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3 Kislev 5778 - 21 November 2017

Current Affairs Blog

This blog aims to inform the reader about current affairs of interest to the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. Most articles are in multiple parts and will be published every 2 to 4 weeks. We invite authors to submit ideas for articles or draft articles to the editor by email at mozdamar@bhcshul.co.uk.

Reflections on the causes of the Six Day War

On 15 May 2017 Ivor Weintroub gave a talk entitled ‘Reflections on the causes of the Six Day War’, the first of two special Adult Education sessions planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and the Reunification of Jerusalem.

The text of the talk can be downloaded in PDF form by clicking here.

Yom Ha’Atzmaut Talk given by Ivor Weintroub (5777/2017)

 

On the 4th Iyar 5708 corresponding to 14th May 1948 at 4.30 pm at the then Tel Aviv Museum, the former home of Meir Dizengoff (the first Mayor of Tel Aviv), in Rehov Rothschild, Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion, then the head of the Jewish Agency, and thereafter the first Prime-Minister of the State of Israel, read the Declaration which created the State from 15 May 1948. He had to make the Declaration in Tel Aviv as the members of the Jewish Agency and other dignitaries could not get to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was then cut off by the Arab insurgents and by the Arab Legion of Trans-Jordan, the latter being ready to invade the territory of the State which with the other neighbouring Arab States it did the following day..

The first paragraph of the Declaration read,

“In the Land of Israel the Jewish people came into being. In this Land was shaped their spiritual, religious, and national character. Here they lived in sovereign independence. Here they created a culture of national and universal import, and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.”

It is remarkable that the Declaration was made just 51 years following the publication by Theodore Hertz of “Der Judenstaat.” Even more remarkable was the fact that the declaration was made just 30 years 6 months after a letter, known as the Balfour Declaration was sent by Lord Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, to Lord Rothschild. In the letter the British Government, having no governmental or jurisdictional basis for sending it, save for the fact that Britain wished, for empirical reasons, to acquire Palestine, stated that the British Government favoured, “in Palestine the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people”. This pledge was confirmed and legitimised by the incorporation of the terms of the letter in the preamble to the Mandate granted to the British Government for the governance of Palestine, by the League of Nations, in 1923.

Some may find it miraculous that the State came about, bearing in mind that the British Government in the next 30 years, from 1917 retreated, again for empirical reasons, from the establishment of the Jewish Homeland, completely negating that policy, by the terms of the McDonald White Paper of February 1939. Then ultimately as a result of this failed British policy, the British Government surrendered the Mandate to the United Nations in February 1947, leaving the 600,000 or so Jewish occupants of Palestine, to the mercy of the surrounding hostile Arab States, as well as the Arab occupants of Palestine. Indeed the expectation of the British and others was that the partition of Palestine, proposed by resolution of the United Nations in November 1947, into Arab and Jewish territories with Jerusalem internationalised, would not survive, but would become an Arab controlled area, probably governed by Jordan.

Nevertheless the fledgling state did survive following a bitter War of Independence, and thereafter after many travails flourished; now having a population of more than seven million Jewish inhabitants.

This expansion has required the supreme sacrifice of its citizens, the country being defended, when it has to fight for its survival in major conflicts by predominantly a citizen army. Ordinary citizens, even to-day, live with the continuing threat of Arab terrorism, the Palestinian Arabs from childhood encouraged by propaganda seek the destruction of the State and to demonise Jews, even the one Palestinian Organisation, purporting to speak for the PLO, Fatah, that allegedly seeks a two-state solution, and now Hamas putting an addendum to its Constitution, purporting to agree initially a two state solution that would then become an Arab dominated State from the river to the sea.

The sacrifice of the fallen members of the IDF acknowledged in the calendar, just yesterday, by Yom Ha’Zichoron bears witness to the tragedy of those who no longer shall grow old and witness the rising of the sun as we do.

In 69 years Israel has had to fight 6 major wars, if one includes the War of Attrition between 1968 to 1970; three counter-terrorist wars and continues to be on permanent alert against terrorist incursion, to secure the state’s independent status and territorial integrity. It does so with a polity that is democratic; governing a society that is diverse, recognising the human rights of those that acknowledge and respect the state’s right to govern its citizen’s and internationally, seeks to live in peace with those states that reciprocate, and acknowledge its place in the comity of nations. Israel maintains, as Ben-Gurion pledged, complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens. Its citizens include a large Arab minority which is represented in the Knesset and benefits from a society that confers, in most cases, a quality of life and freedoms that far exceeds any enjoyed by the Arab citizens of the Israel’s neighbours, engulfed in conflict or civil and internecine unrest, including in Syria and Iraq brutal Civil Wars that pose a threat to world peace.

Ben-Gurion, in the Declaration, made a number of pledges, amongst those: that Israel will be open to Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles; devote itself to developing the Land for the good of all its inhabitants; guaranteeing freedom of religion and conscience, of language, education and culture. It has indeed gathered in Jewish exiles, first those that survived Nazism in Europe, secondly those that were expelled from Arab states following the 1948, 56 and 67 wars and, thirdly those who have left countries around the world to make Aliyah.

