I’m hearing extreme language around me, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable, if not scared.
In the Jewish tradition, there is a prayer for the Government which is recited on Shabbat morning after the Torah reading. As a pulpit Rabbi in the United States, each week I would recite or hear someone else recite the special “Prayer for the welfare of the Government.” It asks God to protect the President, the Vice President, and all the constituted officers of our country, and to provide them with wisdom and good counsel. It was a prayer for which I would ask the congregation to kindly rise, and we would recite it together. (I have to share, and I’ve never mentioned this to anyone, that I was always nervous that I would absent-mindedly say the constipated officers instead of the constituted ones).
Why include such a prayer on the holy Shabbat, especially before the Torah has been returned to the holy Ark? It echoes the instruction to the prophet Jeremiah (29:7), to those dispersed at the time of the Babylonian exile (6th century BCE), “Seek the peace of the city to which I have carried you in exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because in its peace, you shall find peace.” A similar teaching is found in the Ethics of the Fathers (3:2), where Rabbi Chanina says, “Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for fear of it, people would swallow one another alive.”
Now, here in Israel, there is a similar prayer, and in many congregations outside of Israel, the prayer for the government AND the prayer for Israel are both recited. In the Prayer for the State of Israel, we ask God to protect the land, shield it, strengthen the defenders of the land. We also ask God to send His light and truth to our leaders, ministers and advisors, and direct them with good counsel. Indeed, both prayers for the government sound similar themes, and end in the exact same way: AMEN! Let’s have leaders who lead with integrity and never forget the people. AMEN! Let’s have leaders who know how to deal with crisis, advance the noble goals of the society, and keep its citizens safe from harm. AMEN! Let’s have leaders who are a glory to the people rather than an embarrassment. AMEN!
Our Torah teaches (Exodus 22:27), “You shall not curse a leader among your people.”
In light of these teachings and prayers and admonitions, my head spins when I hear people- often religious people- making outrageous statements about our government or various leaders within. Lately, what I’ve been hearing is not your run-of-the-mill complaints about our leadership here in Israel, you know, “ah, he’s a big idiot,” or “I can’t stand him/her,” or “he/she is ruining this country from top to bottom,” or “they just don’t know what the hell they’re doing.”
All that is somewhat expected and rather mild, compared to what I’ve been hearing. Frankly, some of it is well deserved, even if hardly comporting with the dictum of not cursing the leader among you. To be honest, I may think some of what people say, but rarely do I verbalize it.
What I’ve been hearing is inappropriately over the line critical of our Israeli leadership. Recently, when joining a group of people in the settlement of Migron which is 5 kilometers north of Jerusalem, we were informed that at least 3 homes are slated for destruction and that the entire community will be dismantled by approval of the Israeli government. When I heard this, which was a confirmation of what I’d read in the papers, I shook my head and couldn’t believe that our own government would, again, permit Jewish families, including dozens of children, to be expelled from biblical Israeli land. If I had BB Netanyahu near me, I would have taken a skillet and bomped him on the head, and asked him why in the world is he doing our enemy’s work by weakening the land and the people of the Jewish state. But I would not call him a Nazi, like someone did who stood nearby. I would not call what hopefully will NOT happen a pogrom, like someone did nearby. A Nazi? A pogrom? Words that elicit memories of the ugliest anti-semites and anti-semitism, in my mind, are NEVER to be used in connection with our leadership.
It wasn’t long before names of Israeli leadership were mentioned again in disapproving tones, and then some people would say, “Netanyahu, yemach shemo” which means “may his name be erased.” Until now, I had heard this Hebrew phrase only when mentioning a tyrant or oppressor of the Jews, i.e., Haman, “yemach shemo,” or Ahmedinejad “yemach shemo” or Assad “yemach shemo.” But about a fellow Jew? Unacceptable, no matter what you think about him or her.
I had a conversation recently about Israeli President Shimon Peres, where the opinion was expressed that Peres was evil and that he hates Jews and Israel. Pretty undistinguished qualifications for the President of the Jewish state, I thought.
Someone really took the cake last week when having a conversation with someone about Israeli leadership by saying, “You think Ben Gurion and Golda Meir were Jews? You think Ben Gurion liked Jews? He was WORSE than Hitler!” The first President of the Jewish state, without whose stewardship and God’s benevolence no Jewish state would likely exist today…..HE was worse than Hitler. What a sick and perverted mind, coming from a religious Jew yet.
I’ve heard all of these comments just in the last couple of weeks. It scares me to think how people are talking, how people are describing our Jewish leadership. Let me be clear- I wouldn’t dismantle a single settlement EVER- biblical Israel belongs to the Jews, period. I am in favor of one state, a Jewish one, period. I am in favor of the hardest line against those who would rather see us dead, not one inch for so-called peace, period. The tougher the better, period. Power seems to be what our dead-set-against us- neighbors understand, and in my opinion, a powerful and strategic offense- never mind being disproportionate…self defense is in and of itself proportionate- will give us the security we need, along with the help of the Almighty.
I understand opposing Israeli leadership, even protesting against it or its decisions. But calling them or referring to their actions in words that describe our most vile, wicked and depraved Jew-haters is way beyond the pale and dangerous. Let’s stay in the bounds of decency and have some semblance of Derech Eretz.