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January 24, 2017 / 26 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Steven Pruzansky’

Rabbis, Jewish Gun Club Oppose RCA and OU’s ‘Arbitrary’ Gun Control Support

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

A dozen rabbis from across the United States have joined together with the Golani Rifle & Pistol Club in opposing calls for greater gun control issued by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the Orthodox Union (OU).

On August 13, the RCA issued a press release, “2014 Resolution: Gun Violence in America,” promoting arbitrary gun control measures. The RCA’s resolution endorsed the OU’s similar press release, “OU Supports Federal Legislation to Prevent Gun Violence.”

Rejecting the position of the RCA and OU, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, Rabbi David Bendory, and ten other rabbis, together with the members of the Golani Club, a Jewish shooting organization based in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, are affirming the importance of armed self-defense by Jews and all Americans.

“The RCA’s statement, like that of the OU, is rife with platitudes, ignores basic facts, and fails to recognize Judaism’s strong support for the value and practice of armed self- defense,” the joint statement reads.

“The RCA and OU should promote legislation that offers law-abiding citizens full protection of their right to self-defense, both inside and outside the home, especially in the most restrictive states, which contain large Jewish population centers. All Jews, like all Americans, should be able to exercise, in a sober and prudent manner, their fundamental right and halachic obligation to defend themselves, their families, and communities, whenever the need arises.”

The rabbis assert many statistical and factual points, such as the many regulations already in existence, especially the “exceptionally stringent regulations in the New York tri-state area.” They point out that access to firearms by violent criminals is already illegal and access by the mentally ill is already restricted.

Furthermore, the rabbis charge, adding to the burdens on the law-abiding will only render them more helpless if they are assaulted – especially in places (such as synagogues) which are likely targets of nefarious people who disobey the law and commit their crimes while heavily armed. The approach taken by the RCA and OU leave their Jewish constituents virtually defenseless in the face of deadly threats.

The critics of the statements made by Jewish denominational groups make many additional points:

The RCA and OU have ignored many key facts, among which are the following: 1) Violent crime, including crime involving guns, has been declining steadily over the last two decades, at the same time as the majority of states have been lifting restrictions on the right to self-defense; 2) Spree shootings in schools or elsewhere are very rare events, representing a tiny fraction of annual homicides; 3) Such shootings have most often occurred in locations that have been declared officially “gun free,” giving notice to criminals that they will be able to commit their crimes without immediate challenge; 4) The vast majority of gun homicides are committed by a relatively small population of hardened, recidivist criminals who are not deterred by laws restricting gun purchases; 5) The rates of violent crime tend to be higher in areas with the most restrictive gun laws.

The RCA and OU fail to recognize that ordinary citizens use guns to protect themselves and others every single day. Across the country, mothers, fathers, and even children successfully protect their families against home invaders and carjackers. Women protect themselves against rapists. Business owners and store clerks protect themselves against armed robbers. Whether by brandishing a gun, pointing it, or shooting it, gun owners are able to fend off criminals and, often, to hold them until police arrive, saving not only their own lives but the lives of future victims. While many of these incidents go unreported (and somehow none of them ever seem to make the pages of the New York Times), they happen nonetheless. For a small selection of relevant news stories, the RCA and OU might consult the Guns Save Lives blog. For further relevant facts and analysis, they might examine the “Facts about Guns” section of The Truth About Guns blog.

Peaceful gun ownership promotes equality. The statements by the RCA and OU do not consider the inevitable and unequal consequences of disarmament. Guns are “equalizers.” They empower citizens of any size or capability to withstand attack from vicious criminals.

To deny this tool to peaceful citizens is to put them at the mercy of those who are stronger or more numerous. And those who are physically weakest will be most vulnerable. We prefer to read stories about grandmothers who made burglars turn tail and flee, teenagers who drove off home invaders, and wheelchair-bound men who stopped robbers, rather than obituaries about their unjust demise.

Jewish history supports self-defense. It is remarkable that the RCA and OU have ignored the long Jewish history of persecution.

The Jewish people have been murdered and persecuted in nearly every era and place on the globe. From the Crusades to the Chmielnicki massacres to the Holocaust, we have lost millions of lives to those who took advantage of our inability to defend ourselves. Even now – in this season, this week, indeed, this very day – we are being attacked in Europe and in Israel by enemies who without shame call in public for our deaths.

Nor are we completely safe in the U.S., where terrorists have conspired against synagogues and criminals have attacked Jews on the street.

