Rabbi Avi Weinstein

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In Uncategorized on November 24, 2016 at 11:28 am

How is Jewish “Ethno-Nationalism” not a thing?

Okay, ever since Bila’am, and even before, we have carved out a unique clique that has a Divine mandate. As a faith, we are multi-racial, and multi-ethnic. Anyone can join, and be a part of us—all you have to do is follow the rules. Of course, whose rules is another problem, but let’s leave that for now.

Had we remained a landless religious entity, a people in exile, all of our “whose in/whose out” issues would be internal, and of little interest to the world outside. It is the Jewish state state that exacerbates a not so dormant enmity among our detractors, and enemies. Once one is on the international scene, one becomes everybody’s business. More worrisome than the anti-Zionist participants in the “longest hatred”, are those who passionately endorse Israel as a particular ethno-national state and see it as justification for their racist vision of the world. The NPI has articulated as much with great clarity.

A.D. Gordon, darling of the Zionist socialists of days gone by, echoed this sentiment when he talked about the ethnic self being nurtured by the “land” of our forefathers. Rav Kook used Kabbalistic language to reach the same conclusion. Worse than being accused of being an apartheid state by our detractors is to be loved by neo-Nazi organizations for exactly the same reasons.

Once we bristle for perceived ethno-centricism by the left, are we offended for being beloved for exactly the same reason by the racist National Policy Institute? And if we are, how do we thread that needle in a way that is easitly understood.? It is this conundrum among many other factors that exacerbate, exaggerate perceived Israeli human rights abuses against the Arab other.

No doubt, the sui generis experience of Jewish history pervades the Jewish/Israeli defense of these challenges. After what the world did to us, why do we owe them any explanations? We have a state founded on democratic principles no less imperfect than other nations, but we manage to thrive in a neighborhood of hostile, repressive autocratic ethnic states. Why single us out?

It is in this context, I would like to consider the policies of the National Policy Institute (NPI) whose little gathering of angry white men has gained much media attention.

The NPI position that Jews belong in Israel with “their culture” allows them to theoretically take advantage of Jewish innovation while still making the United States Judenrein. They say let us pluck the fruit of Jewish ingenuity, but let them do it from afar so that we don’t have to deal with their more insidious qualities. They freely admit that Asian achievement may even supercede that of their own race, but that they should go back to where they came from. Behind this is the fact that white people belong with their own kind. Emergent Israel based on the law of the Return is quite useful in the fulfillment of this dream.

These past few weeks have not made me more fearful of Israel’s enemies, but I am terrified by the discovery of Israel’s newly found “friends”.


The Maharal on Plagiarism, or The Long Road to Redemption.

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2016 at 9:51 am

Sometime during the death rattle of the last century, I convened a beit midrash with over five hundred Hillel students from over a hundred campuses. The topic was plagiarism. Something that I felt was immediately relevant to their academic lives. Virtually all of the students admitted that they plagiarised and they justified their actions by claiming that “everyone did it”. Just like pirating software, music etc…

Mrs. Trump’s sin was that, unlike her speechwriters, Mrs. Obama wasn’t consulted, or given appropriate attribution. In modern times one has to at least sign off on words that are not original. Even though we know that politicians have speech writers, we believe that the speaker at least believes what s/he says–even if they didn’t write it. The tradition would find this loose definition of word ownership a bit curious.

Here’s a faux Talmud page on the Gemara in Megilla 16a, as rendered in one of the Masechet Kallah. The Commentary surrounding is from the Maharal’s Derech HaChaim where he asks how is one to understand the connection between appropriate attribution and redemption. Take a look. Maharal on Plagiarism

As if you needed to hear more about “the Wall”

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2016 at 4:14 pm

In the space of several decades, a quiet schism has been revealed. The OWOW (Original, or the Old, Women of the Wall) who are now aggravated, and the present Women of the Wall who have scored political points by having a funded unique space outside of chareidi sightlines; the two wall solution, so to speak.

The originals wished to remain within an Orthodox framework on the one hand while pushing the envelope of accepted, but arguably halachic, practice. They wanted the Mechitza, but once on their side, they wished to express themselves by donning talit, and tefilin. The originals had been given approval by the Supreme court, but those responsible for the Kotel, had refused to enforce it.

