Category Archives: Jewish Law (Halacha)

How I Became an Enemy of the Race

(Note: This article, a polemic whose original and pretentious name was “Apologia pro fide sui”, was published in December 2006 in Nana News, after an Orthodox commentator charged me with anti-Semitism. He replied, and I replied again – I plan to translate the second reply later.)

(For Dena Bugel-Shunra)

Ariel Lavi, who writes Parshat Ha’Shavua columns in these pages – caveat: I edited most of them – wrote yesterday a somewhat confused and emotional column, in which he blamed of anti-Semitism. And that’s about it. Even though he wrote that “the full refuting for Gurvitz’s claims could be detailed here”, and even though he was offered a podium precisely for that purpose, Ariel has, lo and behold, declined to do so.

I was skeptical whether the strange mishmash written by a person who supposed, for some reason, that the [Jewish] Hellenizers were an obstacle in the war against, err, the Romans, and who has in the past claimed that Plato learned his wisdom from the Hebrew prophets, actually merits a reply. Normally, I’d say no; but, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to a polemic with the opponent you have, not the one you’d wish for.

Anti-Semitism? Bullshit

Lavi’s first accusation is that I am anti-Semitic. Crying anti-Semitism has become, of late, the ultimate excuse for dodging debate on troublesome ideas. There’s no point in arguing with an anti-Semitic. I guess I got off lightly: Lavi did not claim I’m a holocaust-denier.

The accusation is false, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But first, it should be noted that the labeling of someone as anti-Semite is not a refutation; were I to consider all Jews the descendents of apes and pigs, and to hold decidedly unkosher debauched feasts on Yom Kippur which happened to be a Saturday, while listening to Wagnerian operas – that would still say nothing about the value of my arguments, and would not refute them.

Anti-Semitism is the claim that all Jews are guilty of something. Classical, which is to say Christian, anti-Semitism was of the opinion that all Jews are eternally, mystically, guilty of the murder of the son of God – a guilt which could only be expiated through the waters of baptism. Modern anti-Semites claimed that Jews are, by nature and without power of change, loathsome creatures.

I reject with disdain the claim that a “set nature” can be decided for over 13 million people, different in one another by ethnicity, character, education, social position and residence. Anti-Semitism is yet another prejudice, another sub-category of the disease which is xenophobia. I believe that the word “Jew” has only religious significance: a Jew is someone who accepts a certain set of beliefs.

I find that set of beliefs to be detestable – more on that in a minute – but it’s interesting to look and see how Lavi sees things. The results may be interesting.

Reverse Anti-Semitism

According to Lavi, the Jewish people is entrusted with a heavy burden of “Tikkun Olam”, fixing the world. It is not, by any means, a new concept, and it is brought ad absurdum by Jewish law: there is a correct Jewish way to lace your shoes, and a Jew who deviates from it is harming Tikkun Olam. The Kaballah, which lurks like a malignant tumor behind many Jewish customs, whispers that incorrect lacing of the shoe creates demons.

Lavi hastens to enlist me, due to my mother’s lineage, in the ranks of his devil-banishing legion. He believes I have no choice but to play the part he and the rabbis set for me in their divine farce. And, since I refuse, he is left with no option but declaring me a race traitor.

Which is to say that, according to Lavi, my function in life is set by my blood. When I renounce the part others want me to play, he decides that my behavior is irrational and is only intended to provide me with excuses. By the same logic, the Venerable Peter – one of the most influential churchmen in the Middle Ages – reached the conclusion that Jews are irrational creatures: they have, after all, rejected by various excuses the self-evident (according to Peter’s thinking) truth of the Gospel, and by so doing denied their divinely-allotted part.

So who, precisely, is the anti-Semite around here? I report, you decide. Does it mean I have no issues with Judaism – and let us be exact: Judaism and not Jews? Not at all. But it requires an explanation, and it won’t be short.

A Religion suffering from PTSD

The historical development of Jewish thought is the result of a dreadful paradox: Jews believed they were the chose people, but, how should I put it, God was on the side of the Roman legions. The Temple, which was the center of Jewish life, was destroyed in 70 AD. The defenders of the Temple were betting Jehova won’t let His name be besmirched. They were wrong.

And as if to add insult to injury, a small and cheeky cult which broke the tribal limits and believed God has expiated the Original Sin, by sacrificing himself for the sins of the world, has taken over the Known World. The majority of Jews, with no need for pogroms or persecution, went over to Christianity; within a century after “the realm turned heretic”, St. Jerome could crow that “Not one in ten remains of Judea”.

The trauma among the survivors was horrible. It is expressed in the anti-Christian curse uttered by Orthodox Jews three times a day unto this day: “Let the heretics be deprived of hope…”. The heretics are the Christians. During the Middle Ages, under pressure of censorship, the curse was changed minutely – Minim turned to Malshinim­ – and is now ostensibly directed at snitches. Pious Jews are familiar with this story.

