Category Archives: Anti-Semitism

Balak — Coddling Curses

There’s a question that begs to be asked at the very start of the parsha, about Balak’s determination to curse the Jews: Why?

I don’t mean what motivated him. That is clear in the Torah’s text: 

And now, please come and curse this nation for me, for it is too mighty for me, perhaps it will enable us to strike at him, and banish them from the land; for I know, that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.” (Bamidbar 22:6).

Why, though, not ask for that blessing rather than that curse? Why not just ask the sorcerer for an assurance of victory in warring with the Jewish nomad nation? 

The question, though, is its own answer. Nations are motivated by self-interest; their enemies are simply those who stand in their way. But when it comes to those who see Jews as adversaries, self interest isn’t the first priority; cursing Jews is. Their foremost desire is not to enhance their own welfare but to deride and attack the object of their irrational hatred.

To take a current example, were it not for such paramount animus,  there would have long been a thriving Palestinian state. In 1947, in 2000 and in 2020, Arab leaders opted not for blessings but for curses against Jews, even though it deprived them of peace and prosperity

Chants across the globe of “Death to Israel” are commonplace. Cognoscenti know well what “From the river to the sea…” really means, and it’s not peaceful coexistence with Jews. To Iran’s Führer, Ali Khamenei, Israel is a “cancerous tumor” and its leaders “untouchable rabid dogs.” 

Maledictions against Israel are regularly hissed from the snake den of Middle-Eastern terrorist groups. Part of the Houthis’ slogan is “Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews.”

In imams’ sermons, Muslim children’s lessons and high school textbooks, calls for the destruction of the state that Jews founded in 1948 are regular menu items. Poisonous entrées.

In the end, though, cursing Jews today won’t work, any more than those planned by Balak. In the future, as then, one way or another, a Higher Authority will prevail.

© 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran

Letter to the Editor

A letter I wrote to the New York Times was published on Shabbos. It can be read here. Its text is below:

The Evil of Jew-Hatred’

To the Editor:

Re “My Son Is a Hostage. Comparing Hamas to the Nazis Is Wrong,” by Jonathan Dekel-Chen (Opinion guest essay, June 24):

Professor Dekel-Chen misses the point. The parallel indeed fails if all that is analyzed are the particulars of the Third Reich and the Hamas movement. But focusing on the trees here obscures the ugly forest: antisemitism.

The evil of Jew-hatred is a shape-shifter. It may come from political entities on the right or on the left, from one religion or another, from governments and from societal movements. And the ostensible reasons for the hatred vary wildly with time and place. But the target is the same: the Jews.

May the professor’s hostage son, and all those being held by this generation’s Jew-haters, soon be able to rejoin their families.

(Rabbi) Avi Shafran
New York
The writer is the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.


Professor David Himbara called South Africa “a classic case of a de facto one-party state with mismanaged institutions and endemic crime and corruption.” It’s also a state with much racism and anti-Israelism. Its president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has been a driver of those sins. Is there hope for the future? My thoughts are here.

Malign Ministers

It’s an image to warm the deepest cockles of any peace-loving heart: A Gaza in peace with Israel, conducting commerce with her, with both countries exchanging tourists and economically prospering as a result. Indeed, by all logic and reason, Gazans should recognize that Hamas’ rule over the territory has brought them nothing but grief, death and destruction.

What chills those cockles, though, is that we’ve seen this play before. In 2005, 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza were unilaterally dismantled and the strip was rendered Judenrein. With the Gazan populace’s approval, Hamas quickly took charge and, well, the rest is tragic history. 

Today, six months since the merchants of murder demonstrated the depth of their hatred and barbarism, Gaza’s infrastructure has been destroyed. Hospitals (aka military arsenals), schools (aka missile bases) and countless homes (some of which were just homes). Roads, sewage systems and the electrical grid – are in ruins. 

Whether the unprecedented death, destruction and displacement Hamas has brought upon Gazan civilians has convinced them that supporting evil doesn’t pay can’t be known at this time.

But, embracing hope, the U.S. has called for a revitalized Palestinian Authority to administer postwar Gaza ahead of eventual statehood.

The P.A.? Please.

In Mahmoud Abbas’ kingdom of corruption in Yehudah and Shomron, government jobs  are doled out to supporters; international aid enriches officials; basic services are spotty; elections haven’t been held for nearly twenty years. 

Mr. Abbas, of course, was elated by the U.S. endorsement of even a “reconstituted” Palestinian Authority. And, in March, he announced the formation of a new cabinet, to demonstrate his readiness to step up to the reconstruction plate.  

Tapped for prime minister is Mohammad Mustafa, a longtime Abbas adviser. He pledged to form a technocratic government and create an independent trust fund to help rebuild Gaza. 

The U.S. National Security Council welcomed the development, contending that “a reformed Palestinian Authority is essential to delivering results for the Palestinian people and establishing the conditions for stability in both the West Bank and Gaza.”

The key word there is “reformed.”

The signs are hardly encouraging. According to Palestinian Media Watch, the new Palestinian Authority’s minister of women’s affairs, Muna Al-Khalili, offered praise in 2018, for Dalal Mughrabi at an event honoring the terrorist, who in 1978 led a group that hijacked a bus and murdered more than three dozen riders, including 12 children. “A quality resistance operation,” Al-Khalili gushed, proclaiming that the attack “proved that Palestinian women are capable of carrying out the most difficult missions.” The most heinous ones, at least.

