Israel the Non-Imperialist

Israel the Non-Imperialist

Sovereignty over any foreign land is insecure. -Seneca the Elder

Historically, Israel was blessed with fearsome warriors. The ancient near east quaked in their sandals as the Children of Israel approached the borders of successive nations. There was the miraculous Exodus from Egypt and the Splitting of the Sea, which basically destroyed the mighty Egyptian empire.  Forty years later, there was the lightning-fast conquest of the lands of Sihon King of Emor and Og King of Bashan. The other nations learned that God was with Israel and that the new generation of Israelites was fearless.

However, what the non-Canaanite nations did not know was that God had given an express command for Israel not to attack the neighboring nations, not even to threaten them. This included not attacking Israel’s distant cousins, the Edomites, the Moabites and the Amonites.  Had Sihon and Og left Israel alone, if they would have let Israel pass through to Canaan peacefully, they too would have remained unscathed and unconquered.

Rabbi Hirsch (in the 1800s) on Deuteronomy 2:5 details:

“Israel is to take its place among the nations with a God-fearing respect for their possessions. Israel must not see itself as a nation of conquerors from whom no nation on earth will henceforth be safe. Rather, Israel must limit its military actions and prowess to the task of occupying that one sole land which God has intended for it and promised to it from the very outset of history.”

Israel has its Promised Land. Every other land is off-limits to Israel. Just as God assigned a particular land to the Jewish nation, so, too, He assigned other lands to other peoples. The Torah goes out of its way to detail the conquests of other lands that God facilitated for other nations.

There are people in the world who imagine that Israel has imperialistic designs or “Zionist plots.” Often these people and their theories are anti-semitically motivated and are disengaged both from reality, as well as from our very nature and founding as a people. In the end, they are either distorting reality for their own purposes or just clueless.

What we will fight for is to defend the land that God has finally returned us to, but we have no designs or interest in anyone else’s land.

May we remain steadfast in protecting our people and our land and may our enemies learn again to fear us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

In memory of the recent victims of terror. God will avenge their blood.

 

Diaspora Jewry Knesset Representation

Diaspora Jewry Knesset Representation

Our forefathers made one mistake. What they should have fought for was representation without taxation. -Fletcher Knebel

There’s an apocryphal statement that goes as follows: “One third of Israelis serve in the army, one third of Israelis work, and one third of Israelis pay taxes. The problem is that it’s always the same third.”

Since announcing my candidacy for Zehut International’s slot in the Zehut Knesset list, more than one person has complained that they feel it is unfair for non-Israeli citizens to have any say in the make-up of our parliament. If they live here, if they pay taxes, then they can vote, they say. There is an obvious logic to their argument. Just as we believe there should be no taxation without representation, the converse can also hold true that there should not be representation without some type of taxation.

However, there is a limit to that logic, especially regarding Israel.

If the State of Israel were merely a country of its citizens, a country like many other countries in the world, then it would be quite sensible to prevent any outsiders from meddling in our internal political process. However, Israel is so much more than that.

Israel is the Jewish homeland. Israel is a state for all Jews, wherever they are in the world. The relationship between Israel and world Jewry is an unbreakable bond that transcends politics. It is a yearning and a bond and a prayer that have been on our lips and in our hearts for two millennia. Israel is made up of our ancestors, our grandparents, our cousins, our brothers and our sisters who have come back from the far reaches of our planet to resettle the land. And they continue to do so. Distinctly from any other country in the world, every Jew can and should have a say as to the destiny of the State of Israel.

Understandably, those of us who are blessed and have the merit to live in Israel, to work in Israel, to pay taxes in Israel, to have children who serve in the army of Israel, should have a significantly greater say in our fate and destiny. Right now Israeli citizens have an exclusive say in Knesset elections and in the primaries of all of the political parties that hold primaries.

The innovation which Zehut has introduced for its primaries is to allow every tenth spot to be determined by vote of Jews in the Diaspora. This is a significant and meaningful innovation, though at this early stage of Zehut’s development it may be seen as a symbolic gesture. Keep in mind, there are a number of Israeli political parties which have no primaries at all, where their list is determined directly by the party leadership. Also, we’re talking here about the primaries, not the government election.

In reviewing Zehut’s decision to assign one tenth of its list to votes from the rest of the world, I thought it highly appropriate that they choose specifically that ratio.

The Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Kiddushin 49b states: “Ten measures of wisdom descended upon the world. Israel took nine of them, and the rest of the world took one.”

Israel and the Israeli electorate do not possess all the wisdom of the world, nor do they have the sole right to an opinion as to the fate of Israel. Jewish Diaspora has a role. That role may be limited and tightly circumscribed, but it is an important and meaningful role nonetheless. To give Diaspora Jewry a disproportional role in Israeli elections would be inappropriate. But to give them no role whatsoever misses the point of the connection and the dependence we have to each other. A tenth of the vote is both sensible and talmudically based.

I look forward to our Diaspora siblings taking advantage of this unique opportunity to participate in a meaningful way in the Israeli political process, and I hope that my Israeli friends will both appreciate and welcome this important, though limited, participation of our brethren in the electoral process.