Ever since then, Judaism was hanging between two polar points: the proper status of Jews facing their actual status. The pressure was particularly jagged in Ashkenaz – western and northren Europe – where Jews sometimes lived, literally, under the cross: the Jewish quarter was often built around the cathedral.

The result was a wild hatred, unlimited because it was powerless, to the people among whom the Jews lived. In one vengeance hymn the word “blood” appeared 77 times. (And this, as far as we can tell, is also the cause of the Blood Libel. The Christians knew the Jews hated them, and they made a logical deduction: the Jews hate us so much, they are willing to murder their own children so they won’t become Christians; what, then, shall they do with our children?).

This relationship became more and more poisoned as time passed. And as if that wasn’t enough, Judaism kept bleeding: in a desperate attempt to circle the wagons, it became anti-intellectual. The Jewish world closed more and more, and the very act of peeking outside became an offense. The philosophical writings of Maimonides were handed over to the inquisition for burning in 1232, and that was a price the rabbis were willing to pay in order to prevent Ashkenazi Jews from learning of the world beyond the walls. This turning inwards, towards the Talmud page, beget degeneracy.

And degeneracy, among a people accustomed to a high level of critical culture, led to escape – assimilation. During the Renaissance, Judaism was already an empty shell; Jews had nothing to contribute to the most stirring period in the history of the western world. Nothing – except the curse of the Kabballah, for which it was its hour of greatness; night is darkest just before dawn. The last crisis came when Orthodox Judaism, losing its wits under the waves of Enlightenment which swept the Middle Ages away, has declared that “the new is forbidden by the Torah”.

And when that happened, anyone who could, anyone with sense, fled. The 19th century saw the demolition of the legal walls between Jews and Christians, and almost any thinker of importance made the short, odious trip to the baptismal font – or merely declared himself an atheist. Once more, not one in ten was left in Judea.

Judaism reached the 19th century as a wreck. Like Islam, it crashed on modernism. It dragged a poisoned baggage with it to the century of the Enlightenment: Kill the best of the gentiles, smash the brains of the best serpent, all non-Jewish women are prostitutes, you are called man and they are not, it’s a law that Esau hates Jacob. The world outside the ghetto – and the ghetto, it should be remembered, was almost always the result of Jewish choice – was so scary.

Internal Tension and its Results

The Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam mentioned by Lavi brought about a significant branching: A large number of Jews decided, during that terrible and beautiful century of Enlightenment, to indeed fix the world. They became revolutionaries and communists and reformers. Many of the descendants of the persecuted decided no one should be persecuted any longer. They were prominent in the political, literary and scientific movements – in a time when it was taken as dogma that science will save humanity – with no proportion to their number in the general populace.

The century of Enlightenment, between the end of the Napoleon Wars and the First World War, was also the century of the Jews. Marx, Einstein, Freud, and many others – by breaking the world into which they were born, they created the world in which we live today.

(And some of them, indeed, when chasing the highest good, when love of humanity overcame love of man, when they decided to demolish the old world to its foundations, became the worst of killers. Trotsky, Kaganevich, Frenkel, Yagoda – these are names no longer mentioned).

But Tikkun Olam has two versions, and while the Enlightenment Jews chose fixing the world, and accordingly became more and more distant from Judaism, those left behind, those who kept the fire-spitting ember of Talmud and lawgivers, Kabbalah and legends, saw Tikkun Olam as something entirely different: as the restoration of things as they should be – the control of others by Jews, the Messianic times according to Maimonides. They had no interest in the world, but they had one hell of a grudge against it.

And Zionism, who created this country, was torn between these two poles. Whose heart will not bleed at Shaul Tscharnikhovski’s roar, “My sword! Where is my sword!” – when he knows well there is no sword? And, when he dreams – lying prostate before the statue of Apollo – about “the conquerors of Canaan by storm” – only someone who does not know oppression and occupation will mock the feelings of the oppressed. But Tscharnikhovski was also capable of singing the praises of human brotherhood; few Zionist could do likewise.

Yet following the Uganda Debate, after Zionism has given up its ambition of a normal state, first and foremost a shelter, when it became addicted to the bad old necromancy of messianism, based on mystical “Eretz Israel” – then the tension was discharged. Zionism became the refuge of those who chose to see the concept of “chosen people” as Herrenfolk. This attitude is not new; contrary to the claims of the Zionist left, it did not spring into being following the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Ehad Ha’Am, visiting Palestine in the 1900s, complained that the “pioneers” were treating the locals – who may not have occupied the place by storm, but did live in it for centuries – abominably. Zionism became a magnet for the racist among the Jews.