It is now absorbing those Jews in countries at threat from Muslim extremism, and alarming and increasing anti-Semitism, whether it be from the right or the left, a phenomenon that continues, despite the worst crime in human history. The Holocaust, primarily promulgated against the Jewish people, with the intent that the Jewish people should be exterminated. Of course those that blame the existence of Israel as a result of the Holocaust and the cleansing of the world’s conscience, as many so-called anti-Zionists do, should concentrate first on why there was a Holocaust, something that seems to escape them, being endemic anti-Semitism, a hatred that in fact promoted Zionism (Jewish Nationalism) and actually gives reason for and justifies the existence of the State of Israel.

However Jews do not need to engage in that dialectic. The state is there in pursuance of faith that is at its soul. Jews have never turned their face from Zion since they became a Nation, as ‘the children of Israel’ and from the time of King David, Jerusalem has remained the centre of the Jewish world.

Since the foundation of the State, to date, the State in disproportion to its size and population has made massive contributions to the advancement of knowledge, in medicine, science and the arts, rarely acknowledged by the media. Much of IT software development is now centred in Israel which actually does have INTEL inside and for that matter, FACEBOOK for the Middle and Far East. Its medical and technological developments lead the world. It is a sophisticated society, no longer dependent upon agriculture, but is economically and technologically independent. It has engaged in advanced desalination and horticultural projects. Israel is now exporting natural gas and is becoming a major energy producing nation. It has an advanced social care and health system that even gives succour to the families of those that would seek the State’s destruction. It has a transparent judicial process and a free media. Its military is subject to political control. In short Israel operates under a legal, social and moral compass that is recognised by those who fairly judge AND observe its functioning as the equal of any modern western democracy.

Yet despite the development and world-leading innovation there are those who would still seek the state’s destruction and seek its isolation, by boycott of its produce, as well as its academic isolation, whilst happily however utilising the inventions that emanate from Israel. This perverse, hostile and ignorant behaviour typified by those who espouse academic freedom and the right to freedom of speech, in turn allowing them to defame Israel, vent distortions of history and hate, seeking to distinguish and separate Zion from Judaism, even more so when done by Jews, whether Orthodox or not, who turn their backs on the reality of their own history, that merely identifies the anti-Semite and leaves Jews who pursue that path in denial.

To us, and those Jews around the world, who celebrate this 69th anniversary of the State, we acknowledge the fact that the word of the Lord continues to emanate from Jerusalem, and that none have or will make Israel afraid. Israel can continue to hold its heads high. We celebrate Israel and its achievements, knowing that the Children of Israel not only live, but thrive. In that knowledge we are secure and give thanks praying that Israel will continue to thrive and may that be His will.

Ivor Weintroub

A New Strain of Antisemitism is on the Rise

By the Chief Rabbi (Published in the Telegraph (28 August 2014)

The boundary is being blurred between fair criticism and hatred in a thin disguise. On Sunday a rally will take place in London to demand zero tolerance of antisemitism. Why is this necessary?

On Sunday (31 August 2014) a rally will take place in London to demand zero tolerance of antisemitism. Why is this necessary? On March 19 2012, a teacher and three pupils were killed in a terrorist attack at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish Day School in Toulouse. For days, speculation was rife about the identity and motivation of the perpetrator.

Initially, many presumed that the killer came from the extreme Right. After all, the strengthening of extremist elements in the midst of a faltering European economy has fuelled antisemitism. Or, we wondered, perhaps the attacker subscribed to neo-Nazi ideology, or was influenced by radical Islam. Whatever the motivation, it seemed sadly clear that, even in the 21st century, the old aims of Hitler had not vanished from the continent of Europe.

Then the perpetrator was identified as Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old French petty criminal, of Algerian descent. Merah said that he attacked the Jewish school because “the Jews kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine”. This transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian political conflict into something more sinister, and even religious in nature, has produced what some refer to as the new antisemitism.

Antisemitism may well be the oldest and most persistent social pathology, what historian Robert Wistrich calls “the longest hatred”. But this ancient enmity is now being expressed in new ways.

Whereas antisemitism in Europe was connected primarily to extreme Right-wing nationalist groups, today Jews are being hit from all sides.

Throughout my first year in office as Chief Rabbi I have been questioned about antisemitism during almost every interview I have given. For a number of reasons, however, antisemitism is not my favourite subject. Firstly, it is immensely painful, a record of thousands of years of hatred and persecution. Secondly, it is intensely emotive and is often confused with other issues, including anti-Zionism. Israel as a subject will always lead to impassioned debate.

Thirdly, while antisemitism is the darkest part of the Jewish experience, it does not define us as Jews, nor determine our relationship with others.

Judaism has contributed significantly to civilisation. Jewish history and tradition is rich and vibrant. This deserves attention, more than the negative stereotypes that have been applied to Jews. The analytical, self-critical, discursive and ethical traditions of Jewish thought have had much more to offer the world than the tragic story of antisemitism.

Finally, I am wary of alarmism. While we are understandably concerned about antisemitism now, it would be an exaggeration to draw comparisons with the past. Having said that, we need to acknowledge that the problem of antisemitism is today pronounced and causing deep anxiety among Jewish people across Britain and worldwide.

