Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
If a peaceful two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the goal of Israel’s leaders, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated, then the Levi Committee’s recommendations are anathema to that goal. Indeed, if the Israeli government were to adopt the recommendations that call for the legalization of Israeli settlement everywhere in the West Bank, a two-state solution to this conflict would become impossible.
The Committee’s recommendations would all but assure a “one-state” nightmare scenario, signal the end of Israel’s Jewish majority democracy by forcing Israel either to cede its Jewish character to the new Arab majority and remain democratic, or retain its Jewish majority and deny equal rights to Arab residents of Israel and lose its democracy. If Israel became the former, I fear she would lose much of Diaspora Jewry’s support, and if she became the latter she would invite unprecedented international pressure against her as a profoundly undemocratic state.
Further, the Levi Committee’s assertion that there is no Israeli occupation in the West Bank because, among other reasons, “it is impossible to foresee a time when Israel will relinquish these territories, if ever,” sends a dangerous signal to Palestinian leaders about the prospects for peaceably achieving a state for their people, and will give fodder to Palestinian extremists by unifying the Palestinian community as it prepares for the next war.
Truth to tell, there is nothing good or positive about the Levi Committee’s recommendations if Israel’s goal is a two-state solution to this conflict. It is irrelevant whether there is a legitimate argument about the “legality” of the settlements. It is irrelevant that Jews should have a right to live anywhere in the land including the West Bank just as Arabs live inside Israel. It is irrelevant that Israel occupies the West Bank because she won the war imposed upon her 45 years ago.
What is relevant is how the Jewish people will live in security and peace alongside a Palestinian state. What is relevant is how a partition of the land can be achieved. What is relevant is how the United States and the Quartet can assist these two peoples in making peace.
If Israel is more concerned about pursuing Truth (i.e. that it is justified historically, legally, and morally to hold onto the West Bank indefinitely) instead of pursuing peace as called upon by Jewish tradition, then it will adopt the Levi Committee’s recommendations. However, that would be a tragedy of historic proportions.
Those who love Israel should hope that her leaders stop its drift towards and acquiescence to the incessant demands of the settler community thereby destroying Israel’s future as a Jewish majority democracy.
Yes, Israel is justified in being suspect of Palestinian intentions and rightly concerned about threats from her enemies. However, for the sake of Israel’s democracy and Jewish character, the Israeli government should reject the committee’s recommendations and redouble efforts toward finding a two-state resolution to this conflict.
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July 17, 2012 | 7:27 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Last December 1, 2011 I posted on my personal blog the following arguing for the release of Jonathan Pollard. Yesterday, from Israel Hillary Clinton once again stated that Pollard would remain imprisoned. For the life of me, I do not understand why, nor the rationale upon which successive presidents have based their decision to keep Pollard in prison.
I reprint my original blog again and will do so periodically until it is no longer necessary.
01 Thursday Dec 2011
It is time for President Obama to commute Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence to time served for his guilty conviction of spying for Israel. Not only has Pollard now spent 26 years in prison, but he is in failing health. The latter would not be reason enough to commute the sentence if the punishment really did fit the crime, but the sentence from the beginning was grossly unfair.
Long ago it was revealed that Casper Weinberger, the then American Secretary of Defense, bore such animus against Pollard for his leaking American security documents to Israel that the Defense Secretary wanted to make a severe example of Pollard for his treachery. Weinberger had submitted a letter to the judge in Pollard’s case incorrectly alleging that information from Pollard had reached the former Soviet Union, and it was on this basis that the judge made the sentence so severe.
All this information was recently repeated to Vice President Joe Biden when he met with seven American Jewish leaders about the Pollard case. Included in this meeting was Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Dr. Simcha Katz of the Union of Orthodox Congregations, Rabbi Julie Schonfield of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Michael Adler, a Miami community leader.
The meeting was called because two months ago the Vice President publicly condemned Pollard in the harshest terms provoking a strong response from many in the American Jewish community. The good news is that VP Biden welcomed a meeting at all. To date he is the highest-ranking American official ever to hold a meeting about Pollard, as was reported by Rebecca Anna Stoil, the Washington Representative of The Jerusalem Post. However, the Jewish leaders agreed to strict confidentiality as to what Biden’s response was or what he would advise the President to do in this case.
