jews on the other. Each Hassid is to be “a streetlamp lighter” who goes out into the public square and kindles the nearly extinguished flame of individual Jewish souls, one soul at a time (per Rebbe Sholom Dov-Ber). This is why Habad strives to place a Hanukkiah in public places and why Hassidim offer to help Jews don t’filin. Every fulfilled mitzvah kindles the flame of a soul and restores it to God.
Noam concluded his shiur (lesson) by noting that the cultural war being played out in contemporary Jewish life is based in the different responses to the central and historic question that has always given context to Hanukkah – ‘Which Jews are destroying Jewish life and threatening Judaism itself?’
The Maccabean war was not a war between the Jews and the Greeks, but rather was a violent civil war sparked by intense enmity between the established radically Hellenized Jews and the besieged village priests living outside major urban centers (the High Priest in Jerusalem had already been co-opted by Hellenization). The Maccabees won the war because moderately Hellenized Jews recognized that they would lose their own Jewish identity if the radical Hellenizers were victorious. They joined in coalition with the village priests and together they took the Temple and rededicated it. That historic struggle has a parallel today in a raging cultural civil war for the heart and soul of the Jewish people and for the nature of Judaism itself.
The take-away? There is something of the zealot in every one of us, regardless of our respective Jewish camp. If we hope to avoid our past sins of sinat chinam (baseless hatred between one Jew and another that the Talmud teaches was the cause of the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 C.E.) we need to prepare our own constituencies to be candles without knives, to bring the love of God and the Jewish people back into our homes and communities. To be successful will take much courage, compassion, knowledge, understanding, and faith. The stakes, however, are very high – the very future of Israel and the Jewish people.
Is it any wonder that Hanukkah, though defined by Judaism as a “minor holiday,” is, in truth, a major battle-ground for the heart and soul of Judaism and the Jewish people?
December 12, 2012 | 7:37 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
There is now a joint letter being circulated nationally among Rabbis, Cantors and Rabbinical students to register our collective alarm about the Israeli government's decision to construct housing in the E1 Zone in Jerusalem.
The letter is co-sponsored by the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet (of which I am a national co-chair), Rabbis for Human Rights North America (RHRNA) and Americans for Peace Now (APN).
The letter below was sent to the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet of which 700 rabbis, cantors and rabbinic students are members. The same letter was sent by RHRNA and APN. I will report on this going forward.
In light of the Israeli governments' recent alarming announcement of their intent to construct 3,000 housing units in the E1 zone between East Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, J Street has joined with Rabbis for Human Rights North America and Americans for Peace Now to mobilize rabbis, cantors and rabbinical and cantorial students, to oppose such actions.
As leaders of our community, we hope you will join us in speaking out to Prime Minister Netanyahu against this move, which would effectively make the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict untenable.
As American rabbis, we also fear that construction in E1 damages the critical relationship between Israel and the United States. Construction in E1 would violate repeated commitments to the United States, dating back to 1994, not to build settlements in the area.
The Mishna (Pirke Avot 1:12) tells us, "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving humankind and bringing them closer to the Torah." The commentary on this saying in Avot d'Rabbi Natan tells us that it is not enough merely to love peace, but that one must pursue it as strenuously as Aaron did.
For the sake of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, we urge you to cease plans to construct new settlements in E1, elsewhere in the West Bank, or in East Jerusalem. We pray that you follow Aaron’s example by returning to the negotiating table as quickly as possible. This unprecedented action requires an unprecedented response from the leaders of our community.
Rabbi John Rosove, co-chair J Street Rabbinic Cabinet
Rabbi Amy Small, co-chair J Street Rabbinic Cabinet
Rabbi John Friedman, co-chair J Street Rabbinic Cabinet
Rabbi Lawrence Troster, J Street Rabbinic Director
December 7, 2012 | 8:37 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt Dan Kurtzer is convinced that Middle East peacemaking is 'in Obama’s guts.' His new book aims to show the president how to move forward in “Pathways to Peace – America and the Arab-Israeli Conflict”. (Reviewed by Chemi Shalev in Haaretz)
If you read only one book on the Middle East this year, let this one be it. It has been sent to the Obama Administration and members of Congress.
