American Jews Israel Israeli occupation Israeli settlements Jerusalem Meretz USA Palestinians

American Jews at Meretz USA say to Israelis: “The settlements are our business, too!”

A potentially explosive new campaign by Meretz USA has just been launched. It calls upon American Jews to urge Israel’s Housing Minister to stop building settlements, and says they have the right and the obligation to do so because they are AMERICAN CITIZENS, as well as Jews with ties to Israel. It’s the part about the American citizens that is new and different. They are saying, in their e-mail alerts: “Tell Israel’s Housing Minister: the settlements are our business, too!”

The digital campaign asks people to add their names to a letter to Ze’ev Boim, the Housing Minister who has recently announced new construction plans for three settlements beyond the Green Line in the outskirts of Jerusalem: Har Homa, Pisgat Zeev and Ramat Shlomo. Protesting settlement construction is no big deal; but these people want to develop an entirely new paradigm for the American Jewish-Israel relationship.

If you are not Jewish or haven’t been listening to the internal, communal conversation, a new paradigm might not mean much to you. But the old one has prevented too many American Jews who are appalled by continuing settlement expansion from speaking out, loudly and clearly. Trust me, the conventional Israel lobby won’t like this approach one bit. Neither, I presume, will those who resent the fact that Israel is an integral part of the identity of many American Jews, and essentially want us to stop caring about its safety and its future.

What follows is their new “Declaration of Principles.” But before or after you read it, if you’re Jewish, why not help Meretz USA and America and Israel by adding your name to the letter to Boim?

Note, especially, #2:

Declaration of Principles

It’s time to tell Israel what we think.

The old rules of Diaspora-Israel relations are no longer acceptable to us.

For decades, American Jews have been told that because we don’t vote in Israel, because we don’t fight in Israel’s wars, we have no right to criticize the Jewish state in public, we should mutely accept policies that disturb us.

The old paradigms no longer apply to us.

As American Jews who care about the safety of both Israel and the U.S., we at Meretz USA believe it is time to rethink our relationship with Israel. That doesn’t mean turning our backs on it. On the contrary, it means engaging with Israel. It means talking directly to Israeli decision makers and letting them know when we strongly disagree with their policies.

We believe that what Israel does in the occupied territories is our business, too. Here is why:

1.It is our business because we are friends of Israel and are deeply worried about its survival as a democratic Jewish state. Sometimes, the best thing one can do for friends is to speak candidly, and tell them when they are engaging in self-destructive behavior…like building new settlements in disputed West Bank territory.

2. It is our business because we are Americans, and Israeli policies directly affect our own country’s interests. In the post 9/11 world; what happens in Ramallah or Gaza City reverberates beyond the region’s borders.

The continuing occupation makes it easier for terrorists to mobilize and recruit people who would just as soon blow up Tallahassee as Tel Aviv, who want to attack American soldiers in Iraq as well as Israelis in Sderot and Ashkelon. It fans the fires of hatred against America. So any Israel policy or behavior that perpetuates the occupation makes our loved ones, friends and neighbors less safe.

3. It is our business because we share the age-old Jewish commitment to tikkun olam, to repairing the world wherever and whenever it is broken. If we see injustice, oppression and inequality anywhere in this global village, it is our duty to fight against it, whether in Darfur or the inner cities of the United States.

So it is inconceivable that Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, will be the one place where we force ourselves to turn a blind eye to injustice, oppression and inequality. If we encounter it there, we are obligated, as Jews, to speak out.

4. It is our business because we defend Israel in the court of public opinion against those who falsely blame it for every imaginable sin, who ignore the responsibilities of Palestinians and other Arabs for ongoing regional violence and tension. But we cannot and will not defend the indefensible.

5. It is our business because Israelis who share our values –such as our partners in the Meretz party– have asked for our help, as they try to build a Jewish state that fulfills its promise to be a “light unto the nations.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

39 thoughts on “American Jews at Meretz USA say to Israelis: “The settlements are our business, too!”

  1. The members of MERETZ USA, like most American Jews, don’t have a clue about what is going on in Israel, most probably have never visited Israel, I am sure virtually none of them have ever visited a settlement in Judea/Samaria and they have no knowledge of the history of Jewish settlement in Judea/Samaria, or the history of Israel and its relations with the Arab world.
    I am not saying that they, as American Jews, shouldn’t express their opinion, but I am expressing my opinion about how much weight should be given to what they say.

    They say the “settlements” are an embarrassment to them, as American Jews, but three wars (1948, 1956 and 1967) were fought between Israel and the Arabs BEFORE there were any settlements in Judea/Samaria, so we see the cause of the Arab/Israeli conflict has nothing to do with the existence of these settlements. It is the very existence of the state of Israel that motivates Arab hostility. Is the existence of Israel an embarrassment to MERETZ USA members as well? Is the US hated in the Arab world because of “the settlements” or is it because it helped create the State of Israel and continues to support it?
    Would getting rid of the settlements make any difference?