Trainers at Golani Rifle and Pistol Club, ​E.B. Dvir and First Sergeant S. from the IDF's specialized Golani, Egoz commando unit.

Trainers at Golani Rifle and Pistol Club, ​E.B. Dvir and First Sergeant S. from the IDF’s specialized Golani, Egoz commando unit.

It should be clear that the threats against Jews in the U.S. and abroad are serious and increasing. It should be just as clear to the RCA and OU that further limiting our ability to defend ourselves at such a time is the very last thing Jewish leaders should be demanding.

Self-defense does not equal vigilantism. It is important to note in passing that, contrary to what is commonly alleged, possessing the tools and obtaining the training to defend oneself does not turn one into a vigilante. Many thousands of Jews are already gun owners, and yet they have not engaged in any rash of crimes. Jews as a people understand all too well how precious life is and how important it is to preserve it. However, we cannot and must not ignore the maxim of Chazal: “Haba lehargecha hashkem lehargo.” (“If one comes to kill you, kill him first.”)

We have a duty of self-defense under Jewish Law. Our mitzvot oblige us to preserve and defend Jewish lives. This obligation is all the more important while we are in Exile and therefore at greater risk. Rendering Jews less capable of self-defense and more dependent upon others runs counter to our halachic duty, endangers all Jewry and emboldens our enemies. (Furthermore, others are more likely to help defend us if we show that we are willing to defend ourselves.)

The Torah praises self-defense. The Torah recognizes armed self-defense as a requirement for a free people. As Exodus 13:18 states: “The children of Israel went up out of Egypt armed.” The Israelites were no longer slaves; they were armed. Indeed, from its early chapters, the Torah teaches that readiness for armed conflict is a moral duty and necessary for Jewish survival. When Lot was kidnapped, Avraham led 318 armed men to battle in order to save him. The Torah does not say that the men had to train for battle; they were already trained. Jewry today should likewise engage in training and stand ready to defend themselves.

The Tanach praises self-defense. The Tanach is replete with accounts of the heroic wars of Israel, from Joshua to Gideon, from David to Josiah. As in the instance of Avraham above, the Jews were able to fight because they were armed and trained. None of these leaders would have been able to go into battle if the Jews had not already readied themselves.

Channukah celebrates self-defense. Every year on Channukah, Jews celebrate and praise the Maccabees for their armed defense of the Torah and Jewish life. Should Jews today not emulate the Maccabees’ bravery and skill? 

Jewish Press Staff

Pesach: The End Of Victimhood

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 18:12) describes “leil shimurim,” the “night of watching,” the night before the redemption, as one of the glorious nights in Jewish history.

Not only did we eat the Korban Pesach, have the first Seder and prepare to depart the land of Egypt, but also it later became the night that Chizkiyahu, Chanania, Mishael, Azaria, Daniel and others were saved – and the night on which “Mashiach and Eliyahu mitgadlin” – on which they are elevated, become great – or, according to another text, the night they are mitgalim – revealed.

But what does it mean that on these days they are magnified or revealed?

It is not as if they actually appear. The Gemara says in Eruvin 43a that if a person vows to become a nazir on whatever day Mashiach comes, then he is allowed to drink wine on every Shabbat and Yom Tov because Mashiach obviously does not come on those days. Furthermore, “we have been promised that Mashiach will not come on the eve of Shabbat or Yom Tov either, because of the inconvenience” – people are busy preparing for those holy days! So how then are Mashiach and Eliyahu exalted or revealed at the Seder if they cannot come?

The Jewish people left Egypt at high noon on 15 Nissan 3,334 years ago, but Egypt did not leave us for a much longer period of time. At the Red Sea, we reacted like a nation of slaves, and throughout our sojourn in the wilderness we exhibited a slave mentality – bemoaning our fate, and glamorizing and/or understating the travails of Egypt.

We were told four days before the Exodus to take the deities of Egypt and to slaughter them on the 14th, in full sight of the Egyptians – to show our inner strength and our relief from Egyptian domination, to show we had broken away from the psychological stranglehold they had on us. It did not completely succeed.

We were ill equipped for freedom, and understandably so. Slavery, persecution, dehumanization, and extermination take their toll on the psyche. Victims do not recover instantly or easily. It takes time to wean out of our system the lingering effects of maltreatment, and until then victimization is comfortable. It becomes an excuse for every failure, every inaction, and sometimes for every misdeed.

We all marvel at Holocaust survivors who were left with nothing material and were able to rebuild, and prosper, and overcome the torments they endured. But a steep price is still paid – sometimes for individuals, and even greater as a nation. Too many people who are beaten down become comfortable as victims and uncomfortable with power.

