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June 25, 2016 / 19 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘true’

True Jewish Independence

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

Several years back, I spent Yom Ha’Atzma’ut with my relatives from a charming moshav in the Negev. They live a stone’s throw from Gaza. Translated in concrete terms relating to life and limb, these are the kinds of people who have approximately 15 seconds-or less-to find cover before rockets rain down upon them. During Round 1 of the unfinished debacle of “Operation Cast Lead,” one side of the family sustained a direct hit to their house from a Grad rocket. Thank G-d, no one was harmed.

As I held the remains of two Kassam rockets, (the Grad was quickly confiscated by the IDF, and probably given to some leftist who went on to create metal peace doves out of the remains) I considered what the modern day Amalek is getting away with in our times. I was standing in the sovereign State of Israel, and yet I might as well have been standing in blood-soaked Europe. It doesn’t matter what Israel could theoretically do to these sub-humans. The unwillingness of our leadership to destroy our enemies, and their willingness to tolerate murdered Jews is unforgivable. This is the “shtetl syndrome” personified. But there is a critical difference. There were few choices in the shtetl. In Eretz Yisrael, G-d gifted us a country and a powerful army.

It is unwillingness, rather than inability to fight, which prevents our timid leaders from destroying these savages. This is not independence. This is a denial of our ability to be free from Arabs in our own country. This is Jewish weakness. This is a modern re-enactment of the sin of the spies. Our own leadership views us as grasshoppers, and often treat our lives with similar regard.

My relative’s house has long been repaired, yet the tool shed remains a testament to Arab destruction. Hundreds of holes, large and small, litter the shed, in addition to an adjoining stone wall, courtesy of shrapnel shards that pierced their walls. Some holes are at neck, skull, and torso level, and if a person was in the vicinity, they would be dead or wounded unimaginably from the shards alone.

Alone in My Head

I often feel alone on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Don’t misunderstand me— I don’t grill burgers by myself in the backyard. The better part of Yom Ha’atzmaut is spent in the company of family and friends. We grill together, and even if the hot-dogs leave me wanting some American “Abel & Heyman” dogs, the company and camaraderie are always good. I speak of an ideological loneliness. An inability to relate to the world-view of those around me. The religious in my corner of the desert are overwhelmingly from that camp of religious mamlachtim (loyalists) whose views on Jewish governance are far from my own. My vision is that of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s teachings, a fusion of rational, action based obligations based upon Torah, and so I cannot relate to those well-intended Jews whose fervor for the day is so different from my own. Nor can I abide those who see the question of Hallel with or without a bracha as an expression or barometer of one’s Zionism, such as it is.

Their version of “Religious-Zionism” (As a halachic Jew, I hate the term) is too parve for my liking. Too positive and “pie-in-the sky,” when glaring problems demand rectification. I accept the obligation to recognize and celebrate our victory over the Arabs, yemach sh’mam. But not with blind loyalism, orchestrated ceremony, and compromising on the halachic laws of warfare and gentiles in the land. The religious do not see the problems as I see them. They have magical solutions from Rabbis I respect (some of them) but cannot follow. Many distort Jewish sources to apply the category of B’nai Noach to undeserving Arabs, as many normative yeshiva daati leumi are wont to do. So the Religious-Zionism that is popular leave me wanting a Yom Haatzmaut with more edge. With a spine. With a desire and a resolve to want true torah independence–and a willingness to fight for it.

I cannot dance when killers are freed, and when Jewish innocents are tortured and imprisoned. I cannot truly celebrate when an IDF general compares us to Germany in the 1930’s on Yom Hashoah! Or when elderly women are stabbed by Arabs in Jerusalem. I cannot endure that Har Habayit prohibits Jewish prayer, and that the Arab losers are the victors atop our sacred site. I cannot abide the unfinished work. Perhaps the greatest personal difficulty is the desire to want to fight, and the limited means at my disposal at the moment.

Nor do the secular celebrations have any connection to me, save for the loud Mizrachi music and karaoke which will wake my baby up throughout the night. The contemporary secular celebration of Yom Ha’atzma’ut is a spectacle of fireworks, party favors, and naked nationalism that blinds the eyes.  Sometimes simplicity and nonsense give way to perversion. Several years back our former notorious mayor, had a noted Israeli transsexual musician perform for the town on Yom Haatzmaut. Fortunately, I never attend these things, and so my disgust at this humiliation was second-hand. And fortunately that wicked little mayor is gone, and in her stead, we have a thoroughly decent man.

I don’t blame secular Jews. Secular Jews have a better excuse. They have no reference for a Torah perspective. The religious have much more to explain. And I speak of all different groups. Those who deny the miracles, as well as those who accept and celebrate them, but tolerate corrupt government because they view government per say as a sacred institution. Sacred in its inherent form, and not something which requires sanctification. There are of course other groups of religious Jews throughout the country whose views are equally anathema to me. For example, the religious pluralists who think that Torah and liberal democracy can be fused.

Perhaps so much of my feelings of isolation is that I am geographically far from like-minded Jews, who understand that we have unfinished business. This in a sense is why I always spend the day with certain relatives, whose views on just about everything relating to Israel are foreign to my own. They are the warmest people I know, and they embraced my transplanted family with true ahavat yisroel. If I cannot enjoy ideological commonality, I will substitute it with celebrations with the those I love who don’t even share my perspective. So I celebrate with them, and in my heart I burn for a day when true Jewish happiness fuels all Yom Haatzmaut celebrations. A Yom Haatzmaut free of Arabs murdering Jews because there will be no Arabs in Israel.

As Jews we have an obligation to thank G-d for the many undeserved miracles He performed (and continues to perform) on our behalf when the Arabs rose up to annihilate us. We are required to thank him despite the fact that some Jews spit at the heavens and scorn the gift. But I’ll celebrate Independence Day with a little more fervor when the Jewish people returns to the Torah. I’ll rejoice fully when laws of biblical warfare are resurrected in the war with the Arabs (may we see them destroyed in total). Because there is no authentic independence in Israel. We are still at war with the Arabs.

Nor would mere freedom from man be an ends in itself. Kedoshim Tihiyu. As I noted in a recent article, the only free man is the G-d fearing one concerned with the Torah. May we become free in the near future, so that the next time the chag comes around, we can refer to ourselves as being truly independent of man and men, and as genuine Servants of the Almighty.

One final point. The haunting sirens of this season do indeed resonate with me, and I have no cynicism for the custom, only for the failure of leadership to learn the lessons. It evokes all kinds of emotions. The simplicity of the blaring shriek is somewhat akin to the shofar. It is blaring. It evokes fear, the unknown, introspection, and so many others. It demands that we recall the heroism and sacrifice of sacred martyrs who died Al Kiddush Hashem. It reminds me of our accursed enemies and the mandate to obliterate evil. Thoughts of teshuva, both personal and national come to mind. I hope that our leaders will truly listen to the siren.

I am thankful to Hashem for the tremendous miracles He performed from us, and the salvation from modern day Amalekites. I acknowledge and appreciate that despite the myriad problems with our clueless and G-dless leaders, we are back in Eretz Yisrael, and we could bring Moshiach tomorrow if the Nation had the inclination to do so. Even in the muck of the negative, of the indifference, and the frustrating manifestations of Jewish weakness which stains the Nation, there are historically unprecedented positives. We are one step closer.

And so I await the day when we see true Jewish fireworks, and merit the authentic Jewish independence of the Messiah, may we see him in our times. Perhaps someday soon, the IDF will have a real man of Torah at the helm who will unshackle our soldiers and allow them to fight the enemy, in the manner that the Torah demands we fight wars. Tikkun Olam with an M-16, if you will. And on that day, perhaps there won’t be any question at all about the Halachic requirement of reciting Hallel with a brachah.

*I refrained from addressing the perverse ideology of Neturei Karta, and various off-shoots (some of them trying to be a more palpable Neturei Karta lite) who are as far from Judaism as man is from the moon. Any doctrine which permits alliances with people committed to murdering Jews, is contrary to everything Jewish, and the adherents of such a diseased way of thinking are wicked. The sins of Israeli governments (both real and imagined) do not justify their own vile actions which endanger the Am and constitute a chillul Hashem on the world’s stage. They must not be lumped with more normative chareidi approaches which reject Zionism based on their interpretation (wrong as I may see them) of Jewish sources. Those religious post-Zionist types who apologize for the NK by calling them “misguided” betray their ignorance of Torah, and speak little of themselves. The same can be said for those vulgarians who reject the moniker of “Neturei Karta” but have adopted their grotesque language with terms such as lsraHELL, Zionazis, etc., and equally un-Jewish worldviews. May Hashem open the eyes of all decent Jews to find Torah expressions to sanctify the Nation and bring Moshiach.