  2. Classic case of American liberal Jewish angst. Old story. This way they can say to their friends. Don’t you see, I’m one of the good Jews. Not like Aipac or those terrible Israeli’s

    Questions for Y Ben David:
    Leaving aside the fact that Samir Kuntar should have got a bullet in the head way back when let me ask you this. It seems like releasing him marked a major jump in the humiliation factor. Secondly, whatever anybody thought of previous PM’s. And I go up to Sharon on this one. Left or right. You never thought that they were in it for the money. My impression of Olmert is that he doesn’t lift a finger except to steal. And given the convoluted nature of Israeli politics he could still be there for months. Your comments.

  3. Of course stopping expansion of the settlements would make a difference, and transfer of the land to Palestinian sovereignty. (What they do with title issues then becomes their business.)

    Law is our business is my point.

    That Israeli settlers accept permanent title to the land that they occupy with the rationalization that it was prior Israeli state land, and using Torah ever as justification (even among themselves), demeans the integrity of Torah.

    Title questions must be legally addressed specifically. Contesting claimants must have their functional day in court to argue their case before an IMPARTIAL judge, upholding the law.

    The problem with asserting that one has title claim to land, is that title imperfections can go back quite a long time (certainly more than 41 years), and still genuinely be a title imperfection.

    The fascism in the process enters when extra-legal means are employed to keep Palestinian claimants from having their day in court, whether resulting from the 1949 – 1953 laws prohibiting return of former residents and assumption of title by the state, or from what would otherwise be temporary military occupation regulations.

    My expectation is that most in Meretz-USA are uniquely patriotic, in substance most Torah based, in urging that Israeli law be actual LAW, rather than just laws.

    Rule of law, title by law really is important.

    Imperfected title by definition is a state of conflict. By doing what it takes to perfect title, peace (acceptance) is achieved.

  4. Y Ben David

    The members of MERETZ USA, like most American Jews, don’t
    have a clue about what is going on in Israel, most probably have never
    visited Israel, I am sure virtually none of them have ever visited a
    settlement in Judea/Samaria and they have no knowledge of the history of
    Jewish settlement in Judea/Samaria[…]

    So what? you never visited a single Arab country yet you have a very
    strong opinion of them as well as of their supposed inherent hostility
    to the Jews. Your argument doesn’t make any sense.
    Second, American Jews just as all American citizens pay American taxes
    and thus pay for American aid to Israel. As long as Israel has hands in
    American taxpayer pockets, it’d better shut up when Americans rightfully
    exercise their right to intervene in Israeli politics. (Dan, this is
    one point the Declaration of Principles above failed to mention, for
    some reason.
    Finally, mentioning the Sinai Campaign as a war between Israel and Arabs
    (having anything to do with settlements in the WB) is rather lame. Go
    back and read about what this war was all about. Nothing more than
    imperialist French-British-Israeli adventure.

  5. I, as an Israeli, would welcome the US ending the program of giving financial aid to Israel. Israel doesn’t need it. In fact the aid distorts the Israeli economy, creating unemployment. For example, Israel stopped producing its own battle rations and boots for the army. They are now made in the US, thanks to the “aid”. The aid is given for political reasons. The reason the US has never cut the aid is that this act might be construed by the Arab countries as the US cutting Israel loose, as did France just before the Six-Day War, thus encouraging Arab agression. Thus, Israel should take the initiative in ending the aid. The problem is that the gov’t won’t due that because they fear that it would be misunderstood by the populace as causing harm, when in fact it would only be beneficial, and it gives the gov’t some extra cash to throw at pet projects or recipients.

    Regarding the odd comparison between MERETZ-USA having little or no knowledge about the Jewish presence in Judea/Samaria and my never having visited Arab countries (actually I was in the Egyptian Sinai, but I didn’t really meet any Egyptians), all I can say is that I base my analysis of Arab intentions on what they themselves say in their gov’t controlled media about Jews and Israel, their history of past behavior, and how they handle internal disputes and civil wars (e.g. FATAH-HAMAS in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, etc, etc). One needs go no farther than that.

  6. Do you speak Arabic Y Ben David?

    Do you read the original publications?

    Or, edited selections?

    What do you think about the importance of law in determining title rights?

  7. Y Ben David,

    A lot of the people at the leadership level in Meretz USA made aliyah and came back. They know more about the nuances and subtleties of Israei politics and about Israel than most American Jewish activists, In fact, I dare say that some of them know more than many Israelis, especially now that the internet presents instant news coverage. You dodged the whole question of America’s interest in stopping the occupation…I certainly feel that way. You have no “right” to tell American Jews and American citizens not to weigh in. And if you think the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance is important to Israel, than you should realize that you could be jeopardizing that alliance if you keep insisting that the territories are yours by divine right

  8. Richard Witty-
    Are you denying the official Arabic media is filled with hate-filled, genocidal Judeophobia?
    I will turn around and ask you all the same questions you asked me-Have you read Egypt’s Al-Ahram IN ARABIC (not the sanitized English edition).

  9. I suspect that there is hate in much Arab media.

    The question is how you know.

    Its important to question sources, otherwise one believes gullibly rather than informed.

    Title questions are specific individual cases. If the individuals hide behind rationalizations for their assertions of title, and on a Torah based rationale, then they collectively cause the disrepute of Torah.

    Its the reason that there is a high bar for religious based authority. Where that bar is allowed to be corrupted by rationalization, firm ground becomes mud.

    The NUT of Torah is the commandments, and primarily the ten. When a community spends inordinate amount of time on kashric interpretations and insignificant amount of time on inquiry into stealing another individuals’ property rights (one of the ten), then the community itself has gotten distracted (at best).

  10. Dan:
    Do you have any idea how condescending that sounds. Left wing American Jews spend a brief amount of time in Israel and magically know more than Israeli’s. The fact is that Israel is based on divine right. It may be the logical thing to do to go with partition on a practical level. But that doesn’t mean that Jews don’t have a right to the land. And if we don’t, what’s the point.

    But I digress. The fact is that the IDF has a certain freedom of action in the west bank because of the settlements. Take that away, with all the attendant societal trauma and all you get is Hamas and their Iranian allies on the ridge line overlooking the coastal areas. Gaza and Lebanon is the empirical evidence of what would result. What say you?

  11. The most that we have is a private contract of obligation:

    “IF you keep my commandments, I will give you the rain in its time….”

  12. Mr. Ben-David,
    Your comment about settlements is factually wrong. The Etzion bloc was in place before the 1948 war, in fact some of the settlements were in place before the end of the Arab revolt.

  13. Tom Mitchell-
    I am not sure what your point is, but that is correct, Gush Etzion, Kfar Darom, Hevron, Gaza, Shechem, Beit Ha’arava, Atarot, Neve Yaakov, and other places had Jewish communities before 1948. But the point I was making was that the Arab war in 1948 was not made exclusively over the those Jewish communities, they attacked the entire Jewish yishuv in the country, and as Benny Morris points out in his new book “1948”, the Arabs threatened to eradicate it all.
    “Progressives” keep claiming the Arabs recognize and accept Jewish sovereignity within the pre-67 lines…they do not (and since those lines only came into being as a result of the 1949 cease-fire agreements how could the Arabs who attacked Gush Etzion in 1948 have been aware of such an as yet non-existent distinction?) and it is NOT the existence of Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria that are the cause of the Arab/Israeli conflict.

    But thank you for pointing out that Jewish settlement has historic roots in Judea/Samaria and Gaza long before the state of Israel arose.

  14. That constructs a right to the land that was legally owned.

    It does not construct a right to annex property by direct force, nor by annexation and disposal of “state lands”.

    Y Ben David,
    Have you made progress on your effort to establish good relations with the Arab communities near you, as you suggested earlier?

  15. Richard Witty,

    Unfortunately, I do not live in YESHA. However, in the years prior to the Arab violence of 1987-1992, the Jews in Judea/Samaria made BIG efforts to have close, friendly relations with the neighboring Arabs. I visited one Shabbat the community of Elon Moreh which is near Shechem (Nablus). We drove into Shechem and he pointed out a factory that was jointly owned by Jews from Elon Moreh and Arabs that manufactured cookies and cake. 1987 put an end to these things, as FATAH strengthened its control of the Arabs in Judea/Samaria and insisted that the Arabs break off relations with the Jews. It was the Arabs who broke off the relations. Of course it was the Arabs who sufferend most from this rupture. In Gush Katif, the relationship was probably the closest, with many Arabs having permanent jobs in the agricultural activities there. Jews would shop in Khan Yunis and Gaza. Again, Arab terror ended this, although many Arabs were employed there up until the end, although becuase there were cases of employees killing their Jewish bosses (sometimes out of nationalist fervor, sometimes under threat themselves), workers were brought in from the Far East. Of course, all that has now been destroyed and unemployment has skyrocketed in Gaza.
    As I pointed out, the collapse of FATAH and the Palestinian Authority has given Arabs in Hevron and other places a feeling of more freedom to renew these contacts. We can only hope they will grow. Interestingly enough, HAMAS as a “religious” movement has less trouble with the religious Jews in YESHA (who are about 50% of the YESHA Jewish population) than they do with Israel’s secular elite, and some contacts among religious leaders has taken place, although this is very controversial.

  16. Y Ben David,
    I know of some of those relations (in the territories and elsewhere), and of some of the ironies of the effects of the intifada.

    In 1986, I spent a week at the home of third cousins in Arad, a week following the folk festival that used to occur there.

    By 1986, the festival had evolved from an Israeli secular Zionist song festival to invitations to Druze and Bedouin, and then multiple perspectives of Palestinian singers. My cousins were performers and organizers of some of the smaller programs at the festival (which I missed, sadly). When I visited, many of the musicians were still around in Arad and Beersheba, and daily we would go to local clubs, Israeli and on one occassion an Arab cafe in Beersheba, and the groups would play together. My cousins sang with a Bedouin group at the Beersheba cafe, in Arabic.

    In 1988, when I was still in contact with them, they told me that the intifada had driven a great physical and psychological divide, and it was not possible any longer to have Bedouin or Palestinian actual friendships or artistic interchange.

    But, they said that that divide came equally from Israeli pressure as Palestinian and Arab. That, Jews’ voices, including orthodox, contributed to the separation and often in hateful terms.

    In my personal life, my son has adopted orthodoxy and is spending most of his time at yeshivot with Lubavitch. Yesterday was his first day home after a couple months.

    We’re having some conflict. He has asked my younger musician son to not play music in the house, out of respect for his sensitivity to the period of mourning approaching Tish B’av. He’s refused to eat food that my wife prepares until he arranges to kosher our long-term vegetarian kitchen.

    Most importantly though is our religious conflict. I assert that the guiding principle of Jewish practise should be the quote “IF you keep my commandments, I will give you the rain in its time…”, in contrast to the neo-Jewish view (even if it started thousands of years ago) that restoring the ancient temple worship, or occupying the land “by any means necessary/rationalizable” is Jewish, and somehow immersion in Torah study that results in behavior that conflicts with treating other human beings as human beings, is sanctioned.

  17. Y Ben David,
    Please take the time to investigate what is actually occurring in the territories, actions by the state, and by the settlers acting in the name of Torah.

    Please don’t effectively sanction immoral behavior by failing to research to a level that you can make an informed judgement.

  18. Mr Witty,

    The Gemara states that after 120 years, the former mortal will be presented with questions as a prequesite for entering Olam HaBah: If he longed for the Redemption, learned Torah at fixed times and was honest in business practices.

    If you’re upset that the third principle is seemingly ignored by too many than I’m in agreement.

    Where I don’t and can’t agree is the assertion that any of the principles are in any sense mutually exclusive or that one of them is “more Jewish” than another based on an individual’s personal preference.

  19. One more point Mr. Witty,

    I hope the moderator will forgive me for putting in a plug for a book but I honestly feel for your current Shalom Bayit (Peaceful Home) issues occurring between your son and other family members. Pursuing peace should not be limited to just international affairs, correct?

    “After the Return” by Rabbi Mordechai Becher is written for the young and newly observant who has returned home following time spent in a yeshiva. It addresses the paramount importance of maintaining good family relations even if the levels of religious observance differ.

    Thank you Mr. Fleshler

  20. Mr Witty,

    It goes without saying that there are far more than 3 mitzvot in the Torah. Furthermore, your question appears to be a non-sequitir.

    Unfortunately I can’t recall the recent Gadol (Rabbi of great stature) that provided this interpretation but it’s remembered as such;

    1. Anticipate the Redemption – symbolizes all commandments between man and G-d
    2. Fixed times for Torah – symbolizes all commandments between man and himself
    3. Honest business dealings – symbolizes all commandments between man and fellow man

    What brought that particular Gemara to mind was that, in my view, you were constructing false dichotomies among its specific principles mentioned. Rather, it’s all inclusive.

    You mentioned “If you keep My commandments…” How do we determine what the commandments are? If one opens a Rambam or Ramban one can find their codified interpretations of the 613 mentioned in the Torah. There are likely some mentioned that you might object to since in your view, it’s the source of inexcusable behavior on the part of individuals and groups who acted in the name of fulfilling (and likely misinterpreting) the commandment.

    Objectionable behavior in the name of a mitzva, no matter how inexcusable or painful, does not negate the commandment in itself or the sanctity of its Source.

    A meaningful and pithy rhetorical question I once heard from a known Rabbi of stature is

    “You’re scrupulously glatt kosher, but are you striving to be glatt yosher?”

    While there’s a loss in the translation, it roughly means that one shouldn’t be immersed only in dietary laws (kashrut) while conveniently ignoring the laws of respecting others (yashrut).

    The reason why kosher is important is the same reason why yosher is important. The same Source: the Torah.

    It’s also a 2-way street.

  21. Mr. Leiner (may I call you Zack, you can certainly call me Richard),

    There is a fourth window of commandments that applies to actions of a community as a collective entity. (It is a common rationalization of states that “national interests” is the entirety of states’ ethical obligtions. I find that rationalization to be a gross negligence, that as states’ actions affect others, that ethical scrutiny of state’s actions and policies, is needed.)

    If the Jewish community, or a Jewish organization, or a Jewish state acts in a manner that conflicts with adopted ethical principles, that is a behavior to be reviewed and changed.

    In the case of settlers that regard themselves as having perfected title to land, most that I’ve conferred with (few) rely on the legality under Israeli law that the state may sell or grant land to individuals and/or Jewish Agency, which may grant land rights to individuals or organizations.

    If the state does not originally hold title to the level of mutual consent, then the land granted to Jewish Agency and/or to individuals, similarly is not perfected, yet.

    Its a real concern, and not possible to rationalize away, whatever chain of logic one employs.

    Torah is insufficient basis of title. Even if God authorizes it (an example of a relationship between God and community), it is not necessarily true that it has fulfilled the status of actual law between humans. That takes subsequent action (negotiation to the status of mutual consent).

    Neither title questions, nor sovereignty questions, are between God and human, they are between humans and human communities.

    On the term “commandments”. From my understanding, the 10 were the only ones that were described as originating from God at Sinai, authoritative, word becoming reality. The remainder were elaborated subsequently. The subsequent interpretations, including kashrut, were then elaborated from those elaborations.

    It is a faith (an odd one to me), that Torah was given whole to Moses at Sinai.

    Thank you for your comments.

    I don’t understand your term “false dichotomies”. Did you understand what we were dialoging about? Or perhaps we were talking skew to each other.

  22. Richard,

    I hope the dialogue isn’t skewed. I’ll attempt to clarify.

    First, I am by no means an expert on halacha regarding topics such as property. It is not coincidental that one of the 4 volumes of the Shulchan Aruch (Codified Law) known as Choshen Mishpat which deals with property, title, torts etc is also the one known the least among the masses. And “masses” here is defined as those who may have even learned in graduate-level yeshivot for several years.

    I’ve heard that Dayanim (Halacha Judges) who can adjucate in those manners require 10 years of intensive study.

    As far as transmission of Halacha. Once again, I’m no expert but it’s an article of faith that the entire Torah originated from Sinai. The 10 were the ones directly transmitted to the people. Subsequently, Moshe Rabeinu ascended the mountain for 40 days to learn all of the details and spent the next 40 years tecaching the Law.

    The purpose of this exchange isn’t to defend anyone who acted unscrupulously in the name of the Torah’s Divine Origin. Rather, it’s to provide a point of view that belief in the Divine origin does not go hand-in-hand with those who acted unseemly while leaning on some Divine “fiat”.

    This is what dovetails into what I perceived as a false dichotomy in one of your previous posts, specifically

    “I assert that the guiding principle of Jewish practise should be the quote “IF you keep my commandments, I will give you the rain in its time…”, in contrast to the neo-Jewish view (even if it started thousands of years ago) that restoring the ancient temple worship, or occupying the land “by any means necessary/rationalizable” is Jewish…”

    Please clarify if this interpretation is off, but between the lines I’m under the impression that in your view, certain principles of the Torah are considered good and righteous. However, there are others which may not resonate as well in your point of view. Therefore, since it doesn’t rest well with you, glib assertions are made that the less palable ones are “not Jewish” or paradoxically contrary to the Torah.

    My rebuttal was stating that there are within our midsts, examples of people/communities who place a lot of emphasis on some mitzvot (which often have geo-political overtones) while giving short shrift to those between G-d and man. That doesn’t mean that the more controversial mitzvot are therefore null and void and non-Torah. That’s the false dichotomy. Either the Torah teaches ethical concerns between people OR it’s immersed in the geo-political.

    I would replace the “OR” with an “AND”. That said, it doesn’t mean I’m defending or condone the ways of the settler population. I’m defending my opposition towards “pick and choose” Judaism which can be subject and even subservient to what you defined as “adopted ethical principles”

    That’s the rub. Adopted by whom and ethical by whose standards? General world ethics change over time and vary from place to place. If the Torah is our eternal guide then ethics are subservient to the Torah.

    I’ll attempt another summary. Once I heard Rabbi Yisroel Reisman of Yeshiva Torah V’Daas pose a rhetorical question. “Why do we honor our parents? Because the Torah says so” It was obvious from his elaboaration that he was expecting some shocked reactions. It’s not that the littany of possibly excellent reasons for doing honoring ones parents are irrelevant, but rather it’s citing the wellspring source for those good reasons. To provide an admittedly extreme example, some Eskimos designated, as a way of life, placing their elderly parents on ice floes in order to “get it over with”. Perhaps to them, that’s a very reasonable ethical standard.

    In contrast, we have our approach. As an article of faith, the approach was transmitted by the Creator and defined for the masses by Moshe and later on by the Scholars of the Mishna and Gemara. Determining who those scholars are is also an article of faith.

    Please pardon the possible triumphalism but how else have we remained the eternal people but by following the Eternal Torah?

    Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker.

  23. I would suggest that Torah is NOT a valid basis of title or sovereignty over land.

    At most, it is valid legal code among those that have adopted it as code.

    It is a valid motivation to attempt to legally and humbly accomplish title and majority in Israel, but not a valid excuse for expropriating by force or by rationalization land that Palestinians and others held by legal title prior (of varying forms, but still legal).

    I don’t hold the view that “we honor our parents because Torah instructed us”. I hold the view that “honoring our parents” and the 10 commandments, are intrinsic in human nature and emerge from self-reflection. A self-reflective eskimo would derive nearly identical. A Muslim. A Buddhist. An atheist.

    The aspect that is unique about the Jewish commitment, is that the shared obligation to fulfill them is more than a chance. We are expected to commit to a HIGH proportion of fulfillment, to a significant level of depth applied with moral courage. To teach our children.

    The political is significant. Our collective entity, our state, our organizations, do exist in an ethical relationship with the rest of the world, including the non-Jewish world. Whether the rest of the world misinterprets some of the actions and significance of Jews (adherent or not), in ways it accurately reveals aspects that we’ve constructed collective blinders to.

    When individuals site halachic authority, whether persons or texts, to rationalize their collective covetousness, it demeans Torah itself, life itself, natural law itself.

    On Torah emphasis. I’ve dialogued with haredi who claimed that it was imperative to apply all of the mitvot equally, that none were more important or more elegant than others. It seems that that is what you are saying.

    I disagree with that view. I believe that the fundamental principles, the 10 are that, fundamental. And that the remaining mitzvot are elaborations on those ten.

    The allegory of playing the game “telephone” has been sited by haredi that I’ve known to describe the transmission of written and oral Torah, that the transmission is kept literally and emphatically. And, that that literalness guarantees the relevance in all time, for Jews and for non-Jews.

    I derive a different conclusion from that story. I’ve seen literalness transmitted accurately, result in gross figurative deviation from an original message, particularly a message that depends on a prayerful (full of awe) consciousness to hear.

    In contrast, I’ve met individuals largely ignorant of texts, that “get it” largely from self-reflection, and willingness to not look good, but to actually be good.

  24. Richard,

    I don’t mean to “get the last word in” so please feel free to continue.

    Your Charedi confidante said that the mitzvot should be applied of equal value. The practice for the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is to pray to G-d for forgiveness for transgressing any of the “man to G-d” commandments while trangressing any “man to man” commandments require approaching the one who was wronged and earning his forgiveness.

    Therefore, sometimes the mitzvot are applied differently but that does not mean that some are across-the-board weighed heavier than others.

    I don’t agree with the metaphor of playing telephone regarding transmitting the Oral Law from generation to generation. The rule of telephone is whisphering the info into your neighbor’s ear (so the others can’t hear) and it’s limited to ONE time.

    A practice which is fortunately gaining strength recently is learning Torah portion twice on a weekly basis along with the Aramaic commentary (Targum) and Rashi. This ideally is done year after year along with the many cycles of Talmud completion through the Daf Yomi program.

    The word “Mishna” means repetition and is included in the titles of seminal works of codified law including the Rambam’s “Mishna Torah” and the Chofetz Chaim’s “Mishna Brura”

  25. I thank you for that elaboration of the different relationships of mitzvot.

    I would appreciate if you commented on the political scale in which organizations or political entities that one is a part, effect others (other peoples’ and other individuals) for good or ill.

    That creates the relevance of political dissent. It makes it an act of conscience, rather than an act of intrusion.

    I also need to add in my spiritual roadmap, relationship to nature: wilds, commons, resources. Both for the existential value of living things themselves, and for the social management and justice of whether minimum necessities like fresh air, water, fuels, refreshment, remain available or become stressed “economic goods”.

    When I sit and ask God to search my heart, I open my eyes and look around. I see people and nature, each stressed unnecessarily.

  26. “I would appreciate if you commented on the political scale in which organizations or political entities that one is a part (of), effect others (other peoples’ and other individuals) for good or ill.”

    That’s a tough one. Politically, I’m homeless. I once flirted with the schools of thought that placed heavy theological emphasis on Greater Israel as if it was on par with other mitzvot.

    At the same time, I was relieved to hear that other schools of thought within Orthodoxy (HaRav Eliezer Menachem Shach of Ponevezh in Bnai Brak, the Belzer Rebbe et al) did not prioritize things this way and in the case of HaRav Schach instructed students not to live in the settlements.

    One great Rabbi who was heroic was the late Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the dean of the Kol Torah yeshiva in J’lem. At this funeral in 1994, an estimated 200,000 came out to pay their respects. The journalists covering this event were befuddled since they never heard of this individual. He stayed out of the political milieu.

    I’m not attracted to the political right since lording over millions of Arabs is not practical will likely lead to policies and behavior not consonant with Judaic mores.

    But the left hardly does it for me either. If members of Peace Now, for example, have any affiliation at all it’s likely with either the Reform or Reconstructionist movements which will not place fealty to the mitzvot (and recognize the Divine Origins) as a priority.

    One might ask, “can’t one agree to disagree and work together for a common cause?”. Perhaps, but it depends on the situation. But on a purely political level, Peace Now apparently has it in their heart that a tenable solution is out there and waiting. I wish I could be as convinced.

    Your quote
    “I see people and nature, each stressed unnecessarily”

    100% in agreement. I think Thoreau said it all when he wrote “simplify, simpifly”. It has to start at home.

  27. By “political”, I didn’t mean participating in organizations particularly. The comment was more philosophical and related to the question of conscience of how an organization that one is associated with (that someone or some “we” leads) considers how it effects others.

    States and corporations have the out from ethical consideration on the basis that the relationships of accountability are solely to their constituents. Stated as “national interest” as virtue, or “return on investment” as virtue. In business, the manner by which businesses incorporate ANY social responsibility into their process, is in “risk management”. Not intrinsic to the organization’s functioning, but only secondarily as a means to avoid punishments from various agencies and public.

    I like that the left is motivated by combinations of compassion and incongruity (that they are trying to reconcile). I dislike that so many on the left don’t bother to get fully informed about the issues that they are dissenting about, and some condemn first – learn later.

    Their presence is important. Otherwise, injustices (like the dispossession of MANY Palestinians without any due process under the law – in fact with due process made illegal by virtue of the early 50’s laws prohibiting reentry even into Israel to present their land title cases) just get swept under the rug.

  28. Y Ben David and Zack,

    Why aren’t there organizations of orthodox that are advocating with their political weight to accomplish decency for their Palestinian neighbors?

    All we hear is of the heartless orthodox (even those that read both liberal and conservative Israeli press), that ignore Palestinians’ isolation and pains.

    Being a Jew should be an exploration into life that is fully humane, rather than plausibly summarized as barely humane in some important respects.


  29. Actually there was an ad-hoc group comprised of Rabbis and Imams that opposed the Gay Rights parade in Jerusalem last year.

    Perhaps the sharing of similar religious convictions could be a focal point. Perhaps the Arabs, traditional and conservative by culture, would more likely trust the Orthodox as a potential partner for working things out than they would the secularists.

    However, unlike Y Ben David I don’t reside in Israel so the value of my input is probably limited. By the way, that’s a personal observation and not meant to be a statement regarding American Jews who wish to opine on topics regarding the Mid-East.

    Shabbat Shalom.

  30. Well, that last comment certainly qualifies as an intentional distraction.

    Why not self-inquire Zach? Don’t you want the collective behavior of the orthodox to be a high bar of conduct, rather than look like rationalization?

  31. As I stated elsewhere, the Judea/Samaria settlement movement placed a big emphasis on good relations with their Arab neighbors until the big outbreak of Arab violence in 1987. I also pointed out that contact has been renewed in Hevron after years of disconnection.

    Dr Bernard Avishai, a Canadian/Israeli professor has written a book called “The Hebrew Republic”. He advocates Israel abandoning its “Jewish identity” which he believes the Arabs object to (and which he himself is uncomfortable with) and it should adopt a “secular, globalized Hebrew” identity which the Israeli Arabs would somehow adopt. Mr Leiner’s comment above about the Arabs being generally conservative and religious leads me to point out that such a “Hebrew Republic” would be MORE objectionable to the Arabs than the current “Jewish state”. Judaism is not a missionary religion and the lifestyle of Orthodox/religious Jews is much closer to that of the Arabs than of the secular, globalized elite that controls Israel and its culture today. Dr Avishai’s “Hebrew Republic” is nothing more than a modern Crusader state bent on changing (even unconciously) the Arab/Muslim’s values, inculcating materialist, secular values including disrespect for elders, sexual permissiveness, homosexuality, and disparagement of Islam. A truly tradionalist Jewish/Israeli culture is not threatening to Arab/Islamic values and, having come to power, after a time, would lead to at least some relaxation of the tension between the sides, regardless of the “territorial” question (HAMAS opposes Palestinian nationalism in any event, viewing themselves as part of the larger Islamic world which they feel must be mobilized in order to confront Israel).

  32. Richard,

    I’ll attempt to address your question regarding the Orthodox and the “high bar of conduct” even though it was a loaded one.

    Based on previous postings, apparently your “high bar of conduct” can only be fulfilled by joining, for example, B’Tzelem (?).

