Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I have known Rabbi Larry Hoffman for 35 years as my teacher and friend – and like fine wine, he just gets better with age. Larry is as comprehensive a scholar and as keen an observer of the contemporary Jewish condition as there is in America today.
His most recent book (his 32nd) is One Hundred Great Jewish Books: Three Millennia of Jewish Conversation (published by Blue Bridge, 2011). Larry has read so much and seems not to have forgotten anything he has ever learned. An excellent writer, Rabbi Hoffman is a superb synthesizer of the vast corpus of Jewish material available.
This book excites even as it exhausts. Larry’s list is a veritable guide to among the greatest Jewish books ever written over the course of 3500 years. As he reviews each work in 3 or 4 pages, he shines a light not only on the importance of the book itself as a representative of an aspect of the Jewish whole, but articulates the most important ideas and developments each brought to the fore in their respective times and places. Throughout this work Larry asks serious questions about what we have been as a people, where our greatest ideas have come from, who we are today as a result, and what we must do going forward.
For those who might be worried about the viability of the Jewish people - Don’t! We are not an “ever-dying people” (as the Jewish philosopher Simon Rawidowicz once remarked). To the contrary, Larry’s book attests that the life of the Jewish heart, mind and soul is ever vital.
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April 12, 2012 | 3:41 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
“The world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”
So said Rabbi Akiva, who regarded The Song as an allegory of the love between God and Israel.
On first reading The Song is a secular poem celebrating young, sensuous, erotic love, a “love stronger than death.” Read more deeply, it holds the Presence of an Ineffable Other.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Cook expressed the mystic’s longing with these words:
“Expanses divine my soul craves. / Confine me not in cages, / of substance or of spirit. / I am love-sick—/ I thirst, I thirst for God, as a deer for water brooks. / Alas, who can describe my pain? / Who will be a violin to express the songs of my grief? / I am bound to the world, all creatures, all people are my friends, / Many parts of my soul / are intertwined with them, / But how can I share with them my light?” (Translated by Ben Zion Bokser)
The Biblical Song of Songs is read on the Shabbat during the festival of Pesach.
April 11, 2012 | 7:51 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
It is not often that I agree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but I do regarding his reaction to German Nobel Laureate Gunter Grass’s poem “What Must Be Said” that has taken media by storm in the past two weeks. In this poem printed in The Atlantic, Grass repeats the canard that Israel is the most dangerous nation in the Middle East because of its threats of a first strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. He charges hypocrisy given Israel’s own alleged nuclear capability. Netanyahu called such a comparison a “shameful moral equivalence.”
For good reasons Israel maintains a policy of “nuclear ambiguity.” The Jewish state is thought to have begun developing nuclear capability decades ago because of threats by her neighbors to destroy “the Zionist entity” and drive the Jewish people into the sea. Most Arab nations now accept the existence of Israel even if they do not have formal peace treaties with her. However, threats to destroy the Jewish state have not stopped. Today, Iran is the chief culprit.
Given Iran’s denial of Israel’s right to exist, we cannot ignore the significant differences between Iran and Israel when it comes to their each having nuclear weapons. First, Israel is a democracy and Iran is a military theocratic dictatorship. Second, Israel has never called for wiping any other nation off the map as Iran repeatedly does concerning Israel. Third, no other nuclear nation (e.g. Israel, Pakistan, India, Russia, or the United States) has ever threatened genocide against another people as Iran has done towards Israel. And fourth, no other nuclear nation has repeatedly denied the historicity of the Holocaust as has Iran, which leads a reasonable observer to conclude that fanaticism drives Iran’s foreign policy.
To complicate matters, a report in Haaretz this week reveals that there have been secret meetings between Israeli and Finnish officials on the issue of the International Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty conference scheduled for Helsinki in December, and that the Obama Administration wants to discuss a Middle East nuclear-free-zone at that gathering. Should this conference result in a demand to inspect Israel’s nuclear facilities, the ambiguity that is at the core of the Jewish state’s deterrent strategy would be destroyed. I would hope that the United States would push for an indefinite delay of this conference until such time as the Middle East stabilizes following the Arab spring.
All this being said, for Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai to take the step as he did last week to bar the poet Gunter Grass from physically entering Israel is an overreaction, and is unbecoming of the only democracy in the Middle East that values free speech. Alan Dershowitz, who does not make a habit of criticizing Israeli officials, made an exception with Minister Yishai when the Harvard professor wrote that Yishai’s decision was “both foolish and self-defeating,” and that the “ridiculous poem doesn’t pose any security threat to Israel that would justify his physical exclusion from the country.”
