Friday, March 26, 2010

Wars of Choice in Judaism

I hadn't planned on writing another post on Passover until I came across the halachic (Jewish religious law) doctrine of milchemet reshut. A 2002 essay on the web site of a Reform synagogue in Sudbury, MA helpfully explains: "[Milchemet reshut is] an optional war" and "one the king may fight with other nations in order to expand the boundaries of Israel and add to his greatness and reputation." Jacob Chinitz, a Masorti (Conservative) rabbi, calls milchemet reshut a "discretionary war" and "a war of aggression". Chinitz says, "The Torah permits such a war to expand the borders of Eretz Yisrael, to capture captives, or because the King of Israel decides [that] a war is good for the country and for God."

It is the latter aspect of the doctrine--the idea of going to war for "greatness and reputation" or because it "is good for the country and for God"--that called to mind Passover. You see, as pointed out in an earlier post:
The book of Exodus, just before the first passover occurs, records that Pharaoh was ready to let the Israelites leave Egypt "But the Lord stiffened Pharaoh's heart and he would not agree to let them go" (Exod. 10:27). The idea that it is God and not Pharaoh who is hardening Pharaoh's heart is repeated several times throughout the account, including at the beginning (Exod. 7:3). ... It is important to note that God is not perpetrating this mass killing in order to free the Israelites. No, according to scripture, it is merely an opportunity to show off the "marvels" of God as he frees the Israelites (Exod. 11:9).
I don't know if there is any Talmudic commentary that links the massacre in Exodus for the glory of God with the Talmudic concept of milchemet reshut. The modern texts I've read link the concept to Deuteronomy 20, 21:10-14, which is post-Exodus in the narrative. In any case, there seems to be a real congruence between the two. Further, both stand in contrast to the much abused medieval ecclesial "just war" doctrine, which is in turn a departure from the earlier nonviolent resistance of Jesus and the early church.

I'll close with an interesting excerpt from Rabbi Chinitz's article:
How could the Torah permit a discretionary war, how could we entertain such a notion in modern Israel? We have trumpeted the ideal of ein bererah – no choice. All of our wars were forced on us by our enemies, including the current struggle against suicide bombers.

Let me offer some qualifications to this posture of purity. With respect to the war in Lebanon – Operation Peace for Galillee - Menachem Begin said that sometimes a war of yesh bereirah – a war of choice - is better than a war of ein bereirah – a war of no choice. Ein bereira means your back is to the wall, as "And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him" (Genesis 32:24). In a war of yesh bereirah, you take the initiative, limit your casualties and decide when to stop.

Ezer Weizman stated that the Six Day War was not really a matter of saving the nation, but rather an opportunity. Egypt did not attack first. It only closed the Straits of Tiran.
This excerpt suggests, if not demonstrates, the relevance of examining Judaism when considering Zionist foreign and domestic policy. This scrutiny is, of course, unwelcome for those who insist, despite the evidence to the contrary, on the disconnect between Judaism and Zionism, see e.g. "Response to M.", "Readers Respond to 'Israel's Hanukkah Massacre & Judaism's Culture of Death'", and "Will IJAN Challenge Jewish Power?".

Labels: , , , , , ,

Friday, March 19, 2010

In Recognition of Passover

The Jewish holiday of Passover is less than two weeks away and in recognition of this I provide below two excerpts from Dr. John Hartung's illuminating 2005 article "Passover: Caveat Emptor". Hartung is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Neurosurgical Anesthesiology and an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at the State University of New York. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from Harvard University.
The story of Jewish slavery in ancient Egypt has probably served more purposes more effectively than any other partially believed foundation myth in history. Every time the Jerusalem Post or Haaretz publishes a weekend magazine piece written by one of Israel's most prominent archaeologists, explaining that the story of Israelite enslavement in Egypt was a whole-cloth fabrication, a flood of outrage pours over the editor's desk. Some letter-to-the-editor writers even draw analogies to Holocaust denial. Why such a powerful response? Primarily because the myth still serves a variety of purposes.

The fact that the Passover myth, or any accepted myth, has no historical validity makes it all the more revealing. It means that the myth is unencumbered by facts that do not [suit] its purpose. It also means that the extent to which the myth has been effective is the extent to which it has been retrospectively considered prophetic, and thereby validated — a self-fulfilling prophecy perceived as a prophecy fulfilled. ...

