Current events invite consideration of a prayer said by religious Jews three times each day.
The subject of Richard Goldstone came up in a conversation with a religious friend, and he responded with the opening of the 12th chapter of the Amidah.
וְלַמַלְשִינִים אַל תְהִי תִקְוָה
The first word (malshinim) may be translated as informers, slanderers, or traitors. The entire passage reads, "For informers (or slanderers or traitors) may there be no hope."
The passage continues "and may all wickedness quickly be destroyed, and may all your enemies be cut off swiftly. The evil doers, swiftly may they be uprooted, broken, cast down and subdued in our days. Blessed are you, O Lord, who smashes enemies and humbles (or defeats) the evil persons (or the arrogant or intentional sinners)."
For something like two milennia, key elements in the daily rituals have been the "Shema Israel" (Hear O''Israel), and the Amidah (Standing). The Amidah is also called the Shmona Esre (18). Scholars say that it originally contained 18 chapters, and that a 19th was added, perhaps in the second century, without changing the popular name of the prayer.
Shema Israel proclaims the oneness of God, and the Amidah asks for God''s forgiveness, deliverance from affliction, disease, and want, the ingathering of exiles, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and other ancient glories.
Here I am concerned with the passage dealing with evil doers, and its implications about the character of Judaism, Jews, and Jews'' relations with others.
Some versions of the Amidah refer to the מינים (minim), and link them with informers, slanderers, or traitors for whom there should be no hope. Minim is translated as heretics or sectarians, and may have been composed in the second century against Jews who joined the disciples of Jesus.
Orthodox Jews with a concern for political correctness and avoiding offense to powerful others avoid reference to minim in their daily prayers.
Reform Jews are even more concerned about the universality of God''s people, and omit the entire chapter dealing with informers, slanderers, traitors, or heretics. Reform--and some Conservative--Jews also alter the introductory passage of the Amidah that blesses "God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob . . ." For them, the passage reads "God of our fathers and our mothers, the God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob; God of Sarah, God of Rebekah, God of Leah, and God of Rachel."
There is no definite answer to the question, "What is Judaism?" In the absence of a central authority capable of disciplining those who consider themselves Jews, Judaism is what Jews do. The definition may not be satisfying, but it is useful as a summary of the pluralism and disputes that have marked us as long as we have been recording our thoughts about God and ourselves.
And what about Justice Goldstone?
My religious friend is not alone in viewing him as an informer, slanderer, or traitor. Reports are that rejection and pressure from within Goldstone''s own community were important in leading him to reconsider his role in a report widely used to condemn Israel as a criminal state.
Currently Goldstone is expressing his love and support for Israel, and asserts that his daughter has migrated to Israel. He wishes to visit the country and is continuing to reconsider the report that carries his name. He may be asking for understanding or forgiveness, but Interior Minister Eli Yishai is coming under attack for inviting Goldstone to visit. Shimon Peres'' use of the powerful symbol of "blood libel" for the Goldstone Report reminds us that the Justice is an outsider under suspicion.
And what about other Jews participating in campaigns to boycott, disinvest, and impose sanctions on Israel? No doubt there are some who think of them when they ask God to assure that informers, slanderers, or traitors will have no hope.
Do such thoughts of the faithful go so far as to include J Street, Jewish supporters of Barack Obama and other overseas leaders who have been critical of Israel?
Here we are getting to ever more controversial conceptions of insiders and outsiders, friends, adversaries, enemies or traitors.
While Jewish tradition cherishes dispute and is inclusive in welcoming all Jews, the 12th chapter of the Amidah indicates that the community is concerned to protect itself against those who venture too far in endearing themselves to powerful outsiders.
The question of “Who is a Jew?” also divides us in ways that may correspond with who we think should be labeled an informer, slanderer, or traitor.
Breadth and acceptance are more characteristic of Jews than suspicion and out casting. A tolerance of diversity is an elemental component in Israeli democracy, and prominent among its strengths. It has been more than four centuries since the important community of Amsterdam declared a ban against its distinguished member, Baruch de Spinoza, for improper expression. However, a stroll today through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood only a kilometer or so from these fingers will find posters declaring bans against individuals defined as erring in expression or behavior.
Again, Judaism is what Jews do. That, too, is a focus of dispute, but what else is there?