By thy Sword Shall thou Live

And so, when we look at the list of Nobel Prize winners, note the large number of Jews and the pitiful number of Israelis – even though Israel contains almost half of the world’s Jewry; when we see the achievements of American and British Jewry, and compare it to the lamentable state in Israel; when we stare into this mirror, we see, staring back, the difference between implementing Tikkun Olam as responsibility for the world, and Tikkun Olam as a wild, desperate quest of vengeance against history.

There are millions of people in Israel, whose soul is still that of the refugee, and whose minds are consumed by that old hatred, that 2,000-years old hatred, against the world. Such a situation will always be loaded – and in Israel we have given those people, who credo is “the whole world is arrayed against us”, advanced weaponry. Isolationist, Orthodox, human-hating Judaism is the variant that reigns in Israel.

And it has some frightening parallels with the Nazi movement. The attitude of Nazis towards homosexuals, women, and foreigners is dangerously similar to that of Orthodox Judaism towards them – a religion which has never abolished slavery, whose males pray daily that they were born neither woman nor slaves, whose laws do not punish the Jew who kills the gentiles, whose Chief Military Rabbi has concluded a POW must not be given medical treatment, unless it brings about some intelligence benefit, or there’s fear that his death will cause harm to Israelis.

Nazism was an attempt to cancel out modernism, to leap backwards to an imagined Middle Ages – much more violent than the real one was; and all of the faculties of Orthodox Judaism are employed in an attempt to avoid confronting the modern world, a desperate attempt of flight from recognizing that its basic thesis – that the Jewish male is the center of the world, the pinnacle of creation, above the inert, the plant, the animal and man – has crumbled 200 years ago.

But this is probably too much history for a person who keeps mixing the Greeks and Romans – hey, what’s the difference, they’ve both persecuted Jews – and way too much philosophy for a person who still believes, for reasons beyond human ken, that the Greeks worshipped statues. This demands too much thinking. Better call it anti-Semitism.

Because, as everyone knows, there is no point in arguing with anti-Semites. There’s nothing to argue about. What a nice, easy solution.

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An illicit love affair

I am not a Christian.

Despite the lack of evidence, I am willing to accept that a radical Jewish rabbi learned a lesson from a foreign woman, and that he extended Hillel’s Golden Rule to the Gentiles as well; that he said that wondrous sentence, “let he among you who is free of sin, cast the first stone”, and that he told the “sinning woman” just “go and sin no more”; that he made a point of eating with the castaways, those people who were kicked away by right-thinking society: the sinners, the tax-collectors, the whores; that he preached against the corrupt Jewish leadership of the time; that he was betrayed and crucified by one of the worst Roman governors of Judea; and I’ll accept that last, terrible call, “My God, My God – why has thou forsaken me” – and that’s it. No demons rushing into swine, no bread and fish, no walking on the water; certainly not a return from the dead, absolutely not him being “Lamb of God, who carries the sins of the world”.

I am well-acquainted with the origins of Christianity. I know, as an atheist, that nothing that relies on the Jewish bible can be true, since it is false from beginning to end – especially visions of revenge visited upon the gentiles in the Book of the Apocalypse, which relies on that late forgery, the Book of Daniel. As a rational person, I reject Christianity alongside Judaism.

But.

Shulamit Aloni, a bitter and cynical goddess was asked once, in one of those holiday questionnaires, what is the difference between Judaism and Christianity, and she fired away: “The difference is that Christianity has mercy, and Judaism does not”. Spot on.

Judaism is based on the concept that there is a terrible God: Jealous, vengeful, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations, and that he has set before his children – Jews, naturally – a set of commandments which no person can fulfill (the classic, of course, is “thou shall not covet”; let’s see you managing full compliance even to the Ten Commandments).  And since, as the Gnostics knew, it’s hard to see the difference between the Jewish God and the Devil even on a lineup, a large part of the Jewish religion – the whole of Leviticus, for starters – was dedicated to methods of appeasing the heavenly psycho through the slaughter of cattle and other animals.

In return, the believers of Jehova were left with a sense of superiority over the people among which they lived, who were not blessed with the commandment of checking the minutae of grasshoppers (prior to cooking them). Historiography common among the faithful revolves around the concept that “we did evil in the eyes of Jehova”, and therefore we must increase the finesse in which we treat the commandments, culminating in the Orthodox madness of our days, which honestly and seriously believes that there is a divine entity which will throw a person into fire for eternity, only because that person tore a piece of toilet paper during the last day of the week.

The Christian concept is a mirror image. It says God does not want you to obey the commandments, which is impossible for humans anyway, but their surrender and love. Understand that God loves you; love him back; give up your pride, your belief that the world is yours to conquer; accept your brothers, and your enemies; understand that they, too, are erring sinners, that evil is terror and weakness projected outwards; forgive them, for they know not what they do – and God will forgive you, too. Because you are human and erring and that’s how you were made and that’s the nature of the Valley of the Shadow of Death which is the world, and in the end you will return home.