There is no doubt that the Hamas-Israel conflict has served as a significant trigger point for the current spike in incidents.

Impassioned criticism of Israel is not intrinsically antisemitic. In many cases, however, the current conflict has been used as a pseudo-legitimate medium for latent antisemitism to be expressed.

It is sometimes claimed that the antisemitism card is played to stifle debate about the Middle East. I am entirely in favour of debate, but to be credible, it must be open, honest, contextualised and untainted by irrational hatred or misinformation. After all, debate on Israeli government policy is the most popular national sport in the vibrant democracy that is Israel. Why? Israelis love a good argument, but more importantly, many Israeli government decisions are life-and-death choices with existential consequences for the tiny Jewish state.

However, in expressing strong views about Israel some people do not realise the extent to which they draw upon myths, images, fears and expressions that have a long and ugly history. Others knowingly and deliberately draw upon such rhetoric and upon the history of vile persecution. How can anyone attempt to justify disgraceful placards the like of which we have seen in pro-Gaza demonstrations in London proclaiming “Hitler should have finished the job”, or “Death to the Jews”?

What particularly saddens me is that, at present, it is not only Jews who are under attack because of their faith. Many forms of bigotry appear to be on the march at once. Our deep concerns and prayers are with the Christians and Yazidis in Iraq. Christians in Africa are also under threat. Minorities are being singled out and targeted, often receiving little coverage and attention, which is surprising given the nature and magnitude of the threat and suffering being faced.

The values of our free society are being challenged. The boundary between what is deemed acceptable criticism and what is essentially antisemitism is being blurred, serving only to accommodate the latter.

We are fortunate in Britain that the fight against antisemitism and all forms of racism has been led by successive governments, the police forces and other faith groups with the support of the overwhelming majority of the public. I have been heartened by the many messages of support I have received from non-Jewish members of the public, who have been horrified by the hatred that has reached our streets. These voices should not be drowned out by a loud and violent minority.

Antisemitism stigmatises innocent people, legitimises hatred, breeds intolerance and is an open invitation to “permissible persecution”. Jews have been described as the canaries in the coal mine for Western civilisation: when we begin to suffer from poisons in the atmosphere, others would be wise to take note.

Chief Rabbi on the Gaza Crisis

Below please find the text of Chief Rabbi’s article published in the Telegraph on 7 August 2014.

Hamas has chosen death; Israel is choosing life

As the world awaits a response from Hamas over Israel’s offer to extend the ceasefire, see the Chief Rabbi’s thoughts on Israel’s war with Hamas.

I welcome the much needed ceasefire in Gaza and pray that it will lead to a lasting, long-term resolution of a bitter and tragic conflict. However, the prospect of a lasting cessation of hostilities between a Hamas-controlled Gaza and Israel will only be achieved if root causes of the conflict are fully addressed. What we have witnessed in Gaza is not a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians but a war between Israel and Hamas – a ruthless terrorist organisation.

Within the last month alone, Hamas has fired over 3,000 missiles at population centres in Israel. In its deep-rooted desire to murder and cause maximum damage, Hamas does not distinguish between Jew, Muslim and Christian, so hell-bent is it on killing Israelis.

Since Israel withdrew from Gaza nine years ago, Hamas has been diverting humanitarian funds donated by us, the international community, intended to assist and enhance quality of life for the people of Gaza. These funds have instead been used to perpetuate terror and hate. Concrete and other materials intended for the building of vital infrastructure, have been expropriated by Hamas to build a network of tunnels for use in the murder and kidnapping of Israelis.

Many people are unaware that Hamas does not seek a two-state solution, or any kind of accommodation with Israel. Hamas’s stated aim is the elimination of the Jewish State and all its Jewish citizens. As recently as 25th July Hamas warned, “We will exterminate you [Jews], until the last one, and we will not leave even one of you.”

“The Palestinians deserve better leadership than that offered by Hamas. A leadership that values life instead of embracing death. A leadership that builds hope. A leadership that builds mosques, schools, clinics and playgrounds instead of tunnels of terror.”

Israel has no desire to kill or injure civilians in Gaza. They are potential partners in peace whose death only serves the interests of Hamas’s PR war.
Successive UK governments have shared our belief in the State of Israel as the manifestation of the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination. We uphold Israel’s right to peace and security. We accept that it is the absolute duty of Israel’s government to protect its citizens. Each of these fundamental principles is currently under attack from those who fail or refuse to understand the existential challenge facing Israel. Prime Minister David Cameron has led from the front, demonstrating strong moral leadership and a deep understanding of this conflict. His commitment to securing a lasting peace that ensures Israel’s security together with Palestinian self-determination is commendable.

“To measure the morality of war by the military might of each party, the number of deaths or the amount of suffering on each side is not merely misguided; it plays into the hands of a ruthless and calculating aggressor.”

I often hear reference to “the cycle of violence” in Gaza. Such a phrase suggests a moral equivalence between the sides. In reality, one side is motivated to maximise civilian casualties and has an exterminatory agenda. The other side is motivated to protect its citizens from terror. It goes to extraordinary and unprecedented lengths to minimise civilian casualties. Tragically, they have not always been able to succeed. Some focus exclusively on the consequences of Israel’s military action aimed at the aggressor. In so doing they overlook the repugnant behaviour and objectives of Hamas. Such an approach is a tacit form of appeasement and abdicates moral responsibility.