The perceived victory of the liberal denominations has to do with the State recognition of the aspirations of the Conservative and Reform movements. This was a departure from the originals intent which was meant to work within an Orthodox framework. Non-Orthodox women who were part of the originals were in solidarity with their sisters, and supported their efforts. Phyllis Chesler, one of the originals, invoking her friend and mine, Rivka Haut z”l lays this out in her Tablet e-zine article:

Most Reform and Conservative Jews, having been misled by their leaders and by the media, do not seem to understand that the feminist and religious struggle that we have been waging for more than a quarter-century has not been to pray at Robinson’s Arch or to pray together with men in a minyan and in an egalitarian service. We all support such rights and had long hoped that the denominations would have fought for their rightful place in the sun: for a third section at the Kotel proper. This never happened. No such lawsuit was ever launched. Instead, the denominations piggy-backed on the contribution of grassroots feminists—and they hired Anat Hoffman, one of us, as an employee of the Reform movement. They used her just as she used them. The denominations have not betrayed our vision; they never shared that vision. Alas, only Anat Hoffman has departed from our original vision ostensibly for pragmatic reasons.

There were two different agendas for the struggle over “whose Wall is it anyway.” Potentially, neither was only about the Wall. For the Orthodox women, the permission to read Torah, wear tallit and tefillin would confer legitimacy on this practice far beyond the Kotel plaza. If a woman could put on tefillin at The Wall, why can it not be done in Modern Orthodox synagogues and schools? Rivka Haut was one of the early activists regarding the dilemmas of agunot, and she was passionate about women’s ritual inclusion in what is generally accepted  as being within halachic parameters, but not part of the amorphous, protean mesorah. She may have only had her sights on the wall, but had women been allowed to read Torah there, it would have certainly had an impact well beyond that sacred space.

It has been suggested that we go back to the time when individuals came to the Kotel to pour out their hearts, meditate, place notes, but not make a minyan. For too many, however, those activities only occur within the framework of formal tefila. It wouldn’t be long before people would clamor to pray together at “the holiest site in Judaism”. The claim that the Kotel is a Chareidi shule, howevr, is hyperbolic. It is a shule that conforms to the norms of ninety-nine per cent of the Orthodox shules in Israel, and not much fewer in the diaspora.

As one who is Orthodox in practice, but has only worked in pluralistic environments for forty years, I can tell you this. We are never going to be able to pray with integrity as a unified people. The unintended consequences of the OWOW enlisting/accepting the support of those from more liberal traditions is to have their own agendas and desires eclipsed.

Rabbi Yehoshua of Sakhnin in the name of Rabbi Levy said: Both [Cain and Abel] took equal portions of land, and chattel, so about what did they argue? One said, “The Temple will be built within my borders.” And the other said, “No, it will be built in mine!”…And Cain arose against Abel, his brother, and killed him. (Bereshith Rabba 22:7)

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. In the meantime, let’s learn together.



On Victims, Predators, and Kabbalah…A cautionary tale

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2016 at 11:01 am

Years ago, I read a biography of the late poet Allen Ginsberg who had managed to achieve a cult like status through the unlikely medium of poetry. He, and Kerouac had discovered at some point, Zen Buddhism, and became involved with the former Buddhist monk who founded the Naropa institute, and many Buddhist centers throughout the country. Rinpoche was a master of Zen wisdom, but he had abandoned the traditional discipline of the Buddhist monk for the pleasures of the flesh.  He was also a raging alcoholic who died of cirrosis at the age of forty-eight. His marriage was not shackled by arcane notions of fidelity, and he fully engaged carnally like a full-fledged beatnik. His knowledge, his wisdom, however, emanated from an authentic world to which he was deeply connected. His merger of the traditional east with the hedonistic and narcissistic west was, in essence, quintessentially American. He offered the promise of being the master without the shackles of traditional discipline; a loveable rogue Buddhist who has it all. In Jewish terms, the fruits of this world and the next. There were no expectations that he should be anything other than he was, and the Naropa Institute lives on as the only accredited Buddhist University on the continent–a true merger of east and west, I guess.

