Friday, August 12, 2022 – טוּ בְּאָב תשפ”ב
וְזֹ֖את הַתּוֹרָ֑ה אֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֣ם מֹשֶׁ֔ה לִפְנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (דברים ד:מד)
“This is the Torah that Moses set before the Israelites:” (Deuteronomy 4:44)
The Prophetic Book of Nehemiah (Ch. 8) gives an account of, perhaps, the first documented public Torah reading event in Jewish history. According to the Bible, Ezra the Scribe read aloud from the Torah and then (Nehemiah 8:5) opened the Torah scroll before all the people symbolically affirming that it is an “open book” meant for everyone regardless of gender, age, and status. From this account we developed the practice of Hagbaha, lifting the Torah high in the air to display the written sections while chanting the famous words from this week’s parasha proclaiming that this is the Torah that was given by Moses to the entire people of Israel – וְזֹ֖את הַתּוֹרָ֑ה אֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֣ם מֹשֶׁ֔ה לִפְנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ – V’zot HaTorah asher sam Moshe lifnei b’nei Yisrael (Deuteronomy 4:44).
When we sing this line in synagogue, we often mean it literally, that it is not a forgery, and that we have not changed a single word written on the parchment. However, Sforno, the 16th-century commentator from Italy, challenged this literal interpretation, commenting instead that “V’zot HaTorah” is theoretical and philosophical. If that is so, then it is all the more so upon to interpret and determine what it is we mean when we say “The Torah” and to specify when we refer to “this Torah” or “that Torah”. This week in Israel we witnessed many Torahs: The Torah of War and Attack, The Torah of Restraint, The Torah of Incitement, Extremism, and Vandalism, and The Torah of Justice and Equality.
- The Torah of War and Attack and the Torah of Restraint
Last week Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against the Islamic Jihad faction in Gaza. It was planned to last one week and lasted less – j 66 hours. Israel targeted Tayseer Jabari, a military leader of the group as well as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander of the Southern area of the Gaza Strip, Khaled Mansour, while the rest of the top leadership of the Palestinian chapter of the Islamic Jihad sat safely in Tehran.
Islamic Jihad declared that Israel’s bombardment was a ‘declaration of war’ and responded with retaliatory rocket-fire towards Israel. According to the Gaza health ministry, the operation resulted in the death of at least 47 Palestinians, including 16 children. The IDF reported that “several people including children” were killed as a result of a Palestinian rocket launch failure in the Jabalya refugee camp. The Times of Israel reported on 8 August that the IDF believed the Islamic Jihad “was responsible for at least 12 of the 15 deaths of children reported.”
In all the operations in Gaza over the last 15 years, this is the first pre-emptive strike by Israel. This was an important strategic display by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to show that they would not tolerate the Iranian proxy operating against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza. The IDF published videos in which they deliberately delayed a deadly strike against senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad Commander Khaled Mansour several times on Saturday because the IDF identified children playing in the area and did not wish to see them hurt. There are those who skeptically charge that this is a hasbara (PR) stunt. However, there is reason to appreciate and applaud Israel’s effort to avoid harming civilians – especially considering that the Islamic Jihad deliberately fired hundreds of rockets targeting Israeli civilians.
All in all, we can conclude that: “Operation Break of Dawn” ended with tangible achievements; that the Egyptians helped broker a ceasefire; and that Hamas preferred to not get involved in the fighting (for now). This “Operation” also showed that PM Yair Lapid was able to make military and defense decisions despite not being a former general nor having military experience. We also learn that the Torah of Attack and the Torah of Restraint are characteristic of Israel’s defensive approach despite the consistent criticism Israel faces.
- The Torah of Intolerance, Extremism, and Vandalism
This week proved that intolerance and extremism are alive and well in Israel. For the third time – the first in 3 years – the Reform congregation in the coastal city of Netanya was vandalized. Anywhere else in the world, this attack on a synagogue would be considered an antisemitic hate crime. But in Israel it is not even considered an act of terror. It IS, however, an act of terror and an antisemitic hate crime despite being perpetrated by extremist Jews. What is most troubling is that the attack was carried out by those who claim they are protecting the Torah and living according to its values. They feel so threatened by Reform and Progressive Judaism that their only response is to storm a Beit Knesset, desecrate ritual objects, and cause serious physical damage to a Jewish religious institution.
The vandals broke through the window of the congregation’s washroom, destroyed the bars on the windows, threw kippot, tallitot, tefillin, and holy books on the floor, and tried to get to the Torah scrolls in the ark before the alarm went off. At the time of this writing there have been no arrests and no perpetrators identified. The attack took place on the 10th of Av, while we were commemorating the day about which Rabbinic tradition teaches that it was senseless hatred that caused the destruction of the First and Second Jerusalem Temples and the demise of society as our ancient forebears knew it.
Our Reform congregation in Netanya was established in the 1960s and has enjoyed good relations with the city of Netanya which has a large Orthodox and traditional population. By and large they have left the Reform community alone. The congregation’s Rabbi Edgar Nof said in a radio interview that this attack and desecration serve as a reminder that intolerance, extremism, and violence in the name of the Torah unfortunately pervades life in the Jewish State.
(Read More about this in the latest IMPJ Update)
- The Torah of Justice and Equality
In the same week that a Reform congregation was vandalized, we Reform Jews celebrate MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv as one of the big winners in Tuesday’s Labor Party primary election. Rabbi Kariv is the first Reform Rabbi ever to serve in the Knesset and to chair a significant Knesset committee, the Knesset’s Law and Constitution Committee. Gilad has been frequently in the headlines as a favorite target of ultra-Orthodox political attacks. Rabbi Kariv, however, worked very hard in the Knesset this past year and during this campaign. His efforts paid off with a resounding second-place showing (third overall) in the Labor Party election. Gilad Kariv has been a very successful parliamentarian, and he has shown that he is a Jew devoted to the moral and ethical values of Torah. Just over a year ago, Rabbi Kariv said:
“We have made it into Israel’s Knesset with our messages and with our values. We’re sounding a Jewish, egalitarian, democratic voice that strives for social justice, loves humanity, and seeks peace.”
His work in the Knesset shows that he is a formidable opponent to the extremist and intolerant ultra-Orthodox voices who regard him as the embodiment of their greatest threat, and he represents a stark contrast to the ultra-Nationalist extremist voices of Itamar Ben Gvir and Betzalel Smutrich who spew out a Torah of racism, homophobia, and intolerance – and who, as we have noted in the past, are rising in popularity.
This week when we lift the Torah and chant the words of Deuteronomy “זאת התורה – This is the Torah that Moses passed to the Children of Israel,” which Torah is it going to be? For modern Israel, this is a significant challenge. In an era in which the Jewish people have attained sovereignty and power in our ancestral Homeland, which Torah are we going to follow?