“I deplore the loss of all innocent life. The scenes from Gaza bring much sorrow and anguish to me, to Jews in this country and worldwide.”

The loss of innocent life is all the more tragic when those who seek the destruction of Israel glorify death and have no interest in protecting their own civilians. The recent discovery of a Hamas training manual in Gaza, which advocates the use of human shields for urban warfare, is shocking evidence of this.

Rather than allowing Hamas to put its energies into amassing rockets to fire at civilians and constructing tunnels to be used to kill and kidnap innocent civilians, I implore the international community to ensure that the aid that is once again brought into Gaza will be used to build a better future for Gazans.

“I pray that ceasefires in Gaza will hold. God challenges us to “choose life in order that you and your children may live” (Deut. 13:19).”

Judaism celebrates life and I ask the people of Gaza to join us in celebrating life together. Give Palestinian children the future they deserve. Put your time and effort into building and creating. Unlike Hamas, choose life.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

The Israel – Hamas Conflict

This is the transcript of the talk given by Ivor Weintroub during the service held by te BHC in support of Israel on 22 July, 2014.

Let us try and dispel some myths that surround the conflict between Israel and Hamas:

Israel is a state that has all the offices of a State and is a democracy as would be recognised by all other democracies. It was recognised as such virtually immediately following the declaration as an independent state by the then two great powers, and subsequently admitted as a member of the United Nations. It is significant that within the proclamation of the State the first minister David Ben-Gurion said,

“On November 29th, 1947 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, and required the inhabitants themselves to take all measures necessary on their part to carry out the resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their own state is irrevocable.

It is the natural right of the Jewish people, like any other people, to control their own destiny in the sovereign state.”

That is as true today as it was on May 14th 1948 when it was pronounced, but Ben-Gurion went on, and, you may think importantly to say,

“It will rest upon foundations of liberty, justice and peace as envisioned by the prophets of Israel. It will maintain complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens, without distinction of creed, race or sex. It will guarantee freedom of religion and conscience, of language, education and culture. It will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions. It will be loyal to the principles of the United Nations Charter.”

Article 51 of the United Nations Charter reads as follows:

“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Of course it is a myth to think that the Security Council will take any physical steps to protect Israel that will in any event not benefit Hamas. A premature cease fire in the very nature of the continuing conflict can do nothing other.

It seems to me that there can be no greater right for a State to seek to protect its citizens from rocket attacks that are indiscriminate, and by their very nature directed at its civilian population that puts all the citizens, including non-combatants at risk. No civilised state would expose its citizens to a continuing bombardment without taking action to protect its citizens which is what Israel has done.

The myth is that Israel has taken offensive action. By the very nature of what is said above the strategy (i.e. political object) is defensive, the tactics may appear offensive, but there is a great difference between strategy and tactics.

Contrary to the above what is the strategy of Hamas? It is to gain sympathy by exposing its citizens to the risk of modern firepower by instigating a bombardment of a State by indiscriminate rocket firing with the strategic aim (i.e. political aim) of ultimately destroying the State of Israel and its citizens whilst denying that State’s legitimicy, whilst itself having no legitimacy as a State. Indeed its military actions having been declared by the Palestinian representative at the United Nations Human Rights Commission as a ‘war crime’ which without doubt it is. Furthermore the military wing of Hamas is condemned by world opinion as a terrorist organisation, although by the British media, termed ‘militants’. The difference it seems to me in this case is mythical, at best a matter of semantics. Why do I say that?

A terrorist is someone who employs terrorism for a political goal that is, employs terror against innocents as well as lawful arms of a State to spread terror and to intimidate.

A militant is an aggressive who acts aggressively in support of a cause with or without legitimacy. Of course Hamas lacks legitimacy. Its military wing is recognised as a terrorist organisation. Indeed the Hamas Charter still calls for the destruction of Israel. To attack a lawful state indiscriminately with rockets, and to infiltrate its territory clandestinely, through tunnels with the intent of spreading terror and killing innocent citizens must be acts of terror. Ipso facto in this case the militants are terrorists. There is no difference. One must therefore ask why call ‘terrorists’ ‘militants’?

The myth therefore is that in this case there is any difference. The ‘militant’ is by definition a ‘terrorist’. It appears the media find this simplicity difficult, but that may be a lack of understanding of the simple truth. One can induce complexity into matters that are simple, and this the media seek to do, leaving them open to the accusation of bias.

It is equally a myth to describe Gaza as a besieged enclave, trapped and cut off from the rest of the world. It is, but it does not have to be. It is a consequence of the aggression of those that seek to govern it by coercion. It is facile to go into the history of Gaza since 1948, but until 1967 it was used as a base for terrorism to attack Israel. Israel withdrew from Gaza leaving highly fertile areas. Even before that, after the Oslo accords and the White House agreement there was the possibility of a two party state, Gaza to form part of Palestine. That solution has been rejected by Hamas which expelled the Palestine Authority by military means from Gaza. Thereafter Hamas has pursued a political and military objective of the destruction of Israel and carried out consistently acts of terrorism against Israel, by rockets and tunnels to penetrate the borders of the State with the intent of committing wilful acts of terrorism, thus exposing its own citizens to the consequences of lawful defence by Israel which includes military means of all kinds to defeat Hamas.

Another myth is for the media to refer to Israel’s operations and tactics as disproportionate. The media has neglected to describe what would be proportionate. Would indiscriminate firing of missiles from Israel into Gaza be proportionate? I doubt it. The casualties then caused to the innocent civilians of Gaza, particularly children would be enormous, but unlikely to be protected by Hamas. Hamas neglects to provide warnings or shelters for the citizens of Gaza. It seeks the propaganda value of injured and killed woman and children to demonise Israel. In fact during the current ‘Operation Protective Edge’ it has been Israel that has sent warnings before air attack, and extensive use has been made of modern technology in weaponry to cause limited damage where possible, but to think in warfare one can be proportionate as envisioned by the media, and casualties can be avoided is nonsense and unrealistic. Indiscriminate use of weaponry, which has been Hamas’s means of fighting can cause major disaster, as has been witnessed only in the past few days in the Ukraine, where a civilian airliner was brought down by one missile, causing as many casualties that resulted from the whole Israeli air bombardment aiming at specific targets, before the ground action began.

It is a myth to think that all the so-called humanitarian aid and funds that are sent by the European Union and British Muslim Charities to Gaza are used for this purpose. The money is commandeered by Hamas primarily for military infrastructure, the building of tunnels that begin within residential blocks, schools and other Community buildings, breaching Israel’s borders with the purpose of infiltration and murder of its citizens. There is no scrutiny as to the ultimate destiny of millions of Euros of aid even though there must be the real possibility that anyone with a modicum of sense will know the ultimate destination and therefore the purpose to which these funds are put.

It is a myth for UNWRA to claim that they act in good faith when they can hand back rockets surprisingly found on their premises to those they describe as the local authorities that happens to be Hamas. How could rockets be on UNWRA premises without those employed by UNWRA knowing about them, and what they were for? By storing these weapons the United Nations by one of its agencies imperils the lives of innocent citizens of Israel, a member state, in breach of its own charter.

Furthermore the aggressive nature of Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist organisation, is recognised by others; that is Egypt which blockades its access into its territory. Even so Egypt sought to broker a cease-fire that Israel was prepared to accept but has been rejected by Hamas. The answer for peace and security for the citizens of Gaza is to reject violence, to seek to co-exist with its neighbours. If that were to happen there would be no blockade, but there is only Israel and Egypt as its neighbours that seeks peace and stability, Egypt having entered a peace treaty with Israel.

Of course the need for Israel to defend its citizens has been the sad duty of the State throughout its existence. Let us return to the Declaration of Independence: It says

“We extend the hand of peace and good-neighbourliness to all the states around us and to their peoples, and we call upon them to co-operate in mutual helpfulness with the independent Jewish nation in its Land. The State of Israel is prepared to make its contribution in a concerted effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East”

Israel’s hand of friendship was rejected and continues to be rejected by all other states in the Middle East that sought and seek its destruction, save for Egypt and Jordan. Nevertheless Israel has made an enormous contribution to the welfare of the world, not only its neighbours in technology, science, medicine and the arts. In terms of, and we can talk in this case properly of proportionality, to its population. In spite of the many wars and actions it has taken to preserve its existence, and it is its existence that is at stake, something the rest of the world, if it understands, chooses to ignore, even after the events of the 20th century. It is a tragedy that yet once again, members of ZAHAL, a citizen army have to pay the supreme price, to protect the Jewish State from unlawful and barbarous aggression.

It is not possible for Jews living in England to physically defend the State of Israel. That is the duty of Zahal, its citizen army, but we can defend Israel’s legitimacy and the action it is taking to defend itself, and support the State whilst it rids itself of blatant and unlawful aggression. We are here to pray to the Almighty for the protection of the Jewish state. We are aware of Jewish history and the legitimacy of the Zionist dream that has been realised. It provides a home for the whole of Judaism, even those Jews who have no understanding of what Zionism is and perversely reject the Zionist State, yet travel there for the religious significance of the holy places the most holy of which would be closed to Jews, as they were until 1967, were it not for those Jews who have fought to allow all Jews access and to glory in the miracles that have transformed what the Almighty pledged to give us, and which the Jewish State has now preserved and will preserve so that the word of His law resonates from Jerusalem.

It is this that gives rise to the truth that fundamentalism, and particularly Muslim fundamentalism is a major danger to world peace and security. One only has to look at the situation in the wider Middle East to evidence this, and yet Israel is left to take a moral and legitimate stance, putting its state at risk to effectively defend itself whilst the rest of the world stands by, seeking only to obtain a cease fire, allegedly to protect the citizens of Gaza. Meanwhile the leaders of the rest of the world manifestly fail to protect thousands of women and children in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the displaced in Jordan. Indeed in the face of Muslim fundamentalism and the threat it will project the West has withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq leaving them to their fate.

