Archive for July, 2017

“Shabbat Shalom” — Pinchas — 5777

“Shabbat Shalom”


Parashat Pinchas

Neil F. Blumofe

15 July 2017


Something interesting happened at the Hartman Institute this year, which is directly connected to something that happened in Austin this past October.  Perhaps you remember that Micha Goodman, a professor of philosophy and a Research Fellow at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, visited our community this past fall and offered words of Torah in our sanctuary.  He said that he had never offered a d’var Torah in a synagogue before, and especially, in the presence of his father, who was in town, as well.


As Micha began to offer his Torah, he realized that there were some somber aspects to it – as he was speaking about Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judea, who encouraged the people to expand their holdings in the land and increase their security, by intentionally cultivating fields and vineyards – Gedaliah was assassinated – and once Micha began speaking about the mirrors of history and the relevancy of Gedaliah in our own day – he stopped and playfully, just said – this is an intractable situation – everything is distressing – Shabbat Shalom –– which, by its absurdity and sad truth, was funny.  The punchline is that there is no clear way forward.  Shabbat Shalom.


And there were many Shabbat Shaloms at Hartman in these past two weeks – it became a running joke.  Not only Micha, it became a catchphrase among many of the presenters – who, realizing the inevitable difficulties in various choices and dilemmas, tried to diffuse the bleakness by abruptly saying – Shabbat Shalom.


Micha, who is known as a wunderkind in Israel, was speaking this past week about his new book – a best seller in Israel – called Catch ’67 – the title is modelled on the Joseph Heller book, Catch -22, where the protagonist, Captain John Yossarian, a US Army Air Force B-25 pilot, struggles to keep his sanity, while fulfilling his requirements of service.  The Catch 22 is a paradox – Heller sets it up as people who are mentally unfit were not obligated to fly, however anyone who applied to stop flying was showing a rational concern for their safety, and therefore were sane enough to fly.  A Catch 22 is known as a double bind – or an unsolvable puzzle of logic.


Goodman named his book Catch 67, in order to explore the double-bind present still, after Israel’s extraordinary victory in the Six-Day War in 1967.  He hoped to open up a healthier conversation about the inner struggle present in Israeli society about the current moral and political dilemmas that exist in forging ahead with both the blessings and the curses gained from that war, and in the 50 years since.  Catch 67 is the best-selling book in Israel and its thesis?  Shabbat Shalom.


The paradox is that while a majority in Israel favor withdrawing from places with a Palestinian majority in order to ensure Israel’s future as an internationally accepted state, the same people realize that they cannot withdraw because they fear for the security which would then have indefensible borders – thus the Zionist project is in jeopardy – both remaining and withdrawing from Judea and Samaria are not practical.  As Micha has said – the Israelis in the center are not between the right and the left – they are both right and left – that is why we are so perplexed. 


Catch 67 is not yet translated into English – however, the thrust of the book charts the main, competing ideological movements of Zionism and how they have been transformed and are currently in crisis.   On one hand, there is the Zionism as imagined by Theodore Herzl – the ancient Jewish wish is to be accepted and loved.  This Zionism strives to connect the Jews to the world – where geography doesn’t matter as much as politics.  This belief purports that if there is a Jewish state, then antisemitism will disappear and Israel will enter into the family of nations, becoming an organic part of humanism.


The other Zionism described in the book is what Micha calls Romantic Zionism — that Jews will be brought together – that the culture of the Jews is the spirit, and that the covenanted land of the Jews is the body – that it is space that defines who we are.  This view was popularized by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, and the founder of Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav Kook – a school that teaches what is now known as Religious Zionism.  Rav Kook stated in 1920 that the land of Israel is not acquisition – rather it is inherently part of who the Jewish people are.  Ze’ev Jabotinsky, co-founder of the Jewish Legion of the British Army in World War I stated that problem lies with people who try to prove that the land belongs to us – rather, he taught – the land is us.  This position states that Zionism and the establishment of Israel is the return of the spirit to the body – where memories attach themselves to places – as the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky wrote, who we are is where we are.


After 1948 and the founding of the state of Israel, both of these two Zionisms took a back seat to other Zionisms that surfaced as the State of Israel struggled to survive and to flourish – and both Zionisms became animated again after the victory in the Six Day War —  for the Herzl vision, Israel now had territorial assets with diplomatic advantages – land for peace was possible; and for the followers of Romantic Judaism, Rav Kook’s vision, the promised homeland of the Jews was finally delivered into our hands – and now our task is to settle it – and it is these two ideas, perhaps utopian visions, that have been tearing Israel apart ever since.


Yossi Klein Halevi describes our current time as Stage Three – including two deadly intifadas which have brought about a disenchantment of both of these visions.  We are currently living in a time where the recent victory of Avi Gabbay, the new leader of the struggling Labor Party, tellingly didn’t even mention peace in his platform – for this possibility seems so distant – where peace is not even a promise of the politicians, let alone a vison of society.  In this Stage Three, Israelis can neither trust nor control the Palestinians – if Israel stays in the Disputed Territories – Israelis believe that they will lose ethically, diplomatically, and demographically – which will bring the end of Zionism.  And if Israelis leave the Disputed Territories, it will be hard for Israel to defend itself – where Israel could not survive a surprise attack – as current commenters state – the Arab Spring was like an earthquake – if ancient stable countries collapse so easily, could a new weak Palestine survive?  It would be fauda – chaos – and we have the dilemma of believing in both quandaries.  We have the trepidation of both withdrawal and of occupation.


Is there a way out of Catch 67? Are we willing to expect a lot less from what a solution looks like?  As Goodman states – are we willing to turn a fatal disease into a chronic condition?  Are we willing to think differently about our Zionism and about the dichotomies present in both the visions of Herzl and of Rav Kook?  Micha leaves us with these important considerations — are we willing just to have more peace, as opposed to wanting to bring “the peace?”  Are we willing to make some accommodations to relieve some pressure of the Catch 67, shrinking the amount of occupation without dramatically shrinking the amount of security for Israelis?


So we are left with a lingering dilemma which has engaged some of the politicians – Naftali Bennett, head of the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party wrote that he did not agree with everything that Micha wrote – however he said, “the truth be told, over the 50 years since the great victory in the war, we have sunk into a war of ideas in which we basically triumph over ourselves.”  The former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, wrote a long negative critique of the book in Haaretz, suggesting that Goodman was out of his depths and not qualified to speak for the generals of the army – and Micha wrote back about Barak, who was Prime Minister during the difficult second intifada, stating – it is a fascinating twist for one of the story’s heroes to offer his critique of its narrator.


And so the debates slouch on – as we study Pinchas and God’s granting of the Covenant of Peace to the man whose actions and rewards are hotly debated in our traditions.  Pinchas, who stopped a devastating plague by killing Zimri and Cozbi – an Israelite man and a Midianite woman who were acting badly before the Tent of Meeting — was accused of murder by the B’nei Israel and also, offered the Priesthood by God.


Can both be true – can the responsibilities of caring for the people and entering into the Covenant of Peace be a way to advance a moral and secure life?  Can we stop the plague – a fatal disease – and devote our dedicated efforts to managing the chronic condition?  Can all of us in our community have conversations based on mutually shared respectful values without resorting to fear, blame, resentment, or severe judgment?  Let us ask ourselves the question – who do we want to be?  What is important to us?  As good, moral, intelligent lovers of Israel, can we have different political positions about Israel and together create a place of exploration, creativity, and magnanimity as we live and struggle in these mighty predicaments together?  Let us continue these practical vital conversations on the ground, while at the same time we look for the miracle from above.  Kein Y’hi Ratzon.


Shabbat Shalom.


18/07/2017 at 13:48 Leave a comment

July 2017
« Jun   Sep »