For too long we have competed in the arena of victimhood, and love even more the sympathy that is engendered by our suffering.

There are plenty of Jews who are more comfortable with grief and mourning than with strength and the projection of power. Many proclaim at the Seder “in every generation they come upon us to destroy us” as a badge of victimhood, and not, as intended, in gratitude to God who has preserved us throughout history.

We have built dozens of Holocaust memorials across the world – which certainly serve a purpose for us but do not keep one Jew Jewish and certainly have done little to diminish the level of Jew-hatred in the world. We may think our victimhood is unique – and it is – but tell that to the Kurds or Armenians or Cambodians or Sudanese or Russians. These days, even Germans and Austrians claim to be victims of the Nazis. In this macabre competition, there are no winners.

The State of Israel was supposed to put an end to the glories of victimization – but it hasn’t entirely. The fact that the only innocent civilians in the world that are routinely targeted by random rockets are the Jews in Israel’s south – with little inclination to put a final end to it – only shows that victims talk it into themselves that victimhood is everlasting and unchangeable.

The Iron Dome system, while a technological marvel, is the ultimate defensive system. Rather than disarm and permanently disable the shooter, it attempts to shoot a bullet out of the air with another bullet. Even if it succeeds most of the time – remarkable in itself – it fails as a stable strategy because the incoming rockets still force ordinary citizen to cower in bomb shelters, lest a missile manage to sneak through. Thus, lives are still disrupted, children are still traumatized, and society is still terrorized. It is like a physician who treats the symptoms but not the disease.

It is hard to imagine another country putting up with similar attacks for as long as Israel has because it is inconceivable. Ultimately, the hand of the shooter must be stayed, or the enemy will devise ways to defeat even the Iron Dome. And that will only energize the cult of victimization.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

The Costume

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Consider the absurdity of the following statement: “I know an Orthodox Jew who works on Shabbat, eats pork regularly, never wears tefillin or prays or learns Torah, is unfaithful to his spouse, walks bare-headed in public, and eats on Yom Kippur.”

One would rightfully ask, what is it that makes that person an Orthodox Jew?

Yet we occasionally read these days of “Orthodox” Jews who molest, steal, rob, murder, assault, spit and curse at women and little children, set fire to businesses they disfavor for one reason or another, eschew self-support, brawl, intimidate and terrorize other Jews, or are otherwise genuinely disagreeable people. So what is it that makes those people “Orthodox,” or, even holier in the public mind, “ultra-Orthodox”?

The costume they wear.

It is a mistake that is made not only by a hostile media but also by the Jewish public, including the religious Jewish public. To our detriment, we define people by their costumes – e.g., long black coats, white shirts, beards and sometimes peyot – and we ourselves create expectations of conduct based on the costume that is being worn, as if the costume necessarily penetrates to the core of the individual and can somehow mold his character and classify his spiritual state – as if the costume really means anything at all.

If the events in Beit Shemesh or elsewhere in Israel rectify that mistake once and for all, some unanticipated good would have emerged from the contentiousness.

This is more than simply stating that any “Orthodox” Jew who sins is by definition not an Orthodox Jew. In truth, that statement is flawed and illogical, because all people sin; the truly “Orthodox” Jew might be one of the few who still actually believe in sin – stumbling before the divine mandate – and still seek to eradicate it by perfecting himself and struggling with his nature.

But the Torah Jew is defined by a core set of beliefs, principles and religious practices. One who subscribes to that core set is Orthodox, notwithstanding any personal failings he has — failings which according to the Torah he must strive to reduce and diminish.

No Jew – rabbi or layman – is allowed to carve for himself exemptions from any mitzvah. That is why deviations like the female rabbi, the dilution of the bans on homosexuality, the relentless search for obscure leniencies in order to rationalize improper conduct, and other such anomalies draw such swift and heated reactions from the mainstream Orthodox world.

The violent and criminal excesses in Israel have drawn similar rebukes but the thought still lingers: why do we even expect decorous and appropriate conduct from people who are perceived as thugs even within their own community, and who have threatened with violence some who would criticize them publicly?

Because of the costume they wear.

Memo to real world: there is no such concept as authentic Jewish dress. The Gemara (Shabbat 113a) states that Rav Yochanan would call his clothing “the things that honor me” (mechabduti) – but the Gemara does not see fit to even describe his clothing in the slightest fashion. Jewish dress is dignified and distinguished, clean and neat. We are especially obligated to wear special and beautiful clothing throughout Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 262:2-3).

But beyond the tzitzit and the kippa for men, and modesty for all, there is no such thing as Jewish dress, the prevalence of contrary popular opinion notwithstanding. We are never told what Moshe, Ezra, Rabbi Akiva or the Rambam wore. We are informed that one reason the Jews merited redemption from Egyptian because “they did not change their garb” (i.e., they did not adopt Egyptian styles) – but we are never informed what kind of clothing they did wear. Why? Because it doesn’t matter one whit.

Gauging people’s spiritual potential – or even spiritual level – based on the coat, hat, yarmulke, shoes, socks, shirt, pants or belt they wear not only sounds insane, it is insane, and it should be stopped. No one is more religious because he wears black or less religious because he wears blue or brown.

Would we make great progress in the maturation of the Jewish world if a blue suit occasionally appeared in the haredi or yeshivish wardrobe? Perhaps. But we would certainly undo the inferences that attach to certain types of dress that leave many Orthodox Jews wrongly embarrassed and ashamed of the behavior of “people like us.” They are not like us. We must love them as we would any wayward Jew, and rebuke them as we would any wayward Jew. Even wayward Jews wear costumes.

Then we can promulgate the new fashion styles, the new uniform, of the Torah Jew, where beauty, righteousness and piety are determined by what is inside, not what is on the outside – by deeds and Torah commitment rather than appearances.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Acquiescing To Our Enemies’ Lies

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Newt Gingrich recently stunned the political and diplomatic establishments, the professional peaceniks and the entire Arab world by terming the Palestinians “an invented” people, presumably with a history fabricated solely to counter and then eradicate the Jewish national idea.

He was right, of course. Interestingly, few if any of his most rabid critics in the Arab world and in the anti-Israel media even challenged his thesis. They focused on the prudence and propriety of the statement, on the ever-shifting balance between the Old Newt and the New Newt, and the prospects of “peace” in the Middle East given this startling and audacious admission.

But of course Newt was right, if impolitic. It wasn’t that long ago when then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir made such an assertion herself. In a statement to The Sunday Times (June 15, 1969), she said: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people…. It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.” All Newt did was state a bald-faced truth that has been obscured for too long.

That is not to say that there have not been Arabs living in what they called Palestine for generations. There have been Arabs living in the land of Israel for quite a while, just like there have been Jews living in Israel – in an unbroken chain of residence – since antiquity. But the Arabs of Israel never had a national identity, and never sought statehood or independence until the Jews returned en masse in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Previous Jewish residents were forced to live without any national rights and subservient to the Muslim, Christian, Turkish – the latter for 400 years until 1917 – and finally British rulers.) It is Palestinian “nationalism” and “peoplehood” that were contrived by Jew-haters and anti-Zionists.

Thus, it is well known that the early 20-century Arabs of the land of Israel called themselves “Southern Syrians” and derided the early Jewish settlers as “Palestinians.” (How’s that for marketing?) Those same Arabs rejected the UN state proffered to them in 1947, and then “neglected” to seek statehood from 1948-1967 when Judea, Samaria and Gaza were controlled by fellow Arabs.

In other words, the “Palestinian people” and “Palestinian nationalism” were both inconsequential formulations that only exist to undermine and disqualify the Jewish state of Israel. To underscore the point, had there been no “Israel” created in 1948, the territory of “Palestine” would have been distributed to a variety of Arab entities to the north and east, themselves creations of the international community. But an “Arab Palestine,” as an independent state, would have been on no one’s radar, as it was not until the 1970s.

Jews have lived in Israel since time immemorial (the title of Joan Peters’s famous work), and even after the destruction of the Second Temple and the great exile, Jews remained. Jews remained in the 2nd-4th centuries to write the Jerusalem Talmud, draft the permanent calendar and even entertain, for a time in the fourth century, the building of another Temple with permission from Julian the Apostate; in the 5th-6th centuries to cling to the land amid the Byzantine and Christian persecutions; in the 6th-11th centuries to survive the Muslim invasion – returning to Yerushalayim with permission from the Emperor Omar and observing the founding of the only town founded by Arabs in the land of Israel during their entire sojourn – Ramle; suffering the torments of the Crusaders in the 12th century; enduring the Muslim reconquest in the 12-15th centuries in which the land saw a constant stream of Jewish visitors and/or residents, including Rambam, Ramban, R. Yechiel of Paris, and many others; the 16th century that witnessed the flourishing of Jewish life – the composition – in Israel! – of the Shulchan Aruch and the rise of the giants of Kabbalah; the 17-18th centuries during which both Sephrdic and Ashkenazic Jews bolstered existing communities throughout the land of Israel and founded new ones, and the 19th century, when the Zionist movement in a variety of forms took root.