Mark Gafni must have kicked himself for waiting so long to find his way to Esalon where he could engage in the chaotic world of commitmentless love while lecturing nonsense peppered with pithy aphorisms borrowed from the many new agers who had preceded him.  If he had gone straight to Naropa, we may not be talking about him now, and we would still be lining up at Whole Foods checkout counters. This is why he feels persecuted. Like Rimpoche, Gafni needed an authentic history to abandon in order to sell his brand of snake oil.

Did we boycott Roman Polanski movies because of his ostensible liaison with a teenager? What galls us is that Gafni duped both leaders of the Jewish religious establishment  and Jewish renewal who demur when it comes to being that unconventional. Inasmuch as this campaign of ostracism is for defense of the innocent, and vulnerable, it is also particularly visceral for those who think they should have known better, but didn’t. As Americans, we, too, wish to have delights in both worlds, but we do so under the guise of our encounter with modernity; our own version of east meets west. “Feelin good, feeling good, all the money in the world spent on feelin’ good”. This is what Gafni’s acolytes received from him, but it cost them dearly, and so, therefore, he should pay for all the suffering he caused. Even when he acknowledges the pain he caused, he does so in the context of his so-called evolving awareness.

The book of Proverbs defines wisdom as being familiar with the ways of seduction. The Vilna Gaon explains that one is obliged to know these ways so as not to be swayed by the evil inclination. True wisdom eschews naïveté and the Book of Proverbs was supposed to immunize pupils from the malady of innocence. “To give the innocent guile, and to the uninitiated awareness, and cunning.” (Proverbs 1:4) The Gaon comments: 

For wisdom has many aspects, among them are wisdom and guile. Wisdom refers to one who has learned, received and knows much. The one with guile knows how to tempt and seduce others, offering sweet words, but his heart is up to no good. Similarly, the one who can recognize this quality is called “cunning”…as it is written, “I am wise, and I have dwelt with guile.” (Ibid 8:12) Through this exposure, he will understand the. temptation of the evil inclination.

 I think that says it all.

Report from Armon Hanatziv (East Talpiot)

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2015 at 9:27 am

Rabbi Mishael Tzion, (the able Executive Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships which I had the privilege of leading many years ago) gives the following report after the bus bombing near his kids’ school. Mish is a second generation Israeli with Anglo parents–his mother is actually Dutch–but has always been connected to the Anglo community. His perspective as a native born Israeli has a qualitatively different flavor than some American Olim for whom “matzavim” are new experiences. By all accounts, the current situation has been more affecting than previous ones because of the perceived ubiquity of the threat, but Mish really captures the complexity, and confusion of inter-ethnic strife, geography, security and, yes, bigotry. It’s a microcosm that’s worthy of George Pelecanos, and it sheds more light than heat. I give you Mish…

I posted this piece in Hebrew on Facebook a few hours again and thought you’d appreciate it as well. You’ll see in it that I got very little done on behalf of the Bronfman Fellowships these last few days – so sharing this here is offered as a form of reparation to the community. 😉
Thanks to Elisheva Urbas (mom of Avital Morris ’11) for the spontaneous translation.
Four Days in Jerusalem, and a Prayer for Parents in our time.
Mishae Zion
Tuesday, 7:10am. I order a Get-Taxi from home, en route to catch a ride out of town. Turns out that the taxi driver is a neighbor of mine: he lives in Tzur Baher and I live in Talpiot. I wait 3 minutes, watching his car cross the (until recently) invisible line that divides my home from his. In the taxi, we compare stories from the last few days. I say that we should pray for the children. He replies that we must pray for the parents. On our end, he says, it all depends on the parents; they have to persuade their children not to go out to the demonstrations. Some of the parents teach their kids to stay home (that’s the tradition in my village, he adds), and some think their main responsibility is to teach their kids to run away fast when they have to.  It depends on the parents with us, too, I think. What they say at home, how they answer, how they explain. What they say even when they’re angry.  I didn’t know that, that same morning, I’d find myself in the middle of an unusually intense parent conversation.
Tuesday, 9:45a.m.  East Talpiot, Olei HaGardom Street, 122 meters from my daughters’ school. Later the older one will tell me that “we were in the middle of snack time and suddenly there were a ton of sirens and explosions. I sit near the window, so I looked out — I saw a bus and all around it a ton of police cars. Afterward all the kids gathered around the window, and it really bothered me because I couldn’t finish eating.”  I’m stuck up north, when I get a message in the Fourth Grade Parents Whats-App group, updating us about the attack. Parents try to figure out what’s going on, to share information. And then one parent calms “Yes, everything’s all right in the school,” and immediately after that another parent “Great, but we have to get rid of the Arab cleaner.” From there, everything goes downhill. I debate whether to open my mouth (or my fingers). Against my nature, I join in the conversation. It’s the least I can do. Appalled by the attack. Appalled by the instinctive impulse to turn the school into an ‘Arab-rein’ zone.
Wednesday, 11:15a.m.  I didn’t go to the office. Not much progress toward my goal of writing an article about Moses’ leadership, either. I find myself spending hours in the school, on the phone, in front of parents, with parents, with the security guard, with the principal. There are many security gaps in the school, and a lot that needs to be taken care of — and at the same time, we have to be careful not to fall into the easy racism of firings. I learn gradually to recognize people’s fears first of all, and I also learn that human faces need to be put on all of this.  It’s not our school against all the world’s enemies.  It’s a matter of Samer, the school’s maintenance worker for the last year, a single mother of two daughters, who lives in Abu Tor. A neighbor.  And also: a religious woman; her head-covering covers  a little more than the other women’s on the staff.   I get in touch with the principal to give her an update and ask how I can help, and I see that she’s already five steps ahead of me. After a conversation that morning with Samer that made clear how frightened she herself is, the principal goes into every classroom and tells the students about Samer. Meanwhile the parents are still storming; most of them understand the complexity and write calmly, others…  At the end of the day the Parents’ Association votes, with a large majority deciding not to fire her.  Meanwhile the other parents appeal to City Hall. It’s clear that the work is just getting started.
Thursday, 10:20a.m.  The principal calls me.  “Samer is here with me, crying. Do you speak Arabic?” “I wish,” I say, and I head back to school.  On the way I pass four checkpoints, separating Tzur Baher and Jabel Mukaber from Talpiot and East Talpiot. I hand out snacks to the soldiers, who rightly prefer the fruit I’ve just bought for the family. Back at school Samer, trembling, tells me that on her way to school four police officers came at her with drawn pistols, made her lie on the ground, dumped out her bag on the floor. “They’re afraid, too,” we told her.  “I could see that,” she answers, “but why me?” Afterward she also got curses and abuse from some car passing on the street.  She ran to the school: a place of safety.
Friday, 9:45a.m. Exactly three days since the attack. Samer asks not to come in today.  Some of us parents volunteer to clean the bathrooms in her place. In the end there was no need.  But I was struck by the number of parents who were happy to help, and especially by the number of parents on the fence, struggling to make a path between security and discrimination, between anger and revenge, between national conflict and racism or religious war. On the way home, by the checkpoint, some guys are handing out Israeli flags and singing “Am Yisrael Chai.”  I hesitate to take them, but the children in the back seat ask to stop. They don’t understand the subtext: they come to this from a purer place. We head home, waving flags.
God of Fathers, redeem us.
Supporter of Mothers, redeem us.
God of Peace, awaken.
מגן אבות, עננו. משגב אמהות, עננו. מלך שהשלום שלו, עורה.
May it be a Shabbat shalom.

The Shock and Sorrow of Jerusalem pierces the heart of the heartland.

In Uncategorized on November 20, 2014 at 11:40 am

Kansas City was deeply connected to the violence that took the lives of Torah scholars in Har Nof. Rabbi Kalman (Carey) Levine was among the first graduating class of the local day school, the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. Rabbi Moshe Twersky was the uncle of our colleague Rabbi Meshulam Twersky who teaches in our Matmidim program for observant students. As of this writing Rabbi Twersky is on a plane to Israel to be with his father, Rabbi Meir Twersky, and immediate family.