In truth, there are two main security threats to Israel. The first is Israel’s actual outside enemies who threaten harm, and the second is the anti-democratic trend promoted regularly by the current Israeli government. If left unchallenged, this official intolerance and demagoguery will chip away at Israel’s own democratic traditions and leave it just like the other oppressive nations in the region.
April 4, 2012 | 7:39 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I offer 4 items to include in your Seders with suggested placement in the ritual. Why 4? Because the #4 and multiples (i.e. 40 - 400) occur repeatedly in Jewish tradition, cross-culturally and in the Seder itself The number “4” is symbolic representing sh’lei-mut (wholeness, completion, stability, continuity, and renewal).
Examples of “4”:
In Jewish literature the flood lasted 40 days and nights signaling at once a return to primordial darkness and to new beginnings. There are 4 matriarchs and 3 patriarchs (plus 1 if we include Joseph, as suggested by some commentaries) who embodied all human virtues and vice. Tradition holds that the Hebrews were enslaved for 400 years and wandered for 40 years before entering the land of promise, time-spans representing long periods that closed generations and ushered in new ones. Moses received the Torah including the Written Law (the Hebrew Bible - Tanakh) and the Oral Law (Rabbinic tradition – the Talmud and subsequent rabbinic law and lore) in 40 days and nights representing the complete Revelation at Mt. Sinai. There are 4 poles of a chupah symbolizing the beginning of a new generation and a fulfillment of the old. And the holiest name of God (YHVH) is composed of 4 letters. Mystics teach that this four letter Tetragrammaton represents the entirety of existence; the lower and upper worlds, the hidden and the seen, the concrete and the abstract, the physical and metaphysical, eternity and infinity.
The number 4 is significant cross-culturally, as well, suggesting the totality of existence: 4 directions, 4 seasons, 4 elements.
In the Seder we ask 4 questions, tell of 4 kinds of human beings and we drink 4 cups of wine symbolizing all the ways God inspired the Hebrews to be freed from bondage. For Jews, freedom is not the endgame. It is, rather, a necessary precondition for a covenantal partnership with God that will usher in the messianic era. In the “time to come” tradition teaches that the Jewish people will be gathered from the 4 corners of the earth to Jerusalem (Y’rushalayim, also known as Ir Salem, the city of wholeness, a city possessed of 4 quarters, like the 4 chambers of the heart).
4 suggested additions to your Seders:
1. Say a blessing for the people and state of Israel – place following the recitation of the 15 steps of the Seder ritual:
Eternal God, receive our prayers for the peace and security of the state of Israel and its people. Spread your blessings upon the Land and upon all who labor in its interest. Inspire her leaders to follow in the ways of righteousness. Awaken all to Your spirit. Remove from every heart hatred, malice, jealousy, fear, and strife. Let the Jewish people scattered throughout the earth be infused with the ancient hope of Zion and inspired by Jerusalem as the eternal city of peace. May the Jewish state be a blessing to all its inhabitants and to the Jewish people everywhere, and may she be an or la-go-yim, a light to the nations of the world. Amen!
2. Affirm that to be pro-Israel means to be pro-Palestinian - after Halachma Anya (“This is the Poor Bread”):
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragedy because it is a struggle between two rights. Therefore, to be pro-Israel must mean also to be pro-Palestinian, for as long as the Palestinians are an occupied people without a state of their own, not only are they not free but neither are the Israelis free. Peace will require painful concessions from both sides of this conflict for each people to find peace, security and fulfillment. Amos Oz has warned that those who refuse to compromise will be doomed to destruction for “the opposite of compromise is fanaticism and death.”
3. Include the olive on the Seder plate - read following Ba-shanah Ha-ba-ah Biy’ru-sha-la-yim (“Next Year in Jerusalem”):
The olive embodies our prayers for peace in the Middle East and in every place where war destroys lives, hopes and the freedoms we celebrate this night. Today, in the land of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar, and Ishmael, living olive trees bring sustenance and roots to their families. Where they are uprooted, let them be replanted, for the sake of life, for the sake of justice and peace.
Next year, wherever we may be, may we be whole and at peace.
4. Offer these words as the final statement in the Seder:
May I recognize my failure to understand those who oppose me.
May I be able to look at the face of my enemy and see the face of God.