Is there a similar “Palestinian” history ? Of course not. Throughout the ages Jews persevered in the land and prayed for the restoration of Jewish sovereignty. It is absurd to even suggest there is a competing Palestinian narrative that bears any substance or validity. Choose any century in the past 2,000 years, and try to name a “Palestinian” of any sort. That is why the Arab apologists have been forced to assert that “Jesus was a Palestinian” (Yasir Arafat, apparently unaware that Jesus was a Jew). That is why the official Palestinian line of the last decade, emanating first from Arafat, is that there is “no Jewish Temple, no Jewish nationalism and no Jewish connection to the land.” The hat burns on the thief’s head. They have no indigenous connection to the land of Israel, and only arrived in large numbers after Jewish settlement began and to take advantage of the opportunities presented by Jewish settlement.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

The Presidential Racing Form

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

The strongest attribute of any of the Republican candidates for president is that he or she is not named Barack Obama.

Obama’s unpopularity is such that reelection is hard to fathom, or stomach, but stranger things have been known to happen (like his election in the first place). His advantage lies in a built-in 40 percent of the vote – consisting of blacks, committed liberals, union members, and recipients of public handouts – though the unionists may have been turned off by the president’s decision to delay the Keystone oil pipeline that would have weaned the U.S. off Arab oil and provided tens of thousands of jobs to Americans. Oil’s well that ends well, he must assume.

The fear among Republicans is that no one candidate has gripped the imagination of the public or galvanized the support of barely a quarter of the electorate, much less half plus one. That foreboding sense – born of several snap conclusions – is misplaced.

No person seems presidential until he or she actually becomes president and some not even then. In November 2007, no one could have looked at Barack Obama and seen a “president.” Such a perception was laughable in the extreme. One can never compare a person who carries the trappings of high office with either civilians or lower level politicians. The entourage is different, the mode of travel, the absence of a presidential seal, the obvious presence of the Secret Service, the capacity to actually do things (or pretend to do things; see Obama’s speeches about student loan waivers), and, mostly, the necessity to talk only of the future, which is always speculative.

People tend to grow into the office, not just in the office, and so almost any of the candidates could easily fit the bill and be perceived as presidential one year into his or her term.

Consequently, the head-to-head polls are not as meaningful at this early stage, when sane voters have not yet coalesced around one candidate and therefore – as a display of partisanship – construe Obama as electable if their personal favorite is not nominated. However, is it credible that a Gingrich supporter would actually vote for Obama over Mitt Romney? Possibly, but highly unlikely, especially since the election will ultimately be a choice between Obama and Anybody Not Obama who is a functional human being. It is true that you cannot beat something with nothing, but as the election draws nearer, candidates begin to appear more plausible, especially as the field narrows.

The other factor that exercises people these days are the flaws that are perceived in each of the Republican candidates. It is a lot like the Jewish dating scene, where people go out with each in order to find the one trait that renders them unmarriageable. Of course each candidate is flawed; no one is perfect (except, apparently, the critics of each of the candidates). Nor is it rational or sensible to expect that a voter should agree with every single position of even a preferred candidate. (The wag said: “If two people agree on everything, then one of them is superfluous.”)

Certainly each candidate comes with weaknesses, vulnerabilities, ideological inconsistencies, questionable personal conduct, unpalatable positions – all because each is a thinking, breathing human being.

Thus, those who look for salvation to the non-candidates – Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, et al – don’t realize that if any or all of them (or others) entered the race, they too would be vilified within a very short time. That unhappy aspect of modern life keeps many fine though imperfect people out of politics. And some of the “perfect” candidates don’t measure up under even mild scrutiny. That is why we were never privileged to elect President Fred Thompson or President John Edwards.

Mindful of the Talmud’s statement (Yoma 22b) that a leader should have some skeletons in his closet in order to keep him humble, we must evaluate a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and look for the “best” and not the “perfect.” There is no perfect.

Additionally, the pundits and laymen who obsess daily on this process seem to forget that not a vote has been cast in either a caucus or a primary, and that polls are volatile. They reflect momentary perceptions but not the reality over time. It is, frankly, bizarre that disproportionate weight in the primaries is given to states like Iowa and New Hampshire that are hardly reflective of the rest of the country. But it is what it is, and undoubtedly after the votes are cast – within a few weeks – the field will be whittled down and an apparent nominee will appear, who will even begin to look somewhat presidential.