Shavua Tov,

Ben-Tzion Spitz

Zehut International Candidate for the Knesset

bentzispitz@gmail.com

Running for the Knesset

I’m returning to Israeli politics. This time in a new party and in a new role. I’ve been invited to run in the primaries of the Zehut party to compete for a spot in their Knesset list.
However, there is a new and unique twist. The Zehut party has assigned spots on their list that non-Israeli Jews can vote for, for those who are members of Zehut InternationalThis is the first time in the history of the State of Israel that Jews from the Diaspora are given a voice to determine potential Knesset members. Mind you, it’s not a huge say, but it is a start. Zehut is assigning every tenth spot on its list to a Zehut International candidate. Meaning spots 10, 20 and 30 on their list are reserved for candidates voted on by Zehut International members.
Now for any party, especially a new one, there is always the possibility that they will receive fewer seats than hoped for, if any. Realistically, based on the latest polls, it would be incredibly impressive if even one Zehut International candidate makes it into the Knesset. Nonetheless, that is the spot I’m running for.
I would like to ask of you three things:

1. I generally use this email list for my Torah writings and want to keep it that way. I will create a separate list for my political updates. If you want to be on that list, please let me know.

2. Check out Zehut International. If it’s interesting to you, join, and then vote for me in the primaries. Note: Membership in Israeli political parties is fee-based, unlike in the US or other countries. Consequently membership numbers are often low and each vote carries a lot of weight. Because Zehut International is such a new initiative, its membership is just getting started, and members will have a dis-proportionally large impact on the coming election. 

3. If you’re interested in helping out with my campaign, please let me know.

Thanks,
Ben-Tzion Spitz

On Capital Punishment

On Capital Punishment

 Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society has to take the place of the victim and on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness; it is the one crime in which society has a direct interest. -W. H. Auden

God is very clear on where He stands on the topic of capital punishment. Even though God commands Do Not Murder (as opposed to Do Not Kill) in the Ten Commandments, there is a long list of sins (murder among them) that God prescribes the death penalty for. Already to Noah and his sons God warns: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man.”(Genesis 9:6)

The Rabbis however explained that in most of those cases, it is actually quite rare for the death penalty to be carried out. The guilty party needs to have been given an explicit and detailed warning before committing the sin; there needs to have been two valid witnesses to the sin and a variety of other judicial requirements. No video or circumstantial evidence suffice.

The more bloodthirsty among us may feel that this practical suspension of justice is unfair. How is it that all these sinners and murderers can roam around free and unpunished? The Talmud tells us not to worry. God has his way of inflicting the right punishment on each deserving individual, at the right time and in the right form, if the human court is unable to carry out its duty.

The more merciful among us may feel that punishment for crimes, even one as odious as murder, is unwarranted, and that the death penalty especially has no place in modern civilization.

Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 35:33 explains part of the rationale for the death penalty:

“A human society that does not regard the blood of each of its members as sacred, one that does not take up the cudgel for innocent human blood that has been spilled negates the very purpose for which the forces of earth operate.”

“The hypocrisy can be purged from the land only if the innocent blood that has been spilled, and the human being who has lost his life as a result, finds an advocate in the society that survives him and the murderer is made to atone for his deed by dying at the hands of that advocate, thus losing his own life, which he has forfeited by his crime. For since he has spilled the blood of his fellow man, his own blood no longer has a right to life; he has forfeited his own right to existence. And to tolerate the continued existence of one who knowingly and deliberately murdered a fellow man would be a travesty on the dignity of man, who was made in the image of God.”

May all murderers be brought to justice, whether earthly or divine, and may we see justice reign in the land.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

On the confluence of the Babylonian Talmud’s Tractate Sanhedrin that we have started this week in the Daf Yomi cycle, with Maimonides’ Laws of Sanhedrin that we are in the midst of in the Rambam Yomi cycle – both of which deal with the subject of capital punishment.

Children redeem

Children redeem

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. -James Baldwin

The structure of inheritance of the Land of Israel as stated in the Torah is unusual. It was based on the identity of the men of the generation preceding the exodus out of Egypt, but also dependent on the number of their male descendants that actually entered the land forty years later. That territory was bequeathed to the men that entered the land based on their connection to their grandfathers. However, if we think about it, this retroactively made their dead grandfathers the owners of that land that they never saw nor stepped on, by the mere fact that their grandchildren entered the land.

Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 26:55 highlights this phenomenon and teaches two lessons from this inheritance mechanism.

One, that God’s promises — in this case, of the land of Israel – are so certain to come to pass, that they actually convey a legal right and it transformed the last generation of Jewish slaves in Egypt into the rightful landowners of the yet-to-be-conquered land, able to bequeath it to their grandchildren when they actually enter and take possession of the land.

Two, in Rabbi Hirsch’s own words: “The greatest and most precious acquisitions of parents and grandparents are children and grandchildren that prove themselves loyal and true to their heritage. Such progeny bear witness to the merits of its forebears and atones for their shortcomings.”

