A piece I wrote for Religion News Service about a misunderstood element of Israeli politics can be read here.
“Hashem… will return and gather you in from all the peoples to which [He] has scattered you… and He will bring you to the land that your forefathers possessed and you shall possess it…” (Devarim 30: 3-5).
Eretz Yisrael isn’t its name. It is our description of the fact that it was bequeathed to Klal Yisrael.
But it did have a name: Cna’an. We don’t call it that anymore, but that was its name, and presumably has some meaning. And its meaning must be meaningful.
In his sefer Nachalas Tzvi, Rabbi Meshulam Fayish Tzvi Gross (who had a weekly chavrusa in Kabbalah with Rav Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn and whose sefarim had haskamos from some of the greatest Gedolim of his time; and who, as Herman Gross, patented several inventions) ventures an answer.
He sees the name rooted in the Hebrew noun hachna’ah, “deference” or “submission.” While other lands, he explains, are overseen by malachim – divine middlemen, not Hashem Himself – Eretz Yisrael is different; hence the palace of the King demands a special degree of hachna’ah.
He cites the fact that the phrase “me’od me’od” is used both to refer to the goodness of the land (Bamidbar 14:7) and to the degree to which we are to feel shfal ruach, lowly (Ravi Levitas in Pirkei Avos, 4:4).
What occurs to me as well is the idea that, when in possession of Eretz Yisrael, we Jews are to be constantly cognizant that it is a yerushah, a bequeathal, to us from Hashem. And that, even when we rightly tell the world that the land is divinely meant for us, we must ourselves always fully and humbly remember that it isn’t our political or military power that maintains our possession of the Holy Land, but Hashem’s kindness in having allowed us to return to it.
© 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran
You might not recognize the name Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro, but you surely know the lady by her current name: Nancy Pelosi.
Her original surname, though, resonates with some of us Jewish “Bawlemorians.” If you’re interested in knowing why, click here.
A piece I wrote for Forward, about ending violence at the Kotel, appeared before Tisha B’Av and can be read here.
My thoughts on the obnoxious actions of a group of young Orthodox Jews at the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall, and on some of the reaction to them ,can be read here.
The essay below appeared in Haaretz
Racist Antisemites, but pro-Israel: The Choice Facing U.S. Orthodox Jews at the Polls
Should American Jews who believe sexual identity is not a mere social construct, that marriage is between man and woman, and abortion should not be a mere “choice,” support politicians who inspire racist and antisemitic murderers?
Jun. 7, 2022 12:45 PM
The gunman who killed 10 people in a Buffalo, New York, neighborhood supermarket last month clearly targeted Black people. Not only was the market in a Black neighborhood, but the killer is reported to have shared his racist beliefs in a long-winded manifesto seething with hatred of “non-white” people and immigrants who, in his fevered mind, threaten to supplant ”native-born” Americans.
The document deems Black Americans, along with immigrants, as “replacers” – people who “invade our lands, live on our soil, live on government support and attack and replace our people.”
But the 180-page rant didn’t exactly ignore another minority.
“The Jews are the biggest problem the Western world has ever had,” the manifesto reads. “They must be called out and killed, if they are lucky they will be exiled. We can not show any sympathy towards them again.”
As to why he attacked a target in Buffalo and not Brooklyn, he reassured his readers that “the Jews…can be dealt with in time.”
The toxic brew of hatred, fear and unreason about how “real” Americans (or Europeans) are threatened with being overwhelmed by masses of dark invaders, popularly goes by the name “The Great Replacement.”
And other proponents of the ideology have also expressed themselves violently.
In the ADL’s tally, of the 450 murders committed by political extremists over the past decade in the U.S., Islamist extremists were responsible for about 20 percent, and left-wing extremists for 4 percent. Fully 75 percent were perpetrated by right-wing extremists, many of them explicitly tied to white supremacist movements.
Lest we forget, the Pittsburgh killer of 11 people at a Jewish congregation in 2018 blamed Jews as the “hidden hand” behind a plot to dilute the nation’s white Christian identity.
The killer of Black churchgoers in Charleston in 2015 called on whites to fight both Blacks and Jews.
The marchers in Charlottesville at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally (in)famously chanted “Jews will not replace us!”
White supremacists killed more people than any other type of radical last year.
The “Great Replacement” idea has been embraced and promoted by an assortment of political and media figures. While some find it unreasonable to imagine that the white power ideology’s mainstreaming in the (more) genteel public sphere plays any role in the violence committed under its banner, imagining otherwise is willful blindness.
