Monday, December 20, 2010

Asher Bochar Banu Mi’kol Ha’amim

American Jewish religious affiliation trends toward the liberal movements (reform and conservative) and politically as social progressives. This makes perfect sense because their religious institutions buttress their social progressive positions. They feel comfortable in their milieu; their synagogues are in the forefront of social action, they support the Democratic Party and naturally, critical of Israel’s approach to the peace process as well as lambasting Israel’s relationship with the Muslim community in Israel. The liberal community’s neat religious/social/political package works well for them; they feel comfortable as one of the clear articulate voices calling for social justice.

Living in the Diaspora carries with it the disturbing psychological burden of maintaining an enlightened image of Judaism, as well as a profile of Judaism that is loyal to America and American values. A Madoff makes us feel uncomfortable; a Pollard makes us cringe and a Rubashkin makes us squirm. What will the gentiles think of us now? Will they see us as greedy, with questionable loyalty and exploitative of minorities? How uncomfortable is all that? But wait, what about the forty-seven rabbis signing a statement on December 7, 2010, quoting halacha (which has no borders) that it is forbidden to rent or sell property to a non Jew (Muslim) in Israel? Ouch! Rabbis aren’t supposed to be racist or intolerant and discriminatory. It makes the liberal American Jew squirm thinking that perhaps American Orthodox rabbis buy into the same halachic standard, conjuring up images of whites not renting to blacks not that long ago.

Apparently, these enlightened American Jews aren’t necessarily aware of the blessing their children chant on their Bar/ Bat Mitzva’s and forever after when called to the Torah: “Ashe Bochar banu Mikol Ha’amim”, that we are the chosen from all the other nations. You can’t get more racist than that. But their rabbis anticipating the discomfort in chanting this unique blessing gave new meaning, new understanding to these words. We aren’t “chosen” (heaven forbid), rather we are “different” was the new spin. American liberal Jews live in a bubble, a fictitious cocoon, a make believe world, a color by number world designed by their rabbis in order to give their communities a good, warm, fuzzy feeling about being Jewish.

The Jewish experience in Israel, like mostly everything else there, isn’t sugar coated. They don’t obsess over packaging, just the message: no spin. For the preponderant orthodox Jewish community in Israel “Ashe Bachar Banu …” means exactly what it says and what it intended to say: Israel is special, we are chosen. Unlike America where every child is a winner and every one is special in Israel there are winners and losers. We are as chosen today as Isaac was chosen over Ishmael and as Jacob was chosen over Esau several thousand years ago. We do not subscribe to Replacement Theology as much as the Church would like us to, nor do the rabbis in Israel spin “Asher Bachar Banu…” as the American liberal rabbis do.

In spite of this there is something very wrong, very malevolent with the statement made by these forty-seven rabbis in citing halacha as the reason for not selling or renting to non Jews in Israel. Israel is, after all a democratic state and not governed by theology or halachic rulings. These rabbis, like so many Israelis are being influenced by the fear that the majority of Jews in Israel will be eroded in time based upon the growing birth rate among Muslims as well as the looming threat of the “right of return” of Muslims as part of a peace deal. Hearing this argument however brings to mind the halachic question of whether one may disconnect a person in a vegetative state from a life support system. The rabbis ruled that if the person is not on yet on life support, there is no obligation to put him on it, if the diagnosis is dire without hope. However once he is on life support he can’t be disconnected because then his life is actively being terminated. The analogy here is that people living in Israel, regardless of race, religion or color ought to have equal rights before the law. They all live in Israel, and a democracy ought to be free of discrimination based upon color, religion, sex or beliefs. that ought to apply to all those living within the borders of Israel. On the other hand, as a responsible government Israel is mandated and obligated to control immigration so as to insure that there is a clear majority of Jews living within its borders: thus the refusal by Israel to accede to the “right of return” for Muslims, not yet admitted into the country. However, those living in Israel must be accorded all the rights as every other citizen, including the right to live wherever they so desire.

There was a time when I reasoned that Muslims are still backward, holding on to their prejudice and intolerance because they haven’t gone through the crucible of a renaissance as we did with the rest of Europe 400 years ago. In addition we have a rich oral tradition accompanying our written law that has promoted the “Socratic method” throughout our history: hence our creativity. Disturbing however, is that our own rabbis in Israel our lagging far, far behind. And even though they have been raised on the oral tradition where creative thinking was encouraged they have not taken advantage of this tradition. As a result they are mired in the same medieval slime that our Muslim cousins are stuck in. The statement of the forty-seven rabbis is another indicator that relying upon halacha as a viable option to govern ( as so many in the religious establishment would like), would be as bad as shariya law is in Muslim countries.