The Yeshiva of Shfaram

Before getting down to business, the sheikh told the two friends that they had to first accompany him to one old building in his village. To their utter astonishment, the sheikh led the two Jews to... the synagogue of Shfaram!

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
If any spot in Eretz Yisrael was to be picked by Eden Natan-Zada for his murderous attack (and none should have been), it especially should not have been a bus to Shfaram, as the following story shows.

Just last month, Professor Dan Bahat led a team of archeologists and volunteers in the start of the exploration of ancient Yavneh, home of the Sanhedrin under the leadership of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai at the time of the destruction of the Temple, and later home to Rabbi Akiva during the Bar Kochba rebellion. The dig is the brainchild of David Willner and Barnea Selavan, who a decade ago, decided to explore all ten sites to which the Sanhedrin was exiled.

Although Yavneh was eventually selected as the starting point, during preliminary scouting of all the sites, David and Barnea went to talk to the sheikh of Shfaram. Before getting down to business, the sheikh told the two friends that they had to first accompany him to one old building in his village. To their utter astonishment, the sheikh led the two Jews to... the synagogue of Shfaram!

As opposed to the conventional wisdom that the 1948 Arab-Israeli war produced only Arab refugees, it also produced Jewish-Israeli refugees, most notably in the Old City of Jeruslaem, the entire West Bank and places like Shfaram, which is in the Galilee. Amazingly, the Arab-Israelis of Shfaram have, for 50-plus years, kept the shul in perfect condition, cleaning and repairing the building, and even dusting the siddurim and other seforim.

Retiring to tea at the home of the sheikh, the two Jews were in for more surprises. The Sheikh told them matter-of-factly: "I don't want archeologists here."

"Why not?" asked the Jews.

The sheikh replied:"Because archeologists will come here, dig for six months and leave."

"OK," replied the two, "so what is it that you want?"

"Bring me a yeshiva," was the sheikh's response, which caused David and Barnea to nearly fall out of their seats in shock.

"A yeshiva? What on earth does an Arab sheikh need with a yeshiva?" they asked.

To which the sheikh replied: "Look around you. I have a poor Arab village here. Your archeologists will come and go, leaving Shfaram exactly as it was when they arrived. But a yeshiva - everybody knows that where the Jews bring a yeshiva, the Jews will follow, bringing people and business and prosperity." And life.

The sheikh was right. "Eitz chayim hi lamachazikim ba." The Torah is our Tree of Life. But only because after the destruction of the Temple, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and then Rabbi Akiva brought the Sanhedrin and Torah and Life to Yavneh. That's why Willner and Selavan started their Sanhedrin digs not in Shfaram, but in Yavneh. Rabban Yochanan, like the sheikh, knew that where the yeshiva was planted, he was planting the renaissance of Jewish life.

And so, Rabban Yochanan asked the Roman General Vespasian to grant him "Yavneh and its sages." That story, found in Gittin 55b-56b, concludes the Talmud's story of Tisha B'av 68 C.E. on as positive a note as could be expected from that litany of horrors. For that Tisha B'av began our long exile. The Gemara there relates the proximate cause: the famous story of Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza. As the petty fighting of the two escalates, the latter finally runs to Rome with the false news that the Jews are rebelling, and that brings the Roman Legions and the ultimate destruction. Thus, sinat chinam (hate of fellow Jews; Yoma 9a) and lashon hara (slander and the cynical language of Evil) brought about destruction, just as it had 1,380 years earlier to the entire generation of Israelites in the desert, killed by the slander of the spies sent to explore the Land of Israel.

A common theme runs through both stories: we Jews are our own worst enemies. In the time of Roman rule, the Jews of Jerusalem had enough food, wood and other supplies for 20 years, enough to outlast the Roman siege of Jerusalem. Incredibly, hotheads actually burned the supplies, hoping to force the Jews to fight Rome; but they only succeeded in starving out the city, reducing the inhabitants to such weak scarecrows (the Talmud recounts stories reminiscent of the Holocaust) that Rome's victory was secured.

The sages called the protagonists of the Gemara story of the Temple destruction "Kamtza" and "Bar Kamtza", which in Aramaic mean "locust" and "son of locust". Not only were the Jews interested only in physical pleasure and luxuries, partying and eating nonstop (like locusts), but they were very special locusts: they literally devoured each other - sinat chinam - having turned each other into an enemy. And the Biblical spies, returning to Moses and the people on Tisha B'Av, hint at this when they say, "Vaniye b'eineinu kachagavim." ("We viewed each other as locusts."; Bamidbar 13,33) The word "locusts" in the concluding words of the spies, their coup de grace, is translated by Onkelos as "kamtzas". This argument of the spies has set the bar of sinat chinam for the last 3,317 years.

Kamtzas. Jews devour each other, generation after generation, Exile after Holocaust after Disengagement.

Heaven forbid, we are about to see another chapter of sinat chinam play itself out the day after Tisha B'Av, 5765. Then, again, kamtza will attack fellow Jew and devour him whole: home, business, even life-giving yeshiva. Make no mistake here: sinat chinam has led one segment of our society to target the settlers for no other reason than their religion and Zionism. I pray that our prayers can nullify the evil decree. And I hope that our protests can move our brethren to join us in shutting down "business (and self-centered 'locustry') as usual" in this country, to perhaps move the hearts of those about to perpetrate an evil on par with the treachery of World War II's Judenrat.