(Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary)
Redemption of captives comes before other forms of tzedakah… and one who ignores the plight of the captive violates the commandment, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow.” [Leviticus 19:16]. But we must not redeem the captive for an exorbitant price, in order not to distort the system and encourage our enemies to pursue us to capture us (to hold for ransom)…
-Maimonides (Rambam), Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 8:10-12
The quiet little rural community of Hila, about 30 minutes northwest of Shorashim, has become over the past five years, and especially over the past 24 hours, a focus of the entire nation’s attention. Five years ago a kid from Hila doing his army service on the Gaza border, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Hamas forces and secreted somewhere in Gaza. For five years the entire country has been absorbed in the personal drama of the Shalit family and the fate of Gilad. Today he was released in exchange for around 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, including a number who were involved in major terror attacks.
When she saw that [Joseph] had left [his garment] in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to her servants and said to them, “Look, he had to bring us a Hebrew to dally with us! This one came to lie with me; but I screamed loud. And when he heard me screaming at the top of my voice, he left his garment with me and got away and fled outside.”
In Jew Suess, the infamous Nazi propaganda feature film, a central plot element is the cruel sexual exploitation of the virgin Aryan Dorothea by the conniving Jew Suess.
Once R. Yehuda and R. Yose and R. Shimon were sitting [talking]…. R. Yehuda said: How wonderful are the works of this people [the Romans]! They have established markets, they have built bridges, they have built baths. R. Yose was silent. R. Shimon bar Yochai answered: They established markets – for prostitutes to work there; they built bridges in order to collect tolls; they built baths – to pamper themselves.
-Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 33b
Interesting that the three rabbis each saw the same cultural elements through totally different lenses (actually, we don’t know what Rabbi Yose was thinking), so that what for Rabbi Yehuda was impressive, for Rabbi Shimon was rotten. Sort of like the difference between those who see the internet as a great boon to the spread of knowledge and the improvement of society, and those who see the very same medium as filled with dangerous immorality, offering unprecedented means of support for swindlers, pedophiles, hate mongers etc.
…We, members of the people’s council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement…, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the state of Israel.
-Israel Declaration of Independence
As I suggested in my last entry, in thinking about what it will take for Jews and Arabs to live together in peace in Israel, there are (at least) four different dimensions to consider: the political, the historical, the cultural, and the personal.
Asher did not dispossess the inhabitants of Acco or the inhabitants of Sidon, Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, and Rehob. So the Asherites dwelt in the midst of the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not dispossess them.
We have been running a series of two-day seminars for participants in pluralistic pre-army preparatory programs (“leadership academies”) that have become popular in recent years (a year of intensive study and service between high school and the army). The seminar consists of a day exploring and studying Yodfat, where the Jews fought to the death in the first battle of the great revolt (67 CE), and a day in Zippori, where we signed a surrender agreement before the revolt started. The focus is on understanding the values implicit in these two responses.
Our hope is not lost, the hope of two thousand years To be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem. -Hatikvah, Israeli national anthem
This year’s observance of Yom Ha’atzma’ut was particularly interesting and thought-provoking for me; here are some hightlights:
At mid-day on Tuesday, Memorial Day, almost the entire population of Shorashim, a few hundred people, set forth in a bus and a caravan of cars toward the Bet Shean valley. Every year we do an educational excursion on the afternoon of Memorial Day, to a historical site connected with the creation of the state. This year, we explored the area settled by Orthodox kibbutzim in the late 30s and early 40s.
Once there was a man who was clearing stones from his field and throwing them into the public domain. A pious one kept nagging him: “Why are you clearing stones from what is not yours and throwing them into your own space?” The man ignored him. Later, he sold that field, and was walking past it and tripped on the stones. He said, “Now I understand what that guy meant with his nonsense.”
-Mishnah Ta’anit 1:5
Visitors often wonder why it often seems that in Arab villages, the insides of the homes are spotless and well maintained while the streets are littered with garbage. The answer I have received is a cultural one, regarding the perception of “my space” vs. no-one’s space: what is inside my courtyard is my responsibility. What is outside is no man’s land. When the population is small and the refuse is minimal and quickly biodegradable (which was the case around here until the 20th century), that approach was sustainable. It isn’t any more – but cultures change slowly.