The only reasonable conclusion to draw after reading this book is that the time is now to enter into final status negotiations between Israel and Palestine and that only strong American pressure will bring this about.
Essays are written by American, Israeli and Palestinian experts. All of them are compelling and enlightening. For me, as part of the pro-Israel pro-peace progressive Zionist community, the essays written by Palestinians are among the most enlightening because the Palestinian narrative is quite different from the Israel narrative.
The book argues effectively that the past cannot be prologue to the future. What is important now is what happens going forward. Playing the blame game for past failures at peace negotiations will doom future talks and a successful two-state solution, which is in the best interests of Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, Europe, and all moderate Arab countries. The alternative to a two-state solution is endless war, bloodshed and despair. What will be lost as well will be the Zionist dream of creating a Jewish democratic state in our national home after 2000 years of exile.
Ambassador Daniel Kurzter has done a significant service in the cause of peace. Kol hakavod to him!
December 5, 2012 | 8:42 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
We are at a tipping point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The UN Palestinian resolution and Israel’s response are indicative of a sea-change in the Middle East. Time is quickly passing and for those who believe that it is vital for Israel to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians for the sake of her own Jewish democratic character, peace and security, the window of opportunity is quickly closing, as a report shows fairly conclusively just published by “Territorial Jerusalem” headed up by long-time Jerusalem settlements’ expert Daniel Seidemann:
“As the entire world knows, Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided that Israel’s answer to the UN vote will be the construction of thousands of new settlement units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the expediting of the E-1 settlement, which has long been recognized as the “fatal heart attack” of the two-state solution. Indeed, E-1 is not a "routine" settlement. If built, it is a game-changer, maybe a game-ender. E1 is the "binary"settlement. If you support E-1, you cannot possibly be in favor of the two-state solution; if you are in favor of the two-state solution, you must oppose E-1.” (Read the full report here.)
If true (and I believe it is), what can and should we American citizens do to support a renewed peace process?
We should be exerting concerted pressure on President Obama to reengage with Israel and the Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution, to visit Israel and connect personally with the Israeli population, and to visit Ramallah to connect personally with the Palestinian population.
This should all be done as soon as possible after his inauguration and the Israeli elections scheduled for January 22.
The President needs to appoint a new high level “A Team” led by him and his new Secretary of State to bring a plan with defined parameters addressing all the outstanding issues including borders, security, Jerusalem, water, and refugees, and then work diligently with both sides to achieve a two-state solution within a few months.
Doing so is clearly in both America’s and Israel’s best interests. This unresolved conflict has become a catalyst for radicalism across the Arab and Islamic worlds. It strengthens the hands especially of Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaida to foment anger in the Arab and Islamic street against America and Israel. It diminishes American influence throughout the region and weakens moderate Arab regimes.
A resolution of the conflict will not only help to reverse these trends but also stabilize Israel’s relationships with most of its neighbors and bring Israel back into positive relationships with the family of nations.
Yes, there is a high risk of failure, as this conflict seems intractable; but so too is there a high risk for inaction.
The general outlines of a two-state solution are likely already supported by the majority of Israelis and Palestinians. Israel, of course, cannot deal with Hamas unless it recognizes the right of Israel to exist and stops its terrorist attacks. A separate agreement, in the meantime, can be reached with Fatah (assuming President Abbas recognizes the futility of including Hamas as currently constituted and bravely goes forward to negotiate in good faith) with a future expansion of an agreement to include Gaza on another day.
Despite Abbas’ nasty remarks at the UN, he does support a two-state end-of-conflict solution. Only a month ago he was asked by journalists if he ever wished to live in the city of his birth, Safed, again. He said he would like to visit, but Safed is in Israel and he has no intention of living there. He wants to live with his own people in Palestine which is the West Bank and Gaza.
Winston Churchill noted in a speech in the House of Commons on November 12, 1936:
“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” (cited by Daniel Kurtzer in “Pathways to Peace – America and the Israeli-Arab Conflict,” 2012, p. xiii).
