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How Many Jewish Leaders Actually Read The Prayer Book?


Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s ill wishes toward Israel’s Palestinian Arab enemies, including the Palestinian Authority and its Holocaust-denier president, elicited disdain and disavowals from much of the leadership of Israel and the Jewish world.

Rabbi Ovadia’s “words do not reflect the approach of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor the position of the government of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Jewish Theological Assembly and related groups said, “As leaders of the Conservative/Masorti movement, we deplore these recent comments of former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.”

ADL National Director Abe Foxman said, “We are outraged by the offensive and incendiary comments made by Rav Ovadia Yosef.” And the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations added, “We are disturbed by the reported comments of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.”

Why these entities and eminences have reacted this way is an interesting question – even putting aside the paternalistic attitude of superiority so commonly used to justify ignoring the constant barrage of hate and incitement to genocide emanating from many of Israel enemies. And that vitriol is not voiced by individuals but promulgated by governments and leaders, including Israel’s purported “partners for peace.” Advertisement

I was gratified to learn I am not the only one who found the situation peculiar. In a letter published on the Jerusalem Post’s website, Chana Pinto accurately and articulately pointed out that in our prayers, Jews beseech God to defeat our enemies. For example, the Amida includes “Frustrate the hopes of those who malign us” and “Let all your enemies be speedily destroyed.”

So is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef the only prominent Jew who reads the prayer book? Can Jewish leaders be fairly likened to America’s legislators who now routinely pass multi-thousand page bills without reading them or knowing what is in them, much less understanding and reflecting on their implications?

Or is it that other Jewish leaders are aware of their prayers but Rabbi Yosef is the only one who means it when he says them? If they are so offended by their own prayers, they should change them. If Obama and his Democrats can ram through their unwanted legislation, perhaps these Jewish leaders can change the prayers to be more consonant with their political and worldly sensibilities.

The controversy over Rabbi Yosef’s remarks reminded me of a similar hypocrisy that occurred during George W. Bush’s presidency. Bush was well known to have been inspired by his faith during his time in office. And he was routinely mocked for it, with many Jews among those criticizing him.

But consider the “Prayer for Our Country,” a commonly recited Shabbat and Festival prayer in Conservative (and other) American congregations. The prayer includes the plea to God to “Teach [our leaders and elected officials] insights of Your Torah so they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security may forever abide in our midst.”

So those Jews who criticized Bush for being inspired by the Bible were criticizing him for doing precisely what they were praying for him to do.

In my view, there is a twofold reason why so many people claimed offense at Rabbi Yosef’s remarks. First, the fact is that most people in the world don’t want Israel to prevail in its struggle, and Israeli and Jewish leaders are overly sensitive to that sentiment. More important is the widespread and tragic refusal by Israelis, Jews, and westerners in general to acknowledge that Israel is at war.

(If it’s not a state of war, why do we need peace talks? Does this enemy to whose defense the Israeli government and Jews throughout the world are rushing even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state? Last time I checked, no. And the enemy even says it never will.)

Related to the refusal to acknowledge the state of war is, on the part of many, a lack of understanding of what war actually entails. That lack of understanding results in a sense of shock and horror when the enemy is killed, injured, or even inconvenienced (think “checkpoints” and “blockade”).

As has been learned over the course of human history, Israel will never achieve the security of peace until it defeats its enemies. And as has also been true throughout human history, Israel will never be able to defeat its enemies by being nice to them. Love bombs don’t work. Real armaments are needed.

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