People pray at the Western Wall on Jan. 12. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Why Are There Two Jerusalems?


Why is Yerushalayim plural,

One on high and one below?…

I want to live in one “Yerushal,”

Because I am just “I” and not “I”s.

—- Yehuda Amichai, “Open Closed Open”

 

Welcome to one of the great grammatical conundrums in the history of Jewish geography: why is the Hebrew word for Jerusalem – Yerushalayim — in the plural form?

Because, in fact, there is not one Jerusalem; there are two.

On a political level, there are two Jerusalems — the “new city” of west Jerusalem, and the Old City and eastern Jerusalem — two entities forged into one fifty years ago with the Six Day War.

On a linguistic level, there are two Jerusalems – Yerushalayim in Hebrew; al-Quds (“the holy city”) in Arabic.

On a geographical level, there are two Jerusalems. Jerusalem is on the border between the coastal plain that leads to Tel Aviv, and the wilderness that begins to its east. As soon as you leave Jerusalem, and head east, the Asian desert begins. Jerusalem, therefore, is at the nexus point of a Mediterranean climate and central Asian climate.

What is the origin of the “two Jerusalem” theory?

The first mention of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible is in Genesis 14, in the account of Abram’s war against the kings.

There Abram encounters Melchizedek, who is both the king of Salem and a priest of the Canaanite god El Elyon, God Most High. Melchizedek greets Abram with bread and wine and blesses him in the name of El Elyon. It is the first interfaith dialogue in history. There, the place is called Salem, or Shalem.

A few chapters later, in Genesis 21, Abraham returns to that place. He brings his son, Isaac, to “the land of Moriah” as a potential sacrifice.

Abraham calls the place Adonai-yireh, “God will see” — or simply, Yireh.

Abraham named the place Yireh, and Melchizedek knew it as Shalem. Yireh-Shalem becomes Yerushalayim. Those two names are soldered together: One name, given to it by a pagan king who blesses Abraham — representing the possibility of peace; and another name, given to it by Abraham himself, representing the presence of God and the sacrificial offerings that will be there at that place.

Peace between people and peace with God — wedded together in one name. A promise and a goad. A duality.

But, there is far more than this; as the late poet, Yehuda Amichai, intimates, there is a spiritual duality as well.

Jerusalem is Yerushalayim because of a subtle duality that is nevertheless omnipresent in our literature and thinking — the earthly Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel matah) and the heavenly Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel maalah).

Where does one begin on this quest for the heavenly Jerusalem and the earthly Jerusalem?

The idea of a supernal Jerusalem begins in Isaiah 6. The prophet has a vision of God in a supernal temple, surrounded by angelic beings, each one chanting “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.”

The rabbis imagined that the heavenly Jerusalem served as an alternative and antidote to the real, imperfect Jerusalem. Their fantasies took on new fervor after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. They believed that the heavenly Jerusalem had its own temple with its own elite of priests and prophets.

Resh Lakish said: There are seven firmaments, and in one of those firmaments there is a place where millstones grind manna for the righteous, and in one of those firmaments there is a place where the heavenly Jerusalem, and the Temple, and the very altar are built, where the angel Michael stands and every day brings an offering.

The Rabbis idealized Jerusalem, twisting it beyond its own reality. For them, the mountains of Jerusalem pointed straight to heaven. They imagined Jerusalem as a place where no woman ever miscarried, where no one was ever stung by serpent or scorpion, where the fires of the altar were never doused with rain, where no wind blew the pillar of smoke over the worshipers.

The idea of a heavenly Jerusalem exists in Christianity as well.

For Christians, the earthly Jerusalem is Jewish and sinful; the heavenly Jerusalem, Christian and righteous. The heavenly Jerusalem is the place of the new covenant sealed through the blood of Jesus.

But you are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

The ultimate vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem comes from Revelations. John sees the New Jerusalem descending from heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband in gold and precious stones.

I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name…And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelations 3;12)

For Christians, the heavenly Jerusalem was not real. It was an ideal. In the Middle Ages, there were many fanciful descriptions, maps, and paintings of Jerusalem, each one showing Jerusalem as the center of the world, as the sages themselves imagined it – as axis mundi.

The idea of the heavenly Jerusalem finds its way into even the very architecture and design of the modern city of Jerusalem.

Anyone who has been to Jerusalem marvels at the beauty of Jerusalem stone as a building material.

The man who first figured this out was Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British military governor of Jerusalem, and a vicar’s son. He enacted a law that permitted only Jerusalem stone to be used as a building material used in construction in Jerusalem. In his memoirs recalls the medieval hymn “Jerusalem is built in heaven/ Of living stone.” He believed that the earthly Jerusalem should be a replica of the heavenly Jerusalem.

By contrast, the Jewish view of the heavenly Jerusalem is that it is actually not entirely in heaven.

In fact, the heavenly Jerusalem is adjacent to the earthly Jerusalem.

Towards where should we pray? Rabbi Hiyya said: Toward the heavenly Holy of Holies. Rabbi Simeon ben Halafta said: Toward the earthly Holy of Holies. Rabbi Pinchas said: There is no disagreement here. The earthly holy of holies is directly opposite the heavenly Holy of Holies. (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 4:5).

Jerusalem represents the revealed presence of God in human history. In the liturgy, in seder kriat ha-Torah (the service for the reading of the Torah), you would expect references to the place from which Torah came – Sinai.

Not so. Instead, Jerusalem has a starring role. As we take the Torah from the ark, we echo the plaintive cry of Jews in Jerusalem during Crusader times: “Rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.” “For out of Zion Torah goes forth, and the word of God from Jerusalem.” In fact, the revelation at Sinai is absent; instead, the Torah service asks us to remember and dramatize the first time that Ezra read the Torah to the returning exiles at the newly built, makeshift second Temple.

Jerusalem represents the homecoming of the soul. At the end of Neilah, as well as at the end of Pesach seder: “Next year in Jerusalem!”

We can understand singing those words at the end of the seder; we have just imagined ourselves leaving Egypt, and about to trek into the wilderness on our way to the land of Israel/

But, why do we say those words at the end of the Day of Atonement? Because, here, Jerusalem is not “really” Jerusalem. It is a metaphor for inner wholeness, forgiveness, and redemption.

Jerusalem ultimately represents God. The Jerusalem Talmud says that in days to come, the name of the city will be “Adonai is there.” “Do not read ‘shama,’ there, but rather, shemah — her name.”

Jerusalem and God will have the same name.

Let us not read this as the deification of a city.

Rather, let us read this as the urbanization of an ideal of holiness.

Let us return to the Christian perception of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Because Jerusalem is not just Jerusalem. It is, properly, Zion – and beyond that, it is the state of Israel itself.

A theology is only as good as the implications that flow from it. Were it not for Christian (more precisely, British) philo-semitism of the nineteenth century, Zionism could never have come into existence. Sir Ronald Storrs – but not only Storrs, Balfour himself – personified that thrust. Christian Zionism is itself a child of this phenomenon – an over-idealization of the Jews and their land.

Over the last fifty years, since the Six Day War, criticism of the state of Israel – its policies, and even its very existence – has mounted. While some of the sharper, more pointed critiques verge on anti-Semitism, not all of them do.

Some, in fact, are the results of a welcome, but ultimately misplaced, philo-semitism. It is the expectation — not that Jews are devils, but that they should be angels. The same should be true of a Jewish state – that it should be angelic, perfect, beyond reproach.

Christian perceptions of the heavenly Jerusalem crowd into the public imagination. It is the problem of a misplaced philo-semitism. Like anti-semitism, philo-semitism relies on distorted, fantastical views of Jews and Judaism. Philo-semitism can become a malevolence, masked in benevolence. In fact, this love-hate relationship with Jews and Judaism is one of the most pre-dominant themes in Christian history.

Philo-semitism is the hope – even the expectation – of the moral excellence of the Jewish people. It is a moral excellence that has yet to be achieved.

The liberal Christian philo-semite does not hate the Jew because the Jew has rejected Jesus. The liberal Christian philo-semite is merely disappointed with the Jew because the Jews have not yet lived up to the advertisements of moral excellence that they have created for themselves. The liberal Christian philo-semite sees the reality of the earthly Jerusalem – an Israel that must still fight, has problematic policies, where the people are far from saintly – and is disappointed, sometimes, radically disappointed — that the heavenly Jerusalem is not yet here. They are not like the fabled Southern anti-semites who used to look for the horns on the Jews they met. They are looking for angel’s wings. And when they do not find those wings, the disappointment can become anger, can become hatred.

That disappointment with the all-too-human, realpolitik failures of the Jewish state has seeped into leftist Jewish critiques of Israel and Zionism. They are addicted to the prophetic ideal, while often forgetting that the Jews and the Jewish state have real enemies who never got that prophetic memo.

That is the paradox. In the Jewish soul, we live with the vision of a heavenly, perfect Jerusalem of our ideals. But, in real life and in real time, we live with the imperfect, morally tainted, earthly Jerusalem. The tension is built into Zionism, and Jewish historical longing – the struggle between being a “light to the nations” or “like all the nations.”

It does not seem likely that we will solve this conundrum and this tension any time soon. Jerusalem – like all of us – is a spiritual work in progress. Reb Naftali of Ropschitz, a Hasidic master, taught: “By our service to God, we build Jerusalem daily. One of us adds a row, another only a brick. When Jerusalem is completed, redemption will come.”

Let that be a new definition of Zionism, in our time – the work of making the earthly Jerusalem look more like the heavenly Jerusalem.

 

Hadassah wires $10 million to hospital in Israel to help cover deficit


Hadassah transferred $10 million to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem to help cover its subsidiary's $50 million deficit.

The New York Jewish Week reported Monday that the Zionist women's group took the unusual measure after learning of the deficit run up by the hospital, which was founded nearly 80 years ago.

Meanwhile, the medical center's director general, Ehud Kokia, has submitted his resignation. The medical center's board chair, Esti Dominissin, will fill the position until a replacement is found.

Hadassah National Director Marcie Natan said the organization would hire the services of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consultancy firm, to help reduce the hospital's debts.

“The firm will analyze finances, accounting policies, administration and cost centers and will explore strategies for reducing expenses and increasing revenue,” Natan said in a news release. “Based on its review, it will make recommendations on how our medical center can maintain its record of excellence while achieving greater efficiency.”