 

Donny Fuchs

The Meaning of True Independence

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

{Originally posted to the Colonel’s website, Colonel Richard Kemp}

“What kind of talk is this, ‘punishing Israel?’ Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic? Are we 14-year-olds who, if we misbehave, get our wrists slapped? Let me tell you whom this Cabinet comprises. It is composed of people whose lives were marked by resistance, fighting and suffering.”

These were the words of Prime Minister Menachem Begin delivered to the U.S. President Ronald Reagan in December 1981. Begin, one of the greatest leaders and fighters of our times, knew the meaning of true independence.

He knew that it was not about firecrackers, dancing in the streets or lighting flames. It was about standing up for yourself and submitting to no man. Declaring to the world, “this is where we stand.”

Israel’s independence was bought at a high price in Jewish blood, fighting first against the might of the British Empire and then against five powerful Arab armies which sought its destruction.

For 68 years Israelis have fought again and again to defend their independence against enemies who would subjugate their country. No other nation has struggled so long and so hard, surrounded by such unyielding hostility.

But in making their stand, Israelis have never had to stand alone. From the beginning, Jews from the U.K., the U.S., Europe, Australia, South Africa and around the world rallied to the fight for independence under the glorious banner of the Mahal. Among them were non-Jews, including a Christian soldier from my own regiment.

In the years since, and even today, the courage of their young successors, the “lone soldiers”’ of the diaspora, travelling thousands of miles from the safety of their homes to stand and fight here to preserve Israel’s independence, inspires awe and humility. As Begin said: “This is the land of their forefathers, and they have a right and a duty to support it.”

Israel’s independence has a strength that cannot be known by those who have not had to struggle for their freedom. What is the meaning of this independence?

It means that Israel’s right to exist is not to be sanctioned by the peoples of the Middle East or by the leaders of the Western world. It is to be determined only by the Jewish people who, down the millennia, have fought, suffered and died for that inalienable right.

It means that Israel is not to have its borders imposed by international bodies or by foreign states, no matter how powerful they might be. It means that Israelis are not to be dictated to about where they can and cannot settle in their land. It means that Israel is not to be told how it may or may not defend the lives of its people under the sovereign independence of the law. It means that Israel is not to be lectured or scolded about human rights by those that have no glimmer of understanding of what human rights truly are.

The civilized world has an obligation to respect this independence just as it respects the independence of other free, democratic nations.

Israel has shown mankind how a besieged nation — against all odds — can survive and flourish, decide its own destiny and unwaveringly retain its honour, its decency, its dignity, its integrity and its compassion. It was not for nothing that British Premier Winston Churchill described the Jewish people as “beyond any question, the most formidable and most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.”

Today not just Israel but the whole of civilization should celebrate the independence of the nation that continues to shine a beacon light onto that world.

Colonel Richard Kemp

The Execution of a True Palestinian Hero

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Shuafat is one of the tragedies of Jerusalem. Jerusalem ambulances, garbage trucks and fire trucks cannot enter the neighborhood without being stoned. Much of it is officially an UNRWA camp where services are supposed to be provided by that organization, but UNRWA all but ignores it as well. As a result, Shuafat is a crime-ridden, drug-infested, dangerous place with open sewers, huge piles of trash and little hope. While most of it is in the Jerusalem municipal boundary, it lies outside the separation barrier – it is a failure of Zionism as well that the Israeli authorities, after many years, simply gave up on trying to control this part of Jerusalem.

Into this vacuum stepped a young man, Baha Nababta.

By all accounts, Nababta worked tirelessly to help the residents of his neighborhood. He founded a number of social institutions in Shuafat to help troubled youth. Nababta was also the head of a local, volunteer fire department that worked with tools as crude as hammers to rescue people from burning houses. He created an emergency response team with over 50 volunteers to respond to all kinds of local emergencies from snowstorms to a team of motorcyclists who could protect Israeli emergency teams who must enter the camp. He helped pave roads, get rid of garbage – essentially every service taken for granted by residents of every other urban area

Nababta was not shy about asking for help from Jerusalem authorities or from liberal Israeli organizations, asking for basic medical and firefighting equipment. His local groups received training from Jerusalem municipal firefighters and from Jerusalem medics, and from all accounts they were happy to help. His main contact on the Israeli side was Dr. Meir Margalit, a Jewish member of the far left Meretz party.