According to the [Passover] myth, Jacob's family left Canaan to escape a famine. They arrived in Egypt as impoverished and bedraggled guests of the Pharaoh (Genesis 47:26-27). Several generations later they left Egypt with a standing army of "six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty . . . . every man able to go forth to war" (Numbers 1:45-46). Logistical support included "very many cattle, both flocks and herds" (Exodus 12:38), and having gained the trust of their Egyptian neighbours, financing included several thousand kilograms of "borrowed" gold and silver (Exodus 38:24-25).

The Israelites were able to leave Egypt with so much wealth and power because their god "passed over" his people's houses when he killed all Egyptian firstborn children (Exodus 12:27). To this day, as instructed (Exodus 12:11-14), Judaism celebrates these fabled events as Passover.

Can you imagine the outrage that would be rightfully felt today — rightfully felt but eventually elicited, solicited, embellished, organized, manipulated, and incessantly propagandized to promote Zionist objectives through books, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, film, show trial litigation and tax-payer supported museums — if some group of eighteen to twenty million people annually celebrated a tale of the killing of all firstborn Jewish children as a "sport" of their god? [notes omitted]

See also:

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 14, 2010

AA Palestine Film Festival Violates Palestinian Boycott

Last June, in "Which Side Are You On?" I wrote, "There's an old labor song by Florence Reece called 'Which Side Are You On?' Sometimes self-styled Palestinian solidarity activists bring this tune to mind." Today brings the sad news that the organizers of the recently concluded Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival have violated both the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott against Israel and the 2005 Palestinian call for "broad boycotts ... against Israel" by showing an Israeli film, Ajami.

In an Electronic Intifada interview with Jimmy Johnson entitled "Education and resistance at the Ann Arbor Palestine film fest" one of the festival's organizers, Hena Ashraf, is quoted characterizing the festival as combining her interest in film and Palestine solidarity activism. Ashraf says, "Film, and more broadly, media, can be used as a means to educate, but also unfortunately to miseducate. Mainstream media outlets have often presented gross stereotypes of Palestinians and biased misinformation." In the case of Ajami, it appears that Ashraf and her colleagues have not only violated the boycotts but if Raja Shehadeh, founder of the Palestinian human rights organization, Al-Haq, is to be believed they are also guilty of presenting "gross stereotypes of Palestinians and biased misinformation."

Shehadeh says:
[The world of Ajami is] a city of drive-by shootings, drugs, and racketeering, where men, young and old, are shot or stabbed to death on the slightest provocation and shady sheikhs in Arab dress sort out the blood money in what is supposed to pass as tribal justice. ... the unrelieved blood-letting punctuated only by moments of love and loyalty to family and friends leaves us in no doubt that the Jewish citizens of Israel exist in a jungle infested by bloodthirsty, uncivilized Arabs who live inside and outside its borders exactly as Israeli propagandists claim. If Israel is to make it, the story goes, this tiny bastion of civilization has no choice but to remain militarized and on full alert.
To return to the boycott issue, last month Hannah Brown touted Ajami in the Jerusalem Post as "a triumph for Israel in a year in which prominent industry figures called for a boycott of a program of Israeli films at the Toronto Film Festival last fall." She also noted, "It received some of its funding from the Israel Film Fund, which is government-supported." On Oscar night, responding to Ajami co-director Scandar Copti's criticism of Israel, Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan told a Jewish Journal blogger: "Tomorrow no one will remember what [Copti] said ... They’ll remember that this is an Israeli movie and that it will help make Israel a little stronger by reinforcing the relationship between Israel and Hollywood."

The same article also says:
"The film represents Israel exactly," said Israeli-American choreographer Barak Marshall. "It touches on almost all of the issues we face in Israeli society and it shows how broad the public debate is; that someone who is from Israel can negate his very connection to the state shows how wonderfully strong and alive our political culture is."

For Dayan, art that reflects a dynamic Israeli society and its status as a pluralistic democracy is an essential strength of statehood.
The issue of why Zionists like Ajami is also addressed here and in the Palestine Chronicle but the matter of why self-styled Palestine solidarity activists like Ashraf and her colleagues promote the film is another matter. Is it ignorance? Arrogance? Elitism? Who knows?

Labels: , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?