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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Our shame 

Recently, I have often contrasted the restrained behaviour of Israeli Jews despite facing an unremitting terror campaign, with the mob violence and hysteria of Arab and Muslim societies. I derided constant reference in the media to the acts of Baruch Goldstein and the failed Bat Ayin bombing attempt were specks of sand inthe desert: irrelevant next to the vast wave of jihadi violence.

But the exceptions are coming a little thick and fast right now.

When fighting an Islamofascist enemy that shuns rationality, seeks death and ever greater "harvests" of innocent victims, it's not hard to be the better camp. But it's not enough just to maintain moral superiority -- but as inidividuals, we have to live up to the Jewish values of rahmanut and tolerance. Innocent people in Shiloh (and all the more so Shfaram) must never be targets -- otherwise we have entered the logic of jihad. And the "privatisation of violence" must be prevented.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Disengagement Prayer 

For those that are interested, here is the tfillah that was authored by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein (Chief Rabbi of South Africa).

Prayer at a Time of Disengagement

Avinu shebaShamayim, Our Father in Heaven,

At this testing time for our beloved State of Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world, we humbly pray for Your help and blessing.

We pray that You will bring Your consolation to our brothers and sisters who are about to leave their homes and sources of livelihood, their shuls and schools, and the land they love, for which they have sacrificed so much.

We pray, too, that You may help us preserve the unity of Your people, in Israel and elsewhere, who today face so many threats and dangers. Save us from the risks of our own dissension. Help us to help one another, remembering that we are all children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, offspring of those You freed from Egypt, heirs to those with whom You made a covenant at Mount Sinai, descendants of those You led to Eretz Yisrael in ancient times, and joined to those who live there now in a covenant of fate and faith.

Heavenly Father, teach us to recognize that our destiny is in Your hands, and lead us back to You through teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah, so that we may merit Your redemption, speedily in our days, and let us say: Amen.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Tisha B'Av musings 

Forgive my blogging absence recently -- major life changes have been in store for Habib. But I will be better now.

The focus of the minds of the Jewish people right now, whether in Israel or the rest of the world, has been on the disengagement that is about to occur from Gaza, bringing in its wake the forced removal of about 8000 Jewish residents of the territory. Comrade has already posted well on this topic.

Although my mind is a little befuddled by the effects of the fast, I thought I would share my thoughts.

I heard, recently, comments from a Torah educator, comparing the Israeli leaders who are coordinating withdrawal from Gaza to the 10 spies who reported that the Canaanites were too powerful for the Israelites to defeat and conquer the land; and comparing the Israelis who support withdrawal to those Israelites who believed their report, ignoring Caleb and Joshua (the connection with Tisha B'Av is that this occurred on the 9th of Av; God decreed that because the Israelites wailed for no good reason this time, he would make it a time of wailing and mourning through the generations). The implication is that those who deem withdrawal necessary are "seeing themselves as grasshoppers and afraid".

With respect, I think this is mistaken on more than one level.

First, it is not correct for us, who sit in comfort in the Diaspora, to pass judgment on the decisions taken by those who are responsible for the Jewish state; people like Sharon, who have dedicated their entire lives to the security of Israel (and been heroes of numerous wars) cannot be dismissed as appeasers or weak.

Second, parallels to Scripture can work both ways. For example, one of the kinnot (moruning dirges) we read on Tisha B'Av is worded as a eulogy to King Josiah by the prophet Jeremiah. The Egyptian Pharoah wanted to pass through Israel on its way to fight the Assyrians. Josiah, a righteous monarch, fueled on pride and Biblical prophecy that foreign swords won't be raised in Israel, refuses to let Egypt through. Jeremiah warns him against this course of action -- that fighting the Egyptians is pragmatically useless, and morally unnecessary. Josiah ignores this, is defeated, and killed.

We need, in addition to religious zeal and commitment to our nation, wisdom, and the ability to have a wide enough moral view to encompass those outside our nation, while maintaining peace and mutual respect within it.

The most important thing to remember is that our bonds, as fellow Jews, are far greater than what divides us. When we lose sight of that, disaster follows. For an example, see the parallels between the murder of Gedalia ben Ahikam, and that of Yitzhak Rabin, for an abject lesson in allowing internal disputes to fall into internecine violence.

May this Tisha B'Av serve the Jewish nation by making us aware of the diversity of views that come within our tradition, and unity must be foremost.

Friday, August 12, 2005

9 Av, Disengagement and random thought 

Good afternoon all.
Firstly, let me apologise for not updating this blog for the last two weeks or so. My bad. Let me also apologise on behalf of Habib - he has been particularly lame in this respect over the last while. He has been busy, but still lame.

Let me make a plea first of all. Saturday night/Sunday is 9 Av, the day when we commemorate the destruction of the first and second temples. Let us not forget in this testing time that the second temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam (unbased hatred) between Jews. No matter what your political view is, and whether or not you agree with the disengagement, the fact is that it will happen and that we need to make sure that we don't let a war of brothers ensue. The Chief Rabbinate of the Commonwealth has published a prayer to be said this Shabbat and on Tisha B'Av reinforcing this. It is a very important message. Thousands of people will be losing their homes and livelihood, and I don't think any of us can really begin to imagine how terrible this must be for those people. Hopefully, their sacrifice will bring about a new era and the possibility of peace. I know it's a long shot, but we really have to be positive.

Secondly, I thought I would bring a lovely message from this weeks parasha. This week we will be reading parashat Devarim, the first parasha of the book of Devarim. At one point, the torah states that Moses "be'er et ha'Torah" - literally, explained or expounded the Torah. Rashi explains this by stating "b'shivim lashon" - Moses explained the Torah in 70 languages. This only makes sense when we put it into context. According to Jewish tradition, there are 70 nations in the world, each with their own language. So Moshe was really explaining the Torah to the entire world. I think this statement has a lot of power. The Torah does not belong exclusively to the Jews. The Torah's ideas are universal. I think this message is particularly poignant at the moment, and relates back to what I was saying earlier about not being antagonistic towards one another. Just a thought. Perhaps you can come up with your own understanding of the significance of Rashi's statment. I'd be glad to hear suggestions.

Shabbat Shalom.

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