So, without expressing a personal favorite, here is the current racing form:


The Presumptive Nominee

It is Mitt Romney’s race to lose. He recognizes that, which is why he seldom allows himself to be interviewed, and prefers to control the dissemination of his message unimpeded by annoying media queries. He looks the part (important today – Lincoln in our era could not have won a primary or an election), has command of the issues, and scandals have yet attached to him. Indeed, he is criticized for looking perfect.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

The Origins Of Discontent

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

It is difficult to remember the last time the United States was wracked with such dissension, discontent, protests, and economic hardship.

From my vantage point, “Occupy Wall Street” has been primarily a source of comic relief – the participants, their complaints, their solutions, and their antics – except for the sporadic violence, and the loss of job and business in lower Manhattan caused by the unwillingness of sane people to traverse that area under siege.

There are many different forces at play in these nationwide protests, most without any clue as to how to improve their personal financial situations or the national economy. Having occupied Wall Street, the occupiers do not seem to know what they want to do with it.

But there is discontent among the wealthy as well, who are being demonized for the most crass political purposes and who have lost much of their wealth in the last few years (from 2007 to 2009, there was a 40 percent drop in the number of millionaires filing federal tax returns, from 392,000 to 233,000), and among the middle class, who have seen their assets diminished and found near-insurmountable obstacles to their pursuit of the American dream. Everyone is unhappy.

And the more government meddles in our lives, the worse and less free our lives become. All this discontent is the fruit of the poisonous tree of big, intrusive government trying to run every aspect of our lives – and failing at all of it: telling us what we can eat, what we can drive, what types of bulbs we can use, how much water the shower nozzle can dispense, how high our fences can be, how many miles per gallon our cars should provide, what types of medical procedures we should or should not have, etc.

There are many who expect and want government to satisfy their every desire and care for their every need – to be given a job, a home, health care, retirement pay, and a host of other entitlements. I want none of that. I just want to be left alone.

America was founded on the premise of the right of the individual to pursue happiness as he sees fit – as long as his pursuit does not encroach on the rights of others. So a federal government should provide for the common defense against external enemies, enforce contracts so the commercial system remains viable, and build interstate roads and highways. Beyond that, I struggle to find where a federal government is useful or effective, and I resent that the fruit of my labor is confiscated to pay for useless, frivolous, unneeded and unwarranted boondoggles.

Consider how far we have traveled. In 1887, Texas was stricken by a drought (just like this past year). Congress appropriated $10,000 to purchase seed grain for the suffering farmers there. President Grover Cleveland vetoed the bill, saying: “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit….

“The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

Cleveland added: “The lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better lesson taught that while the people should patriotically and cheerfully support their Government its functions do not include the support of the people.”

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Embracing The Enemy’s Narrative

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Reportedly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been preparing to unveil new Israeli diplomatic initiatives – including the possibility of further territorial withdrawals from Judea and Samaria and even the recognition of a provisional Palestinian state – before last week’s bombshell announcement of a Hamas-Fatah rapprochement.

Even without this latest development, such concessions would have been the wrong moves at the wrong time, for a variety of reasons. Indeed, these initiatives are throwbacks to the unique Israeli policy of preemptive surrender that has been the bane of Israelis for almost two decades.

In the face of relentless intransigence from an enemy who refuses to negotiate, much less to concede anything, Israel’s prime ministers (since the Oslo process began) have felt a compelling need to bypass negotiations and gradually yield to their adversaries everything they seek. It was an error that led to thousands of deaths and injuries through terror and caused the downfall of the first Netanyahu government, and it is as bizarre as it sounds.

Certainly with the Arab world in turmoil, Israel should be focused on preparing to engage a new and changed neighborhood. While Westerners hope, perhaps naively, for the emergence of democratizing forces in the Arab world, it is as likely – if not more likely – that radical Islamic forces will seize control in several countries, including Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and perhaps even Syria.

And with Lebanon already in the throes of its own radical Muslims, Gaza tyrannized by a Hamas that is eager to expand its influence into Israel’s heartland, Europe finally responding to the Islamic onslaught that is overwhelming its culture and undermining its stability, and the United States reeling under economic woes that will dominate the coming presidential election campaign, the further weakening of Israel’s strategic posture serves no rational purpose.

In fact, Israel is currently an oasis of stability in a region that is erupting like a volcano. Even with the recent upswing in Arab terror, Israel’s military presence in the Arab cities of Judea and Samaria has effectively clamped down on the enemy’s violent tendencies. The security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority has also helped, though based on past results that might be a temporary and strategic lull that garners the Arabs plaudits, money, training and weaponry, all to be deployed, potentially, in a future conflict.

The Oslo debacle should have imparted several valuable lessons to Israel, among them: do not delegate your security to the enemy; concessions of whatever nature simply whet the appetite for more concessions; do not expect any concessions to win you favorable world publicity beyond one news cycle; and the maximum concessions one makes at any stage simply serve as the starting point for the next round of concessions.

Certainly the present uncertainty of the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty should give pause to those who would put their trust in pieces of paper signed by unelected autocrats with unclear futures.

The fear of the declaration of a Palestinian state in the fall is overblown, especially if Israel counters with unilateral actions of its own that put facts on the ground and strengthen its strategic position, and not that of the enemy. Israel has the stronger hand, and will have it for the foreseeable future; it just has to play it intelligently.

The secular mindset, however, persists in analyzing the conflict through a purely secular lens, and cannot even entertain, and certainly not embrace, the reality that the Middle East is roiling because of religious conflict (not a dispute over land and nationalism) and that Israel’s foes perceive the conflict as religious, and not secular, in nature.

Nonetheless, there are broader reasons why these “peace” efforts are so misguided. It is bad enough that Israel’s leaders are again considering the further surrender of the biblical heartland of Israel promised by God to our forefathers and their Jewish descendants for eternity. It is even worse that they endorse unthinkingly and uncritically the historical narrative advanced by their enemies.

* * * * *
Before we embrace the “inevitability of a Palestinian state,” the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” “justice for the Palestinians” and the narrative of “two peoples fighting over one land,” we should have a reality check.

For starters, try to name a “Palestinian” thinker from the 12th century, or a writer from the 13th century, or an artist from the 14th century, or a poet from the 15th century, or a builder from the 16th century, or a scholar from the 17th century, or a merchant from the 18th centuryor a judge from the 19th century. The Palestinians are a 20th century fabrication – and not even an early 20th century fabrication.

For much of the first half of the 20th century, the Jews of the land of Israel were derided by their neighbors as Palestinians, while the Arab inhabitants of the land had no national identity. Palestinian Arab nationalism arose simply as a counterweight to Jewish nationalism. Its sole objective was to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. As such, it is unsurprising that the “Palestinians” rejected the UN Partition Plan in 1947 – their goal was to thwart the Jewish state, which partition endorsed.

Seen from this perspective, it is even less surprising that after the 1948 War of Independence, there was no indigenous Palestinian national movement in the territories that fell under Arab control. Jordan annexed Judea and Samaria and Egypt annexed Gaza. There was no reason for either country to be solicitous of a Palestinian national movement – it did not exist, either in the world of politics or the world of ideas. When Golda Meir famously stated that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people,” she was right. But even she did not fully realize how right she was.

Rav Zvi Tau, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Hamor and one of the leading disciples of HaRav Zvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l, writes in his classic For the Faith of Our Times (Le’emunat Eetainu, Volume I) that today’s “Palestinians” are remarkably similar to their namesakes, the Philistines of biblical times. (Of course, there is no biological or historical relationship. It is ironic that the name “Palestine” was slapped onto the land of Israel by the conquering Romans in the second century CE in their effort to eradicate any Jewish presence in the land. The Palestinians have simply adopted the Roman legacy for their own purposes.)

* * * * *
So, who were the Philistines?

Interestingly, they are not mentioned as one of the seventy nations that descended from Noach, though they do figure in that account (Genesis 10): “And Egypt begat Ludim, and Anamim and Patrusim and Casluchim whence the Philistines came forth ” All the other nations are designated by the phrase “yalad” – begat – whereas the Philistines “yatz’u misham” – came forth. What is the difference?

Rashi comments (10:14) that the Patrusim and Casluchim swapped wives – illicit even in the ancient world – and those relations spawned the Philistines. In other words, the Philistines did not have a normal identity or origin. They did not have to exist as a nation, and they had no place among the seventy nations. They had no real existence or culture, nor did they contribute anything to civilization. They had only one purpose – they were a pseudo-nation that existed only to challenge the Jewish right to the land of Israel.

Indeed, the Philistines fulfilled their role with a vengeance, challenging Abraham, Isaac, Joshua and the Judges, and the first Jewish monarch, King Saul, until they were vanquished by King David.

