The Tabernacle Is an Expression of the Biblical Commitment to Human Freedom

Beginning last Saturday and continuing for the next few weeks, synagogues will read the last twenty chapters of the book of Exodus, which are taken up primarily by a detailed account of the construction of the Tabernacle and its various accoutrements. In seeking to connect these passages with the first half of Exodus, which concerns the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt and their miraculous redemption, Daniel Berkove calls attention to the parallels and contrasts between the Tabernacle and the ancient pharaonic public works in which the enslaved Jews were engaged. He notes first the similarity between the Hebrew word for the Tabernacle (mishkan, plural mishk’not) and the storage cites (arei misk’not) Pharaoh tasked the Israelites with building.

This curious linguistic connection gives us reason to consider how else the building of the Tabernacle and storage cities might relate to one another.

Ancient Egypt’s palaces, temples, and tombs were magnificent structures built to precise measurements, meant to last millennia, ornately decorated with gold, hieroglyphics, and brightly painted frescoes. . . . But the Tabernacle, which did include furnishings of gold and silver and required skilled workmanship, was essentially a large tent. Rather than permanent stone and brick, it was a modest structure primarily of wood, wool, and animal skins, and by design, easily portable.

Another difference between the Tabernacle and storage cities concerns the labor involved to build them. Pharaoh not only used slaves, but he worked them especially hard and intentionally made their burdens difficult. . . . Compare this to God’s instructions for building the Tabernacle. All of it was to be carried out voluntarily, from the provision of its materials to its construction. Moreover, in an astonishing juxtaposition, when God finished instructing Moses on how to build the Tabernacle, He then told Moses to command the Israelites to keep the Sabbath. The contrast between these two narratives could not be clearer.

Each story represents a different civilization. The civilization of Egypt, so dominant in those ancient times, was one built on material wealth, hierarchy, compulsion, and misery. It was a polytheistic society with deities of limited power that were ambivalent to humanity and required appeasement from their worshipers. . . . The Tabernacle represented an opposing civilization.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Ancient Egypt, Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Tabernacle


Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood