Op-Ed: Currying Favor With Al Jazeera: Response to Rabbi Hart
Judaism preaches peace, not suicide, and it does not equate defense of self with terror by one's enemies.
Peace, shalom, is one of the noblest and most fundamental of Jewish values. As Jews, we must strive hard to get along with people and work together with them, and, when our positions and actions are misunderstood, we need to properly explain them, toward the goal of achieving shalom. Working with others and enabling them to appreciate our attitudes and concerns are critically important and at times sorely lacking.
That is why, although I was surprised to see Rabbi Ari Hart's essay on Zionism in Al-Jazeera, my initial reaction as I began to read his essay was quite positive. Here was a rabbi, I hoped, who was bold enough to enter what many perceive as potentially hostile territory, in order to explain the importance and legitimate claims of the Jewish People to Eretz Yisrael. And the essay's initial section about peace could make us proud and create a seriously positive impact; the virtue of shalom at its best.
However, authentic peace cannot be achieved at the expense of other core values - and this is where Rabbi Hart's essay fails, as it validates the claims of our detractors, accepts their narrative and endorses a moral equivalency between Israeli defense policies - and by extension, the IDF soldiers who gave their lives in that defense - and Arab terror, while also embracing the values of non-Orthodox, far-left pluralism. (On the other hand, my hunch is that Al-Jazeera's management and most faithful readership probably cringed when seeing some phrases in the essay, which offend not only traditional Judaism but Islam as well.)
Lamenting the Arab situation in Judea and Samaria, Rabbi Hart writes:
"I believe that our now long-term military rule over another people has had profoundly negative moral and spiritual consequences for my people. I believe it poses a threat to the longevity of the Zionist dream, and as a Zionist, I seek its end."
While no rational person would describe military rule as ideal, the reality of incessant terrorism emanating from Judea and Samaria directed at our men, women and children throughout the State (and abroad) has unquestionably necessitated strong security measures. The clear need and life-saving effectiveness of these security measures has been consistently demonstrated.
On the contrary, Rabbi Hart should have written or at least implied that previous occasional Israeli security lapses, resulting in terrorism and tragic loss of life, have “had profoundly negative moral and spiritual consequences for my people and pose a threat to the longevity of the Zionist dream". Rabbi Hart's original statement was sorely misdirected.
Taking up the cause of moral equivalency, Rabbi Hart writes concerning Israeli relations with Arab neighbors:
“This (Israeli military rule in Judea and Samaria, A.G.) is not the only threat facing Zionism, however. The use of terrorism, anti-Semitism and delegitimisation by Palestinians is just as dangerous…
“The alternative, to stop dreaming, to continue with tit for tat, argument for argument, bullet for bullet, is failure."
The message being sent here is that Israeli military and diplomatic efforts to counter Arab aggression are just as bad as such aggression; self-defense and the right to preserve one's country are condemned and equated with belligerence and terror.
This moral equivalency is the antithesis of Judaism. Judaism preaches peace, not suicide, and it does not equate defense of self with terror by one's enemies.
Depicting the future messianic/eschatological era, Rabbi Hart proclaims:
"For the sake of my Jewish, Israeli, Arab, Palestinian, secular, religious, gay, straight, brothers and sisters, for the sake of all of us, let us have the courage to dream, yes, even to dream together, so that one day ‘our mouths will be filled with laughter, our tongues with joyous song’”.
Although we are charged to bring close our secular brethren who have strayed from the path of Torah and to empathize with those who struggle and feel unable to establish marital relationships with the opposite gender, Rabbi Hart turns these non-Torah lifestyles into ideals which somehow have positive identification with the messianic redemption. This is a gross distortion of Judaism, and I am confident that Al-Jazeera's Muslim constituency is likewise offended by it.
Unfortunately, this is far from the first time that a clergy member identified with Open Orthodoxy and the Orthodox far-left has penned words that display a repudiation of our claim to Eretz Yisrael and that embolden the positions of those who would prefer us expelled and dead.
In “A Cry is Heard from On High– Wailing, Bitter Weeping:” A Personal Reflection on Hevron – City of our Fathers, published to coincide with the Torah portion Chayei Sarah, Maharat (term for female rabbi with Open Orthodox ordination) Rori Picker Neiss condemns the Israeli government’s restrictions in Hevron:
“Yet, in maintaining our claim for the land, there are thousands of people– Jews and Arabs– who live in fear for their lives each day of violence or even death.”
The author, who writes that she no longer visits Hevron due to Israeli policies there, equates fear of violence and death on the part of Hevron’s Arabs and Jews; spurious moral equivalency at its best.
On January 29, Rabbi Avi Weiss, who ordained Rabbi Hart and Maharat Picker Neiss respectively at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat, and at whose congregation Rabbi Hart serves, published a scathing attack on the Israeli Chief Rabbinate in the New York Times. Since the Chief Rabbinate is officially part of the Israeli government, Rabbi Weiss’ attack was tweeted by the PLO Delegation to the US!
It behooves us to be exceedingly careful to be accurate when expressing to the outside world our quest for shalom and when choosing the venue to express our indignation regarding matters pertaining to Jewish life and Israeli policies. The Jewish community has enough challenges and enemies; we should not needlessly bring on more.
Our enemies are very good at detecting our weaknesses, both physical and spiritual. When we effectively throw the Torah’s requirement to defend oneself under the bus and commit to delusional solutions, projecting spiritual and physical weakness and great naïveté, we embolden those who seek our destruction and abandon the Divine mandate.
Furthermore, the eternal truths of Torah should not be distorted when being incorporated into gestures of peace. The Bible and our liturgy so often pair truth and peace, for both must be present.
As we move past our recent Purim observances, may we take with us the aspiration to soon again realize the redemptive message of Esther, and may our words always embody the Purim narrative’s qualities of “words of peace and truth”.
Rabbi Gordimer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America, as well as the New York Bar. The opinions in the above article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of any other individuals or entities.