Before he left, our faculty gathered and Rabbi Twersky acceded to my request, and addressed faculty and students at our school. I will paraphrase what he said in hopes that it is accurate:

He quoted the Talmud saying that it was important not to exaggerate when eulogizing because it would be shameful for the dead to be misrepresented in any way, so even if what he said would seem to be hyperbolic, that it was not the case. He was very mindful of the sages perspective, and would, if anything, be speaking in understatement.

First, he remarkably stated that he had not given a scintilla of thought to those “who did this.” They were irrelevant; they were nothing to him. Rather, he focused on his uncle’s example and his life. His entire existence was devoted to sanctifying God’s Name. His life and death were part of the same continuum. There was no leap from his life to his death. Unlike most people who when they die, people tend to emphasize their best qualities, this would not be possible with his uncle. He was not a fragmented person–he was complete, he was that rare individual who exemplified shleimoot.

Rabbi Meshulam mentioned that he also knew Kalman (Carey) Levine whom he sat next to for three years while studying in Israel. He remarked on his indefatigueable enthusiasm for study. Some may say from this that it is a small world, but I think it’ a big world, but we’re a small people.

Although nobody has an answer for why this happened, we should focus on the what. For when you focus on the good, that which is not good falls away like a klipat shum a garlic peel.

Let us not empower our enemies by paying so much attention to them. Let us spend our time focusing on that which is good and true, and make the examples of their lives be the light while all else are viewed as merely shadows.

Much Ado About Partnerships and Orthodoxy

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I’ve been reading with interest the discussion initiated by Rabbi Klapper regarding Partnership minyanim. He has done the community a service by modeling civility in discourse that hopefully will be the rule and not the exception when discussing issues that arouse passions on both sides of the divide.

I do believe that Rabbi Klapper offered an honest encounter with the arguments going so far as to say that there may be halachic justification for a partnership minyan. That may have not been a necessary concession because had he wished, he could have found reasons to reject this concept on halachic grounds. I don’t think that level of generosity, or humility was reciprocated, and maybe that itself indicates the fragility of change agents in general who feel they cannot concede any ground because their very legitimacy is at stake.

The role of women in Orthodoxy has been evolving for decades. The first door was opened by the Chafetz Chaim with the institution of the “Beit Yaakov” schools for girls where girls were taught commentaries on the Tanakh, and laws that were under the rubric of Torah Sheb’al Peh of which the Rambam and others had disapproved.

Nowadays high school, and post high school girls schools in the U.S. and Israel have opened and welcomed girls to explore, and encounter not only Tanakh, but the Talmud as well. This has been accompanied by, however begrudging, more engagement of women in the halachic process. Whether it be through “Yoatzot Halacha”, or more female Talmud teachers. Also, women’s Tefila groups that were disparaged by Rabbi Schechter, but championed by Rabbi Henkin also have been accepted (or ignored) and were instituted not even with a bang, and barely a whimper.

Now the envelope has been pushed for changing an existing norm in favor of a more inclusive model of shlichai tzibbur and Torah readers that is founded on a fresh look at some Talmudic passages and commentaries. The fact that Rav Henkin championed women’s tefila groups, but balked at partnership minyanim, should make one at least ask the question: Why one, and not the other?” The answer is fairly simple, but I don’t know if it has been articulated. Partnership minyanim are by definition sectarian. Whereas a woman’s tefila group doesn’t replace other minyanim, but accommodates an underserved part of the community in Divine service, the partnership minyan is an alternative i.e. a replacement for an existing norm. For many, for whatever reason, it is an unacceptable alternative. What does that mean, unacceptable? It means if many had to say Kaddish and that was the minyan available, they may very well choose to stay home, as they would for a normal, egalitarian minyan.

This would not be the case for a regular Orthodox minyan with the accommodations that Rabbi Henkin endorsed. This attempt at a new norm is not merely sociological, but is exclusive of a significant percentage of “the faithful”. One can endorse this diversion from the norm for many reasons:
*It makes Orthodoxy more attractive to those who have a modern sensibility.
*It is only fair to publicly acknowledge that the role of women has certainly changed, and it is backward for it not ti be manifested in the way we pray.
*If their is halachic justification, why wouldn’t someone make this change?

