Where is our Jewish GPS?

Our rabbis are so busy remembering Amalek as a center piece of their Jewish teaching, they are forgetting Hillel’s "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor."

By
March 22, 2011 22:20
3 minute read.
Foreign workers' children protest

Foreign workers children 311 R. (photo credit: Reuters)

It is not hard for me to remember what Amalek did, the enemy that preys on the weak. “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 25: 17-18).

I see Amalek every day; on the bus, in the grocery store, in the news and within myself. Amalekism is a cowardly attack on the helpless who are “stragglers at your rear” – those whom we turn our backs to as we move forward.

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Racist attacks against Israeli Arabs are Amalekitish acts. There is just no way to justify discrimination against 21 percent of the population.

Rabbis who publish racist proclamations against minorities are turning their backs on our collective DNA, and our calling as a people. A religious leader who plans to deport hundreds of children born here asserts that he does so to maintain the Jewish character of the state. But by deporting these children, he is detracting from its Jewish character. These rabbis who are supposed to be our spiritual guides clearly have an effect on public opinion on the streets and in political parties.

On Tuesday, the Knesset brought up the “Nakba bill.” We, as Jews, recognize the significance of tradition, history and memory for our peoplehood. This bill and the trend of hostile bills of which it is a part is tragic and ironic. It both represses Israeli Arab identity by attempting to erase part of their collective memory and misrepresents Judaism as a xenophobic religion.

SOME RABBIS are manipulating Judaism to overturn democratic principles, paving the way for the secular leadership to push laws that can be seen as undemocratic.

Just a few months ago, while over 50 municipal rabbis and 200 others endorsed the infamous “Rabbis’ Letter” banning rental to non-Jews in Israel, a bill appeared seeking to give authority to small towns to ban people from moving in if they do not match the “social fabric” of the community.

These bills show cowardice. Those in favor of them think that they will make Israel stronger, protect its democracy from enemies, uniting us as a people with a unified history so that we will not perish.

Why is it that those insisting on keeping the “Jewish” in “Jewish and democratic” are so ready to throw away the “democratic?” How can we protect our Jewish identity if we seek to betray the teachings of thousands of years? These bills were written is fear. They show an inability for people to face the “other” – Arabs, children of foreign workers, refugees, and all minorities in Israel. They show reactionary thinking when we should be focused on progress.

THIS TYPE of thinking has some rabbis remembering Amalek as a center piece of their Jewish teaching. They embellish and expand on the evil of the original Amalekites, and count as Amalek world leaders, Arab leaders and even Israeli leaders who disagree with their worldview. I would recommend doing less remembering of Amalek and more remembering of the quintessential Jewish teachings of Hillel: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole Torah...” (B. Shabbat 31a).

Delving too deeply into the actions of Amalek may drive us to resemble them.

A Jew should not shirk the responsibility of emulating his God and showing mercy and compassion in his pursuit of justice.

“Hatikva,” our anthem, wishes us to be a free people in our land. The love of power is the love of self, but the love of liberty is the love of others. If we give up on that, we lose our Jewish GPS.

Israel is the only Jewish state on the planet. It is our only attempt in modern times to build a sovereign state on Jewish values. This state is struggling to agree on the Jewish values that should guide the beginning of Redemption in our 63-year-old country.

On Monday, we marked the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and I am convinced that discrimination and incitement against minorities are antithetical to Judaism, and should be eradicated from our discourse. Anyone who believes that Pessah cleaning should also involve the removal of minorities from our midst is destroying the Jewish soul.

The writer is executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement and president of Women of the Wall.


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