Sunday, August 10, 2008

Nine Comments on the Ninth of Av, 5768

  1. Tisha B'Av. The Ninth of Av is the Jewish fast day that commemorates the catastrophes that befell the Jewish people over the centuries,especially the destruction of the first, then second temples in Jerusalem. Jews all over the world gather in synagogues to recite the scroll of Lamentations, and then to say elegies over the destruction of Jewish communities, especially in Jerusalem. The graphic description in these elegies of the suffering of innocents is heartrending. Would that we Jews, or for that matter, any people, use these descriptions to sensitive ourselves to the sufferings of other groups! We sit and wail about something that happened centuries ago, when, at the same time, innocent civilians are being killed in indiscriminate bombing in the Republic of Georgia. Can we not make the connection?


  2. Baseless hatred and Jewish Zealotry. Two reasons are generally given in Rabbinic Judaism for the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 ce: baseless hatred among Jews, and the activity of the zealots against other Jews and the Romans. If one reads Josephus, the historian of the Jewish revolt, the emphasis is upon the latter. Josephus, though he is hardly a disinterested observer, provides the "balance and context" for the destruction of the Temple that is lacking in the rabbinic sources. In this way, and using moral standards that civilized people reject, he mitigates the Roman responsibility for the atrocities. Can he not condemn Roman atroicites yet attempt to understand them at the same time?


  3. "Balance and context," we are often told, is what is lacking in the criticism of Israel's human rights. Granted that the Palestinians are suffering, and there are human rights violations. But haven't the Israelis suffered as well? What about the suicide bombings and the shelling of Sderot? Doesn't this one-sided criticism suggest naivité at best, and, perhaps, anti-semitism at worst? The call for "balance and context" seems reasonable, until one understands the underlying motivaton – to lessen responsibility, to shift the focus to the other side, to justify, and ultimately, to condone. We hear the same demand for "balance and context" from war criminals, dictators, and other apologists for atrocities. I once heard a professor of Serbian studies, herself a Serb, criticize the West for unfairly blaming Milosevic for atrocities. "And what about the atrocities on the other side?" she said. "What about the centuries of atrocities against the Serbian people" She was right, there had been centuries of atrocities. But in her voice I heard the voice of the Jewish supporter of Israel who attempts to mitigate crimes by pointing fingers at other Palestinians. It is natural enough; we all do it in kindergarten. We don't want to be considered bad, so we point our fingers elsewhere. Can we not grow up?


  4. Whose Balance? Whose Context? Here are two responses to the calls for "balance and context." First, bite the bullet and say, "There is no balance. Both peoples suffer, but one people suffers much, much, more than the other. And when trying to gauge suffering, one doesn't do use a partisan measure. One looks at the total picture using measures that can be used in any conflict." Second, look at context, but not just the context that is favorable to our – or their – side. Both the suicide bombings and the shelling of Sderot have their origins no more in baseless hatred than the actions of Israel in the West Bank. They are local responses to local situations, based on broader ideologies and contexts. These should be studied and lessons should be drawn from them. If one's commitment is to human rights, you will condemn the indiscriminate shelling of Sderot as a violation of human rights, and then go on to condemn the Occupation as a more serious violation of human rights, for obvious reasons.


  5. The Settlers Demand "Balance and Context" I heard on the radio this morning that the West Bank Settlers are demanding from B'Tselem video cameras. It seems that they want to document the Palestinians who provoke the settlers to use violence, and then who film settler violence with B'Tselem video cameras. B'Tselem's response was that it will cooperate with the settlers when their human rights are violated. More "balance and context" for their crimes.


  6. Jewish Zealotry. The historical Zealots believed that Jewish independence from Rome trumped all other considerations, and whoever did not agree with them, Jew or non-Jew, was the enemy. With the growth of nationalism, the destruction of most of European Jewry, and the birth of the State of Israel, Jewish zealots today range from respectable spokespeople like Charles Krauthammer, Norman Podhoretz, Ruth Wisse, Yehezkel Dror, Alan Dershowitz, etc., to ROYS (Racist Orcs with Yarmulkes), like the ultra rightwing settlers in Hebron. But, in a sense, anybody who makes the existence of a state – any state – into an absolute value is a zealot. If the price for the existence of a Jewish state is the ongoing occupation and suffering of another people, then that price is too high. I am not saying that this is the price of the Jewish state. But the defenders of Israel, who try to justify the ongoing occupation with Israel's existential worries, lead me to this conclusion.