Pollard’s sentence is extreme relative to the sentences of other guilty foreign spies and agents. The average sentence in an American court given to others convicted of the same crime of spying for an ally as Pollard received has been two to four years. People convicted of treason also served far less time than Pollard. The Jewish leadership delegation cited to Biden the case of Hasan Abu-Jihad, who received only a 10-year sentence for spying for al-Qaida. American spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hansen, convicted of spying for the former USSR, also were given less time. Other than Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were executed for passing top nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union in the early 50s (only Julius was likely guilty), no one has received a more harsh sentence than Jonathan Pollard – and again, his crime was passing secrets to an ally, Israel.
Reason and precedent dictate that Jonathan Pollard be released with a commutation of his sentence soon, perhaps before Hanukah. Humanitarian concerns also recommend his early release. Pollard has been hospitalized 4 times in the last year and suffers from a number of maladies including diabetes, nausea, dizziness, black-outs, problems with his gall bladder, kidneys, sinuses, eyes, and feet.
Finally, the Jewish leadership delegation told the Vice President that there is virtual consensus in the American Jewish community that President Obama should commute Pollard’s sentence to time served. The Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis both passed resolutions years ago calling for justice and commutation. I agree wholeheartedly.
There is a political consideration here for the President as well. Though his record is solidly pro-Israel (only the Republican Jewish coalition refutes this based on anti-Obama political enmity), his releasing Pollard would be well-received in Israel and would undercut the same Republican Jewish Coalition that loves to distort and lie about Obama’s pro-Israel credentials.
Mr. President – commute Pollard’s sentence now!
July 11, 2012 | 6:00 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Is American Democracy, our tradition of free elections and our advancement as an enlightened society being compromised by big money in politics and an aversion to facts and rational discourse?
I believe it is, and so what constitutes “enlightened leadership” becomes a central question as we anticipate going to the polls in November. Ever the optimist, I believe that good leaders can make a difference.
In their book “A Hidden Light: Stories and Teachings of Early HaBaD and Bratzlav Hasidism,” Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi and Netanel Miles-Yepez have written:
“If we think in terms of Rupert Sheldrake’s morphogenetic field and Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, we can see how individual shifts in consciousness may have an impact on the greater field of consciousness…as major shifts occur in the thoughts and feelings of individuals or groups of individuals, a ripple-effect is sent through the entire field, causing tiny adjustments and adaptations throughout.” (p. 72)
I mention all this because in this week’s Torah portion Pinchas we learn of the first significant transference of leadership and power in Jewish history. Aaron and Miriam have died, and Moses is fast approaching the end of his life. God singles out Joshua to assume leadership from Moses (Numbers 17:16-18). In verse 16 we read:
“Yifkod YHVH Elohei ruchot l’chol basar ish al ha-eidah - “May YHVH, God of the spirits of all flesh appoint a leader over the community.”
Note that ruchot (spirits) is a plural form, not singular. It is not written Elohei ruach l’chol basar, “God the SPIRIT of all flesh”, rather the “spirits” of all flesh.
The Talmud offers this famous story to explain:
“Rabbi Abba stated in the name of Shmuel: For three years there was a dispute between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel, Shammai asserting, ‘The law is in agreement with our view,’ and Hillel contending, ‘The law is in agreement with our view.’ Then a bat kol (a heavenly voice) announced, Eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim chayim (‘The utterances of these and those are the words of the living God, but the law is in agreement with the rulings of the School of Hillel.’ Because they [Hillel] were kindly and modest, they studied their own rulings and those of the School of Shammai, and they were even so humble as to mention the opinions of the School of Shammai before their own.” (Talmud, Eruvin 13b)
From this we derive four principle characteristics of the enlightened leader:
 Acknowledgment of Diversity of Opinion – No one human being can know the complete Truth, which is why Rabbi Abraham Isaac Cook, in emphasizing the importance of argument and debate among the sages, cited Talmud Berachot 64a, “Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Haninah: “Chachamim marbim shalom.” Torah Scholars increase peace in the world.”
 The Importance of Kindness and Modesty - The opinions offered by the School of Hillel were followed because Hillel’s disciples (emulating their mentor) strove to personify the virtues of kindness and modesty towards their adversaries thus enabling compromise and the development of consensus for the sake of the common good.
 The Endorsement of Tolerance – Rashi comments on Numbers 27:16, saying: “Appoint over them a leader who will be tolerant of everyone, each in accordance with his understanding.”