And if Jesus still represents judgment and law, then since the 4th century a duality develops within Christianity, as the figure of Mary becomes more important and independent. Mary, the suffering mother, becomes a figure protecting all human beings, a “great mother” in every sense. She becomes a conduit of intercession for grace; the popular prayer “Ave, Maria” ends with “and please pray for us in our hour of death”. The image of Jesus, which Byzantine art kept portraying as the horrifying judge of the day of judgment, has been replaced – both in the East and the West – in that of a baby, protected by his mother. Mary becomes the defender of the common sinner. Jesus, for obvious reason, never materializes in the Middle Ages; but his mother is present, here there and everywhere, emanating grace and mercy wherever she appears. Often, she is the particular patron of criminal women, such as a mother blamed for smothering her baby son to death – a very common crime in the Middle Ages.

In a slow, persistent process, Mary was transformed from a cameo character to a central one; believers start referring to her as the Queen of Heaven, a staggering title, when you remember that in the Old Testament the “queen of heaven” is a foreign goddess, quite possibly Anat/Astarte.

The Middle Ages saw the worship of Mary reach its zenith. In the cathedral of Florence, he statue shows her holding Jesus in one hand and a scepter in the other. This has reached the point where the church has accepted – in the 19th century – the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, which claims that Mary herself, not just her progeny, was born free of sin; and stubborn rumors claimed Pope John Paul II – a native of Poland, where Marianism is a force to be reckoned with – has considered, as his final act, declaring Mary as a co-redeemer,  which is to say, not just one who plead for mercy at the feet of her judging son, but rather as one who can grant mercy of her own power. To a large measure, the mother has taken the place of the father in the Trinity.

Which may be what I am looking for.

*           *            *

My affair with Catholicism – not the watered-down Protestant version of Christianity – began in my last year in the Yeshiva. I was confused. I knew I am no longer a Jew – I mean, I did not know yet that the texts were forged, was not yet familiar with the depth of its horrors as I am today, but…

Let’s start anew. In 1984 Martin Meir Kahane was elected to the Knesset. His election was followed by a wave of ultra-nationalism among the Nationalist Jews, a wave which struck my Yeshiva, Nekhalim, particularly badly. At about the same time, the (first) Jewish Underground was exposed; the feeling was that these men, who murdered several men and plotted the death of hundreds, suffered injustice by being arrested at all. During the following year, when David Ben Shimol fired a LAW rocket at a bus full of Palestinians, the evening lessons at the Yeshiva had to be postponed so that student will have time enough to dance. I looked at that circle from aside.

All sorts of rabbis came to us, especially on Saturdays, and started talking about Din Rodef  (Law of the Pursuer, which allows killing a potential murderer to prevent the murder) and Lo Techanem (which orders that gentiles should be allowed to live in Eretz Israel, should be shown any tolerance, and should not be praised), and other such humanistic commandments. Following one of those sermons, my class’s rabbi – an Ultra-Orthodox, not a National Jew – called us together and, agitated,  tore that sermon apart. No, he said, no: Din Rodef is not a license to kill. If someone fired at you and then escaped, or dropped his weapon, he is no longer a pursuer. He was shaking with anger and he understood young killers were being educated there and I looked at him and at my classmates and the smirks they were trying to conceal. On Saturdays, they sang “may the mosque blow up” to the tune of “may the temple be built”.

Some Kahane books were moving around, semi-clandestinely – the head of the yeshiva, the convicted criminal Yossef Ba-Gad, has forbidden their distribution, saying that “Kahane is right, but he’s insane” –  and getting one was not particularly hard.  I read it, became convinced that Kahane was deeply rooted in Jewish law, and decided I needed a ticket out, because I had no intention of becoming a Judeo-Nazi. And that’s it: the principled rejection of Judaism came before my atheism.

I was young and confused, which did not sit well in an atmosphere of young and fixated. There were debated which turned into fight. There was my boarding school roommate, who was just born back to the worst possible side – Kabbalah. He didn’t give us time to sleep with his arguments. Just to shut him up, I was dragged into atheistic devil-advocate arguments: how do you even know there is a God, not to mention the Catapult of Souls?

The rabbis and the instruction took notice. I spent much of the 11th and 12th grade in what was termed “High yeshiva” – they send you to a yeshiva which teaches nothing but religious studies. But I was mostly left alone in those places, which allowed me much time to read. And one day, when I was down and out in a Jerusalem religious institute, I decided it was time to taste the most forbidden fruit.