Spread out on two campuses, Hadassah Medical Center is one of the largest hospitals in Israel and the only one specializing in head trauma.

Hamas releases Gilad Shalit film


On the one-year anniversary of the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Hamas has released a film describing the Israeli soldier's abduction in 2006.

According to the film, which was released on Oct. 18 on the website of the Hamas military wing, Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, Shalit thought his captors were Israeli because they had put on uniforms resembling those of the Israel Defense Forces.

The operation on June 25, 2006, was carried out at 5 a.m. because “that’s when the Zionist soldiers tended to nap,” one of the interviewees in the film said.

[Related: Gilad Shalit’s first
full interview
]

The armed militants who captured Shalit crawled along a 300-yard stretch to reach his tank from the mouth of the tunnel that had been dug in advance. They then split up into three detachments. One was comprised of two men, Mohammed Frauna and Hammed Rantissi, who were discovered and killed on their way to a watchtower.

Another group placed a “very large” explosive charge under the barrel of Shalit’s Merkava tank. They moved back, detonated the charge and fired an anti-tank rocket at the vehicle.

“We saw a soldier climbing up from the hull so we shot him, then another climbed up so we shot him too,” a man named Abu-Hamza said in the film. “We heard someone shouting from inside the tank. We reported that we had a live soldier we went into the tank and we took him. He shouted that he was Jewish because he thought we were Jewish because of our uniform.”

Shalit was released from captivity on Oct. 18, 2011, in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel.

Former Hamas commander convicted of 46 murders


A former commander of Hamas’ armed wing was found guilty in the deaths of 46 people in terror attacks.

Ibrahim Hamed, a former commander of Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was convicted Wednesday in an Israeli military court on 46 counts of murder, as well as of four counts of accessory to murder and four counts of attempted murder.

Hamed was found to be the architect of several deadly attacks inside Israel, including three attacks in Jerusalem—on Zion Square in 2001, in which 10 people were killed; on Cafe Moment in 2002, in which 11 were killed; and on Cafe Hillel in 2003, in which seven were killed and 57 wounded.

Prosecutors have asked that Hamed be sentenced to 56 life sentences.

Hamed was arrested in the West Bank in 2006. His house had been demolished in 2003 and his family deported to Jordan.

Ahmadinejad: Arab world conflicts will lead to collapse of Zionist regime


The latest conflicts in the Arab world would eventually lead to the collapse of Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday.

“The latest conflicts will leave no chance for the Zionist regime [Israel] to survive as all the involved countries are against the occupation of Palestine,” Ahmadinejad said.

He added that the Arab states should be careful not to rely on the United States and its allies, “as their ultimate aim is to save” Israel.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Iran will attend ‘12 Olympics despite ‘revolting’ logo


Iran said it will attend the 2012 Olympics in London despite its protest of the Games’ logo, which it says spells the word Zion.

Bahram Afsharzadeh, the secretary general of Iran’s National Olympic Committee, on Sunday told Iran’s Press-TV that “we will participate and play gloriously in the London games.”

His comments came after British Prime Minister David Cameron told the British community weekly Jewish News over the weekend that Iran is “completely paranoid” over the logo.

“If the Iranians don’t want to come, don’t come; we won’t miss you,” he said. “It would be a crazy reason for not coming.”

Cameron added that the athletes who refuse to compete against Israeli athletes would not be welcome.

The emblem, which features jagged shapes representing the numbers 2012, has been criticized for its design, which organizers say is modern and intended to catch the attention of the younger generation.

Last month, Mohammad Aliabadi, the head of Iran’s National Olympic Committee, accused the British Olympic organizers of “racism” in a letter to International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, the Iranian ILNA news agency reported, according to news agencies.

“The use of the word Zion by the designer of Olympics logo in the emblem of the Olympics Games 2012 is a very revolting act,” Aliabadi wrote, warning that if it was not changed it could “affect the participation of several countries, especially like Iran, which insists on following principles and values.”

The International Olympic Committee rejected the complaint.

The sinister one-two punch: Creating hatred again


The boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against the state of Israel is nothing new.

Prejudice, isolation and punishment of Jews, an earlier form of BDS has recurred over the past 2,000 years. In Europe and the Middle East, Jewish people were isolated, demonized, and then persecuted and murdered in pogroms, Inquisitions, and wars.  In 1930s Europe, Jews faced economic, cultural, and social boycotts that paved the way for the Holocaust. Since the 1940s, Arab states have imposed strict boycotts of Israel. The players may be different, but they all follow the same playbook: the sinister one-two punch. The first punch unleashes lies and distortions to foment hatred. The second punch demands draconian punishments, such as BDS.

The heartbreaking fact is that there are still hundreds of groups obsessed with hatred of Israel and dedicated to destroying it. Israel is now the “Jew” among nations.  While bullets and bombs have thankfully not brought Israel to its knees, there are groups trying to destroy it through propagana and the one-two punch. Once they have fomented enough bigotry and hatred in the first punch, even decent people will believe that isolating Israel in the world community or even acts of terror as part of the second punch, are somehow justifiable. 

Anti-Israel propagandists borrow from the arsenal of medieval anti-Semitism and the more modern Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Alison Weir, a favored anti-Israel polemicist who lectures regularly on campuses, claims that Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinian children in the backs just for sport. UCLA Professor Saree Makdisi tells audiences that Israel releases a gas to stunt the growth of children in Gaza. Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the modern day BDS movement, thunders that Israel steals water from thirsty Palestinians even though it is well documented that Israel has been giving the West Bank water from its own supply in quantities far exceeding those agreed to in the Oslo Accords.

Anti-Israel polemicists give a laundry list of what they charge are Israel’s intentional, systematic cruelties. They take singular examples and magnify them as consistent policies. For example, they claim pregnant women regularly deliver babies during unjustifiable checkpoint delays. Has that ever happened? Quite possibly. Is it a regular occurrence? No. By juxtaposing photos of Palestinians at checkpoints with Jews being herded into Nazi trains destined for concentration camps the polemicists equate the two situations, but photos of American airport security lines would be a much more apt comparison to the checkpoints that Palestinians and Israelis have to deal with. Are the checkpoints inconvenient and unpleasant? Absolutely. Are there good reasons to have them? Unfortunately they are, just like American airport security lines, they are designed to weed out terrorists and save lives.

Israel certainly is not perfect. Jews sought statehood, not sainthood. But Israel is not the demon portrayed by these campaigners. They have to lie about Israel to justify their own hatred and to foment hatred in others.

The leaders of this anti-Israel crusade are radical leftists who have allied with Islamic extremists even though Islamists oppose all the other values of the radical left, from personal liberty to religious and sexual freedom and rights for women and other minorities. Most disconcertingly, the anti-Israel groups also count Jews in their ranks and proudly parade them at every opportunity to gain credibility. The extremist, ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta believes a Jewish state should not exist until the Messiah comes, and its members join anti-Israel demonstrations and actively support Iran’s Ahmadinejad despite his genocidal threats to Jews. They regularly host Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors and a professor who shamelessly refers to Elie Wiesel as the “clown of the Holocaust circus.” They especially like to feature anti-Zionist Israelis like Professor Neve Gordon, who calls for BDS, and Ilan Pappe, who lost a libel suit in Israel when he concocted a story about Israelis massacring an Arab town during the 1948 War.

In the past year, the BDS campaign has intensified as scattered groups joined forces for the one-two punch. One of their most insidious methods for delivering the first punch is fooling the public into seriously debating their false charges against Israel.

Sometimes the ploy works. Last spring, anti-Israel campaigners suddenly introduced divestment resolutions to the student senates at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego. Students who supported Israel were thrown on the defensive, forced to counter the biased, false charges. In another situation, BDS activists lobbied high-profile musicians who planned to tour in Israel, forcing them to seriously consider the biased charges and decide whether to cancel their appearances, which they did in some cases. Fortunately, there are groups like Linkin Park and individuals like Elton John, Justin Bieber and Macy Gray who understood the one-two punch is slick propaganda that will not lead anyone toward peaceful coexistence.

We must recognize the one-two punch when we see it. We need to understand how dangerous it is. We cannot take for granted that people can automatically see through the lies. We cannot assume that college students know enough about Israel to insulate themselves against the propagandists on campuses.

Fortunately, many organizations now recognize that the attacks against Israel are serious and require a forceful response. Many are now asking, “If we do not empower the next generation to stand up for Israel and the values it embodies, who will ensure Israel’s future and the survival of those values?”

We need a massive force to push back the well-oiled, one-two punch machine. We need an army of educators that can inform a wider community and instill pride in Zionism as a preeminently just movement. Around the world, day schools, synagogues, and churches who care about Israel’s survival should make education about Israel a major priority.

We need people to stand up together worldwide and say, “Henani”—”here I am.” Here I am to learn about Israel so that I can become part of a teaching machine. Here I am to learn more about the history of the Jewish people and our millennia-old connection to the land of Israel. Here I am to learn about Israel’s strengths, strategic threats, shortcomings and dreams of a peaceful future in a region that has repeatedly sought to destroy it. Henani. 

Roz Rothstein is the CEO of StandWithUs and Roberta Seid, PhD is the StandWithUs education director.

Petition raps rabbis who support Katsav


Hundreds of rabbis and Jewish leaders have signed on to an online petition by Rabbis for Human Rights denouncing rabbinical defenders of former Israeli President Moshe Katsav.

Late last month, dozens of religious Zionist rabbis sent a letter of support to Katsav, who was convicted in December by a three-judge panel of “rape, sexual harassment, committing an indecent act while using force, harassing a witness and obstruction of justice.”

The Rabbis for Human Rights petition, which had nearly 400 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon, reads in part: “We find this rabbinical defense of a violent criminal to be shocking. It is shameful that these religious leaders staked their position in the name of Zionism and Judaism. To speak in this manner, as rabbis, is a hillul haShem, leading to a public denigration of Torah and Jewish tradition. Underlying their letter is a total disregard for the Israeli system of justice, a dismissal of a serious investigation, a willful rejection of a fair and careful trial process.”

The letter to Katsav urges the ex-president to “be strong and continue to insist on the truth uncompromisingly,” and to “fear not because the truth will come out. And even if it takes it’s time, it will be revealed, and all those who pursue lies will be ashamed.” It also slammed the “poisonous media.”

Get ready to sing . . . Hatikvah!