In effect, the Philistines were an obstruction to the national destiny of Israel, but they existed in order to enable David’s kingdom to flourish. As Rav Kook explained, every human development has to be coaxed into existence, including the sovereignty of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. To ensure that we remain focused on the national objective of Torah – building a model and moral state that is a beacon of God’s morality to mankind – we were provided with a nemesis to guarantee that Jewish national aspirations would never lose sight of the ultimate goal and squander our resources in frivolous endeavors.

Because of the Philistines, we were constantly under siege, and our national identity incessantly challenged. Once Jewish sovereignty was established and fully grounded, and reached its climax in the kingship of David and Solomon, the Philistines, their historical function complete, disappeared.

* * * * *
Fast forward to the 20th century. With the Jewish national movement in full gear, its counterforce had to be created as well, again to guarantee that the Jewish people actualize and implement its nationalistic ambitions – this time in realization of the ancient vision of the prophets of Israel.

In that milieu, a Palestinian people arose – to goad us, to provoke us, to induce in our people a willingness to sacrifice for the land of Israel, one of God’s gifts to the Jewish people and one that is only acquired through suffering.

It is nearly twenty years since the Oslo futility (and more than sixty since Israel’s independence). The Palestinians have received billions of dollars in international aid – and have still not liquidated even one refugee camp. They still have no indicia of real nationhood and almost no industry except terror. They only came into the world when the Jewish national home was realized, and their entry onto the world stage was through airplane hijackings, kidnappings, threats, murder and terror, which they have since refined via the use of suicide bombers, lynchings and slitting the throats of infants sleeping in their cribs.

For all the glowing reports of world organizations, they are ill equipped for statehood but quite ready to continue their war against Israel from even better circumstances.

In the song of Haazinu (Deuteronomy 32:21), Moses chastises the Jewish people – in God’s name – for their future disloyalty: “They provoked Me with a non-god (blo el) so I shall provoke them with a non-people (blo am).”

Israel is surrounded by nations that have identities and culture, some of short duration and others of longer duration, but within the borders of the land of Israel, the Jews are threatened by a group without any real national identity – a group that is not even seriously reckoned as a nation by other Arab countries.

From the moment we entered the land of Israel in Abraham’s time until the monarchy of David, the Philistines served their function as a divine rod to ensure we did not lose sight of the goals of the Jewish national home. Without bearing any historical or actual connection, it is nevertheless eerie that today’s Palestinians will never be satisfied with any Israeli concession and do not even deign to make a counteroffer in negotiations – when they even deign to negotiate. Their entire existence is as a counterweight to our aspirations; sadly, but for their intransigence, Israel likely would have surrendered all its vital interests long ago.

* * * * *
It is chilling to behold the secular leaders of Israel accede to the narrative of the Palestinians and grant them rights in the land of Israel, knowing as we do that the ancient Philistines succeeded (because of Jewish infidelities) in dominating the land of Israel for many decades over the course of several centuries.

The Philistines tormented the Jewish inhabitants of the land of Israel, who nonetheless persevered and finally triumphed in David’s time through faith, courage, loyalty to Torah and recognition of the fundamentals of Jewish life.

It is illogical for Israel to contemplate new concessions that will destabilize its own polity at a time when the entire Middle East is racked with instability. From a political perspective, it is foolhardy to deflect the world’s attention from the revolutions in the Arab world by resurrecting the hoary myth that the fate of the Palestinians is critical to Mideast stability; clearly it is unrelated.

It is the height of imprudence to tread down a path that will lead to a retreat to the cease-fire lines in 1948, knowing full well that will only elicit more Arab terror designed to force an acceptance of the return of Arab refugees, a bi-national state, and the disappearance of the State of Israel.

But from a spiritual perspective, ignoring the nature of the enemy while accepting their narrative as real, substantive and equivalent to our claim, based on divine right, testifies to a faltering spirit and a lack of knowledge about Jewish history, identity and destiny.

If we think small, others think small things about us. If we want the world to perceive the conflict as an argument over a few acres of land, then we will always stand convicted as petty thieves who are persecuting a poor and deprived people after we threw them off their land. And in due course, Israel will be pressured to compromise even with Hamas, on grounds of “justice” and the tripe that “you can’t choose your enemies.”

But if we think in grander terms, we will gain strength and faith, revive the Bible as the source of our nationhood and national claims, and hasten the fulfillment of the national destiny of Israel of which the State of Israel is, with God’s help, just the beginning.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey. He is the author, most recently, of  Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim(Gefen, 2009). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/embracing-the-enemys-narrative/2011/05/04/

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