By Rabbi Josh Weinberg
May 14, 2021 – ג’ בסיון תשפ”א
This has been a devastating week in Israel. The week began with protests and scuffles in Jerusalem – on the Temple Mount and in Sheikh Jarrah. Then Hamas took matters into their own hands by raining down a barrage of over 1200 rockets on the center of the country – in the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas. Red Alerts went off every few minutes, and hundreds of thousands spent sleepless nights in shelters.
But the even more unsettling and unprecedented story this week is about the unrest among Israeli (Jewish and Arab) citizens in what are commonly referred to as joint Arab-Jewish cities, like Lod, Ramle, Haifa, and Acco; as well as mob violence in Bat Yam and Tiberias.
The story is not about Israel’s neighbors, but about Jewish Supremacists (known as La Familia) and Arab thugs who are committing obscene acts of violence against innocent people.
An Arab driver was lynched on live TV in Bat Yam. No police were in sight. In Acco, a Jewish man was seriously wounded after being pelted with rocks by Arab rioters in what also seems to be a lynching.
Amidst the chants of “Death to Arabs” and “Those who Believe, Are not afraid,” (“מי שמאמין למפחד”) we also heard popular refrains of ancient verses from the Tanach and Talmud.
A group of so-called Religious Zionists danced fervently filling the plaza at the Western Wall chanting part of a verse from the book of Judges (16:28): “וְאִנָּקְמָה נְקַם־אַחַת מִשְּׁתֵי עֵינַי מִפְּלִשְׁתִּים׃”, which is when Samson, towards the end of his life, calls out to God with a plea: “O Lord God! Please remember me, and give me strength just this once, O God, to take revenge on the Philistines, if only for one of my two eyes.” (followed by a signature ‘yimach sh’mam’ – may their names be erased).
But these are not the true values of religious Zionism. This is not what the Torah teaches us about how to treat the other in our midst. This is the ugly outgrowth of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s “Torah.” He espoused the notion that:
“God’s victory and revenge over His enemies, the evildoers, prove to the world that ’verily there is a God Who judges on earth!’ (Psalms 58:12)…It is only through revenge that God is revived and awakened.”
On Wednesday night Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, in a statement imploring Jews not to turn violent against Arab citizens, proclaimed that the Torah does not permit one to take the law into one’s own hands: “The work of restoring order must be left to the police,” he said. “We must be a light unto the nations, and not, God forbid, the opposite.” The site of angry mobs who have gone off the rails, in many cities across Israel, is deeply disturbing. We should take note that when the Chief Rabbis and firebrand MK Betzalel Smotrich of the extreme right-wing Religious Zionist party call on Jews to curb their activity we know there is something wrong. MK Smotrich tweeted: “We are in difficult days, under attack, frustrated… but damn it, how can Jews be so cruel?! Terrible.”
Perhaps a Biblical parallel will help us make some sense of the current story.
At the end of the book of Judges, we find one of the most troubling scenes in our entire biblical narrative. The Concubine of Givah (Judges 19) tells the story in which a woman is raped and killed demonstrates utter lawlessness and complete disregard for the sanctity of life. Judges 20 sees the remaining tribes wage war against the tribe of Benjamin for this egregious behavior:
“Come, hand over those scoundrels in Givah so that we may put them to death and stamp out the evil from Israel.” (Judges 20:13)
Yet, this coming Monday, on Shavuot, we will read the story of Ruth and Naomi which some biblical scholars believe is a counter to the lawlessness found in the book of Judges.
Bible scholar Dr. Yael Ziegler put it this way:
“A comparison of the book of Judges (particularly the story of the Concubine at Giv’ah) and the story of Ruth reveals that the two seem like opposing texts: in the Book of Judges people are stingy, self-centered, detached, and unhelpful to each other. This society leads to chaos and civil wars. In the Book of Ruth, kindness, generosity, and compassion rule. This society leads to a harmonious existence, and the possibility of a foundation for a united monarchy.”
Ziegler further comments:
“The fact that Megillat Ruth mirrors converses with, and ultimately repairs the social collapse of the book of Shoftim is most succinctly conveyed by the striking linguistic correlation between Ruth and the final, terrible narrative of the book of the Shoftim, that of the rape of the concubine in Giv’a. This story is the book’s darkest hour. The heinous behavior of all of the characters involved in the story, the ominous echoes of Sedom, and the civil war that is a byproduct of the rape all contribute to the portent of doom which attends this narrative. The abundance of parallels between Shoftim 19-21 and Megillat Ruth draws our attention to the need to compare and contrast these narratives and note their striking underlying difference.”
This week we saw a dangerous and unhinged side of society. We witnessed ugly and malicious mob action spewed by hatred and bigotry. We watched nearly identical behavior from both Jewish thugs looking to lynch and pillage as we did angry young Arab hooligans lynch a Jewish man in Acco and nearly another in the village of Tamra.
But Megillat Ruth, which we read on Shavuot, gives the inspiration to reverse these trends. Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz demonstrate that kindness, generosity, and compassion can rule the day. The possibility of a harmonious existence is still possible. It is upon us to choose this narrative and this course of action and reject the extremism and racism that is running rampant in the streets.