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May Days!

There are a lot of holidays this month, and your school or synagogue probably has special activities for them. We’ve listed them below … but we’ve taken out the vowels. See if you can fill in the blanks and then match the holiday to the date we celebrate it on. Scroll down and see if you have the right answers.

1) L_G b’_M_R
2) M_M_R__L D_Y
3) M_TH_R’S D_Y
4) R_SH CH_D_SH _Y_R
5) Y_M H_SH__H
a) May 1
b) May 5
c) May 11
d) May 23
e) May 26

A Time to Celebrate

Israel turns 60 on May 14. Which, of course, means it is party time! On May 18, Los Angeles is having an all-day bash in the park. From 10 a.m.-10 p.m. at Woodley Park (between Burbank and Victory boulevards) in Encino, hear music, watch a fashion show, enjoy tons of food, play games, enjoy rides, buy Israeli products and wish the Jewish state a happy birthday.

The Jewish Journal will be there with our friend, Anne Marie Balia Asner, author of the Matzah Ball Books series, including “Shmutzy Girl” and “Noshy Boy.” Anne Marie will be signing her latest book, “Klutzy Boy,” so be sure to stop by our Readers Lounge and take a break from the heat. Yom Hooledet Sameach Yisrael!

For more information, visit

Appropriate response to killings rests in Torah


The pain felt by the family and near environment of any murder victim is deep and traumatic. The murder of adolescents in an educational institution is horrifying. But a murder that takes place within the walls of the house of study, the yeshiva, amplifies and extends the grief and suffering beyond the families that lost their dear ones and beyond the victims’ close surroundings.

We immediately associate this slaughter with the picture that has become fixed in our minds as Jews schooled in millennia of persecution: The bloodthirsty non-Jews kill us as we stand in prayer in the synagogue and as we sit learning Gemara in the house of study.

In this old-new picture it is quite clear what symbolizes each side: We are symbolized by prayer and study; they are symbolized by the sword, the gun and acts of violence. We sit in the tents of Shem and learn Torah, motivated by a moral drive, self-criticism and a desire to repair the world. They engage in “Esau’s labor,” raining down the blood and fire of destruction on themselves and on us.

But as we delve deeper into our minds to agonize over this painfully sharp image of murder in the house of study, our field of view is blurred by other pictures that interfere with the age-old world order. A gang of Jewish fascists goes on a rampage in the neighborhood of the murderous terrorist; several hours later, we are told, in the name of a leader of the ultra-Orthodox Torah world, that yeshivot are forbidden to employ Arabs.

At first sight, these two Jewish reactions are quite unrelated: The band of neo-Kahanists is light years removed from the Lithuanian world of Torah study; the person who informed the media of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky’s opinion had no inkling that the riot and the ruling would be connected in the press and later in the public mind.

The general public — both the sector that condemns these responses and the sector that sympathizes with them — perceives them as “religious Judaism’s reaction to the murder.” How do “religious Jews” react to the murder at the yeshiva? They take the law into their own hands and run amok in the neighborhood where the murderer lived or cast collective guilt on all Arabs and call for dismissing them from their jobs and depriving them of their livelihood.

But we could also witness an appropriate Jewish response of another type, which rests on loyalty to the views of the Torah and halacha, as recorded in the pages of the very books whose pages were perforated by the murderer’s bullets.

We might hear that those of us who sit and learn in the house of study adhere steadfastly to a moral position that begins by isolating violent murderers from all other human beings. We might hear that we clearly distinguish between the absolute majority of the Arab citizens of Israel and the violent murderers among them.

As Jews, we have a different language, which is not the language of force; a different language that is not based on violence.

Halacha defines the right of minorities to live among us in peace and security, to determine their place of residence according to their needs and free choice, without posing a security threat to us and without our discriminating against them or harming them by deed or humiliating word.

As with the modern return to Zion, it was also clear at the first return from Egypt that the future Jewish kingdom would include a non-Jewish minority. Halacha states a fundamental principle about the residence of a non-Jew in the Land of Israel:

“One does not let him settle on the frontier or in an unhealthy place but only in an attractive place in the middle of the Land of Israel, where his crafts are marketable, as we read, ‘He shall live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill treat him'” (Deut. 23:17) (Tractate Gerim 3:4; also Sifre Tetze).

Halacha established dependence between the right of residence and the right of livelihood and insisted on the right of minorities to move up to a better neighborhood if they wished to do so. Developing from this statement of principle, the issue of the status of the non-Jewish minority in a Jewish state emerged as a broad and ramified halachic topic, with implications for security, employment, workers’ rights, residential rights, welfare, commerce, agriculture and industry as well as for cultural ties and neighborly relations between Jews and non-Jews.

The Torah lays down the precept that we must provide for the basic livelihood and welfare of both Jews and non-Jews who live in the Land of Israel and strenuously insists that we not infringe the status and rights of the minority. All social rights, the laws against fraud and withholding wages, apply to both Jews and non-Jews.

Many halachic texts indicate that the Torah sees itself as the guardian of the minority and is careful to emphasize and define its rights in detail, because in the absence of a halachic fence to defend the minority, the majority is apt to discriminate against it.

According to the commentators, there are several reasons for this halachic stance:

  • The acid test for the ethical nature of a Jewish majority society is how it treats minorities, or in contemporary terms, if we want the State of Israel to be a Jewish nation state we must meticulously respect the status and rights of the non-Jewish minority among us.
  • As Jews, we have long experience of life as a minority and must display understanding of the pain of the minority. In the words of Sefer Hahinnukh (by Maimonides’ disciple): “He reminded us that we have already been burned by that great pain, which is suffered by every human being who sees himself in the midst of strangers … and we remember the great anxiety attached to this.”

The widespread public expectation that religious or ultra-Orthodox Jews will conduct themselves in keeping with Jewish standards, that they will evince loyalty to the moral principles anchored in the precepts of the Torah, is manifested after every act of violence, corruption or immorality in which religious people are involved.

By the same token, what the two Jewish reactions mentioned above have in common is that they do not see the Torah as the source of obligatory moral behavior, whether toward ourselves or toward others.

They do not believe that we have a duty to present a clear alternative to the terrorists and murderers, an obligation to tell them: “You murdered innocent people who were learning Torah; you desecrated a holy place. But you will not deprive us of our values and essence.

“You may cry, ‘Death to the Jews’ and go out and murder. We will not respond with, ‘Death to the Arabs’ but with, ‘He shall live with you’ and with, ‘You must not ill-treat him.’

You want to get us to assign collective guilt, to persecute and discriminate against all the Arab citizens on your account. But we, who have been victims of such an indictment, will endeavor, even at the height of the war you are waging against us, to improve the lot of the Arabs who live with and among us in peace.”

Professor Naftali Rothenberg is a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the rabbi of Har Adar.

Iraq war conspiracy — you can’t blame the Jews


Did the Jews do it?

I mean, after killing Jesus, did the Elders of Zion manipulate the government of the United States into invading Babylon as part of a scheme to abet the expansion of greater Israel?

The question was first posed to me in 2004, when I was speaking at a meeting of Mobilization for Peace in San Jose. A member of the audience asked, “Put it together — who’s behind this war? Paul Wolfowitz and Elliott Abrams and the Project for a ‘Jew’ American Century and, and, why don’t you talk about that, huh? And ….”

But the questioner never had the full opportunity to complete his query because, flushed and red, he began to charge the stage. The peace activists attempted to detain the gentleman — whose confederates then grabbed some chairs to swing. As the Peace Center was taking on a somewhat warlike character, I chose to call in the authorities and slip out the back.

Still, his question intrigued me. As an investigative reporter, “Who’s behind this war?” seemed like a reasonable challenge — and if it were a plot of Christ killers and Illuminati, so be it. I just report the facts, ma’am.

And frankly, at first, it seemed like the gent had a point, twisted though his spin might be. There was Paul Wolfowitz, before Congress in March 2003, offering Americans the bargain of the century: a free Iraq — not “free” as in “freedom and democracy” but free in the sense of this won’t cost us a penny. Wolfowitz testified: “There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money.”

A “Free” Iraq

And where would these billions come from? Wolfowitz told us: “It starts with the assets of the Iraqi people…. The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the next two or three years.”

This was no small matter. The vulpine deputy defense secretary knew that the number one question on the minds of Americans was not, “Does Saddam really have the bomb?” but, “What’s this little war going to cost us?”

However, Wolfowitz left something out of his testimony: the truth. I hunted for weeks for the source of the Pentagon’s oil revenue projections and found them. They were wildly different from the Wolfowitz testimony. But this was not perjury.

Ever since the conviction of Elliott Abrams for perjury before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings, neither Wolfowitz nor the other Bush factotums swear an oath before testifying. If you don’t raise your hand and promise to tell the truth, “so help me, God,” you’re off the hook with federal prosecutors.

How the Lord will judge that little ploy, we cannot say.

But Wolfowitz’s little numbers game can hardly count as a great Zionist conspiracy. That seemed to come, at first glance, in the form of a confidential 101-page document slipped to our team at BBC’s “Newsnight.” It detailed the economic “recovery” of Iraq’s post-conquest economy. This blueprint for occupation, we learned, was first devised in secret in late 2001.

Notably, this program for Iraq’s recovery wasn’t written by Iraqis. Rather, it was promoted by the neoconservatives of the Defense Department, home of Abrams, Wolfowitz, Harold Rhode and other desktop Napoleons unafraid of moving toy tanks around the Pentagon war room.

Nose-Twist’s Hidden Hand

The neocons’ 101-page confidential document, which came to me in a brown envelope in February 2001, just before the tanks rolled, goes boldly where no U.S. invasion plan had gone before: the complete rewrite of the conquered state’s “policies, law and regulations.” A cap on the income taxes of Iraq’s wealthiest was included as a matter of course. And this was undoubtedly history’s first military assault plan appended to a program for toughening the target nation’s copyright laws. Once the 82nd Airborne liberated Iraq, never again would the Ba’athist dictatorship threaten America with bootleg dubs of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.”

It was more like a corporate takeover, except with Abrams tanks instead of junk bonds. It didn’t strike me as the work of a kosher cabal for an imperial Israel. In fact, it smelled of pork — pig heaven for corporate America looking for a slice of Iraq, and I suspected its porcine source. I gave it a big sniff and, sure enough, I smelled Grover Norquist.

