“Hatikvah” Must Remain Part of Israel’s Public Life

June 13 2018

With the conclusion of the academic year approaching, Tel Aviv University has announced that there will be no singing of “Hatikvah” at its graduation ceremony, to avoid causing discomfort to Arab students and their families. Daniel Gordis comments:

This stated reason, it seems to me and many others, is a pretext, and a dangerous one at that. Israel’s Arabs know well that they live in a Jewish state. And for all the complexity that living as an Arab in an expressly Jewish state invariably entails, nothing about having the national anthem sung at a graduation ceremony of a public university would surprise them. Israel, after all, has had this conversation before.

When Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch stepped down from the Supreme Court in 2012, the justices gathered, and . . . sang “Hatikvah.” One of the justices present was Salim Joubran, an Israeli Arab. The cameras at the event showed him standing respectfully, but not singing. As is to be expected in Israeli society, some of the political echelon’s hot-headed rightists assailed Joubran, but most Israelis had sympathy for his predicament and admiration for the dignity with which he comported himself. After all, many Israelis wondered, why would an Israeli Arab (a Maronite Christian in Joubran’s case) sing an anthem that begins “As long as a Jewish soul yearns in the heart within,” and then continues, “Our hope is not yet lost, to be a free nation in the land of Zion.” . . . Arab students graduating from state-funded universities thus have Joubran’s model to follow. . . .

What is perhaps even more astounding than [Tel Aviv University’s] decision not to sing “Hatikvah” is the relative nonchalance of Israelis who read about [it]. Perhaps Israelis consider academicians irrelevant, an intellectual echo-chamber entirely out of touch with the people. Perhaps. But the nonchalance is dangerous, for it allows the legitimization of the delegitimization of Israel’s foundational idea—the creation of a state that would be specifically dedicated to the flourishing of one people, the Jewish people.

To be sure, to look at Israel through an American, Jeffersonian lens is to see a strange country. But that’s precisely the point. Israel was never intended to be a liberal democracy in the American mold. It’s an ethnic democracy, something entirely different. The first words of the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson wrote are “When in the course of human events,” while Israel’s declaration begins, “In the land of Israel, the Jewish people was born.” Everything else is commentary.

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More about: Declaration of Independence, Hatikvah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli democracy

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays