Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Living in Israel and the Feast of First Fruits

Each of the שלש רגלים has a מגילה associated with it. On פסח, we read שיר השירים, and on סוכות, we read קהלת. Today, we read מגילת רות. רות begins with a famine in the land of Israel. Elimelech, one of the great men of the generation, takes his wife and two sons to the land of Moav, outside of Eretz Yisrael. There Elimelech dies, and eventually, so do his two children, Machlon and Kilyon. The stage is then set for Naomi to return to Israel with רות and eventually create the Davidic dynasty. Why is רות chosen to be read on שבועות? After an exploration of the holiday, perhaps we can come up with a deeper understanding.
The torah reading for the holidays is taken from פרשת המועדים, found in פרשת פנחס. Yesterday, we read "וביום הביכורים", the description of the offerings for שבועות. Interestingly, the holiday is not called חג השבועות, but יום הביכורים. The holiday is called so because the unique קרבן brought on it is the שתי הלחם, the first of the new wheat crop which could be brought to the בית המקדש. The holiday of ביכורים was also the time that most crops ripened, and was therefore the prime time to do the מצווה of ביכורים. We call it שבועות, named by the 7 week period of עומר leading from יציאת מצריים to מעמד הר סיני and the giving of the torah to the Jewish people.

Let us first discuss the special קרבן of the holiday, שתי הלחם. The torah says in ויקרא כג:טו, in פרשת אמור: "וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת מיום הביאכם את עומר התנופה שבע שבתות תמימות תחיינה...והקרבתם מנחה חדשה לה'...ממושבותיכם תביאו לחם תנופה שתים שני עשרונים...ביכורים לה'" At the end of the 7 weeks, we are commanded to bring the offering, which is two measures of wheat flour baked into two loaves that are waved in the בית המקדש. The obvious question is, why two loaves? Usually, a קרבן consists of one bull, ram or goat. Why suddenly the number two? Also, the meal offering of פסח was barley. Why is the שבועות one of wheat?
In שמות ו:ט, it states that when Moshe began trying to convince Pharaoh to free the Jews, even the Jews would not listen to Moshe, "מקוצר רוח ומעבודה קשה", because of the tremendous strain and burden of the slavery. חז"ל on this פסוק explain interpret that the Jews did not listen to Moshe to abandon their idolatrous ways. This is difficult. Why do חז"ל invent a new reason that the Jews did not listen to Moshe? The torah already provided one, that the Jews were weary and strained from the hard labor! ספר גלילי זהב offers an explanation: Many animals live alone, without belonging to a herd or group. They live, hunt, kill and eat for one reason: to serve themselves. Other animals live in a herd and are sometimes even willing to lay down their lives to protect the herd. We as Jews are meant not to only to live a personal, individual life, but to sublimate that personal life to the כלל, to כלל ישראל. We are to see our individual selves as citizens of a nation, and we are to see the national goals of עם ישראל as goals that are more important than individual goals. In short, we are meant to be not self-centered, but nation-centered, כלל ישראל-centered. חז"ל say that this is a fundamental difference between the Jews and non-Jews. Regarding עשו, the torah says נפשות, souls, and regarding יעקב it says נפש, soul. Jews, since they serve one G-d, are one unbreakable unit, while non-Jews, who serve many gods, are each an individual unit. True, non-Jews come together to form alliances and nations, but they only do so for external financial, military or social concerns. Jews, on the other hand, are fundamentally an indivisible unit because we all serve one G-d.
When a Jew loses this sensitivity to the nation and becomes an individual who only looks out for himself, that Jew is no longer serving G-d, rather himself. This is עבודה זרה, idolatry.
It is this idolatry that חז"ל were concerned with in מצריים. The burden of slavery caused the Jews to think as individuals, and lose their national identity. And so, on פסח, the meal offering is made of barley, the traditional food of animals. However, on שבועות, Jews are to rise above their animalistic, individualistic ways and become Human, identifying themselves as Jews on a national level. Therefore, the meal offering of שבועות is wheat, the grain of human food. Also, I think that the two loaves is also symbolic of the fact that the Jewish way is to care for others. The two loaves represent a Jew caring not only for himself, but for s neighbor, as well.
The רמב"ם in his פרוש המשניות on בכורות ד:ג states, "בני ארץ ישראל הם הנקראים קהל". The Jews of the Land of Israel are the ones who are considered the plurality, the nation of Israel. The חתם סופר drives home this point by saying that, "אילו חס ושלום לא ישאר שום ישראל בארץ ישראל, אפילו יהיו יושבים ישראל בחוץ לארץ, מקרי כליון האומה, חס ושלום" “If, Heaven forbid, no Jews lived in Israel, even if they lived outside of Israel, it would still be considered the destruction of the nation.” The חתם סופר is clear: although Jews would still live, the nation of the Jews would be destroyed. The רמב"ם and חתם סופר are based on the גמרא in כתובות קי, which states that, “ a person should live in Israel even in a city that is full of non-Jews, rather than a city outside Israel that is full of Jews. This teaches one who dwells outside Israel is as if he worships idols”. One who lives outside Israel is as if he is an idolater in the sense of idolatry of the Jews in Egypt, the idolatry of self-centeredness. One who lives outside of Israel is weaker in their national bonds of כלל ישראל, and thus, if there were no Jews in Israel, the national brotherhood and connection of Jews, the אומה, the nation, would be lost.
To summarize, the idea of the שבועות offering of שתי הלחם is an admonition to be concerned with the concerns of the nation, not only our own individual concerns. When we are concerned only with ourselves, our efforts die with us. But when we connect our lives with the concerns of the כלל, our lives become eternal, for כלל ישראל is eternal. This eternity is only in full force in ארץ ישראל.