Norquist is the capo di capi of right-wing, big-money influence peddlers in Washington. Those jealous of his inside track to the White House call him “Gopher Nose-Twist.”

A devout Christian, Norquist channeled $1 million to the Christian Coalition to fight the devil’s tool, legalized gambling. He didn’t tell the coalition that the loot came from an Indian tribe represented by Norquist’s associate, Jack Abramoff. (The tribe didn’t want competition for its own casino operations.)

I took a chance and dropped in on Norquist’s L Street office, and under a poster of his idol (“NIXON — NOW MORE THAN EVER”), Norquist took a look at the “recovery” plan for Iraq and practically jumped over my desk to sign it, filled with pride at seeing his baby. Yes, he promoted the privatizations, the tax limit for the rich and the change in copyright law, all concerns close to the hearts and wallets of his clients.

“The Oil” on Page 73

The very un-Jewish Norquist may have framed much of the U.S. occupation grabfest, but there was, without doubt, one notable item in the 101-page plan for Iraq which clearly had the mark of Zion on it. On page 73, the plan called for the “privatization…[of] the oil and supporting industries,” the sell-off of every ounce of Iraq’s oil fields and reserves. Its mastermind, I learned, was Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation.
For the neocons, this was the big one. Behind it, no less a goal than to bring down the lynchpin of Arab power, Saudi Arabia.

It would work like this: The Saudi’s power rests on control of OPEC, the oil cartel which, as any good monopoly, withholds oil from the market, kicking up prices.

This Week – In and Out


Last Friday, when the sun went down in Los Angeles, the Jewish community came alive.

At Sinai Temple in Westwood, 2,000 people packed the sanctuary — standing-room only — to hear Elie Wiesel speak during Friday Night Live services as part of the temple’s centennial celebration (see story on page 13). Afterward, hundreds of 20-somethings stayed for a special Q-and-A session with Oprah’s favorite Holocaust author.

Not three blocks away, Israeli novelist Amos Oz held an overflow Shabbat evening crowd of 800 in his thrall as Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel’s guest speaker.

I stopped in at two other synagogues that night: at Leo Baeck Temple, a Reform shul in Bel Air, a capacity crowd attended the usual, uplifting service, and on La Cienega Boulevard, at Conservative Temple Beth Am, 100 United Synagogue Youth from around California greeted Shabbat on the rooftop, a foretaste of raucous summer camp nights to camp.

On the way home — you may have gathered that, yes, I drive on Shabbat — I took Pico Boulevard, quiet but for the dozens of Orthodox Jews walking home from services.

That’s just a few square miles of L.A. Jewry — I never made it over the hill, or even to the hill, where hundreds flocked to services at Stephen S. Wise Temple.

There’s only so much herring one Jew can eat, my grandfather used to say; it’s hard to be two places at once.

You’d think by now the fact that Jewish life is lived so intensely in Los Angeles would cease to amaze me — after all, this is the second largest Jewish population in the United States. But there remains such a constant wailing over the state of Jewish life that I occasionally have to wonder whether the worriers actually know any, um, Jews.

The latest round of “Oy Veying” was transatlantic. Two weeks ago, the profoundly talented Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua told an audience of American Jews in Washington, D.C., that Jewish life is experienced more completely in Israel than anywhere else.

There is, he said, “a fundamental boundary between Jewish identity in Israel and Jewish identity in the Diaspora.”

The former, he argued, was richer, more meaningful and authentic, rooted in the land and language of the Jewish people. The latter, he said, led to an attenuated sense of Jewishness.

“I cannot keep my identity outside Israel,” he said.

Outside Israel, Yehoshua argued, one wears one’s Judaism like a coat that can be taken on or off. Inside Israel, one wears it like skin.

The remarks before the American Jewish Committee touched off a war of words among Israeli and American Jews. The Israeli daily Haaretz ran essays with supporting and competing views. Yehoshua apologized for the bluntness of his remarks in subsequent interviews, but held to them in a more refined way. It’s an argument Yehoshua and a certain stream of Zionists has been making for years. And while I logically rebel against it, there’s a part of me that understands Yehoshua.

Many years ago, I met him while he was on a speaking tour in Los Angeles. We stepped outside his Marina del Rey hotel so he could smoke his pipe. We spoke, in Hebrew, about how the feeling of one’s Jewishness is of a different quality and intensity in Israel, where I had just been living, than in, say, Marina del Rey.

There was a bit of silence. He knocked the dottle from his bowl and turned to me.

“You have to come back,” he said, then walked inside.

If there weren’t a grain of truth in what he’s still saying, people wouldn’t be so upset. But there are other truths as well about Jewish identity: competing, confusing, contradicting ones that I have come to appreciate in the years since. Having lived in Israel, I can tell you the Jews there don’t all walk about aglow with the flame of their Jewishness. Yehoshua’s novels are populated with characters as spiritually bereft in Tel Aviv as Philip Roth’s are in Newark.

As it happens, I do meet Israelis all the time who are leading rich Jewish lives — they’re in Los Angeles.

Diaspora just may be as important to the Jewish existence, and the Jewish psyche, as Zion. There is a practical aspect — money and political support from outside Israel helped create and helps sustain the state — as well as a more ethereal one. The power of being the landless outsider, some might argue, roots us in ideals.