I do believe had there been a halachically committed egalitarian community complete with halachically committed leadership, that many in the partnership minyan would have found a home there. In the end, it’s more important that we are around those whose children are likeminded in observance, than where we daven. It would be wonderful for them if their minyan was considered merely a matter of taste, and not a source of controversy.

It is the halachic commitment of the proponents of the partnership minyan that is most impressive, and most difficult. I don’t accept the argument that they reject halachic authority. Au contraire, their halachic commitments leave them with no other community. Thats why the discussion is so fraught and why they wish to increase the conceptual dimensions of the Orthodox tent.

Nevertheless, dramatic change of a norm that divides as much if not more than it unites is more dramatic and serious than acknowledged by the arguments offered so far. What we’re used to and how that informs expectations is not a trivial matter. It actually informs much of our day to day practice; hence the statement “Minhag din hu”

Clarifying questions before offering answers…

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2014 at 10:16 am

When I was a yeshiva student some forty years ago, I remember a question posed by Rav Nosson Kaminetzky that caught everyone off guard. In many yeshivas it was the practice to set aside some time for a “mussar shmooze”–a talk dedicated to making students reflect on their spiritual growth. These talks diverted from normal Torah study, and their singular purpose was to inspire one to perfect his character both as a person, and as a Jew. Rav Nosson made the point that if these lessons fell on deaf ears, and did not affect real change in a person’s behavior, then they are a waste of time. The act of studying Torah at least results in the fulfilment of a mitzvah, even if it does not accomplish any other lofty goal. Why waste time on some ineffective “mussar shmooze” at the expense of Torah study? It’s funny that I remember the question, but have forgotten, or repressed, the answer.

Today, after reading Michael Oren’s op ed in WAPO, once again, that question emerges from my consciousness. Should this war be judged like Rav Nosson’s criterion for a successful “mussar shmooze”? In other words, that there needs to be a substantial change so dramatic that it justifies the expenditure of blood and treasure? Some like Ambassador Oren say just give us time to get the job done. While others counter that even when the job is done, it won’t be over, so you have accomplished little, or nothing. Just like the mussar shmooze that has no impact, it will be considered a tragic waste that will leave Israel emotionally and economically depleted not to mention, ethically compromised. Both sides of the divide are absolutely certain that their position is correct.

That means, nobody really knows.

Alison Benedikt (Arnold) represents unfortunately more people than her self…

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2014 at 10:22 am

The one who has mercy on those who are cruel will inevitably end up being cruel to the merciful. (Kohelet Rabba 7:17)

Can you imagine the wanton insenstivity of someone who views the burial of a young man as a pretext for airing her neurotic anxieties about her relationship to Judaism, Zionism, and her shmuck of a husband? True, if she had waited at least a week, the story would not have been current. But as when attorney Joseph Welch challenged Joseph McCarthy after attempting character assassination on yet another one of his “Communist” targets, Welsh eternlized the moment calling McCarthy out by saying:

Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness… Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?

Ms. Benedikt were your feelings so important for us to know? So critical that you need to assault the sacrifice that thirty thousand people regarded important enough to take a day to pay their respects?, Just because, he understood, as you can’t seem to that, he was surrounded by family– many of whom he can now never meet.

Hannah Arendt, philosopher and, paramour to the Nazi-sympathizing philospher Martin Heidegger, had some uncharitable things to say about the victims of the Nazi Holocaust and their complicity in their own death.  Among them, was her suggestion that Jewish passivity contributed significantly to their own demise. Rather than challenge that premise, Gershom Scholem the noteworthy scholar of Kabbalah, wondered, “Where was the Ahavat Yisrael?” But Hannah, a little compassion?

Sorry for my venting, but my real point is in regard to the comments that followed her fecal piece of treacle. People are so self-involved with justifying their personal conflicts regarding Israel that the feelings of grieving parents aren’t even considered for a second. For some reason, their narcissitic pre-occupations eclipse any concern for what parents, friends, and other relatives have lost. Are we so desperate to justify our feelings that we don’t think for a moment about the suffering of fellow human beings, even if you have conflicted feelings regarding the Zionist entity? Is the angst regarding civilian losses in Gaza so immediate that Mr. and Mrs. Steinberg be damned, we need to have my disturbed voice echo the funeral chant El Malei Rachamim?

