It is our re­li­gious duty SHAB­BAT SHALOM to stand up for Is­rael

There are times which call for us to show our loy­alty to our co­re­li­gion­ists

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - BY RABBI GIDEON SYLVESTER

IT’S BEEN a test­ing time for Jews ev­ery­where. In­ter­na­tional con­cern for the wel­fare and safety of in­no­cent Gazans has mor­phed into anti-Zion­ism and from there, it’s been a short hop to an­ti­semitism. With boy­cotts, des­e­cra­tion of com­mu­nal build­ings and an­ti­semitic out­bursts, the cli­mate has turned in­creas­ingly hos­tile, leav­ing many of us feel­ing vul­ner­a­ble, un­sure of how to re­spond. Some Jews coura­geously campaign for Is­rael, ex­plain­ing why she needs to de­fend her­self from the con­stant bar­rage of rock­ets soar­ing into the coun­try and the war­ren of ter­ror tun­nels which have been dug be­neath it. They pa­tiently pub­li­cise how Is­rael has worked to min­imise civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, de­spite the plac­ing of en­emy rock­ets in schools and hos­pi­tals.

Oth­ers are more wary of tak­ing a stand. They keep their heads down, hop­ing not to be iden­ti­fied as Jews, or protest that their Jewish­ness does not nec­es­sar­ily link them to their brethren in Is­rael.

How far need di­as­pora Jews go in their de­fence of their co-re­li­gion­ists? Jewish tra­di­tion sug­gests that this has been an eter­nal ques­tion.

When Abra­ham, as the first Jew, was per­se­cuted for his monothe­is­tic be­liefs, a midrash sug­gests that his brother Na­hor sat on the side­lines. He adopted a wait and see pol­icy. He cal­cu­lated that if his bother sur­vived, he would join him and em­brace the new monothe­is­tic faith, but if Abra­ham was killed, it would be more pru­dent to align him­self with his brother’s per­se­cu­tors. Na­hor was re­lieved to see his brother emerge un­scathed, but, as the rab­bis note with a dose of schaden­freude, his fence-sit­ting did not save him. He was seized and ex­e­cuted by the idol­aters.

Ac­cord­ing to some, even Moses, our great­est Jewish leader, faced sim­i­lar dilem­mas. When he saw an Egyp­tian taskmas­ter strik­ing a He­brew slave, Moses “looked this way and that, but when he saw there was no man”, he killed the op­pres­sor (Ex­o­dus 2: 12). The straight­for­ward in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that he was look­ing out for wit­nesses who might in­form on him. But with sharp psy­cho­log­i­cal in­sight, one com­men­tary sug­gests that Moses was ac­tu­ally delv­ing into his own per­son­al­ity.

Mo­men­tar­ily, Moses wa­vered between fond mem­o­ries of his pala­tial Egyp­tian guardians and loy­alty to his own Is­raelite fam­ily. Re­al­is­ing that such a con­flicted per­son­al­ity cre­ated “no man”, he hero­ically sided with his peo­ple and killed the Egyp­tian taskmas­ter.

We all en­counter sit­u­a­tions which par­al­lel th­ese bib­li­cal prece­dents. Each of us faces sit­u­a­tions where it would be con­ve­nient to hedge our bets, hide our Jewish­ness or evade stand­ing up for our peo­ple. In­deed, I write th­ese words from a hol­i­day in Ecuador, where on ar­rival, we were in­structed that for our own safety, we should re­move our kip­pot and wear caps in­stead.

Still, the need for Jewish loy­alty is a defin­ing fea­ture of our faith. Bas­ing them­selves on the or­der of words, in Ruth’s state­ment: “Your peo­ple will be my peo­ple and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1: 16), the rab­bis ruled that a per­son wish­ing to con­vert to Ju­daism must first de­clare their ded­i­ca­tion to our oft-per­se­cuted peo­ple; only then, do we con­sider them wor­thy of be­ing taught about our reli­gion (Tal­mud Ye­va­mot 47a).

Mai­monides ar­gued that even a Jew who keeps all the com­mand­ments, but fails to em­pathise with the fate of the Jewish peo­ple is un­wor­thy of a place in the world to come —the ul­ti­mate state­ment of un­wor­thi­ness for a Jew (Mai­monides, Laws of Re­pen­tance 3: 10).

While much of the me­dia por­trays the Gaza con­flict as a war between heav­ily armed pro­fes­sional sol­diers against de­fence­less Gazans, from Is­rael, the scene looks very dif­fer­ent. We are all aware of the con­tin­u­ous bar­rage of mis­siles which can land any­where at any time. We all know in­fants, el­derly peo­ple and hand­i­capped per­sons who can­not race to a shel­ter in the few seconds avail­able when the sirens wail. All of us live in fear of the con­se­quences of tun­nels un­der our coun­try. The sit­u­a­tion is in­tol­er­a­ble.

When Morde­cai warned Queen Es­ther about Ha­man’s geno­ci­dal threat to the Jewish peo­ple, her first re­sponse was to shy away from the need to speak to her hus­band, the king. It was too risky; it might put her in dan­ger. Her un­cle was con­temp­tu­ous. He told her that one way or an­other, the Jewish peo­ple sur­vive and flour­ish, but that she still had a per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity to play her part (Es­ther 4: 10-14).

There is noth­ing holier than the search for a just and last­ing peace which will cre­ate co-ex­is­tence and tol­er­ance with our neigh­bours with jus­tice and democ­racy for all. Th­ese must always be our long-term pri­or­i­ties and the pri­or­i­ties of the state of Is­rael. Such ac­tiv­ity should never cease.

But while Is­rael is un­der at­tack from en­e­mies ded­i­cated to our de­struc­tion, and our sol­diers are tak­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary risks to avoid civil­ian ca­su­al­ties as they fight to de­fend us, equa­nim­ity is not an op­tion. We must stand proud as Jews and as Zion­ists. To dis­own those who de­fend us would be the ul­ti­mate act of treach­ery. Gideon Sylvester is the United S yn­a­gogue’s Is­rael rabbi FRI­DAY, AU­GUST 22 (Av 26), Shab­bat be­gins in Lon­don at 7.55; Bournemouth 7.52; Leeds 8.00; Manch­ester 8.07; Ty­ne­side 8.10; Glas­gow 8.21; Jerusalem 6.39 (lo­cal time). SATUR­DAY, AU­GUST 23 (Av 27). Por­tion of the Law (To­rah): Re’eh, Deuteron­omy 11:26 to 16:17. Por­tion of the Prophets (Haf­tarah): Isa­iah 54:11 to 55:5. Bless­ing of the New Moon. Ethics 6. SHAB­BAT ends in Lon­don at 8.57; Bournemouth 9.06; Leeds 9.11; Manch­ester 9.14; Ty­ne­side 9.16; Glas­gow 9.32; Jerusalem 7.51. TUES­DAY, AU­GUST 26 (Av 30), first day Rosh Chodesh El­lul. WED­NES­DAY, AU­GUST 27 (El­lul 1), sec­ond day Rosh Chodesh El­lul. FRI­DAY, AU­GUST 29 (El­lul 3), Shab­bat be­gins in Lon­don at 7.39; Bournemouth 7.39; Leeds 7.44; Manch­ester 7.51; Ty­ne­side 7.50; Glas­gow 8.04; Jerusalem 6.31

PHOTO: REUTERS

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