“In the name of nationalism,” wrote Douglas Rushkoff in “Nothing Sacred,” “Jews abandon iconoclasm, the long-standing insight into the false idols of land-based peoples…. Zionism has become a mantra for Jews fighting against assimilation. But Judaism itself was formulated as a way of transcending the obsession with physical territory and focusing instead on the supremacy of time and the realm of ideas. What’s more assimilated than rallying around a flag and fighting for a plot of land, just like everybody else?”

Yehoshua isn’t saying that our existence depends on in-gathering — he knows that argument falls flat in the face of 2,000 years of Jewish existence in exile. But he fails to appreciate the fact that so many of us live in the tension between his truth and Rushkoff’s, belonging everywhere and nowhere, forever trying to be in two places at once.

 

Tracks of an Ethiopian Exodus


Until the late 1970s, very few Ethiopian Jews had ever wandered beyond the borders of their country and made it to Israel.

But in 1979, an insurgency in northern Ethiopia opened an exit route to Sudan, and thousands of Ethiopian Jews — who called themselves Beta Israel but were known to outsiders as Falasha — began fleeing the famine and war of northern Ethiopia on a journey they hoped would end in Jerusalem.

Along with thousands of other Ethiopians fleeing their country, which at the time was ruled by communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Jews settled in refugee camps in Sudan and waited for Mossad operatives to take them out.

For the first few years, those who were taken to Israel left in one of three ways. Some were given forged documents and put onto planes in Khartoum bound for Athens. Once in Europe, they then were quietly put onto planes to Israel. Others were moved from their Sudanese refugee camps at night to Port Sudan, where Israeli naval commandos put them onto clandestine naval vessels and then transferred them onto ships headed for Israel. A few were airlifted directly to Israel from the Sudanese desert on illicit flights.

A famine in Ethiopia in 1984 lent great urgency to the effort to rescue Ethiopia’s Jews, many of whom were dying of starvation and disease in refugee camps in Sudan while they waited to be taken to Israel.

In the covert maneuver Operation Moses, Israel began airlifting large numbers of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan’s desert beginning in November 1984. Leaks about the operation and growing risks forced its early end in January 1985, after more than 8,000 Jews had been brought to Israel in the space of just six weeks.

Thousands more remained stranded in communist Ethiopia.

For those left behind, life was harsh. During Mengistu’s 17-year reign, Ethiopian city streets were left riddled with corpses as a warning against opposing the government, bereaved parents were forced to pay for the bullets that killed their sons and suspected political opponents were imprisoned and tortured.

The Jews suffered no more than ordinary Ethiopians, but anyone who was suspected of trying to flee to Zion was tortured, imprisoned and often killed.

In the early 1990s, the tide turned in the war between the rebel Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the government, known as the Derg, and in May 1991 rebel forces surrounded the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Israel, which had clandestine ties with Mengistu’s regime, feared that the TPLF’s anti-Zionist rhetoric and hostility toward Mengistu could lead to massacres of the Jews when the rebels took Addis, and quickly put together a plan to rescue the country’s remaining Jews. Israel pressed the United States to persuade the rebels to hold their positions on the hilltops around Addis for 36 hours while Israel airlifted more than 14,000 Jews out of the country.

The fall of Addis came just hours after the completion of Operation Solomon, on May 24, 1991.

In the end, it turned out that Israel’s fears were unfounded: The new regime in Addis Ababa proved itself friendly toward the Jews and forged strong ties with Israel.

After Operation Solomon, the only Ethiopians with Jewish ties left behind in Ethiopia were the Falash Mura — Ethiopian Christians whose progenitors were Jews who had converted to Christianity. Many of them sought to return to Judaism in a bid to emigrate, but Israel’s then-prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, instructed his government not to accept them. Unlike those who had immigrated to Israel, Shamir noted, these Ethiopians were not identifiably Jewish and maintained Christian practices.

Israel’s policy gradually changed, however, and since the early 1990s, tens of thousands of Falash Mura have moved to Israel — nearly as many as the Ethiopian Jews who made aliyah during and before 1991.

During these last 15 years, Ethiopia’s government has maintained a policy of open emigration, which is why no special operations have been necessary to bring the Falash Mura to Israel.

In the last decade and a half, led by rebel-turned-head-of-state Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s government has accelerated the pace of the country’s industrialization, improved its economy and so far prevented any repeats of the devastating 1984-85 famine that killed an estimated 1 million Ethiopians and struck hardest in Tigray.

And though the Ethiopian government remains a target of human rights advocates, including some in Israel, observers abroad say the Meles government’s excesses do not approach the scope of that of Mengistu’s Red Terror.

But since last May, when government forces shot to death dozens of people in Addis Ababa protesting disputed election results, there have been growing tensions between the Amhara elite who live in the center of the country, around the capital, and the Tigrean minority that runs the government.

There also has been increased international criticism of the Meles government, which had been a rare African darling of Western democracies.

Some American Jewish federation leaders visiting Ethiopia last week suggested that one reason for Israel to speed up the aliyah of the Falash Mura is political instability in the country. But recent political tensions notwithstanding, experts on Ethiopia say there is little danger of imminent collapse for the current regime.