What was true in 1936 for the world is true now for the Middle East. The time for inaction is over. Bold and courageous leadership is needed now by the United States, Israel and Palestine before it is too late.
December 2, 2012 | 7:52 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I am grateful to my colleague Rabbi Victor Reinstein for the central idea of this d’var Torah. When he was a senior rabbinic student at HUC in New York, he offered a drash on the first two words of the Genesis 37:1 - Vayeishev Yaakov “And Jacob dwelled,” and suggested a midrash: Ein omrim vayeishev Yaakov (“Do not say ‘And Jacob dwelled;”) Ele vayasheiv Yaakov (“Rather, and Jacob made peace.”).
If we re-vocalize the verb yod-shin-vet from the paal construction to the piel construction, yashav can be understood in the sense of lashevet (“to dwell”), as it is usually translated in our portion. Or it can be used as l’yasheiv (“to settle a dispute”), as in yishev sikh’sukh. The same Hebrew root means, based on verbal form, “to dwell” and “to make peace!” The close relationship between them suggests the deeper purpose of dwelling - that when we dwell in a place we are meant to make peace in that place.
Each of us simultaneously dwells in at least two places - in our own “place” (i.e. lives) and in the world. The greater challenge of va-yashev/va-yeishev is for us to seek to to make peace in both.
In the Talmud “Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘Every place where it says va-yeishev, this is in the language of pain; ‘And Jacob dwelled in the land of his father’s sojourning – it’s written after that, ‘and Joseph brought evil report of his brothers unto his father.”” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 106a)
Jacob (and Joseph in his early years) dwelled, but they each failed to make peace where they dwelled. Jacob allowed his family to be torn apart by jealousy and hatred resulting in much pain and despair. However, when we unite through peacemaking, we create a new language of hope.
“Ein omrim va-yeishev Yaakov, ele va-yasheiv Yaakov”
“Do not say ‘and he dwelled.’ Rather say, ‘and he made peace.”
This teaching challenges us to think and act responsibly in the wake of the successful UN General Assembly Resolution vote raising Palestinian status to that of a non-member state.
There are those in our community and in Israel, led by many in the Israeli government, that want to punish the PA by building more settlements in E1 thereby closing off any possibility for a contiguous Palestinian state in an eventual two-state solution, to withhold taxes collected by Israel and intended for the PA from a cash starved Palestinian Authority, and in Washington, to close down the Palestinian Authority Mission should negotiations become stalled for any reason.
Not only are these actions reactive, they are strategically foolish. After all, the PA used diplomacy, not terror and war, to advance its cause at the UN. Regardless of what we might think of the UN, they had the legal right to do so.
We American Jews who love Israel and recognize that she must remain both Jewish and democratic should be doing everything we can to encourage the President of the United States and our Congressional leaders to not “punish’ the PA for taking the diplomatic route. To do so is to give up hope for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Further, it is tantamount to giving the nod to the terrorist organization Hamas and to endless war.
We American Jews should be doing everything possible to encourage President Obama, the Quartet, and the international community to bring a viable plan based on passed negotiations and agreements to the Israelis and Palestinians so they can negotiate an end-of-conflict two-state solution before it is too late.
November 27, 2012 | 12:26 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
This morning, J Street (a pro-Israel, pro-peace educational and political organization in Washington, D.C.) published this statement on the Palestinian bid for greater status at the United Nations.
The Palestinian Authority will submit its resolution for a vote in the General Assembly on Thursday, November 29 - a date that resonates in UN history. On November 29, 1947 the UN passed a resolution for the partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine thereby paving the way for international recognition of the State of Israel the following year.
At that time, all Arab nations rejected the Partition plan. It has taken 65 years for the Palestinians, in effect, to support that original partition plan for two states - a Jewish state and a Palestinian state.
At this time there is overwhelming support in the General Assembly of the United Nations for the resolution.
J Street's considered, comprehensive and nuanced position is for the day after the vote. J Street did not take position on the resolution itself.