The generation of the desert was a particularly difficult generation. They had experienced the Exodus, seen the Ten Plagues upon Egypt, traversed the Parting of the Sea, and had been part of God’s Revelation at Mount Sinai where He declared the Ten Commandments and presented Moses with the entirety of the Torah. Nonetheless, they proved to be a stiff-necked people, creating and worshipping the Golden Calf, complaining and demonstrating consistent lack of faith in God and His precepts. That generation was doomed to die in the desert. They were not worthy of entering the Promised Land.

Nonetheless, even with such a historic disappointment, they must have done something right, for their children did enter and inherit the land. The children were worthy and they had received instruction from their parents.

Rabbi Hirsch elaborates: “… that the sons were given the land only as heirs of their fathers and as bearers of their names, proves that, notwithstanding the error that had cost their fathers the right to enter the land, these same fathers, during thirty-eight years of wandering in the wilderness, had implanted the right spirit in the new generation.”

Whether we like it or not, our children will often emulate and learn from us, for better or worse. However, they can also be a source of redemption, correcting the errors we didn’t have the opportunity, wisdom or strength to correct, but wished to nonetheless.

May we appreciate the positive lessons and model of our parents and may we aim to be worthy of emulation by the next generation.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To new colleagues and friends on the West Coast, and their children.

Well-rounded Blessings

Well-rounded Blessings

The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life. -Albert Einstein

Balak, King of Moab, fearful of the Israeli nation’s proximity to his border, hires the famed sorcerer Bilaam to curse the people of Israel. Bilaam had a reputation for successfully cursing whomever he wished to curse. However, in what turns out to be a highly comic series of events, every time Bilaam opens his mouth to try to curse, and contrary to his own will, God has some of the most beautiful blessings in the entire Torah come forth from his lips.

Balak takes Bilaam to three different locations, with the hope that perhaps the differing vantage points will provide Bilaam a better chance of overcoming the divine insistence on blessing Israel as opposed to letting Bilaam curse them.

Rabbi Hirsch in Numbers Chapters 23 and 24 explains the deeper significance of each of the locations from the point of view of Balak and the three characteristics he sought to attack within Israel:

The first location, the high places of Baal represents the supreme “force of nature” and material prosperity.

The second place, the Field of Seers represents insight, prudence and foresight; intellectual and spiritual powers.

However, after neither of those attacks succeeded, after Balak and Bilaam understood that there was no chink in the armor of Israel in those attributes, they sought one last angle. In Rabbi Hirsch’s words:

“A nation may be blessed with every conceivable material and spiritual gift and still hasten headlong into ruin. Providence may shower upon it all the treasures, all the physical and spiritual wealth that heaven affords, and yet that nation may bear within itself a worm devouring it from within so that all its prosperity will be turned into adversity, and it will ultimately become not only unworthy but also incapable of receiving and retaining God’s blessings. This worm is called immorality; it is the shameless surrender to dissolute sensualism.”

That is what is represented by the third and final location, the Peak of Peor. At that point in time, Bilaam was not able to find anything amiss in the morality of Israel and hence the source of one of the most beautiful phrases that he utters, referring to Israel’s moral purity, and which have been made a part of our daily liturgy: “How good are your tents, Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel.”

Rabbi Hirsch adds that those people and nations that respect and promote the principles for which Israel stands, will themselves reap all the blessings of material abundance and a rich intellectual and spiritual life, based on a clear moral existence.

May we strive for and achieve those goals.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Budapest, a beautiful city, gifted with many blessings.

Old Eternal Law

Old Eternal Law

There is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy. -Henry Miller

The Torah is filled with arcane laws, many of which no longer apply in our day and age. One of the most esoteric and least understood laws is the one about the Red Heifer. The Torah prescribes an unusual ritual that was performed in the times of the Temple.

A completely red cow was taken and slaughtered. The cow was then burned together with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool. The resulting ashes were then mixed with water from a fresh spring source. All of this process was done in a state of extreme ritual purity, yet those involved in the preparation became impure. This water mixture had the unique and exclusive ability to purify anyone who had become ritually contaminated by any contact with the dead.

Rabbi Hirsch on Numbers 19:10 highlights that the Torah’s conclusion to this section is unusual. It states that “…it shall remain for them an everlasting statute.” By concluding this law in such a forceful fashion, the Torah is coming to teach a much deeper lesson than merely redacting a ritual that would not apply for a majority of Jewish history. It is coming to affirm that there is an eternal aspect to the law. The eternal aspect is not necessarily that the formula for purification is reenacted, but rather that the law itself, along with all of the Torah is of divine origin. And hence, that fundamental to our lives is the unflinching belief that the Torah and its laws are of eternal value. There are continuous lessons to be learned, by all people, in all ages, from the Torah. But the first step is an actual belief in the divine and the eternal nature of the Torah.

Rabbi Hirsch states that in this case: “the dictum of the Red Heifer proclaims the principle of atonement and the fundamental tenet that all authority is based on the Law and that all hopes for Israel’s salvation are dependent on Israel’s recognition of the Law as an everlasting norm for Israel.”

May we learn and successfully apply the ancient lessons of the Torah in our own lives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the eventual separation of Religion and State which certain political actions are hastening.