To be sure, the pols and pundits generally focus on illegal immigration, something that every sovereign nation, of course, has a right and responsibility to control.
Here in the U.S., the pushers of “replacement theory” declare that their objection is to undocumented immigrants voting for Democratic candidates.
But non-citizens cannot vote in federal or state elections, or in any but a handful of local ones. And even were amnesty to be offered to many, or even all, undocumented immigrants, their path to citizenship would take some eight years, plenty of time to be courted by the Republican party (which, as it happens, increased its share of Latino voters in the 2020 election).
And so, the illegal immigration issue is a red herring (or, perhaps, a white one).
What’s more, much of the replacement rhetoric devolves from electoral concerns, justified or not, into less rarefied realms. The voices, though, belong to some of America’s most powerful institutions.
Steve King, while he was still serving as a Republican member of Congress for Iowa, tweeted that “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” He doubled down with the same vile contention on national TV.
Josh Mandel, when he was standing for election as the GOP candidate for a Senate seat for Ohio, bemoaned how immigration is “changing the face of America, figuratively and literally… our culture… our demographics…” adding “our electorate” only at the end. He endorsed Mike Flynn’s rallying cry that the United States should be “one nation under God and one religion under God.”
And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared that leftists were attempting to “drown” out “classic Americans.”
Then there is Tucker Carlson, the Fox News personality who famously said that immigration makes the U.S. “poorer, dirtier and more divided.” He makes sure to verbally renounce political violence, of course, but has long ranted in angry monologues against what he calls the demographic threat posed by immigration. Do his words resonate with people like the Buffalo murderer?
“How, precisely, is diversity our strength?” fumed Mr. Carlson in a much-shared 2018 segment.
“Why is diversity said to be our greatest strength?” wrote the Buffalo shooter.
Many of us American Jews see the anti-Israel screeds of the progressive “Squad” in Congress as incendiary, as encouraging violence against Jews.
We’re not wrong about that. But it’s time we Jews realized, too, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, conservative and liberal alike, that Replacement Theory dressed up as judicious immigration concerns is just as dangerous, and, in light of the ADL stats, arguably more so.
At her first public appearance, at The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the newly minted U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, Professor Deborah Lipstadt, decried the canard “that Jews were behind an attempt to destroy white America,” which she said has “been adopted and adapted by racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists in Europe and beyond.”
There was a time – it seems so long ago now – when Jews in the U.S. were largely united in supporting Israel and upholding democratic ideals; and recognized the importance of immigrants, like ourselves, to the American melting pot. And it was pretty clear which candidates deserved our votes.
It was a time when Orthodox Jews in particular, but other Jews as well, spoke in unison about the importance of traditional family values and the role of morality in forging social policy. And knew which candidates could be counted on to responsibly further our goals. It was a time when we felt that America’s fundamental democratic institutions, including the nation’s electoral system, deserved to be respected by all citizens, and that minorities and immigrants deserved protection and respect from both the populace and the electorate.
Today, though, as a celebrated bard has maintained, things have changed. And the changes leave much, if not most, of American Jewry conflicted. Or, at least they should.
Should Israel supporters cast votes for candidates who stand up unapologetically for Israel’s security, even if those aspirants to public office promote delusions like “Replacement Theory”? Should those of us who believe that sexual identity is not a mere social construct, that marriage is the union of a man and woman (defined biologically) and that abortion should not be a mere “choice,” support politicians who feel the same but, wittingly or not, help inspire racist and antisemitic murderers?
It’s a Sophie’s choice, and I don’t profess to know how best to make it.
But it’s a reality that must be faced. And lives – Black, Asian, Hispanic and Jewish alike, are more than theoretically at stake.
Rabbi Avi Shafran writes widely in Jewish and general media. Twitter: @RabbiAviShafran
A Shavuos piece from 2014 that might be of interest can be read here.
RELIGION NEWS SERVICE
The Jewish way to celebrate Jerusalem Day
We are enjoined by our Jewish faith not to goad or incite other peoples or religions.
June 1, 2022
By Avi Shafran
(RNS) — Residents of Israel and Gaza dodged a bullet on Sunday (May 29) — in fact a slew of bullets, and bombs and missiles.
Sunday was “Jerusalem Day,” an annual celebration that commemorates Israel’s capture of the Holy City during the 1967 Six-Day War. As in past years, it included a parade through the Holy City’s Arab Quarter, which this year had drawn fierce threats of terroristic attacks from Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that governs Gaza, which, had they been carried out, would have incurred retaliation from Israel.