But why is this eternity only in the land of Israel? To understand this, let us examine the ביכורים, which is the torah’s name for שבועות.
In מסכת ביכורים פרק ג', the משניות describe the ceremony of ביכורים: “How were the ביכורים taken up [to ירושלים]? All the cities of district would assemble in the [central] city of the district, and spend the night in the open space without entering any of the houses. Early in the morning the officer would say, "Arise, let us ascend to Zion, to the house of ה' our G-d!" ... An ox [with horns] bedecked with gold and with an olive-crown on its head led the way ..."
Rabbi Kook, in his commentary on the משנה, explains the symbolism of the ox in depth. The Jewish nation is meant to be an "עם לבדד ישכון", a nation apart from the others. We were given a land which can produce all that the nation needs. And so, a large part of the nation lived an agricultural life. The ביכורים are a symbol that demonstrates how we are to look at the agricultural process. The ox represents honest labor. Only through hard work and השתדלות can the ברכה of ה' devolve upon our fruits. When we learn the lesson of the ox, then will we merit to the gold on its horns. The gold symbolizes prosperity. This gold is placed on the ox’s horns. The horns of an animal are external tools given to the animal. The horns symbolize the fact that the gold is a tool, a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Gold, or prosperity, is only a means to the ultimate goal, and that is what sits on the ox’s head: olives. Olive oil is a symbol for light, specifically, the light of the מנורה. The מנורה was a symbol of חכמה, torah knowledge. Thus, we work to become prosperous, but the purpose of that prosperity is to allow us time and energy for the ultimate goal, which is the learning and keeping of the torah.
The symbol of the ceremony of ביכורים now becomes taking the secular and making it holy. We take physical labor, and elevate it to holiness. The purpose of עם ישראל is not to dabble in holiness. We are not to live a life in which we have many points of holiness. No! We are to take our whole lives, even the most spiritually empty parts of it, even the חול in our lives, and elevate it to קודש, to holiness! Our lives must be an infusion of holiness into the profane. This is the lesson of the ביכורים.
But it is only in the land of Israel that we engage in the bringing of ביכורים. ביכורים are only brought from the fruits of the land of Israel. The lesson of ביכורים can only be fully understood and put into practice in the land of Israel. Why is this?
In next week’s פרשה, שלח, ten leaders of Israel tour Israel and incite the nation to rebel against entering Israel. These men were great צדיקים and גדולים of the generation. How could they sin so grievously? Rav Greenburg, ראש ישיבה at כרם ביבנה explains that the מרגלים were seduced by the benefits of life in the desert. In the desert, G-d miraculously cared for the Jewish nation’s every physical need. Our clothing grew along with us, and did not wear out. We had the מן outside our tents every morning. We had the well of מרים to quench our thirst. All we had to do was learn torah from משה רבינו. The מרגלים decided, why leave this paradise and go into Israel where we will have to work the land, fight wars and set up government? Why not stay in the מדבר where we do not have to really come in contact with the profane?
The מרגלים misunderstood the basic lesson of the torah that is taught by the ביכורים. True spirituality is only gained by infusing חול with קדושה. Only by entering the land of Israel and engaging in the profane and elevating it to קדוש do we really fulfill our calling as Jews.
And only in Israel do we truly fulfill this calling. Only in Israel, a land where even the physical labor is a service of G-d, where working the land is a mitzvah in and of itself. The גמרא in כתובות states that walking ד' אמות in Israel changes a bad decree from Heaven. Israel is different from other lands. In Israel, even the physical act of walking has spiritual repercussions. The גמרא elsewhere states that, "אוירא דארץ ישראל מחכים", the air of Israel endows us with wisdom. Only Israel has this special קדושה which allows even its physical characteristics to be laden with spiritual meaning and power.
The מרגלים did not understand the meaning of ארץ ישראל. The lesson of ביכורים was lost on them.
To summarize what we have learned so far: Israel is a special land where the physical is imbued with spiritual meaning. It is the only land where the Jewish task of infusing the profane with holiness can be fully realized. The מרגלים did not realize the importance of taking the physical and making it spiritual.
We can now better understand why the Jews of Israel are considered כלל ישראל, and outside Israel, Jews are less connected to the national aspect of עם ישראל. It is because our sacred task, the infusion of spirit into physical, can only truly be accomplished in Israel. Outside the land, we are, as it were, mired in the idolatry of self-centeredness, by not focusing on the כלל.