May we all be instruments of peace.
(Rabbis for Human Rights, North America)
April 2, 2012 | 10:51 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I am grateful to David Bedein, the Director of the Israel Resource News Agency, Center for Near East Policy Research at the Beit Agron International Press Center in Jerusalem for his comment and input on Marwan Barghouti’s crimes and demeanor at his trial for multiple murders. Mr. Bedein and have communicated privately. I also wish to express my appreciation to him for the way he communicated in both his comment and his private communications with me. He was more than civil and respectful, virtues which are too often lacking in public discourse.
In posting Uri Avnery’s piece which the journalist titled “The New Nelson Mandela” I did not intend to impugn Mr. Mandela’s integrity. However, by association with Marwan Barghouti I clearly did and I wish to apologize publicly to Mr. Mandela for this slight. He did not deserve it.
April 2, 2012 | 6:51 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
A number of angry comments have been written in response to my recent blog “The New Mandela.” I feel it necessary to respond to them and make several points.
First, the article I posted titled “The New Mandela” was written by long-time veteran Israeli journalist and peace activist Uri Avnery, and not by me. I did say that I thought his analysis was generally correct and enlightening, which is why I posted it for those who would not have seen his piece otherwise. One may not like Avnery, nor agree with him, nor welcome his comments, but no one can question his love for the state of Israel and for the Jewish people. Uri Avnery is not naïve nor is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is an astute Israeli political analyst who has spent his life thinking and writing about all things Israel. Israel’s press is filled with such voices.
Second, I believe the point he was making about Marwan Barghouti being the “New Mandela” is that Nelson Mandela, in his early years, was also deemed a terrorist who was involved in actions that resulted in the killing of others, just as Barghouti has been so characterized. The fact that Mandela grew past his terrorism and became the remarkable leader that he did does not cancel out his early career. The same can be said of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. Both were involved in what David Ben Gurion and much of the Jewish world at the time considered terrorist acts, and both became Israeli Prime Ministers. Menachem Begin, in particular, became a man of peace in the truest sense.
Third, yes - Barghouti was convicted of murdering Israelis during the 2nd Intifada as the commander of the Tanzim. He sits in an Israeli prison after being sentence to 5 life sentences. Yet, there is precedent for releasing people with blood on their hands from Israeli custody. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged more than 1000 Palestinians for Gilad Shalit, and among those 1000+ were more than 300 Palestinians with “blood on their hands.” This was not the first time Israel has done so. Should Bibi have done so? Most Israelis said “yes” with deep concerns and fears about the real possibility that some of these released terrorists would kill innocent Israelis again.
Given Barghouti’s past position in support of negotiating a two-state solution non-violently to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (a position he supported during the Oslo period and which he now has returned to, according to many reports) the question is whether he should be released so that he might become the “New Mandela.”
And finally – I respect the strong and passionate feelings of Jews and Israelis for the state of Israel. I feel passionately myself. Yet, before I respond to anything anyone else says or does, I ask myself whether I am responding out of rage, fear and hate, or out of love and concern for the people and state of Israel. I would ask everyone else to do the same. We are, after all, a people that thinks and critiques and asks the hard questions. Let no one question another’s motives. Rather, critique the ideas thoughtfully. We all gain when we all do so.
March 31, 2012 | 8:55 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I met Marwan Barghouti in his Ramallah offices with a group of Reform Rabbis in 1998. He was a soft-spoken moderate then, and told us that he accepted the principle of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much, however, has transpired since then.
The following is an edited version of Uri Avnery’s March 31 letter on Barghouti. Though the words are his, I agree with Avnery’s description of Mr. Barghouti, as well as his analysis and perspective of what has transpired in the now defunct “peace process” relative to Israeli policy and Palestinian response. I present it here with apologies to the author for shortening his original piece.
“MARWAN BARGHOUTI has spoken up. After a long silence, he has sent a message from prison.
In Israeli ears, this message does not sound pleasant. But for Palestinians and for Arabs in general, it makes sense.
His message may well become the new program of the Palestinian liberation movement.
I FIRST met Marwan in the heyday of post-Oslo optimism. He was emerging as a leader of the new Palestinian generation, the home-grown young activists, men and women, who had matured in the first Intifada.
He is a man of small physical stature and large personality. When I met him, he was already the leader of Tanzim (“organization”), the youth group of the Fatah movement.