  7. Jerusalem in Ruins. When Israeli troups occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, there were some calls to revise the traditional "Nahem" prayer, which describes a decimated city in ruins. One such prayer, by Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld, turned the prayer into a memorial prayer for those slained and a call for the flourishing of the city. Most traditional Jews ignored such a liturgical innovation that reflected the moment. And they were right to do so. With each year, the city declines through over-development. Can anybody seriously say that the city has developed positively over the last forty years? Returning from shul today, I found on my car a pamphlet with the headline, "What is Happening on Yorde Ha-Sira Street?" The pamphlet pictured a building that had recently been constructed on the street that dwarfed the other buildings, and that was completely foreign to the Katamon architecture. "We won't let builders and the wealthy destroy the neighborhood." If you can read Hebrew, go to their website here. Every day buildings are being destroyed to make room for multistory complexes that not only replace beautiful building with ugly ones, but that increase the population density of the neighborhoods. A corrupt city management combines forces with greedy developers. The prayer to speedily rebuild Jerusalem is a curse, not a blessing, today.


  8. Our Hurban. Among the current candidates for Israeli Prime Minister, I vote for Benjamin Netanyahu. In my opinion, Netanyahu, a paper tiger who crumpled before Clinton, will damage Israel's image internationally the most, and will be the most susceptible to American and international pressure. The worst of the crop is, needless to say, Ehud Barak. The reasons are obvious, but if you don't get it, just read Gideon Levy's perceptive op-ed to see why here. As for the other two, Mofaz is preferable to Livni – it will be more difficult to pressure an Israel led by a woman than by an obtuse general who represents all that is wrong about the IDF. But, needless to say, as candidates, they are all a hurban, a destruction.


  9. Their Nakba. In tribute to the great Palestinian poet who died yesterday. Mahmoud Darwish, on the eve of the Ninth of Ab, I conclude with his beautiful poem:


In Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy . . . ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.

I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah's messenger
mouth: “If you don't believe you won't believe.”

I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension's presence. But

I think to myself: Alone, the prophet Mohammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me . . . and I forgot, like you, to die.


Anonymous said...

On Yom Kippur we fast because we know that if in the long term we behave well things will turn out all right (for life).

On Tisha B'av we fast because we know in the short term we wont and things will turn out badly(for destruction).

Yom Kippur is the Shabbat of Shabbatot, Tisha B'av the Weekday of Weekdays.


Anonymous said...

"...anybody who makes the existence of a state – any state – into an absolute value is a zealot."

Can you name any UN member state the vast majority of whose citizens do not hold as "an absolute value" the continued existence of their own state? If you can't, then by your measure don't most people, not just Israelis and those who support the Jewish state, deserve to be called "zealots"?

Anonymous said...

"I once heard a professor of Serbian studies, herself a Serb, criticize the West for unfairly blaming Milosevic for atrocities...(I)n her voice I heard the voice of the Jewish supporter of Israel who attempts to mitigate crimes by pointing fingers at other Palestinians."

The Serbs under Milosevic have been "credited" with war crimes the likes of which had not been seen in Europe since the Nazis were defeated. You are likening Jewish suporters of Israel to apologists for what was perpetrated in the '90s by Milosevic, Karadzic, Mladic, Raznatovic (aka "Arkan") et al. in Bosnia and Kosovo? How about what you view as Israeli crimes against "other Palestinians," would you liken them to what Serbians were guilty of in Bosnia and Kosovo?

Jerry Haber said...

Two points, Anonymous

1) "Fascist" may be preferable to "Zealot." I refer those titles to the millions, if not billions, of people who believe, "My country, (morally) right or wrong." If you believe that the existence of your state takes precedence over moral -- or for that matter, Torah -- imperatives, then those are the terms I would use.

The comparison was not on the extent of the crimes (although I would be prepared to argue that holding 3 1/2 million people without certain basic human rights for forty plus years approximates in evil the nasty, brutal, and short crimes of other regimes -- their are fates worse than death), but on how the defenders of injustice constantly appeal to historical context and balance to rationalize their crimes. Everybody does it but good people should reject it, or at least be highly suspicious of the move.