Jerusalem has plenty of churches. After their dwellers overcame their initial fear of the strange Israeli who wants to hear what they have to say – a perfectly justified fear, given the harassment Christians routinely suffer in Jerusalem – they were happy to talk to me. I bought a copy of the New Testament. I spent two charming evening in the Abbey of the Dormition. A group of elderly German monks and one former Jew, they in their robes and me in my yeshiva boy clothes, praying in Latin; it must have been a strange sight.

And the name “Mary” kept cropping up. Needless to say, she was not part of my formal education, and the new Testament says very little about her. I listened to them and they to me. I did not understand, but they explained, the division between law and mercy Paul made so early.

On one of those two nights, a young Catholic woman, from Germany, joined us. She did not sit with us; she sat separately. But I was used to that and at the time it raised no questions.

And, of course, the music, the solemnity, the incense, the aesthetics.

I was careless, and after several meetings my class rabbi informed I was seen moving around in churches, and ordered me to get back in line. I was frightened; I had no idea I was followed. In a very rash act, I went back to the church and they prayed for me. But, at that stage – as I told my roommate – I was convinced Christianity contained beauty Judaism lacked, but I did not believe it.

About a month afterwards, the school year was over. I could not return home with the New Testament. I left it in my closet; as a rule, anything left in the closets once we’ve left the rooms would be thrown away. I did not want to throw the book away myself.

A classmate has decided, for reasons known only to him, to dig around in my closet. He found the book. An unholy mess broke out. My mass communication teacher, Michael Tuchfeld, told me “I don’t see why they deal with this nonsense. It’s clear, after all, the problem is your atheism”.

It was clear. But did not stop them from burning the book.

*       *        *        *        *

And that’s what left: A taste of something beautiful yet false, something inviting a surrender which will not come, something which once promised grace and understanding in what looked like an endless period of judgment. A Bavarian old man explaining to you how to pronounce Latin, a Great Mother which is always there and an understanding God, which acknowledge your mistakes and will pardon them, if only you’d surrender, give up your rational, thinking part, and come into that great, false beauty.

But I can’t come. I can only look at others experiencing it with desire, and jealousy – from afar.

(published today, in the “The True and Shocking Story of” Hebrew Blog. Translation: Yossi Gurvitz) 

 

Patriot of a Non-Existing Country

We have the right to hate Germany, because we love it. When speaking of Germany, we should be taken into account: we, Communists, young socialists, pacifists, freedom-lover of all kinds… How easy it is to pretend as Germany is composed only of the national associations. Germany is a divided country. We are part of It”.

Kurt Tuchlosky, 1929 (*)

 

 

An ironic piece was published this week (**) in Ha’aretz: the State of Israel, in response to an appeal to the Supreme Court, objects to have the word “Israeli” appear under the “nationality” clause of the Israeli Identity Card (which all Israelis must carry). The attempt to have the Court recognize an Israeli nationality, claims the State, is undermining the State of Israel.

 

It is doubtful whether there is any news item which so clearly articulates the problem of “two nations in thy womb”, the internal struggle over Israel’s soul. The appellants – who include such figures as Shulamit Aloni, Uri Avneri and Yehoshua Sobol – claim that the Ministry of the Interior recognizes 135 different nations. It recognizes the mighty Assyrian empire, the stubborn, hoary Samaritan tribe, and the remote Georgians. It refuses to recognize only one nation: the Israeli nation.

 

The ensuing struggle today in the Supreme Court is part of the struggle for the face, soul and identity of Israel. Our politics are so bitter because they are politics of identity, and our bitterness comes from fighting over what sort of country we should strive for. To put it another way, we are embittered over the question “who is a patriot.”

 

The right-wing readers of my columns have made it a habit to impugn my patriotism. And, indeed, according to their way thinking I am no patriot. If their patriotism means nothing but xenophobia, the controlling of another people, the justification of the killing of anyone who was not circumcised at the age of eight days, the limiting of civil rights according to ethnicity, and using the injustice visited upon the Jews as a pretext for injustice by Jews – then I should not be called a patriot. Moreover, I believe that such a country forfeits its right to exist. The world already has too many ethnocraties as it is. I strive towards a Civil State, what is called here, with contempt, “a country of all its citizens”, a distant dream in contemporary Israel.

 

I think ethnic countries, or rather countries whose perception of nationality relies ultimately on ethnicity, were and remain the main source of suffering in the world. All too often, religion gets entwined with ethnicity: thus, a loyal Frenchman (a right-winger, of course) was considered to be a Catholic one; thus, the Croats were led by Catholic priests, and Russian-Orthodox priests served as inciters for ethnic cleansing in Serbia; thus the national struggle in Afghanistan, the struggle against the Soviet invaders, got mixed up with religion – and became a struggle against the atheist invaders.