It is a fact that should be understood, however much the media and those who seek to mythologise or reject might find it unpalatable, Israel pursues lawful action that sets an example to other world leaders who shy away, only able to state the danger terrorists threaten, but in this case leaving Israel to deal with. World leaders then seek to appease public opinion without adequately and fairly explaining why the Gazans find themselves in this situation, being used by Hamas as human shields in defence of their acts of terror. If the Gazans support and acquiesce in Hamas’s terror against Israel then they are nothing other than belligerents, and regrettably face the consequence. If they oppose Hamas then the remedy lies with them to rid themselves of Hamas that values them only as propaganda and human shields.

Let us remember the words from Devarim/Deuteronomy Chapter 20 verse 3 (Parashas Shoftim) that at the time of war the High Priest shall say to the people,

“Hear O Israel you are coming near to the battle against your enemies; let not your heart be faint ; do not be afraid, and do not be broken before them, do not panic, and do not be broken before them. For He is your God, is the one who goes with you, to fight for you with your enemies to save you”

The Rambam acknowledges that in the ordinary course of war, even in victory there will those who will perish, that is the natural tragedy of war, it is even more likely than not it will be the case when ground troops are put into battle. It is self-evident that the enemy has and will have sophisticated weaponry and armament. Israel has not fought a war where it has not suffered casualties. It has fought for its survival, and to protect its citizens.  Zahal does not and should not fight within limitations. It is the final myth to believe that when the people of Israel are threatened Zahal should fight with one arm shackled. It is the  duty of a Commander in war to win and to destroy the opposition’s forces. That has been the aim of modern warfare and that is why warfare is tragic. It is the strong and the just that seek to live in peace as Israel does. That is and has been Israel’s aim since David Ben Gurion declared the State 66 years ago.

Zahal is now performing a task for the benefit of peace without equivocating. Justice and peace for the citizens of Israel and probably the future security of the world; demands it.

“Am Yisrael Chai” and may that be the case for ever and ever.

Ivor Weintroub

22 July 2014

In memoriam Eyal, Gilad and Naftali

by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The teenagers

This past Shabbat we read the parsha of Chukkat with its almost incomprehensible commandment of the red heifer whose mixed with “living water” purified those who had been in contact with death so that they could enter the Mishkan, symbolic home of the glory of God. Almost incomprehensible but not entirely so.

The mitzvah of the parah adumah, the red heifer, was a protest against the religions of the ancient world that glorified death. Death for the Egyptians was the realm of the spirits and the gods. The pyramids were places where, it was believed, the spirit of the dead Pharaoh ascended to heaven and joined the immortals.

The single most striking thing about the Torah and Tanakh in general is its almost total silence on life after death. We believe in it profoundly. We believe in olam haba (the world to come), Gan Eden (paradise), and techiyat hametim (the resurrection of the dead). Yet Tanakh speaks about these things only sparingly and by allusion. Why so?

Because too intense a focus on heaven is capable of justifying every kind of evil on earth. There was a time when Jews were burned at the stake, so their murderers said, in order to save their immortal souls. Every injustice on earth, every act of violence, even suicide bombings, can be theoretically defended on the grounds that true justice is reserved for life after death.

Against this Judaism protests with every sinew of its soul, every fibre of its faith. Life is sacred. Death defiles. God is the God of life to be found only by consecrating life. Even King David was told by God that he would not be permitted to build the Temple because dam larov shafachta, “you have shed much blood.”

Judaism is supremely a religion of life. That is the logic of the Torah’s principle that those who have had even the slightest contact with death need purification before they may enter sacred space. The parah adumah, the rite of the red heifer, delivered this message in the most dramatic possible way. It said, in effect, that everything that lives – even a heifer that never bore the yoke, even red, the colour of blood which is the symbol of life – may one day turn to ash, but that ash must be dissolved in the waters of life. God lives in life. God must never be associated with death.

Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were killed by people who believed in death. Too often in the past Jews were victims of people who practised hate in the name of the God of love, cruelty in the name of the God of compassion, and murder in the name of the God of life. It is shocking to the very depths of humanity that this still continues to this day.

Never was there a more pointed contrast than, on the one hand, these young men who dedicated their lives to study and to peace, and on the other the revelation that other young men, even from Europe, have become radicalised into violence in the name of God and are now committing murder in His name. That is the difference between a culture of life and one of death, and this has become the battle of our time, not only in Israel but in Syria, in Iraq, in Nigeria and elsewhere. Whole societies are being torn to shreds by people practising violence in the name of God.

Against this we must never forget the simple truth that those who begin by practising violence against their enemies end by committing it against their fellow believers. The verdict of history is that cultures that worship death, die, while those that sanctify life, live on. That is why Judaism survives while the great empires that sought its destruction were themselves destroyed.

Our tears go out to the families of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. We are with them in grief. We will neither forget the young victims nor what they lived for: the right that everyone on earth should enjoy, to live a life of faith without fear.

Bila hamavet lanetzach: “May He destroy death forever, and may the Lord God wipe away the tears from all faces.” May the God of life, in whose image we are, teach all humanity to serve Him by sanctifying life.

A Double Celebration – A Thought on Shavuot

by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The festival of Shavuot is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Here is how Shavuot is described and defined in parsha Emor:

From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord . . . On that same day you are to proclaim a sacred assembly and do no regular work. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live.
(Leviticus 23: 15-21)

These are the difficulties. In the first place, Shavuot, “the feast of weeks”, is given no calendrical date: all the other festivals are. Pesach, for example is “on the fifteenth day” of the “first month”. Shavuot has no such date. It is calculated on the basis of counting “seven full weeks” from a particular starting time, not by noting a date in the year.

Secondly, as long as the New Moon was determined on the basis of eyewitness testimony (i.e. until the fourth century of the Common Era), Shavuot could have no fixed date. In the Jewish calendar a month can be long (30 days) or short (29). If Nisan and Iyar were both long months, Shavuot would fall on 5 Sivan. If both were short, it would fall on 7 Sivan. And if one were long and the other short, it would fall on 6 Sivan. Unlike other festivals, Shavuot is (or was) a moveable feast.

Thirdly, the point at which the counting of days and weeks begins is signaled in a profoundly ambiguous phrase: “From the day after the Sabbath”. But which Sabbath? And what is the reference to a Sabbath doing here at all? The previous passage has talked about Pesach, not the Sabbath. This led to one of the great controversies in Second Temple Judaism. The Pharisees, who believed in the Oral Law as well as the Written one understood “the Sabbath” to mean, here, the first day of Pesach (15 Nisan). The Sadducees, who believed in the Written Law only, took the text literally. The day after the Sabbath is Sunday. Thus the count always begins on a Sunday, and Shavuot, fifty days later, also always falls on a Sunday.

The fourth mystery, though, is the deepest: what is Shavuot about? What does it commemorate? About Pesach and Sukkot, we have no doubt. Pesach is a commemoration of the exodus. Sukkot is a reminder of the forty years in the wilderness. As our sedra says: “Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

In the case of Shavuot, all the Torah says is that it is the “Feast of the Harvest”, and the “Day of Firstfruits”. These are agricultural descriptions, not historical ones. Pesach and Sukkot have both: an agricultural aspect (spring/autumn) and a historical one (exodus/wilderness). This is not a marginal phenomenon, but of the essence. Other religions of the ancient world celebrated seasons. They recognized cyclical time. Only Israel observed historical time – time as a journey, a story, an evolving narrative. The historical dimension of the Jewish festivals was unique. All the more, then, is it strange that Shavuot is not biblically linked to a historical event.

Jewish tradition identified Shavuot as “the time of the giving of the Torah”, the anniversary of the Divine revelation at Sinai when the Israelites heard the voice of G-d and made a covenant with Him. But that connection is not made in the Torah itself. To be sure, the Torah says that “In the third month after the Israelites had gone forth from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they entered the wilderness of Sinai” (Ex. 19: 1), and Shavuot is the only festival in the third month. So the connection is implicit; but it is not explicit. For this, as for the festival’s date, we need the Oral tradition.

What then was the view of the Sadducees? It is unlikely that they linked Shavuot with the giving of the Torah. For that event had a date, and for the Sadducees Shavuot did not have a date. They kept it on a Sunday – they observed it on a specific day of the week, not on a specific date in the year. How did the Sadducees view Shavuot?

There is a fascinating episode recorded in the rabbinic literature (Menachot 65a) in which a Sadducee explains to R. Yochanan ben Zakkai why, according to them, Shavuot is always on a Sunday: “Moses our teacher was a great lover of Israel. Knowing that Shavuot lasted only one day, he therefore fixed it on the day after the Sabbath so that Israel might enjoy themselves for two successive days.” Shavuot gave the Israelites a long weekend!

From this starting point we can begin to speculate what Shavuot might have meant for the Sadducees. The late Louis Finkelstein argued that they were landowners and farmers. In general, they were wealthier than the Pharisees, and more closely attached to the State and its institutions: the Temple and the political elite. They were as near as Judaism came to a governing class.

For farmers the agricultural significance of Shavuot would have been clear and primary. It was “the festival of the harvest, of the firstfruits of your work, of what you sow in the field” (Ex. 23: 16). It came at the end of a seven-week process that began with the bringing of the Omer – “a sheaf of the first grain of your harvest” (Lev. 23: 10), i.e. the first of the barley crop. This was the busy time of gathering in the grain (this is the setting of the Book of Ruth, and one of the reasons why we read it on Shavuot). Farmers would have a specific reason to give thanks to G-d who “brings forth bread from the ground”. They would also, by the end of harvesting, be exhausted. Hence the Sadducee’s remark about needing a long weekend.

We can now see the outline of a possible Sadducean argument. Pesach represents the beginning of the Israelites’ journey to freedom. Sukkot recalls the forty years of wandering in the desert. But where in the Jewish year do we recall and celebrate the end of the journey: the entry into the promised land? When, in fact, did it take place? The Book of Joshua (5: 10-12) states:

On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan.

