Jewish Historical Framing for Protests

Jewish Historical Framing for Protests

Educationally, we recommend that the encounter with the current protests in Israel be viewed through the broader Jewish historical lens. This section seeks to frame the contemporary conversation in Israel in terms of Jewish history and values. Here we present a perspective on economy and society that draws on the wide trends and changes in Jewish sovereignty, power, and responsibility over time.

Ancient/Bible Period: King Solomon’s Kingdom:

The period of the First Temple stands out in history as one of the most wealthy and influential economies in theMiddle Eastof the time. In building theTemple(a collective Jewish asset), Solomon’s government set to obtain the most expensive materials (cedars of Lebanon, flint stones, etc.). To import the best, he had to tax the people, who were willing to carry the financial burden under his leadership. However, when Solomon’s son Rehoboam took over and the nation claimed the taxation was too onerous, the new king did not ease it, and the kingdom quickly fell apart and split in two.

This story serves as a biblical-historical precedent that can be instructive to the current times. The Jews experienced a transformation from being a united and prosperous nation to being devastatingly split into two distinct kingdoms.This split was the start of a long process of fracture among the Jewish people, which eventually led to the dispersion of the ten northern tribes years later. Following the dispersion, the Jews did not return to a fully sovereign state until 1948.

From the dispersion of the ten tribes until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Jews have been scattered around the world living under varying communal conditions. In the best-case scenario, Jews were granted autonomy under the foreign power; at worst, they were persecuted or forced to live secret Jewish lives. This mode of living, whether in the best or worst cases, created a mindset in which Jews had to care for their own, and maximize its rights and freedoms within the sovereign ruling, as a minority group. Such a situation allowed the Jewish communities to form a kind of internal solidarity which not only protected them from external threat but allowed them to survive and thrive internally as well. The centuries allowed for the Jewish Community as we know it today to take shape and form the glue that has help the Jewish people together. To this day, social solidarity is a pillar of the Jewish communities around the world.

 2000 years around the world

During the pre-modern, pre-emancipation period of history, Jews under foreign rule had to do everything possible to secure what rights they could from the body in power, protecting their own sectarian interests as a minority. Yet today, with a sovereign state of our own, we have not made the necessary leap that this historic change would call for. In Israel, the Jews need to be accountable to themselves as a majority. Jews in Israel need to internalize their responsibility to the grand collective of the state and its broad long-term interests.

In many ways, the sectarian model which served the Jewish people through centuries of being a minority in the Diaspora is still echoed in aspects of modern Israeli life and policy. These remnants of the Jewish cultural-historical baggage might be reconsidered to better serve this large-scale collective national project.

In Israel there is a hatred towards paying taxes, yet people pay them because it is the law. This hatred is derived from deep within the norms of the Jewish people, who tried to evade tax payment over centuries to their rulers who were typically enemies. To Jews, taxation=State, and State is fundamentally not us. The Jews never had a situation in which the evasion was from paying themselves. For thousands of years we saw ourselves as the providers of welfare, education, and charity, and did not rely on the governing powers for theses services. In Israel today there are thousands of Gemachim [traditional religious lending organizations], which support the Orthodox sector. Parallel to this, there are social justice organizations…which are not supported by the Orthodox populations. This is what it means to take the government seriously: the enterprise needs society…and again, this is not supported by the Orthodox. The enterprise needs to work, not as a set of connections, each helping the people they know, but rather in collective responsibility for one another.

Rabbi Benny Lau, lecture to Jewish Agency leadership, 2011.

 להיות עם חופשי בארצינו, “To be a free people in our land” (from “Hatkiva,” Israel’s national anthem) does not only mean that Jews are free and autonomous to exercise their basic rights (to be free from a foreign power), but they are now also free to be a sovereign majority, with all the responsibility that comes along with it.

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