 

So is the case in Israel, as Judaism or some of its mutations (most commonly the Sect of the Battle Uniform, which demands that anyone who served in the IDF is a Jew or should be considered as such), lead it towards ultra-nationalism, away from the Civil State. The Ministry of the Interior chose sides and stands by religion: it will not recognize the Israeli nationality. Such recognition means that a person may be defined by some other characteristic than his religion, that a community may be formed based on the fact that its members hold the same principles, instead of the same religious tenets or ethnic background.

 

The Declaration of Independence stands by the supporters of civil state: it guarantees equal rights to all who live in the country, a promise that clashes with the concept of “a Jewish and democratic country”. A country cannot be both Jewish and democratic. A “Jewish and democratic country” is democratic to its Jews and Jewish for the rest of its residents.

 

The supporters of the ethnic state point, correctly, to the fact that the writers of the Declaration of Independence never intended to apply it. The Founders wanted an ethnic state, and carried out a wide ethnic cleansing to get it. The Declaration was written so that they would have something to wave at the UN, which had just then published the Declaration of Human Rights.

 

And that’s what the fight is about: Is there an Israeli nation, or are there only Jews and Arab ethnicities; shall we have a partnership, or shall we stand, forever, on the brink of an ethnic-cleaning war; will the willful hatred of humanity, or will universalism – both rooted in Judaism – portray the visage of the country. It is the question whether the Declaration of Independence is a fundamental document or a mere camouflage rag.

 

Many in the left find it hard, in the last few years, to love their country. Their tendency is to leave patriotism for the right-wingers to appropriate. It is hard, but necessary, to hate our country, because we love it; to hate its current visage, and to strive to change it.

 

How easy it is to pretend, as if Israel is composed of only the Likud Center and the Settlers. When speaking of Israel, we should also be taken into account: we, universalists, humanists, opponents of militarism, socialists, anarchists, freedom-lovers of all kinds. Israel is a divided country; we are part of it.

 

(Written and published in Nana News, as a weekly “Decline of the Republic” column, on 23 May 2004. Translated into English by Yossi Gurvitz).

 

(*) I do not read German – the text is a translation of a translation from German to Hebrew.

(**) That was in May 2004. As far as I know, the appeal is still being deliberated bu the Court.

Don’t steal, the government hates competition; The wave of censorship; The civil marriage bluff; The list of shame – four comments on the situation.

Israbluff: The Chief Rabbi – the one of the kidnap and assault, not the one of the bribery and molestation – surely laughed all the way to the office, if he bothered to get there at all. The “breakthrough” he agreed on with Minister of Justice Friedman, according to which those who are not a part of any millet will be allowed to marry each other in a civil ceremony, only served to strengthen him.

When the Rabbinate allows civil marriage “only to those forbidden from being married by the rabbinate” it gives up nothing. Quite the opposite. It absolves itself of a headache. And the Government of Israel? It made another racist step to preserve the Jewish endogamy – the fear of “blood mixing”. Jews, everybody knows, should only marry Jews. And the latest decision staves off any concern that a kosher Jewish woman might marry some “irreligious”. The Rabbinate now has a wonderful excuse for preventing the marriage. Let the uncircumcised marry one of his own. Now that there is a “solution”, the danger of mixed marriages is dramatically reduced.

It is no coincidence that this decision bears a close resemblance to the way converts and born-again Jews are treated in orthodox and ultra-orthodox societies: they are asked to marry their own. Otherwise murmurs ensue, and occasionally a little violence. And since we are a Jewish state – i.e. misanthropic – there are now in Israel 300,000 more people, who are semi-officially defined as having lesser rights. It is very clear why Amar agreed to that. It is completely unclear why Friedman agreed to it. Perhaps he was too busy scheming against Beinisch.

Third time a charm: A strange wave is sweeping through the Knesset recently, as it tries to censor left and right. There was bill 892, by Yehiel “brain in the warehouse” Hazan, which fell through; Minister of Communications Atias proposed a slightly different version of it; Collette Avital proposed the hideously moronic proposal to not only ban the use of holocaust symbols in debates, but also to incarcerate those who do; and all were outdone by that match made in moronic heaven, Yuval Steinitz and Danny Yatom.

These two clowns proposed a bill that bans publication of pictures taken in public without the consent of all concerned. In one swift blow they destroyed journalistic photography in Israel, to say nothing of televised news, since, technically, everyone covering a demonstration will need the approval of all those present in order to release the pictures or video. Not to mention that if one photographs a policeman brutalizing a demonstrator – not a rare event in these places – then technically, the officer can claim that the photograph offends him (which is true enough) and prevent its publication.

Moreover, this idiotic bill destroys not only journalistic photography, but photography as a whole. If I walk down the street, and see someone doing something interesting or wearing a unique expression, I would not be able to post the picture to Flickr without approval of the man himself, and anyone else in the frame. Photographers will be asked to focus on flowers from now on.