Anonymous said...

As the chosen people every war crime we commit is God's will and hastens the coming of the Messiah.

This Mutatis mutandis has been the excuse of every zealot, fascist, and totalitarian for millenia.

"I was only following God's orders is no more of an excuse" than "I was only following orders"
Further besides most of those tried were never tried for following orders but the must more severe offence of ordering followers

Jerry Haber said...


The post was criticized for not mentioning the Judaization of Jerusalem and making gender assumptions in the prime minister race.

I accept both criticisms and offer the following explanation.

The Judaization of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem since 1967 was not the subject of my post; I have posted about that on other occasions. But I should mention that the hyper-development of West Jerusalem, including Arab neighborhoods from 1948, are destroying beautiful houses from the Ottoman and Mandate periods. I don't see the motive for this as ideological Judaization, just greed

As for my comment that it will be harder to pressure Livni because she is a woman, I apologize for the lack of tact. I was assuming -- but not agreeing with, much less approving -- gender biases that are rampant in Western society. Livni as the first woman prime minister of Israel since Golda Meir will be greeted with trumpets in the West and that will make it harder, at least initially, to focus on her policies.

Anonymous said...

Finally, I found a "progressive" who views the Likud and Netanyahu the way I do...the party and PM candidate best positioned to carry out the policies of the Left. I agree with you 100% about Netanyahu, and thus I, as a "right-winger" (or maybe "zealot"?) want the Left to remain in power. I will not vote for a Leftist party, so I will make my contribution to the cause by staying home on election day. I prefer Livni because she is a woman...she won't have the grivitas to make another unilateral withdrawal while making ridiculous claims, as did Sharon and the Likud that "withdrawing from Gush Katif will weaken the HAMAS (yes, they did say that!)" and assurances that she makes regarding various concessions she wants to make as "not harming security" will be taken with a grain of salt. Thus, I see her as the PM best positioned to be pressured NOT to make concessions or withdrawals.

You have to admit it is a crazy as a Leftist-"progressive" want the Right in power and I, as a "Rightist-Zealot" want the Left in power!

Anonymous said...

It was "zealots" before. Now you have reconsidered and upped the ante to "fascists" for "anyone who makes the existence of a state - any state - into an absolute value." And you can't name any country in the world in which a majority of its citizens might be willing to see their state cease to exist. So, it must follow that a majority of the people in this world, that is billions, not millions, count as "fascists" in the Magnes Zionist's book.

But while the majority of the world's people qualify as "fascists" by The Magnes Zionist's standard, you single out only Jewish supporters of Israel for opprobrium. At the same time, you pointedly refuse to judge Israel's enemies, even those most earnestly dedicated to the Jewish state's annihilation and the establishment of Islamic polities like Iran's, because you scorn "context and balance" arguments on behalf of Israel.

The moral pronouncements of someone who refuses to engage with all the relevant evidence, rejects out of hand "context and balance," and otherwise displays unmistakeable bias against one side in a dispute and in favor of the other, do not deserve respect, no matter that they come cloaked in what purports to be religious righteousness.

(end of Part I)

Anonymous said...

Oh, the comparison you were making was not "on the extent of the crimes...," rather "on how the defenders of injustice constantly appeal to historical context and balance to rationalize their crimes."

But that isn't much more than a quibble, since you have no strong misgivings about accusing Israel of atrocities not unlike those committed by Milosevic, Karadzic, Mladic, Raznatovic (aka "Arkan") et al. in Bosnia and Kosovo. "I would be prepared to argue that holding 3 1/2 million people without certain basic human rights for forty plus years approximates in evil the nasty, brutal, and short crimes of other regimes -- their are fates worse than death."

Please, go ahead and argue it, so we can hear your case. But do be honest enough to do it with all the evidence and serious arguments a fair-minded, impartial jury should be presented with. Libelous accusations do not amount to proof.

And while you are at it, please say whether you would really elect for yourself, your family, and others in your community deaths of the sorts experienced by those Bosnians and Kosovars at the hands of Serbs over what the Palestinians have experienced at the hands of Jews/Israelis since 1929, 1948, 1967, or whatever date you chose.

Anonymous said...

"The Judaization of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem since 1967..."

I suppose it would be calling for some "context and balance," which you so disdain when it might be seen as "mitigating" what Jews/Israelis stand accused of. But in the interests of at least minimal fairness, shouldn't it be noted that some of that "Judaization of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem" amounts to a "re-Judaization" of parts of the city rendered Judenrein between '48 and
'67 by the Jordanians?

Jerry Haber said...

Hi, anonymous (you know who you are).

Here are some posts of mine that relate to some of your points that you may want to read. (Don't forget to read the comments and responses)

1) On fascism, with reference to the Israel variety

2) On singling out Israel for moral opprobrium

3) Some of your other comments don't relate to anything I said ("refuse to judge Israel's enemies" "rejects out of hand context and balance"), so I really don't have to respond to them, do I?

4) Please answer me whether you would prefer your son to die in defense of Israel or to live comfortably in the United States, and what lessons about Zionism can be drawn from this. Or whether you would prefer a relative to be blown up by a suicide bomber, or kept captive for ten years and repeatedly raped and tortured. NO, don't bother. These are dumb questions that bear as much relevance to my point as does yours.

Most people I know don't believe that life is a supreme value that trumps all other values, or else they would not be willing to sacrifice themselves (and others) in the name of other values.

But to see what I have in mind, read my story about Pete and Paul at the end of the Singling Out Israel for Moral Opprobrium post. You may identify with one of the characters.

Jerry Haber said...

bar kochba, it's hard to admit that we have something in common besides the religion and reading blogs.

I think both of us will not vote -- hey, maybe we can do a kizuz for each other! With my luck, I will be out of the country...

Anonymous said...

On the sillyness of crying for "balance" whenever criticism of Israel comes up I'd also suggest revisiting Albert Camus' reply to Gabriel Marcel after the latter had complained that Camus' anti-totalitarian play, L'État de siège, was set in Spain, then under Franco, instead of the USSR.

The essay was originally published together with the French edition of the play. My version is in German. Unfortunately I'm not aware of it being available online in any language.

Anonymous said...

Terminology suggestion -

For a "my country, right or wrong" person, I recommend the term "chauvinist".

(I say this as someone who would like to see the word "fascism" return to its original definition: a merging of state and corporate power.)

Avi said...

(BTW I'm a different BK)

The true tragedy of today's contemporary reality in Jerusalem is that Jews are still largely ghettoized. There are neighbourhoods in Jerusalem which are completely Arab and Jews fear to enter. We seem to have forgotten that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Am Yisrael and that goyyim have no place in it.

The Arabs of East Jerusalem were given full residential status. They have used this against us, and turned our tractors and tools of construction into weapons of death and murder. An Arab driver who worked for Merkaz HaRav massacred 8 young students, and crowds in Jerusalem and Gaza danced in triumph. "Israeli" Arab workers twice tried to kill Jews with bulldozers. We have brought this tragedy upon ourselves.

"'Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images, and demolish all their high places. And ye shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein; for unto you have I given the land to possess it... if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then shall those that ye let remain of them be as thorns in your eyes, and as pricks in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land wherein ye dwell. And it shall come to pass, that as I thought to do unto them, so will I do unto you." (BaMidbar 33:51-56)

Jerry Haber said...

Bar Kokhba II

By your reasoning, after Barukh Goldstein massacred the Arabs in Hebron, the Jews of Kiryat Arba should have been evacuated -- since they were happy about the massacre (Barukh ha-Gever.)

Unless you think that Goldstein didn't massacre those Arabs. That the whole thing was a hoax.

But seriously, folks, I agree that every Jew should be able to live in Arab neighborhood, and every Arab, including the ones we didn't let return to their homes in their neighborhoods, should be able to live in Jewish neighborhoods.

There are worse things than "remaining pricks in your sides" and ha-mevin yavin.

Anonymous said...

"...every Jew should be able to live in Arab neighborhood, and every Arab, including the ones we didn't let return to homes in their neighborhoods, should be able to live in Jewish neighborhoods." One state. Until all the inhabitants are allowed to live as equal without regard to religious or cultural models, there can be no peace. Centuries of war in Europe and Asia demonstrate that. Anonymous also known as Margaret