This is probably the reason he is no longer alive.

Haaretz reported last week:

Baha Nababta, a well-known social activist in the Shoafat refugee camp in northern Jerusalem, was shot to death on Monday by an unknown assailant.

The murder occurred at about 11:30 P.M. on Monday, while Nababta stood with a large group of local residents near the paving work they had initiated. Witnesses said an unknown person riding a motorbike was looking for Nababta, and when he found him he shot 10 bullets at Nababta, seven of which hit him. Nababta was rushed to hospital but died a short time later.

Camp residents said on Tuesday that they did not know who the murderer was, but thought the murder was connected to his social activism.

We don’t know who executed Baha Nababta but it seems likely that Palestinians who are against “normalization” were behind the murder.

This is the one week anniversary of the murder. The story was covered, barely, in Israeli newspapers (Jerusalem Post buried it on page 10, for example.)

Palestinian media ignored the story completely. Outside of social media I couldn’t find one news story about this murder of a prominent social worker.

His death did not receive the headlines of those who are killed while trying to murder Jews. Nababta did not have a huge funeral. His Facebook page – which was quite active – does not have one person expressing condolences after his death.

I’m sure I wouldn’t have agreed with Baha Nababta’s politics, but he deserved a huge amount of respect for actually working to help his people instead of choosing to spend his life complaining and protesting. His work was heroic and his death is a tragedy by any measure for Arabs and Jews alike.

But perhaps the bigger tragedy is that his murder has been so roundly ignored by his own people.

The Palestinian leadership and media do not want to publicize anything that cannot be blamed on Israel, because their entire existence is based on “resistance,” not on doing anything positive for their people. Nababta was guilty of the cardinal crime of “normalization” with Jews who wanted to help him and his fellow Arabs, and to Palestinians, that is unforgivable – and his murder is understandable if embarrassing to mention.

The execution of Baha Nababta, and the silence about his murder from not only Palestinians but from so-called pro-Palestinian activists, sends a message to all Arabs that working even with left-wing Jews is an unforgivable crime.

A person who should be hailed as an example to all Palestinians has been relegated to one of the many piles of garbage that he worked hard to eradicate.

Peace is impossible with a society that treats a true hero like Baha Nababta as a villain.

Elder of Ziyon

The Walter Bingham File – What is the True Status of Jerusalem? [audio]

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Walter talks about the status of Jerusalem and you will want to hear this show!

The Walter Bingham File 08May2016 – PODCAST

Israel News Talk Radio

The True Definition Of Freedom

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

And I came down to save them from the hand of Egypt and to bring them forth from that land unto a good and wide land, a land flowing with milk an honey” – Exodus 3:8

 

This is how God addressed Himself to Moshe when promising to redeem the Jews from Egyptian bondage. This promise heralded their soon-to-be-achieved freedom.

Freedom is the most lauded ideal of a democratic society. We march for it, fight for it, and often die for it. Unfortunately, in seeking liberty, many try to throw off the “yoke” of a spiritually guided life. To them, religion, with all its rules and regulations, is an uncomfortable burden, incongruous with modern society. So freedom is defined as “doing as we please,” in tandem with liberty from the demands of a religious life.

The Torah’s definition of freedom affects the three realms that constitute human life: the realm of the soul, the realm of the body, and the realm of the surrounding world in which the individual lives.

The enslavement of the Jews in Egypt and their subsequent liberation operated in these three realms. First, there was spiritual enslavement in and to a country with the lowest level of moral depravity. Egyptian civilization was based of the forces of nature and natural phenomena, especially the Nile River. It hardly ever rains in Egypt, but human ingenuity developed an elaborate irrigation system that turned Egypt into a flourishing garden surrounded by deserts. This brought about a profusely idolatrous culture, characterized by the deification of the forces of nature and the powers of man, who was able to utilize these forces.