This brings back to מעמד הר סיני and שבועות. In ילקוט שמעוני on פרשת יתרו, the מדרש tells us that G-d gave the torah under the מזל of תאומים, the star sign of Gemini, twins. If עשו had chosen to convert and rejoin the nation of Israel, he would have been welcome. Why did עשו not choose so? The גרי"ז explains that when ה' promised the land to אברהם and his descendants, he said that first, those descendants would go through a torturous exile, and only after this, would then come to take over the land. רש"י comments that when עשו left יעקב, he left from fear of this exile. עשו said, "אין לי חלק לא במתנה שנתנה לו הארץ ולא בפרעון השטר." עשו decided that he abdicates his right to the land, and will not go down to exile for it. יעקב is left as the only descendant who goes down to Egypt, and is given as a reward the rights to the land and the Torah. This is why עשו did not merit מתן תורה. Originally, עשו and יעקב were to be the fathers of the Jewish nation. עשו would deal with the physical, and יעקב would deal with the spiritual, like a יששכר זבולון relationship. This is what the חז"ל mean when they say that עשו could have had a part in מתן תורה. However, when עשו gave up on the exile and on the land, he gave up on torah, as well.

So, back to our original thought. Why is מגילת רות chosen as the מגילה of שבועות? In בבא בתרא דף פא, רבי שמעון בר יוחאי states that the reason that Elimelech and his sons died was that they left the land of Israel. The גמרא in מגילה states that one who dies outside the land of Israel is lamented that he died before his time. The מהרש"א explains that he who dies outside of Israel must have died early because of the sin of living outside ארץ ישראל. If I may, I would like to present a חידוש. Perhaps the early death that the גמרא speaks of is not necessarily dying before one’s time, but something more subtle. Perhaps the גמרא is telling us that one who lives outside ארץ ישראל, even when they live a full life in years, they are not living a full life in meaning. A life outside ארץ ישראל is one that cannot contain the full weight of the ideas of כלל ישראל, being part of the nation of Israel, and cannot fully infuse the קדושה of ה' into the physicality of the world. Perhaps this is the part of life we mourn for one who dies outside Israel.

And so, מגילת רות becomes an admonition to us to connect to the concepts of שבועות.מגילת רות tells us to pay close attention to the lessons of the שתי הלחם, the ביכורים, and מתן תורה. שתי הלחם teaches us that life is only fully meaningful when we become part of the eternal, to כלל ישראל. The ביכורים teach us that the task of כלל ישראל, to infuse the secular with קדושה is only truly fulfilled in the land of Israel. And if we learn these lessons, and impress in our hearts the special, unique קדושה of ארץ ישראל, the only place we can truly marry the profane and holy, then we will be closer to the coming of the משיח, במהרה בימינו.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Blood Torah?


Is this really what Hashem wants?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Torah and the Spies

A month or two ago, someone (I forget who) asked me for a source for the idea that the sin of the spies was a desire to live outside of Eretz Yisrael, where they could learn Torah and deal only in spiritual matters, instead of entering the Land, where they would have to deal with the pragmatics of life as a sovereign state, running an army, government, and the like.

I mentioned I thought it was in the Ramban. I now found that the source is the Shlah Hakadosh, from kabbalistic precedents. It is also mentioned, I believe, in Michtav Me'eliyahu. The Lubavitcher Rebbe goes into this in his Sicha on Parashas Shelach, 5747.

If anyone remembers who I was discussing this with, please lead them to this post. I appreciate it.

Good Shabbos! UPDATE 19/6/13: The source for this is the S'fat Emet on the sin of the spies. - Found in נגיעות בשפת הלב by R Yair Dreyfus.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Philosophy of Prayer

Prayer is a mainstay of Judaism, and of religions in general. It is a periodic return to communion with God. However, if considered, the concept of prayer raises a number of theological questions. Since God is truly omniscient, why would He need our prayer to know what is best for us? And since he knows what is in our heart, why does expressing it verbally mean so much? Since he is unified and perfect, how can he 'need' our prayer, or anything else, for that matter? On the other hand, the Talmud (Sotah 12a) is not the first to mention the concept that, 'a righteous man decrees, and God fulfills it.' What are we to make of this bundle of theological contradictions?

There are two major schools of thought regarding the purpose of prayer that I would like to summarize. I will then bring a basic description of Rabbi Soloveichik's philosophy of prayer. Perhaps after this we can have a better understanding of why it is that we pray.

The first theory is theurgical. This view posits that God acts as father and judge, and allows Himself to be swayed by His children's appeals. This view is strongly advocated in Kabbalah, and Kabbalistic theory is employed to explain how a perfect God can be swayed in this way. This view, while uncomfortable for some, is probably the most common way that prayer is perceived by people. We hope that God attentively listens to our prayer, and cares about our small desires and needs. We trust that His infinity is not too large a chasm for Him to bridge, and 'if we open a door the size of a needle's eye, God will enlarge the opening' the rest of the way (Brachot 55a).

The second major theory of prayer is anthropocentric, focusing on the human who prays. God is not affected by prayer; the petitioner is. A person who stands in prayer, almost by definition, purifies himself with thoughts of repentance and hopes to become a more deserving creation. The praise of God leads to an upwelling of sentiment to be deserving of God's blessing. The petitional parts of prayer show a person how much he depends on God, and the thanksgiving in prayer reminds a person of the love and compassion God continually showers upon him. Through prayer, a petitioner is destined to better himself, and raise himself to greater heights. After prayer, he is in a new position as a subject of God, with new merits, and erased demerits. He is now deserving of a new judgment from God. And so, prayer affects God, as it were, indirectly, by changing the essence and thus the appropriate judgment of the person who prays1.

Rabbi Soloveichik takes a different approach. My teacher, Rabbi Carmy, calls it the volitional/dialogical theory of prayer. He posits that prayer is not Man's attempt to influence God, but it is a fundamental way that Mankind interacts with God. Prayer is a medium through which we encounter God. Prayer is not focused on God, but on Man. However, it is not only anthropocentric, because it is a dialogue between Man and God. By creating that emotional connection that prayer instantiates, Man brings himself into communion with God. By realizing that life in the absence of God is empty and cold, a person brings himself to prayer, in order to draw God back into his realm of existence, so to speak.

We are commanded to find God through prayer. As a mitzvah, prayer demands of us to take notice of the chilling emptiness possible in a rational, natural world. We are enjoined to feel the loneliness of a universe that does not pay us heed. This loneliness reaches a crisis, and we call out to God, seeking a warm, intimate relationship with him. Thus, the very act of prayer is a form of interaction, דביקות, with the Divine. Furthermore, the fact that prayer is codified as a commandment means that the warmth of emotional connection to God is something that every human can experience.

Each of the above three approaches has benefits. The theurgical maintains the intimate bond between Man and God which is part of the general understanding of spirituality. The anthropomorphic allows us to understand prayer as a means to change ourselves, and thus be worthy of Divine grace. It makes religious petition active as opposed to passive. And finally, Rabbi Soloveichik's dialogical theory centralizes the communion aspect of prayer, and presents it as a way to interface with Divinity. Perhaps a synthesis of these three views is necessary to have a full picture of the power and importance of prayer.


1 This difference of viewpoints calls to mind Rabbi Jonathan Saks' beautiful explanation of the controversy between Maimonides and Nachmanides. Rambam views prayer as a מצוה דאוריתא, based on Deut 11:13, while Ramban sees it as a rabbinic enactment. Rabbi Sacks cites the Talmud (Brachot 26b) where Rabi Yose views prayer as based upon the example of the patriarchs, while Rabi Yehoshua sees it as a replacement for the sacrificial rite. It seems natural to understand Rabi Yose as allowing for a biblically-ordained commandment to pray, while Rabi Yehoshua seems to organically subscribe to the rabbinic approach.

This dispute reminds us, says Rabbi Sacks, of the two modalities of our holy Torah: the prophetic, and the priestly. While the priestly laws are strict and formulaic (when the sons of Aharon stepped out of the proscribed method of sacrifice, they paid the ultimate price), the prophetic experience is one of intuition, spontaneous emotion, and intimate uniqueness. The priestly type of service of God is set - permanent and unchanging, while the prophetic eschews such formalism and embraces the unique and individual. Both modalities have a place in our traditions, as we can now see. When Rabi Eliezer states that one should not make his prayer קבע, the talmudic rabbis disagree over what he meant. Some understand him to be simply rejecting the tendency for prayer to become rote. On the other hand, some see him as rejecting formalized prayer completely, and saying that each day's new experience and reality should engender a different formulation of prayer within the soul. Thus, the אמוראים seem to each be taking a side in the question of prophetic vs priestly prayer.

It seems that this tanaitic, amoraic disagreement culminates in the argument between Rabmam and Ramban. According to Rambam, prayer is divinely commanded - it is based upon the prayers of the forefathers. On the other hand, the Ramban sees it as rabbinically enacted as a replacement for the sacrifices. Since it is so, it must apply to the formula.

This argument fits in nicely with the view expressed above: Rambam, the rationalist par excellence, holds that prayer is human-centered, for Man cannot change God. Thus, God commands Man to pray, to better himself. However, Ramban, the mystic between the two, holds that prayer may, mystically, affect God - and so, it is a rabbinically mandated replacement for the sacrifices - and therefore, was not commanded biblically, for the task was accomplished in biblical times by offerings.

Jewish tradition beautifully meshes these two in that each day we repeat our prayers twice, first individually, and then as a community in חזרת הש"צ. We have survived for 2,000 years as a community, Rabbi Sacks points out, because we have both the priestly and prophetic modalities: without the former, we have no tradition, but without the latter, no sponteneity. (See the footnote in here.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Who Wrote Devarim?

A decade ago, Rabbi Ya'akov Charlop wrote an article discussing the authorship of the book of Devarim. Recently, while teaching tractate Megillah, I had reason to bring up his major points, that I realized afterwards was perhaps a bigger step than most attendees were ready to take at face value.

It is clear that Devarim is written in a different voice than the rest of the Five Books of Moses. Much of it is written in the first person, from Moshe's perspective, and God is spoken of in the third. This is in contrast to the rest of the Torah, in which Moshe is spoken of in third person. On the other hand, the Talmud treats the many commandments that appear exclusively in Devarim as completely Biblical commandments. The tension is clear. Who actually wrote the book of Devarim?

There is an argument in the Talmud as to the author of the book, which is carried through to the Rishonim.

In Sanhedrin (99a), the Talmud states clearly that the claim that there is even one sentence in the Five Books that were not written literally word for word by Moses from the mouth of God is heresy, and a fulfillment of the verse, 'כי דבר ה' בזה.' The Ramban (in his preface) and the Maimonides (Laws of Prayer, 13:6) agree to this view, and hold that the change in voice and motive in the book is a purely stylistic one, and does not represent a change in authorship.

On the other hand, the Talmud in Megillah (31b) states that the curses of Devarim are not as strict as the curses of Vayikra, and therefore, the curses of Devarim may be broken into different עליות, while those of Vayikra must be read without pause. The reason given is that the Vayikra curses are recorded by Moshe directly from the mouth of God, while the Devarim curses represent Moshe's own re-iteration of them. Rashi explains that "[in Vayikra] Moshe was made a messenger to say, 'thus said God,' for behold, they [the curses] are written in the language of [first person] , ex. ונתתי, while in Devarim, it states 'יככה ה,' Moshe spoke these on his own, [as if to say] if you break His commandments, He will repay you..."

The Ra'avan holds in accordance with this view, and cites the fact that the amora'im treated the verses in Devarim differently with regards to certain kinds of exegesis (most notably, סמוכים). Also, the אור החיים holds this way, and says that the first verse of the book serves to clarify that only this book was written by Moshe, but the rest of the Torah was dictated by God.

The Vilna Gaon (whose view I unknowingly expressed the week before at my shiur), explains that the first four books were literal transmissions from God to the Jewish people, with Moshe as the medium. None of his personality was present in the message. This is the אספקלריה המאירה, the perfectly translucent prophecy that was unique to Moshe. However, the book of Devarim was given to Moshe closer to the manner of the prophecies of other prophets. God would implant a vision, and it was up to the prophet to translate that into a message to the People. Thus, the message was colored by the individual prophet's persona. Thus, the book of Devarim was conceptually the word of God, but it was Moshe who wrote it.

According to this, we can understand why the commandments in Devarim are treated completely as commandments in any other book, while the actual writing and the textual scrutiny that the Sages applied may be different than the other books. The book of Devarim is a sort of bridge between the writings of God and the writings of the prophets.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Response to Jewish Atheist

Jewish Atheist has a post about capital punishment in the Torah and in present day Iraq. Here is my response to him:

I thought I should comment a few differences between the formal Jewish death sentence of stoning and what you witnessed on that horrible video. You cannot compare them, and here is why:

1) In Jewish courts, the condemned was drugged before the death, so that they would not feel the same pain or fear as if they were awake. This is akin to the drugs used in today's lethal injections which place the condemned in a relaxed, sleeping state before death.

2) They were thrown off a cliff first before rocks were thrown
so that the person would die immediately. The stones were ceremonial, not the cause of death.