It is unclear what Yuval “launching missiles to God” Steinitz and Danny “Whistling ping pong balls” Yatom wanted to achieve with this bill. After all it is unlikely, I hope, that this stupid proposal will survive a preliminary reading. So what is the point? What is it good for.

No one may break the law, except the government: I only noticed this late – It so happens that the government insists it has a right to employ companies violating labor laws. I would have called it new and shocking, hadn’t the government tried to pass an amendment to the minimum wage law at Nov. 2003, that will make it the only employer exempt from it.

And the situation is no better when the government isn’t the felon: Only ten violations of the minimum wage law where prosecuted at 2006, according to Ha’aretz reporter Ruthi Sinai. That same year, a routine investigation by the ministry of industry, trade and labor showed that 92% of employers violate labor laws. This is what happens when there are exactly 22 inspectors for all the country’s employers.

The ministry of finance opposes adding inspectors, and not without reason. When they speak of “a free market”, they mean the freedom of action of the 19 families. The rest have the freedom to sleep under the bridge, with the ministry of finance cutting their leeway every year. American style capitalism, third world level conception of human rights – that is probably a concoction unique to Israel.

The list of shame: The list of MKs who voted for the JNF law has been published. 16 of them are from the Kadima party, the center of all centers. Three Gil MKs, which is officially a part of Kadima, supported it as well. I would say that such a strong support from the ruling party practically guarantees it will be made into law.

The most bitter disappointment is Ami Ayalon, one of the two Labor MKs who supported the bill (the other being Shalom Simhon, the Moshavim representative). Pity, I had high hopes of him. It seems like Meretz is the only option left, alas. They don’t even have a branch in Petach Tikva.

(This was posted on Friends of George on July 20 2007, and was kindly translated by Yair Mahalalel).

The Supports of Enslavement

Anyone seeking their daily dose of primitive opinion in the news, has long since discovered they can count on Member of Knesset Nissim Ze’ev (of Shas, naturally). And indeed, the man who brought us the “homoists” slur, does not let us down. In an article he wrote this week about the Katsav scandal he mentioned the fact that under Halacha – Jewish law – not one of the women complaining about his sexual misconduct was raped. This, he explains, is due to the fact that not one of them screamed. And anyone who did not scream, was not raped, and quite possibly may have enjoyed herself.

Ze’ev – who has gone on the record about violence against women “not being a catastrophe” – is not your run of the mill ignoramus. Moreover, he is one of the people who will determine if Katsav will be indicted. All talk of charging Katsav with criminal behavior are hot air, because there is no legal possibility of indicting him while he is in office. The most that could happen would be that the Attorney General would tell the Knesset that he feels an indictment should be made. Only than can the Knesset ask itself if it is appropriate to depose the president, and the indictment stage can be reached only if ninety members of Knesset support this. This is a level of support that has no equivalent in Israel’s code of law.

In other words, Katsav needs only thirty-one Members of Knesset to vote against his deposition, or even to abstain or just fail to show up at the plenum. Ze’ev, and the other members of Shas, are already in his pocket. He needs another twenty votes, and he will find them. We are used to hearing Katsav’s retinue of advocates – his brother, his attorneys, his mother – and they are not truly harmful. It is hardly to be expected in Israel, which is a country of tribal sentiment, that a brother would denounce his own brother. The attorneys are on his payroll – they would have represented the complainants just as happily, with just as much ardor.

But Katsav has rather a lot of supporters. Surveys show them to include about one third of the population. These supporters are the truly repulsive factor.

Sukkot Surprise

When Katsav declared that he would open his hospitality tabernacle as usual, during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, snorts and snickers resounded among the press. They guessed that the tabernacle would be attended only by Katsav, his relatives and investigators, and the press. Much to their surprise, the crowd was 3,000 strong that day. Katsav felt rightly that he has popular support.

So who came to visit him? The descriptions are unpleasant, but unmistakable. Most of the attendants were older men; a crushing majority wore orthodox yarmulka’s or were “traditional”; most of them were from the ethnic groups deriving from Arab countries. In other words, groups whose culture sees the liberated woman as a distorted Western idea.

And they constitute – according to surveys – about one third of the Israeli public. They think that “all women are sluts”. They believe – as Ze’ev does – in the values of the seventh century BCE, and that if a woman doesn’t scream, she is not being raped. They see no problem in sexual relationships between an employer and employee, and they do not understand (or pretend not to understand) why a woman might prefer not to speak up about being raped.

They, and people like them, are that reason.

A Woman Is Purchased In Three Ways

The perception that women have equal rights is a modern one, and it was attained through struggle and spilled blood. Emily Davidson leapt before the king of Britain’s horse in the 1913 Derby, demanding women’s suffrage. She was trampled and died, but the right for which she gave her life was partially attained only five years thereafter, and fully attained fifteen years after that. It seems that human struggles succeed only if they are attended by human sacrifice.

