Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Thoughts on 10 Tevet

We fast today in memory of the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem -- and because it was on this day, the very same day, that the prophet Ezekiel was given a prophesy that forewarned what would happen if we did not change our ways. (See chapter 24.) Unfortunately, things did not change, the temple was destroyed, and over three million Jews died according to an account in Gittin 47b.

Traditionally, fast days are days in which we look at what we are doing and how our actions have been associated with calamities in the past. Note that the selichot we read this morning did not emphasize the bloody nature of Nebuchadnezzar's army or that of his general, Nebuzaradan (who, according to Sanhedrin 96b, realized the horror of what he had done, repended, and became a ger tzedek).

During the past few months there has been tremendous apprehension regarding the so-called peace process. Orthodox groups from all across the Torah spectrum have expressed alarm at the possibility of yet another land for peace swap, particularly since part of the city of Jerusalem may be included in such a deal.

Contrast this with past "peace" agreements: Some of the greatest rabbis of the times have paskened that land for peace is mutar and perhaps obligatory if it will bring real peace; among them were Rov Soloveitchik z'tz'l, Rav Shach z'tz'l, and Rav Ovadiah Yosef. There was some significant religious support for the Oslo accords; the Shas party was in the Israeli government at the time and did not object. United Torah Judaism was in the Israeli government at the time of the Gaza disengagement; while Religious Zionist opposition was almost unanimous the debate within RZ circles of whether to encourage mutiny in the IDF generated much more heat than the efforts to prevent the removal of the 1500 Jewish families there.

Contrast this with today: Charedi groups have been expressing loud outrage at the possibility that the Israeli government (possibly pushed by the US government) might agree to give a substantial portion of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority. Here is one such example, from the official spokesperson for Agudath Israel of America:

The Orthodox Union has a very similar position:

What is going on here? Charedi and Religous Zionist groups are speaking essentially with one voice! I am not aware of a single orthodox Jewish organization that is supporting the prospective division of Jerusalem. I'm not aware even of a single rabbi who thinks dividing Jerusalem is a good idea. Not since the very first election in Israel, when all religious parties combined to form one parliamentary list, has there been such unity.

And it is apparently having no effect whatsoever.

The "process" is going forward. The Israeli government has a huge parliamentary majority; no single party other than Kadima itself can force new elections. The US has a lame duck President who will do whatever he wants; the new Democratic majority in the Congress hasn't even been able to sucessfully challenge him on any issues that are of far greater interest to the US public.
What is going on here?

It is tempting to blame the leaders of the government of Israel and that of the US. I think on this fast day we may be called to do something different: To look at why we religious Jews have failed to communicate effectively the importance of the City of Jerusalem. In the US, that will of course meaning explaining traditional Judaism to the 98% of the population who are not Jews, but we can at least start by reaching out to the 89% (according to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey) of American Jews who are not religious. And the same would certainly apply to Israel. Have we not been examples for our fellow Jews? Have we alienated them through our behavior, through intolerance, through extreme positions (halachic, hashgafic, or political)? I am not a prophet, and neither is anyone else in our times, so we can't say for certain why Jerusalem is facing redivision after 40 years of (at least de jure) unity. But we can certainly work to express to our fellow Jews why we think this is such a big deal -- and act in things not directly related in ways that will encourage others to appreciate what we believe.