Thankfully, the group proved to be only grumbling. As usual, some local clashes between marchers and Arab Quarter residents broke out but no large-scale violence erupted.
All the same, the parade was, as it always has been, misguided, dangerous and decidedly un-Jewish.
I am a Haredi Jew (often, and distastefully to me, referred to as “ultra” Orthodox), and I rejoice in the fact that Jerusalem is in Jewish hands. I rejoice that the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, where the ancient Jewish temples stood and toward which Jews worldwide have faced in prayer over millennia, is today accessible to all.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, under Ottoman rule and then the British mandate, Jewish worshippers at the wall risked assaults, and animal dung was regularly dumped there.
Between 1948 and 1967, when the city was under Jordanian control, half of the Old City’s 58 synagogues were demolished and the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was plundered and its tombstones used as paving stones.
Jews, needless to say, were denied access to the Western Wall.
For millennia Jews have prayed daily for their people’s return to the Promised Land and its spiritual center, Jerusalem. When the armies of three countries tried to remove Jews from the region for the second time in the Six-Day War, and were vanquished, we cried in joy.
Even having returned to our ancestral land, we are required to be sensitive to other faiths and peoples. We pray daily for the return of the central temple to the site where it originally stood. But that return, according to the Jewish religious tradition, is in God’s hands, not ours. Until the messiah arrives to usher in a new era of history — when, in Isaiah’s words, “a wolf and a lamb shall graze together” and global peace will reign — we are enjoined to not goad or incite other peoples or religions.
And so a baldly nationalistic march — especially through the Arab Quarter of the Old City — was no way to mark the happy fact that Jerusalem and the Western Wall are today open to people of all faiths. It was, simply put, a provocation.
The day before the march, Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, one of the most revered leaders of the Haredi community, reportedly asked Haredi members of the Israeli Parliament if they truly “don’t understand that (the march) is unnecessary and dangerous.”
He also decried Jews’ visiting the Temple Mount itself, which, in 1967, Israel put under the administrative control of the Jordan-based Islamic trust known as the Waqf. Since then only Islamic worship has been permitted on the Mount, in order to preserve and promote peace.
At the time, Israel reasoned that to alter the religious character of the place, where the Dome of the Rock shrine — one of the holiest places in Islam — and the Al-Aqsa Mosque stand, would be a gross affront to the Muslim world. It was a decision born not of weakness but of wisdom, even if the peace it meant to foster remains an elusive entity.
Peace has been elusive for many reasons, including Arab states’ rejection, for many years, of Israel’s legitimacy. But there has been much progress in that area of late. Today, the main obstacles to peace are groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, which are sworn to murder Israelis and destroy their country, and those Palestinians in the Israel-occupied West Bank who swoon to these groups’ hateful siren call.
But Israel only pushes peace further out of reach when it indulges Jewish nationalists by allowing incendiary actions that insult the feelings of Israel’s Arab residents and of all who sympathize with them. Like the Jerusalem Day parade.
Some will point to the scuffles that broke out as celebrants made their way into the narrow streets of the Muslim Quarter, arguing that both sides threw invective and glass bottles at each other, requiring the intervention of Israeli police. The march itself, however, even if it had proceeded peacefully, was an unnecessary invitation for resentment.
And to what end? To assert Israeli sovereignty in the face of Arabs? That may reflect a militant nationalistic stance. But not a Jewish one.
Before the next Jerusalem Day, Israel should examine the true meaning of the event, which is to express our gratitude for being able to live and worship freely in Jerusalem. A truly Jewish Jerusalem Day would foster heartfelt gatherings in places where no one will be angered or affronted. Next year Israel should redirect its citizens’ feelings from provocative demonstrations to a Jewish celebration of a city whose name is rooted in the Hebrew word shalom, “peace.”
(Rabbi Avi Shafran, who serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish organization, writes widely in Jewish and general media. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
Have you read about how Ukrainians in Russia have planted bombs in public places, how they terrorize and murder Russian civilians, jumping unsuspecting Muscovites and viciously stabbing them? How they preach hatred for all Russians? How they declare their wish to push them all into the Arctic Ocean?
No? Well, that’s probably because, needless to say, nothing of the sort is remotely true.
And not all Molotov Cocktails are alike.
To read what I mean, please click here.
Culture is a powerful thing. And Palestinian culture seems to embrace, or at least have an unhealthy tolerance for, violence.
Not only against Israelis or Jews but within Palestinian society as well.
To read what I mean, click here.