The topic of our conversations then was the organization of demonstrations and other non-violent actions, based on close cooperation between the Palestinians and Israeli peace groups. The aim was peace between Israel and a new State of Palestine.
When the Oslo process died with the assassinations of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Marwan and his organization became targets. Successive Israeli leaders – Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon – decided to put an end to the two-state agenda. In the brutal “Defensive Shield operation…the Palestinian Authority was attacked, its services destroyed and many of its activists arrested.
Marwan Barghouti was put on trial. It was alleged that, as the leader of Tanzim, he was responsible for several “terrorist” attacks in Israel. His trial was a mockery, resembling a Roman gladiatorial arena more than a judicial process. The hall was packed with howling rightists, presenting themselves as “victims of terrorism”…
Marwan was sentenced to five life sentences…
IN PRISON, Marwan Barghouti was immediately recognized as the leader of all Fatah prisoners. He is respected by Hamas activists as well…
NOWADAYS, MARWAN Barghouti is considered the outstanding candidate for leader of Fatah and president of the Palestinian Authority after Mahmoud Abbas. He is one of the very few personalities around whom all Palestinians, Fatah as well as Hamas, can unite…
SO WHAT did Marwan tell his people this week?
Clearly, his attitude has hardened. So, one must assume, has the attitude of the Palestinian people at large.
He calls for a Third Intifada, a non-violent mass uprising in the spirit of the Arab Spring.
His manifesto is a clear rejection of the policy of Mahmoud Abbas, ... Marwan calls for a total rupture of all forms of cooperation, whether economic, military or other…[and] for a total boycott of Israel, Israeli institutions and products in the Palestinian territories and throughout the world…
At the same time, Marwan advocates an official end to the charade called “peace negotiations”… Marwan proposes to renew the battle in the UN…
TO SUMMARIZE, Marwan Barghouti has given up all hope of achieving Palestinian freedom through cooperation with Israel, or even Israeli opposition forces. The Israeli peace movement is not mentioned anymore. “Normalization” has become a dirty word.
These ideas are not new, but…it means a turn to a more militant course, both in substance and in tone.
Marwan remains peace oriented – as he made clear when, in a rare recent appearance in court, he called out to the Israeli journalists that he continues to support the two-state solution. He also remains committed to non-violent action, having come to the conclusion that the violent attacks of yesteryear harmed the Palestinian cause instead of furthering it.
He wants to call a halt to the gradual and unwilling slide of the Palestinian Authority into a Vichy-like collaboration, while the expansion of the Israeli “settlement enterprise” goes on undisturbed.
…For some time now, the world has lost much of its interest in Palestine. Everything looks quiet. Netanyahu has succeeded in deflecting world attention from Palestine to Iran. But in this country, nothing is ever static. While it seems that nothing is happening, settlements are growing incessantly, and so is the deep resentment of the Palestinians who see this happening before their eyes.
Marwan Barghouti’s manifesto expresses the near-unanimous feelings of the Palestinians in the West Bank and elsewhere. Like Nelson Mandela in apartheid South Africa, the man in prison may well be more important than the leaders outside.”
March 29, 2012 | 6:11 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I wrote several weeks ago on this blog about the BDS movement and its essentially anti-Israel and anti-Semitic delegitimization back-drop.
Since then the journalist Peter Beinart has called for a boycott of West Bank settlement products in an op-ed piece in the NY Times on March 18.
While I agree with Beinart’s analysis that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, as opposed to democratic Israel, is non-democratic and often brutally oppressive on Palestinian residents of the West Bank, I do not agree that we should support a boycott of Israeli West Bank settlement products as doing so feeds anti-Israel sentiment and is fodder for anti-Semitic voices around the world.
Having said this, ad hominum attacks on all progressive Zionists (i.e. J Street, Israeli NGOs and human rights organizations) claiming that we all support boycotts of Israel is grossly inaccurate and unfair. Such attacks make sincere and intelligent debate and dialogue about what is ultimately in Israel’s own best security interests and long-term viability as a Jewish and democratic state much more difficult.
For the record, J Street, as articulated clearly by J Street’s President, Jeremy Ben Ami, in interviews preceding the recent J Street Conference in Washington, DC and reported widely in the American and Israeli press, said clearly that Beinart’s boycott call of west bank settlements is ill-advised. Beinart, by the way, was a featured and honored speaker at the J Street Conference. He is a long-time Zionist and supporter of Israel, and his voice is critically important whether one agrees with him or not.