    Regarding the suggestion of “self-inquiry”, and your narrow definition of pursuing peace, has any member of the Israeli Left (or their American fellow-travellers) ever entertained the possibility that the Arabs are less than comfortable with the cosmopolitan secularism that they espouse?

    You may claim a large amount of evidence -anecdotal evidence- attesting to the constructive bridges you’ve described with likeminded Palestinians.

    I too have anecdotal evidence. For example, my friend who lives in the Charedi enclave of Kiryat Ya’arim (aka Telshtone) which borders Abu Ghosh has been told the following on more than one occasion by his Arab neighbors; “with YOU we can get along”.

    Even among the Arabs you have met for apparently constructive dialogue, are their views, such as towards religion, the family, the community, as westernized as yours?

    Are they interested in sacrificing their identity and culture into something generic in the name of “peace” a la Bernard Avishai? Do they respect those who favor it?

    Bernard Avishai’s secular utopian musings of theological self-emasculation are evidently not an aberration among the secular elite. It’s not outlandish to suggest that the Arab masses view the secularism of Israel’s ruling class as a classic example of rationalizing to have your cake and eat it too.

    To clarify, it likely would have been more pragmatic -at the time- to select Uganda or some far-flung Russian province to create a Jewish state. Instead, the historic homeland of the Jewish people won out.

    Were the delegates of the Zionist Congress who vetoed Herzl land-obsessed fundamentalists? Speculations ruminate, but more reasonably it was more likely a natural progression of thought with the conclusion that any return and re-establishment meant to the land that has and had been prayed for 3x daily since the Roman expulsion.

    So the roots and the rights to the Land have (at the very least) theological underpinnings, but those preaching the loudest about building bridges of peace have also decidedly relieved themselves of, and have even derided the essence of the theology itself for a more “progressive” and “Westernized” lifestyle. Perhaps that sends a disingenous message?

    Yes, that’s somewhat of a generalization but as a baseline it’s not that off the mark.

    You may counter that your involvement with the “peace movement” is motivated by the Torah’s clarion call for justice. Perhaps it is. But the disclaimer apparently is what you wrote about how the law is subject to the “ethical” considerations of the day.

    Does that not reduce the power of theological implications into socio-political constructs? Inspired yes, but nevertheless constructs and Westernized ones at that.

    Richard, it sounds like you have a lot of ideas of how others should follow your interpretation in order to erase a generalization; i.e “the heartless Orthodox”. Probably the best of intentions, but nonethess with didactic overtones.

    For real brick and mortar solutions I have to plead ignorance, not being an Israeli and with limited insight of everyday life. I hope Mr Ben-David’s descriptions of dialogue in Hebron and other places is as concrete as my hope for it is.

    However, I do have a twinge of pride that Uri Lupolianski’s brainchild Yad Sarah is a successful example of a support agency for ALL impoverished residents and does not discriminate.

  33. “Based on previous postings, apparently your “high bar of conduct” can only be fulfilled by joining, for example, B’Tzelem (?).”

    You are talking to yourself on that one. Rather, speak to me please.

    My assertions were about the rule of law, and the inapplicability of Torah or halacha, as authority, as a basis of interstate and inter-community law. That halacha is only applicable to those that choose to adopt it, as sharia is similarly only applicable to those that adopt it. (Although I can see roles for intervening in cruel applications of either halacha or sharia.)

    In the case of Israel, it is necessary to read of the history to address whether issues of title and issues of sovereignty have been resolved lawfully.

    In all cases of title, the goal of perfecting title, is to derive the basis of consent, the reasonable man test. It does not state that there will be no subsequent claims by those with ideological or fanatic motivations. It states that a reasonable man would conclude that conflicting claims are reconciled.

    In the case of Israel, in the early 50’s there were two key Israeli laws that made it impossible to resolve conflicting title claims.

    They were

    1. The law that prohibited return, even temporary, even to attend court proceedings.

    2. The law that annexed “abandoned” land.

    I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that those laws were necessary for Israel to exist at all, in the temporary period following the initial civil war (between Jews and Palestinians) and the independance war (between Israelis and Arab states).

    But, I contest that that temporary need is now passed, and that it is in Israel’s interests to allow for reconciliation of validly contested title claims.

    The advantage of law is that it is color-blind. The same law that protects and reconciles others’ title claims, protects and reconciles our claims (as individuals or as communities).

    The contested status of land title remains. And, it will not be cleared until the actions that add up to consent of contesting parties by the reasonable man test are filled.

    I am intentionally NOT orthodox. I study to the extent that I have access to materials. I pray and meditate regularly. I keep kosher (in the sense that I am a vegetarian – not the orthodox standard). I rest on shabbat. I don’t steal. I don’t kill. I renounce coveting my neighbor’s property.

    I adopt the commitment to EARN the status of a priestly nation. That is the significance of the “high bar”, the emphasis on being good and doing good, rather than looking good (or avoiding looking at all).

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