 The Need to Transcend Partisanship –Talmud B’rachot 58a says: “If one sees a gathering of 600,000 Jews or more, [the leader] must recite the blessing – ‘Praised be God, the Wise One of Mysteries.’” (See also Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Torah Commentary on Pinchas in this week’s Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/PrintArticle.aspx?id=180132). We learn from this that it is impossible to truly know God’s will. Anyone who claims such knowledge is not only a false prophet but an idolater guilty of the worst hubris.
In sum, Jewish tradition requires in our leaders knowledge, wisdom, vision, and the virtues of kindness, modesty, open-mindedness, tolerance, and willingness to acknowledge truth coming even from one’s most ardent adversary.
I believe that there are such leaders currently serving in American politics, and many face tough reelection fights because of the enormous funding of their opponents, many of whom do not possess the knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, experience, vision, or virtues that our tradition requires of our leaders.
As we move towards November, it would do us well to consider what qualifications for high public office Judaism sets as a standard.
July 8, 2012 | 12:06 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
In today’s NY Times (Sunday, July 8 - front page, front section, above the fold) there is a must-read article for anyone who has cancer, who is a cancer survivor, who loves someone with cancer, and who might be high risk themselves (“In Leukemia Treatment, Glimpses of the future” by Gina Kolata)
What makes the news reported in this article so extraordinary is that medical science now possesses the means to determine the differences in genetic constitution of cancers compared to normal cells in the same individual, and that cancer-driving mutated genes, or the proteins they program for, may be targeted by existing drugs, or drugs that can be developed. The problem is still far from simple, but the individualized genetic approach to cancer is the most promising in humankind’s history of grappling with this large array of disorders.
“What is important, medical researchers say, is the genes that drive a cancer, not the tissue or organ – liver or brain, bone marrow, blood or colon – where the cancer originates… under this new approach, researchers expect that treatment will be tailored to an individual tumor’s mutations, with drugs, eventually, that hit several key aberrant genes at once. The cocktails of medicines would be analogous to H.I.V. treatment, which uses several different drugs at once to strike the virus in a number of critical areas.”
Kol hakavod to the medical researchers! Keep it up – we’re all behind you!
July 5, 2012 | 8:43 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Balaam is hired in this week’s Parashat Balak by the Moabite King Balak to curse Israel as they traverse his territory, but Balaam blesses Israel instead with famous words now included in the morning liturgy: Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael… “How good are your tents O Jacob, your dwellings O Israel…” (Numbers 24:5).
Balaam is the first non-Hebrew prophet so designated in Torah. However, Jewish tradition regards him very differently than the Hebrew prophets. In the 2nd century ethical treatise of the Mishnah, Pirkei Avot (5:22) Balaam’s negative qualities are juxtaposed against the virtues of Abraham thereby presenting the Jewish people with a choice – to go the way of Abraham or the way of Balaam:
“Whoever has the following three traits is among the disciples of our ancestor, Abraham, and whoever has three different traits is among the disciples of the wicked Balaam. Those who have a good eye (ayin tovah), a humble spirit (ru-ach n’mu-cha), and an undemanding soul (nefesh sh’pha-lah) are the disciples of our father Abraham. Those who have an evil eye (ayin ra-ah), an arrogant spirit (ru-ach g’vohah), and a greedy soul (nefesh r’cha-vah) are the disciples of the wicked Balaam.”
The Artscroll commentary on this text compiles many rabbinic reflections on the meaning and application of this passage (pages 361-367).
Rashi says that those with a “good eye” (ayin tovah) do not suffer from jealousy, and regard the honor of a friend as equal to their own honor. Rambam and Rav say that such people are satisfied with their own position and take delight in the success of others. The Sfat Emet says that these people so graced have a positive outlook on all things and begrudge others nothing.
Most commentators agree that a “humble spirit” (ru-ach n’mu-cha) refers to exceptionally humble and modest people in their relationships with God and their fellows.
The sages interpret an “undemanding soul” (nefesh sh’pha-lah) as referring to those who have mastered their “evil inclination” (yetzer), exercise self-control over their urges, lusts and desires, and eschew the accumulation of excessive luxuries.
The commentators then turn to the negative qualities of Balaam, the opposite of Abraham. Rambam understands that those with an “evil eye” (ayin ra-ah) are consumed by their appetite for wealth, by blinding jealousy and by resentment towards anyone who has attained success.
Those with an “arrogant spirit” (ru-ach g’vo-hah) harbor delusions of grandeur, ignore the beauty and value of others and are consumed with themselves and their own needs.
Those with a “greedy soul” (nefesh r’cha-vah) refers to people willing to stop at nothing to fulfill their needs.
Though Torah tradition regards Balaam as a prophet, he is nothing like Moses. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev explains:
“The greatest difference between them, visible to all, was that Moses during all of his life employed his gift of prophecy beneficially at all times. He put his own life at risk on behalf of his people many times when trying to save them from God’s justifiable anger at them. Balaam used his gift exactly in the opposite manner, as his accomplishments were achieved by invoking curses… The Ari z’l (Rabbi Isaac Luria) compared the vantage points from which both Moses and Balaam pronounced their respective prophecies. Both of them endeavored to procure the fulfillment of their prophetic announcements from the same lofty source in heaven; alas Balaam used his power destructively, whereas Moses invariably used his power constructively…” (Kedushat Levi, translation by Eliyahu Munk, Vol. 3, p. 668)
In conclusion, our classic sources remind us that Hebrew prophecy is about fulfilling God’s will, not our own, that our chief concern must be for the welfare of others, and that humility before God and our fellows is the purpose and fulfillment of the religious life.
July 1, 2012 | 6:16 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Jeremy Ben-Ami has written that “Those looking to advance political or communal agendas through pressing militarism and portraying diplomacy as weak are playing with fire. They run the risk of greasing the path to ill-advised military action that could set back rather than advance the interests of the United States and Israel.”
June 28, 2012 | 7:49 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Recall the last time you became really angry, blindingly, uncontrollably angry, so filled with rage that you couldn’t think straight.
What did you do about it? Did you act out or say anything? When you calmed down did you feel justified in what you’d felt and satisfied in having said or done what you did? Was there a positive result to whatever you said or did, that is, did the relationship get stronger and better, or did your relationship with the person with whom you were angry deteriorate?
I ask these questions because this week’s Torah portion tells of an incident in Moses’ life when his anger had serious consequences for him and the people of Israel. The incident took place following the death of his sister Miriam, when he and his brother Aaron were still in mourning. The children of Israel had taken the occasion to complain bitterly about having no water. Moses and Aaron appealed to God, and God told Moses to gather the people, speak to a rock, and water would flow thus sating the people’s thirst.
Moses, however, was so overwrought with grief and was so aggravated at the people’s incessant complaining that instead of speaking to the rock he struck it twice with his rod. Water gushed out, as God had promised, but God was incensed by Moses’ defiance and punished him harshly:
“Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12)
To deny Moses the privilege of entering the Promised Land was devastating to a man who had dedicated his life to God and the people; and we ask what sin could hold such a consequence?
The rabbis offer a number of ideas. Maimonides said that Moses’ bitter language did not become his position as leader. The Talmud says that Moses lacked sufficient faith. Nahmanides thought that Moses showed hubris when he accepted credit for providing water in God’s place. And Rashi said that Moses lost his temper.
I want to focus on Rashi’s interpretation. Isn’t rage part of being human? After all, we all get angry.
There are many contemporary parallels to Moses’ fury. One is “road rage” when a driver becomes so infuriated at another driver that he seeks vengeance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that “road rage” is a factor in 28,000 highway deaths every year.
Studies of the approximately 16,000 murders annually in America reveal that a majority are committed by people who know personally the victim thus defining it as a crime of passion.
Of course, not all anger results in violent acts. Language is a powerful weapon when used skillfully against our adversaries. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” is wrong. What we say and how we say it can do serious damage.
There are times, of course, when anger is justified, such as against those who misuse their talents for evil ends, in the face of ingratitude, lies, slander, theft, mistreatment of the poor, cruelty, and false claims in God’s Name. (see A Code of Jewish Ethics, volume 1, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, pages 258-262).
Besides righteous indignation, the tongue can cause serious damage to marriages, friendships, and relationships between co-workers, as well as inspire fear in the home, work and school settings and destroy trust.
Holding onto our anger also has a terrible effect. Mark Twain said that “anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
If we follow Rashi’s interpretation, despite his strength as a leader, prophet, liberator, legislator, judge, and military chieftain, Moses lost the promise because he could not control his rage.