3) To be liable for one of the 4 formal deaths (stoning is one of them) the person had to be warned, and had to agree they know they will be punished, but want to sin anyway. In other words, the only way to get these capital punishments is to want to rebel against God, with foreknowledge of the consequences. This is clear from Maimonides quoting the Talmud (source to come).

4) The Jewish concept of these capital punishments was 'וכל ישראל ישמעו ויראו', ie. to provide deterrence for others so that they not sin. This is actually one of the main reasons the US has capital punishment today.

5) Jewish capital punishment was carried out after a court case and verdict. More than a majority of a large court of learned judges was required to condemn a person, and the execution was delayed to allow for any evidence to come forth and exonerate or allow a loophole.

You cannot separate the Oral Law from the Written. We who believe the Written Word as the word of God believe it to be provisoed by His Oral Law, and that lays down the five points I just mentioned. In other words, the same God who wrote those verses, gave over the Oral Law that modifies them. See Rabbi Hirsch on the fact that the Written Law is like lecture notes that leave out important details, and the Oral Law was the lecture.

Thus your problem is really only with someone who does accept the written law, but not the oral law that modulates it. In other words, your problem with stoning is not with Orthodox Jewish thought, much less practice.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

How Police Brutality should be Met

In Los Angeles, at an (illegal) immigration rally, Police were met with violence. Their response was to fire 240 rounds of rubber bullets, and to strike demonstrators and journalists who were obeying the orders to disperse. Sounds kind of like Amona, right?

Well, not quite. First of all, while the police in LA were certainly brutal, there were not 300 cases of head trauma that arrived at ER's throughout southern California. The scale of this offense was much smaller than anything witnessed at Amona, or the student protests in Israel of late.

However, the more important difference, and this one is the clincher, is the top brass response to the violence. Police Chief William J. Bratton said that the public has "an absolute and unqualified right to expect and demand an aggressive review" of what occured (link).

Police officials immediately denounced the thuggish tactics displayed by the officers. The public was told that with the amount of training the officers receive, this response was unacceptable. Three investigations are ongoing, and you can be sure that heads will roll.

There will always be brutal cops. Law enforcement tends to bring that out in a person. However, the sign of a compassionate, just government is immediate denunciation of this behavior, and a professional atmosphere where this activity will not be tolerated. Israel has a lot to learn from Los Angeles in regards to this issue.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mutual Responsibility

When Israeli Police beat religious kids in the town of Amona, it was only another example of the extreme brutality that these forces display. When they badly beat orthodox demonstrators against the construction of highway 6, it was again displayed. There are many cases that should result in jail sentences, but instead result in promotions.

The latest occured today, when police set loose like a pack of dogs attacked a group of university students protesting a tuition increase. One student said, "My pants are soaked with the blood of a friend whose head was split open" by Israeli policemen.

As Jews, we are known as merciful people whose heritage is compassion. How is it, then, that when law enforcement, in our own country, takes up batons and fists and steel-toed boots against our own people, we do not rise in public outcries of abhorrence, demanding the heads of these police-thugs? Where is our defense of the downtrodden?

When a Jew was pounced during anti-expulsion demonstrations, his nose ripped away from his face by an Israeli officer of the law, where were the students? When Rabbi Meir Kahane was hounded by the security forces and branded an extremist, where were the Religious Zionist leaders? When religious kids are beaten, or charedi men trounced, where are the secular humanists of the land? It seems that when we do not protest injustice, we may be the next victim. And he who came before us, he whom we did not defend, will not be around to defend us.

It may be that some people need to experience first-hand the agony of a ripped face, or a billy club to the belly, in order to protest police brutality. But enough is enough. We must rise in one voice, and demand that civil rights be upheld in Israel! These cops must pay for their crimes. When we return to the values of our Torah, we will deserve a police force that knows its limits, not the police force of some third world country.

No more Israeli police brutality.