It is this text that Maimonides takes as proof that “the day after the Sabbath” in fact means, as the text states here, “the day after the Passover”. Seen through Sadducean eyes, however, this text might have held a quite different significance. The Omer recalls the day the Israelites first ate the produce of the promised land. It was the end of the wilderness years – the day they stopped eating manna (“bread from heaven” – Exodus 16: 4) and started eating bread from the land to which they had been traveling for forty years.

The reason Shavuot is given only agricultural, not historical, content in the Torah is that in this case agriculture was history. The fifty day count from the first time they ate food grown in Israel to the end of the grain harvest represents the end of the journey of which Pesach was the beginning and Sukkot the middle. Shavuot is a festival of the land and its produce because it commemorates the entry into the land in the days of Joshua. So the Sadducees may have argued. It was Israel’s first Yom ha-Atzma’ut, Independence Day. It was the festival of entry into the promised land.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Sadducees rapidly disappeared. How do you celebrate a festival of the land when you have lost the land? How do you predicate your religious identity on the State and its institutions (Temple, priests, kings) when you have lost those institutions? Only a movement (the Pharisees) and a festival (Shavuot) based on the giving of the Torah, could survive. For the Torah was not completely dependent on the land. It had been given “in the wilderness”. It applied anywhere and everywhere.

To be sure, the Pharisees, no less than the Sadducees, loved the land. They knew the Torah in its entirety could only be kept there. They longed for it, prayed for it, lived there whenever they could. But even in exile, they still had the Torah and the promise it contained that one day Jews would return, and recover their sovereignty, and rebuild what they had lost.

The argument about Shavuot turned out to be fateful for Jewish history. Those who celebrated it as “the time of the giving of the Torah” ensured Jewish survival through nearly 20 centuries of exile and dispersion. And we, who live in the era of the return, can rejoice in a double celebration: of the Torah and of the land.

Reflections on the Holocaust

Yom Hashoah at BHC (559x800)

On Sunday 27th April 2014 we held the annual Yom Ha’Shoah Remembrance Day event at the Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation, during which Ivor Weintroub, BHC President, gave a speech entitled Reflections on the Holocaust, which gives a personal and detailed perspective of the history on Anti-Semitism over the centuries to the present day.

For those of you who would like to read the text of this informative speech, we are making it available as a PDF file which you can download and save on to your computer by clicking on this link Reflections on the Holocaust .

Israeli Ambassador’s Letter

Dear Members,

The Israeli Ambassador to the Court of St James’  has written a letter to the Jewish Communities of the United Kingdom on the anniversary of the forthcoming Yom Ha’Atzmaut. To open the letter from the Israeli Ambassador please click on the link below.

Letter to Communities – May 2014

 

Pesach Message

Chief Rabbi’s Pesach Message 5774

Pesach is celebrated during the month of Nissan, A notable feature of our liturgy during this month is the omission of tachanun, the prayers of confession and supplication in our weekday services. In these prayers, we focus on our shortcomings and ask God to forgive us. Tachanun is omitted during Nissan on account of the joyous nature of the month.

Should this not be the case (the halacha) for the preceding month of Adar? After all, is it not concerning Adar alone that our Sages teach “With the commencement of Adar, our joy increases”?

Our Sages explain that when the Mishkan (Sanctuary) was erected in the wilderness, it was dedicated on Rash Chadesh, the first day of Nissan. During the first twelve days of the month, the princes of the tribes brought sacrifices and each of these days was celebrated as a Yam Tov by the tribes. As a result, to this day, these twelve days have a festive flavour to them. Just a few days later Pesach commences. For the majority of the month we enjoy a festive spirit and so we do not recite tachanun throughout the month of Nissan.

In his commentary on the Talmud (Ta’anit 28a) which deals with the joyous nature of the month of Adar, Rashi states that with the commencement of Adar our happiness increases through our celebration of Purim and Pesach. Rashi understands that Adar begins a process which continues beyond the month itself. Our happiness gathers momentum and therefore the joy of Nissan supersedes that of Adar.

Organisers of moving and inspiring events are always concerned with follow-up and impact. A spectacular occasion may be great on the day, but if it is only a ‘one day wonder’, with no added commitment by the participants, it is likely to be a wasted opportunity.

In our tradition, nothing is reserved exclusively for one day alone. Even a festival that lasts a day is a catalyst for further engagement. Shavuot, for example, inspires us to have a Season of the Giving of the Torah on every day of the year. Similarly, following Yam Kippur, our Day of Atonement, we have an opportunity to repent throughout the year.

So too with regard to happiness (simcha). The simcha of Adar is only of true value if it enables us to find the key to ongoing joy and fulfilment. How apt, therefore, that the month of Nissan which follows Adar is one of continuous simcha.

During my first six months as Chief Rabbi I have had the privilege to witness, at close hand, the impressive vitality of our communities throughout the UK; in Synagogues, in schools, in our communal organisations and on campuses. Let us ensure that we continually seek maximum impact and lasting effect in all that we do across our communities. We must set our expectations high and settle for nothing less. It is only through our collective efforts as individuals and as communities that we can be inspired and inspire others, that we can be engaged and engage others.

As we celebrate Pesach this year, may we be blessed with increased happiness, fulfilment and success.

Valerie and our family join me in wishing you all a Chag kasher vesameach.

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