Herem – excommunication – is a centuries-old rabbinic device that allows a Jew to be placed outside the bounds of the Jewish community. It is not to be taken lightly. It is, essentially, the last resort of a community that finds an individual so despicable that he must be kept at arm’s length, denied the rights and privileges afforded to members in good standing. Maimonides rules that, under most circumstances, it’s best to ignore slights and insolence. But, he concludes, if it causes public damage, it must not be forgiven.
Excommunication is a statement that a man or woman, by virtue of his or her insidious behavior, has removed him or herself from the ranks of the community, and is persona non grata. We do not do business with such people, we do not converse with them. They are not welcome in our synagogues or our schools. They become, in essence, invisible, pariahs.
LAST WEEK, on a flight to England, I sat across from an acquaintance. Like me, he sported a beard and wore a kippa. But as the plane landed in London, I watched as he removed his kippa and put on a baseball cap. As we waited together for our luggage, I approached him and asked why he had switched head coverings. “Are you worried about being identified as a Jew?” I asked him. “Not exactly,” he replied, somewhat uncomfortably, “I’m worried about being identified as an Israeli!”
Sad to say, I was hard-pressed to find fault with him. The demonization of Israel has reached such a fever pitch that it is now at a level not seen since the creation of the state. While hostility among the Arab bloc and its supporters has remained constant, we have also become the favorite target of the West.
Where once we found solace and support, we are now branded as unrepentant, colonizing thieves. Virtually all of Europe regards us as the principal cause of turmoil in the Middle East and, by extension, the world.
Even America is showing strong signs of turning its back on us. We are pariahs on every college campus, as clueless students discard freedom of speech and prevent our representatives from even stating our case. Trade unions, whose battle cry once was “invest!” now spout the mantra of “divest!”
What makes this campaign even more galling is our lukewarm response to the lies and diatribes, our muted response to all the hate and slander. Even as we promote the cause of a Palestinian state and urge the world to boost the Palestinian economy, the Palestinians demand that Israel be isolated, condemned and boycotted.
THE TIME has come to fight back. We must use every means at our disposal to place the blame squarely where it belongs – on the Arab world in general, and on the Palestinians in particular. They are the villains in this tale, not us. They are the ones who have rejected all overtures of peace and steadfastly refuse to compromise. They still harbor the dream of a Jew-free Middle East, and still cling to the notion that violence and bloodshed are the path to their dream.
It’s time to take the battle to them, to stop speaking softly, to shout our just cause and generous offers from the rooftops. And it’s time – high time – to stand up proudly and repudiate the enemies in our own camp who aid and abet our adversaries while repudiating their own people.
A good place to start is with Richard Goldstone. We ought to exercise the time-honored Jewish weapon of herem
against this man. Goldstone’s “commission of inquiry” regarding Operation Cast Lead has been used by the anti-Israel coalition worldwide to foment hatred against the Jewish state, placing Jews everywhere at risk.
Goldstone, unlike other critics and malcontents, cannot claim to be ignorant of the harm he was causing. He had to know that Israel alone was being singled out for condemnation. He had to know that the UN, with its unblemished record of anti-Israel bias, would use his report to further isolate us. He had to know that only those sections condemning Israel would be read and ratified, while the rest would be discarded.
Whether Goldstone perpetrated his actions to advance his standing on the world stage or to feed his massive ego is irrelevant. What he did he did with full knowledge of the consequences, and now it is he who must pay those consequences.
Much has been written about the bar mitzva of Goldstone’s grandson in South Africa, and whether or not he should have been allowed to attend, or if his presence should have been protested if he shows up at services. Interestingly, the Beit Din
of Johannesburg recently issued a ruling of herem
against a member of that same community who refused to honor his child-maintenance obligations.
In rejecting the man’s appeal, the High Court of South Africa defended
the Beit Din
’s right to institute sanctions on the
offender which may preclude him from being counted in a
or buried in a Jewish cemetery. Said the
court: “A herem
is central to the Jewish faith, and
represents the expression of the collective disdain of the community.”
If a man can be placed in herem
for actions which
harm a child, what shall be done to the person whose destructive
behavior threatens every man, woman and child in Israel?
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. firstname.lastname@example.org