I am a national co-chair of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street. Among many others (e.g. the J Street Board, Rabbinic Cabinet, and J Street Students), I was consulted before this document was finalized. I support it wholeheartedly and pray that the Obama administration, the government of the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority move rapidly to save the two-state solution before it is too late.
November 26, 2012 | 8:53 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Sami Al Jundi’s story (co-authored with Jen Marlow) is the most remarkable memoir I have read coming out of the Palestinian experience. For those who care about ending the violence, enmity, occupation, and repression that characterize the Israeli-Palestinian context, I recommend this book highly.
The book is not, however, for the faint of heart. There are passages difficult to stomach including a detailed description of Sami’s torture by both Israeli security officials and Palestinian Authority police (yes – he was abused by both). Indeed, Sami spares no one, Israelis, Palestinians and “do-good” Americans who he believed did not fully understand the depth of enmity between the peoples and what is necessary to transform the relationship if peace is to be realized.
Sami was born into a loving family in the old city of Jerusalem in 1961. As a child, like many Palestinian children living under occupation, he became radicalized and participated in rock throwing against Israeli soldiers. When he was 17, he was arrested after a bomb he and two friends were making and planning to detonate in an Israeli vegetable market blew up in their faces. One friend was killed and Sami was wounded. He was arrested at the hospital, interrogated and tortured by Israeli security police, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 10 years in an Israeli prison.
Once in prison he discovered that his fellow Palestinian political prisoners had created a democratic system that included a highly sophisticated and intensive educational program. Sami read 300 pages a day for 10 years in world history, philosophy, psychology, French and Arabic literature, and poetry, as well as the Torah, New Testament and Qur’an. As a result he began to rethink relations between individuals and peoples.
Despite his violent past, Sami was drawn to the non-violent thought of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. Upon release from prison, Sami was committed to non-violence and became involved with the "Palestinian Center for Non-Violence in Jerusalem." The Center’s purpose was:
“Throw flowers, not stones, at soldiers at demonstrations. Force them to see our humanity…be stronger than your opponent – do not respond to their violence with your own….the occupation must end and there must be equal rights for both peoples living in this land. The message will be stronger if it is delivered using nonviolent methods.”
Noting the influence of two Persian dualist philosophers, Mani (3rd century CE) and Mazdak (6th century CE), Sami wrote:
“Everyone … has light and darkness inside them. Even the darkest heart always has some small point of light. We have to help them find their light also. And then it will grow. This is the essence of nonviolence. Not to fight the person, but to fight the darkness in his heart. The only way to do this is through growing his light… The only way to change their behavior is if we’re willing to talk to each other, to build respect for each other as human beings.” (p. 210)
Sami was disgusted by violence of all kinds, be it perpetrated by Palestinian suicide bombers, Israeli settlers, the Israeli Defense Forces, and the Palestinian Authority police.
Soon after its founding in 1993 by the American journalist John Wallach (who was my congregant when I served at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in DC), Sami became the supervisor of the “Seeds of Peace Center for Coexistence in East Jerusalem.” The program was founded upon the idea that when young people from enemy communities have an opportunity to meet each other on neutral ground as equals, talk, argue, listen, and spend time together, they develop empathy for the other and consequently become friends, which Seeds of Peace affirms is the basis for the peaceful resolution of conflict between individuals and peoples.
It was at the Center that Sami met the American author/documentary filmmaker/playwright Jen Marlowe, who was on staff and became a dear friend.
Though Sami eventually would leave Seeds of Peace, the reasons for which he describes in detail, the Seeds program has expanded over the 20 years of its existence to include 5000 alumni from 27 nations. (See http://www.seedsofpeace.org/about)
The resolution to the memoir is as unfinished as is the lack of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though I do not know Sami or Jen personally, I would imagine that they would both affirm that now, especially in the wake of the violence in Gaza, is not the time to desist from efforts for Israelis and the Palestinians to make peace.
As they have stated, our two peoples are destined to live together side by side on the land we each claim as our national home. Programs such as Seeds of Peace and the Palestinian Center for Non-Violence represent among the few shining lights remaining in the darkness of the human heart within the Israeli-Palestinian context and thus are our greatest hope.