These are all thoughtless, self asorbed cruel people who don’t consider how they might feel if they suffered, God forbid, such a horrific loss.  Would Benedikt wish to hear that her sister should be blamed for living in Israel, and that Lord Balfour conributed to her demise? Might she want people to wait a bit, giving her time to absorb her loss? Instead, she drags people into her pathetic world while Max’s parents sit shiva in a Jerusalem hotel room. Worse yet, the comments of her fellow travelers jump on the bandwagon applauding her for echoing the way they are feeling.

We know there is such a thing as identity politics, but there is also validation politics where the airing of feelings, and being conflicted becomes so all encompassing that nothing exists outside the realm of ones self–often in the name of compassion for all. Hannah Arendt stated that she belonged to the Jewish people, but she did not love them more than anyone else. For this, Scholem quit corresponding with her.

As for me:

Dear Mr. and Mrs Steinberg,

Your loss is so staggering that I hope the love demonstrated by the people of Israel gave you some small comfort. Please ignore the static of those like Alison Benedikt, and know that as I am writing this, I feel one sixitieth of your pain, and may you be consoled with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and have no cause to know more sorrow.

Blessed is the human created in [His] image… (Pirkei Avot 3:14)

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2014 at 9:36 am

This Mishnah in Pirkei Avot reverberates to all who value the sanctity of human life. This may appear to be a statement that needs little commentary. It is declarative, the message of which is clear and simple; but the prooftext bears some scrutiny. There are caveats that may bring offense to those who consider that being a human is merely a biological description.

The quotaion “…for in His image God made the human.” (Bereshith 9:6) is the second half of the verse which opens with “Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed.” The verse distinguishes between humans and the rest of creation. Monkeys are not created in the image, but humans are. If that’s the case why is the punishment for taking a human life fulfilled by killing the perpetrator? What happened to his Divine image? The intentional murder of another human, the verse teaches, and by extension, the Mishnah, causes that person to forfeit his place among the human family.

Challengers of this interpretation could claim that the reason the first part of the verse was omitted is significant, and the intention of Rabbi Akiva is a midrashic move that is meant to ignore the first half of the verse. Those familiar with how prooftexts are cited in the Talmud, know that the general presumption of citations is that they cover also parts of the verse that are not directly quoted. Here, that would seem to be the case because Rabbi Akiva could have quoted from the creation story which makes the unqualified declaration “for God created the human in His image, in the image of Him, He created him…” (Genesis 1:27) The use of this particular verse that justifies capital punishment for murder must be intentional.

A murderer loses his right to live, but more importantly, is the fact that this makes him  “other”–objectively other. He is missing a fundamental element of what it means to be human.

Certainly, the cynical abuse of human life by the criminal Hamas regime would fall in this category, but the shameful declarations of “Death to the Arabs” by Jews meant only to terrorize the Arabs who live among us violates and degrades the Divine image. The consequences of ignoring this incitement are too great. I believe the struggle against this behavior is as important as the destruction of Gaza’s tunnels. In this struggle, we dare not become like our enemies, and we must remember who are our foes, and more importantly, who aren’t.

Being born human does not guarantee that he will remain so. To hate the enemy is a horrific accessory of war, and certainly, the nihilistic and cynical modus operandi of Hamas needs to be despised. Everyone needs to be aware that in the chaos of battle tragic accidents will inevitably occur and innocent life will be lost. I don’t know what goes through the heads of each and every soldier as they invade Gaza, but I do know that the racist and bigoted statements of incitement as evidenced by the hundreds of nasty comments on social networks have the sole purpose of defiling the Divine image. And it is irrefutable that some of these people must be soldiers.

It is unfair, and upsetting to have the world focus on the asymmetry of losses conveniently forgetting the asymmetry of values between Israel and the Islamo-fascists of Gaza. But in the end, we not only have to look at ourselves in the mirror, but we need to be proud of what we see. It cannot be considered cool to normalize defamatory statements against those who will still be our neighbors. There is so much nobility that I’ve witnessed during these trying times, let us not tarnish our “image” by such subhuman ugliness.