But the years before Davidson’s sacrifice and their toxic perceptions are effective to this day. Aristotle thought that a woman has only half the soul of a man, as does a slave; this understanding is enshrined to this day in the Jewish morning prayers: “blessed is He who did not make me a woman” and “blessed is He who did not make me a slave”.

Although the ancient Greeks and Romans saw women to be independent – if limited – entities, who could not (for example) be married off against their will, the Jews, like other oriental nations, saw woman as property.

“A woman is purchased in three ways: by coin, by deed, and by intercourse” states the Talmud (Kidushin, I:1). Purchased: the woman is a chattel – and, indeed, the same chapter deals with the purchase of cattle. Initially she is her father’s chattel, and he is entitled by Halachic law to sell her into slavery; thereafter she is the chattel of her husband. “Women have light minds,” the Talmudic decree echoed through the generations. “A person who teaches his daughter the Torah is deemed to have taught her pointlessness”. Bang. There went women’s education.

Disastrously, the Jewish position on women became enshrined when Christianity ascended into prominence (“be submissive to your own husbands” enjoined Peter, in a foundational text in the New Testament) and vanquished the slow improvement achieved over centuries by the women of the Roman empire. Polygamy, which was specifically prohibited in the Roman empire, was common among Jews, and the Jews of Ashkenaz (a region encompassing Northern and Western Europe) forbade it only around 1000 C.E., by means of a ban imposed by Rabbi Gershom. The Jews of the Moslem world forbade it only far later, and the Jews of Yemen never actually did prohibit polygamy. Israeli case law acknowledges this right of Jewish Yemeni males.

The Jewish view was that women were banes: “the more women, the more witchcraft” states the Talmud (Avot, 2:8), and indicated that that Great Rabbi Shimon Ben Shatah hung eighty witches in Ashkelon [Sanhedrin, 46:A] Women were perceived as temptresses, distracting mankind. In general, it was better “not to speak much with a woman”.[Avot 1:5]

And as a woman is a chattel, and perhaps a dangerous one, rape is conceived in Jewish Halachic law as damage to chattel. A husband is entitled to force sexual relations on his wife; this does not constitute rape. And a woman who was raped and refrained from shouting, even if this was for fear of her life, “is prohibited [from intercourse with] her husband and her rapist”. In other words, she is punished for being raped by being divorced.

A man who has raped an unbetrothed young woman can choose to marry her. He can also choose to make a payment in lieu of that – to her father, of course. A man who has purchased a woman can decide not to release her, not to grant her a divorce, and Jewish – and Israeli! – law will accept that. People generally imagine that such laws exist only in Pakistan. But no – these laws are alive and well in Israel.

Treacherous Liberation

It has become customary, in Liberal circles, to attack feminism. And indeed, some of its theoreticians (including the questionable genius who coined the phrase “we are all lesbian”) have gone to ridiculous extremes. It is customary to say that such extremes are unnecessary. But this is an arrogant thought, typical of those who never leave the boundaries of certain urbane sections around Tel Aviv.

Feminists in Western countries still have work to do, but in Israel they face an almost impossible task. A large part of the public – if not an actual majority of Israelis – come from cultures where women’s liberation, equality, and rights were unheard of before their arrival in Israel. A large swath of the public accepts the principles of such liberation only pro forma, only because it is a legal duty – a duty which, like the equality of Israel’s Arab citizens, like the equal rights of homosexuals, evokes bitterness and resistance. Most of the Israeli public has not yet freed itself from the poison fumes of Halachaic outlook.

Approximately one third of the Israeli public believes that a woman cannot actually be raped. If she is raped outside, by a stranger, they presume that she wore seductive clothing. If sex was forced on her by an employer than she must have agreed to it – because if she failed to scream, it is proof that she agreed. If she lodges a complaint, it is libel. Large sections of the public cannot conceive of the possibility of rape by a woman’s lawful husband. He’s her husband, isn’t he? The Hebrew word for “husband” means “owner”.

Did Katsav rape one or more of his staff members? The court may perhaps decide on this question, if the Knesset is agreeable and if Katsav doesn’t escape the country at the last moment. But Katsav is just a symptom. His supporters are the real problem. And solving this problem will take much, much more than one indictment.

(This column is dedicated to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who taught us all about courage.)

(The Knesset did not remove President Katsav from office – most of the members of the committee dealing with the issue chose to absent themselves. Katsav has lately agreed to a controversial plea bargain, by which he will not be charged with rape but rather with sexual misconduct; the issue is currently debated by the Supreme Court. This column appeared in Nana News on 20 October 2006. Translation: Dena Bugel-Shunra, Yossi Gurvitz)