Tradition asks what constitutes real strength: Eizeh hu gibor? – Who is strong? Hakovesh et yitzro – Not the one who has physical strength, public or familial power, but “the one who controls his/her passions.” (Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 4:1) The Vilna Gaon understood the term yitzro as “his anger.”
In this sense, Moses showed a core weakness when he lost his temper before the people. If Moses was so capable of losing control, then so much the more so that each of us needs to check our rage when ever it shows itself, be it on the highway, within the home, among friends, at work, and before strangers. If we are able to do so, we and everyone around us will be the better for it.
June 26, 2012 | 6:00 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
It is important that those interested in a pluralistic democratic Jewish State of Israel support the recent Israeli Supreme Court Ruling granting state recognition and funding for Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel. This is why I am posting this recent letter from Anat Hoffman, the Executive Director of Israel’s Religious Action Center.
I responded already to Anat’s request to send an email to the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Amar, protesting his inappropriate and illegal intrusion into the Supreme Court’s ruling, and I ask you to do the same by clicking this link and helping us flood his office with thousands of emails.
Please do not delay. Take action on behalf of democracy and religious pluralism in the Jewish State.
The following is Anat’s letter plus a suggested response:
Dear Friends of IRAC,
This is a monumental time for liberal Jewry in Israel. After seven years, our petition for Rabbi Miri Gold, requesting state recognition and funding for Reform and Conservative rabbis in towns around Israel was passed. For the first time in Israel’s history, the state has given legitimacy to the liberal Jewish movements in Israel.
Unfortunately, not everyone here is celebrating with us. The Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Amar announced that he is calling upon his fellow Orthodox rabbis to prevent the implementation of the High Court’s ruling. He sent a letter to hundreds of Orthodox rabbis in Israel calling on them to object to the state’s intention to recognize and fund Reform and Conservative rabbis, and invited them to an emergency meeting today at the Chief Rabbinate’s office in Jerusalem.
In his letter, Rabbi Amar lamented “the hand given to the uprooters and destroyers of Judaism who have already wrought horrible destruction upon the People of Israel in the Diaspora by causing terrible assimilation and the uprooting of all of the Torah’s precepts. And now they seek recognition in the Land of Israel as well, to be destroyers of the religion… This will not pass!” “No one may be absent from the gathering,” he added.
We have sent Rabbi Amar a letter to remind him that the Chief Rabbinate is not authorized to intervene on this issue and that his attempt to foil the decision is illegal and inappropriate in a democratic country based on the rule of law.
Rabbi Amar is not acting out of the best interest for Israel, but rather out of “Sinat Hinam,” senseless hatred. His words go against the most fundamental values in Judaism and against “Klal Yisrael,” (the unification of the Jewish people). The reality is that most Jews, from all denominations, want Israel to be the physical and spiritual home for the entire Jewish people.
Today, as the Chief Rabbi holds his meeting against our movement, we will be standing outside his office in protest. You too can play a role: I want you to flood his office with emails telling him that pluralism is the only way to have a state that is strong, prosperous, and democratic.
Executive Director, IRAC
Action Alert: Email Rabbi Amar
Here you can email Rabbi Shlomo Amar to tell him that Israel needs to continue down the path to pluralism. You can use our letter or write your own. When you have finished please post it on your Facebook and Twitter page and forward to as many of your friends as you can.
Dear Rabbi Amar,
In a recent letter to your fellow Orthodox rabbis you wrote “the hand given to the uprooters and destroyers of Judaism who have already wrought horrible destruction upon the People of Israel in the Diaspora by causing terrible assimilation and the uprooting of all of the Torah’s precepts. And now they seek recognition in the Land of Israel as well, to be destroyers of the religion…”
This is a hateful statement that only serves to further divide the Jewish people both inside Israel and all around the world. I urge to you open your eyes to the future and engage in a constructive way with all Jews who want to see a strong, prosperous, and democratic Jewish state.
You would be well served to enter into a dialogue with the Reform and Conservative rabbis and lay leaders who you believe are trying to destroy the State of Israel. They are willing to work with you and other Orthodox leaders to create a Jewish state that represents the best of our shared heritage. Unfortunately, a dialogue only works if both sides are willing to engage. Are you?
Friend of IRAC