And, mere weeks after the Shemini Atzeres massacre, Ms. Al-Khalili hailed the “right to resist the occupation” until Palestinians achieve “self-determination, freedom, independence in its sovereign state whose capital is Jerusalem…” 

An equally disturbing member of the “revitalized Palestinian Authority” is its minister of religious affairs, Muhammad Mustafa Najem. He has called Jews “apes and pigs” who are full of “conceit, pride, arrogance, rioting, disloyalty, and treachery.” He sermonized that Muslims should “afflict the Jews with the worst torment.”

No, neither the old P.A. nor its “new and improved” version – as a bard once put it, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” – is a path forward for Gaza. Any respectable government there will have to be something truly novel, an administration whose focus is on the wellbeing of its citizens, not on murdering citizens of a neighbor.

Could that happen? 

The latest poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, on March 20, showed that Gazans’ support for continued Hamas control over the Gaza Strip showed a 14-point rise over the prior three months to more than 50%.

If that reflects Gazans’ true feelings, no sane, responsible government will emerge in the territory. The only grounds for hope are the many reports of Gazans who quietly admit that they hate Hamas but are afraid to speak up. 

Their fear is understandable. Hamas has warned Gazans that anyone seeking to undermine its administration of  the territory will be treated as a collaborator – which, of course, means execution. 

Are there enough Gazans who prefer peace to endless bloodshed and who will vote that preference in some future election? 

I’m not taking bets.

(c) 2024 Ami Magazine

Vilified… Once Again

Ours are times when it isn’t hard to imagine oneself as a Jew in Mitzrayim –  at least according to the way two commentaries understand a word in Devarim.

The word is in one of the pesukim comprising the declaration to be made by those bringing bikurim, the firstfruits of the season, to the Beis Hamikdash. It is, famously, a declaration that the Haggadah expands upon. The word is vayarei’u, often translated as “they [the Mitzri’yim] treated us in an evil way” (26:6).

Abarbanel and the Netziv, however, see the syntax of the word as implying something subtly but decidedly different. They read it as meaning “they ‘eviled’ us” – in other words, they portrayed the descendants of Yaakov as evil. As we would say in English, they vilified us.

Could there be a better way to describe so much of the world’s attitude toward Jews today? To be sure, there are always haters who, as is their wont, hate, for any of an assortment of “reasons” or with no attempt at “justification” at all; that’s nothing new. 

But, as a result of civilian casualties in Gaza – unavoidable deaths and injuries like those that have been part of every war in history – Israel has been vilified to an unprecedented extent, not only by the usual suspects but in broad international circles and media. And, tellingly, all Jews – as Jews, simply for being Jews, our opinions unknown and of no concern to the venomous vilifiers – are targeted as well. 

Attacks on Jews, physical and verbal, abound across the globe. The despicable chants of “Burn the Jews!” and displays of Nazi symbols at “pro-Palestinian” rallies – a British bobby was recently recorded dismissing a distraught Jewish woman’s complaint about swastika flags at a demonstration by saying they needed to be “taken into context” – is evidence enough of how easily empty-headed people can, under the self-righteous guise of what they proffer as principled political positions slide into… vilification of Jews.

And so it’s no great challenge this year to put ourselves in the places of our vilified ancestors in Mitzrayim. The Haggadah’s mandate that we endeavor to see ourselves as if we, too, were redeemed from Mitzrayim logically includes imagining ourselves in the state that our forebears endured before they went free. After all, an appreciation of redemption must include what it has freed one from.

Although we refer to the splitting of the Red Sea as kri’as Yam Suf,  a “tearing” of the waters, that word is not used by the Torah. The Torah’s word for the parting of the waters is vayibak’u – “splitting” or “chopping.”

Noting the use of the same verb to describe Avraham Avinu’s splitting of wood for use in the offering of Yitzchak as an olah to Hashem, Chazal tell us that it was in the merit of that action of Avrohom’s that the sea was able to split. 

What was the essence of that merit? It’s more than plausible that it was the perseverance in the face of hopelessness, the selfless determination with which Avraham undertook to follow Hashem’s unfathomable command. Our forefather’s deepest desire lay in a world-changing future for Yitzchak and his eventual descendants. But, it seemed, in light of the command, that there was no hope left to be hoped. 

Similarly, when Klal Yisrael found itself faced with a sea before them and an approaching army closing in from behind, hopelessness would understandably have seized them. 

And yet, just as the despair Avraham had reason to feel as he split wood for the akeida was later dissipated in a crucial instant, so did the anguish our ancestors experienced at the sea suddenly evaporate, as they watched the waters before them part.

It’s a thought worth pondering these days. Even surrounded by darkening clouds of seemingly mindless, relentless hatred, we do well to remember how hopelessness needn’t be final.
The Egyptian pyramids and the Sphinx, intended to herald the permanence of the power of an ancient dynasty, are today nothing more than tourist attractions, and crumbling ones at that. Our people persists, vibrant and hopeful, looking toward the ge’ulah sheleimah

© 2024 Ami Magazine