Second, there was the extreme physical slavery of hard labor. And third, there was the complete deprivation of the share of material possessions to which humans are entitled.

Likewise the liberation involves all three realms, and in the fullest measure.

First and foremost, spiritual liberation. The Jews were commanded to take lambs held sacred by the Egyptians and sacrifice them – a public demonstration of the utter worthlessness of the Egyptian cult. It was not enough to deny Egyptian idolatry in the recesses of one’s heart; one was called on to do so openly and without fear.

Second, complete physical liberation by marching out of Egypt with a “raised hand” amidst song and jubilation.

Third, regarding material possessions, the Torah relates that the Jews went forth “with great wealth.”

Harmonious and total freedom cannot be achieved through a way of life whereby the soul is subordinated to the body and both body and soul are subjugated to the material world. The superior cannot serve the inferior and be content doing so. The highest aspect of human life, the soul, will never acquiesce in subservience to the body.

True freedom can be achieved only by freeing the body from its animalistic tendencies and liberating it to serve its Creator.

As was true in ancient Egypt, many today worship the supremacy of man and his astounding accomplishments and find no place for God in this age of science. The Torah reminds us that we must “withdraw” and reject the idolatry of the land – in whatever form it expresses itself. We must recognize God’s control of the universe and human

Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic

Go East

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

The anniversary of the Yom Kipur War always reminds one of Israeli fallibility, arrogance, and overconfidence, yet at the same time of its capacity to defy the odds and come back from the brink. It was another example of our bringing disaster upon ourselves and then fighting back to survive. After all, that is what the name “Israel” means in the Bible: “to struggle with man and God and survive”.

If I were to listen to the voices, Jewish and non-Jewish, that I hear in such examples as The New York Times, in The New York Review of Books, the intellectual and leftwing talking heads of Europe and the USA, or indeed popular left wing opinion, I would have a depressing sense of impending catastrophe. This week Peter Beinart, in The New York Review of Books, tells us that we Jews neither know, nor understand, nor feel the suffering of the Palestinians, whether under Hamas or the PLO. Ian S. Lustick goes on at length in a one-sided peroration typical of The New York Times that the lays the blame on Israel for making the Two State Solution irrelevant. They are not entirely wrong. But I tell you I am bloody fed up with people lumping all Israelis, all Jews together in their simplistic apportioning of blame, seeing things in black and white rather than in greys. Palestinians are good victims. Israelis are bad oppressors. In fact, both are both. That’s what humans are, a mixture of good and bad.

Some Israelis, some Jews are indeed intolerable racists. It is as true as is the fact that in South Africa under Apartheid there were Jews who acquiesced, who remained silent and failed their moral duty. But it is equally true that many Jews fought long and hard and at great cost to themselves, to oppose Apartheid and to promote freedom for the black population. That the ANC finally triumphed has not replaced immorality with morality, discrimination with equality. Sadly, too often those who suffer respond not by continuing the drive towards greater freedom but by grabbing all they can for themselves. This is the usual consequence of most struggles for freedom. Similarly, in Zimbabwe the relatively benign but overtly racial regime of Ian Smith was replaced by the much more evil and murderous regime of black Mugabe. Good fighters for freedom turn into very bad governors of countries. But that is the price of the struggle. And politics is dirty and messy everywhere.

The role of government is to protect its citizens and the vision of its founders. Israel was created as a state with a Jewish heritage, just as much as Muslim states were established to preserve and propagate Muslim heritage. Most of us would like to see both as tolerant and democratic societies. Israel is imperfect indeed, but it is our homeland. If we care for it we should fight to protect it and to improve it, not to undermine it. We should focus just as much on those who are working hard on reconciliation, on doing good, not just on the bad, on Syrians treated in Israeli hospitals, on Israel providing for Gaza what Egypt is not. But don’t expect this from the anti-Israel amen chorus.

So how are we expected to relate to a dysfunctional Middle East that is constantly stirred up against us by a distorted Western mentality? Surely not by capitulating to its mental diseases. I suggest we try to ignore its pathologies as best we can. But I must stress, I do not advocate cutting ourselves off from the Muslim world. The Middle East is not the only Muslim location. I do not think the divide between Judaism and Islam is either inevitable or healthy. We have far more in common with each other than we do with Western religions. To both of us, religion is not a series of theological propositions but a way of life. However if we want to heal the breach we must look further east.

It always surprises Jews to learn that the Muslims of the Far East, from India to Indonesia, from Cambodia to China, see the Arab jihadis of the Middle East in much the same way that non-Orthodox Jews view Charedim. They regard the Salafists and the Wahhabis as over the top extremists. It’s true in both cases that guilt often leads them to support the pious at arm’s length. The Far East also has its extreme and violent Islamic movements and terrorists, but the general mood of Islam is far more benign the further you get from the Middle East. It is more tolerant, less anti-West, and less fixated on blaming everyone else, especially the Jews, for their own ills. Yes, you can quote me that nasty former Malayan premier Mahathir bin Mohamad, who blamed the Jews for everything. But, thank goodness, he was not typical. I believe Israel should reduce its links with Europe with is ghastly legacy and history. It should be cultivating relations and economic involvements with India, China, Korea, and other emerging powers out in the Far East.

Daniel Goldhagen, the controversial and outspoken American historian who wrote Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, has stirred things up with his latest book about Western anti-Semitism, The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism. Anthony Julius wrote a dismissive review in the Wall Street Journal accusing Goldhagen of sloppy research and unreliable statistics, even if he agrees with the core of his thesis. But even if Goldhagen exaggerates when he says 200 million Europeans compare Israelis to Nazis, let us reduce it by half. The fact is that huge swathes of opinion in Europe and the USA are venomously opposed to Israel’s existence on principle. So who is Israel to rely on? We knew Europe would never go to war to defend the Jews. Now we have seen all too clearly that the USA cannot be relied upon to fight. It is war weary. Israel must defend it itself as best it can, both socially and militarily. It is time to look for friends elsewhere.

In addition, I believe Judaism has more in common with and is more appreciated by the religion and mysticism of the East than of the West. The West is fixated on pain, suffering, guilt, and negativity. The East has much more positive religious energy. We have been identified with the Western religious tradition for too long. We have adopted too much of this guilt and pain. We could well redress the balance. It is time to think about a new alliance, a new love affair, with the Far East for Israel and Jews in general. I only hope our present leaders, secular and religious, will not be as myopic as those of the past.

Jeremy Rosen

Testing And Prophecy

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

How did our ancestors distinguish a true prophet from a false one?

Unlike kings or priests, prophets did not derive authority from formal office. Their authority lay in their personality, their ability to give voice to the word of God, their self-evident inspiration. But precisely because a prophet has privileged access to the word others cannot hear, the visions others cannot see, the real possibility existed of false prophets – like those of Baal in the days of King Ahab.

What was there to prevent a fraudulent, or even a sincere but mistaken, figure, able to perform signs and wonders and move the people by the power of his words, from taking the nation in a wrong direction, misleading others and perhaps even himself?

Moses addresses this concern in our sedra:

“You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”

On the face of it, the test is simple: if what the prophet predicts comes to pass, he is a true prophet; if not, not. Clearly, though, it was not that simple.

The classic case is the Book of Jonah. Jonah is commanded by God to warn the people of Nineveh that their wickedness is about to bring disaster on them. Jonah attempts to flee, but fails – the famous story of the sea, the storm, and the “great fish.” Eventually he goes to Nineveh and utters the words God has commanded him to say – “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed” – the people repent and the city is spared. Jonah, however, is deeply dissatisfied:

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3).

Jonah’s complaint can be understood in two ways. First, he was distressed that God had forgiven the people. They were, after all, wicked. They deserved to be punished. Why then did a mere change of heart release them from the punishment that was their due?

Second, he had been made to look a fool. He had told them that in 40 days the city would be destroyed. It was not. God’s mercy made nonsense of his prediction.

Jonah is wrong to be displeased: that much is clear. God says, in the rhetorical question with which the book concludes: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Should I not be merciful? Should I not forgive?

But what then becomes of the criterion Moses lays down for distinguishing between a true and false prophet: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”? Jonah had proclaimed that the city would be destroyed in 40 days. It wasn’t; yet the proclamation was true. He really did speak the word of God. How can this be so?

The answer is given in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah had been prophesying national disaster. The people had drifted from their religious vocation, and the result would be defeat and exile. It was a difficult and demoralizing message for people to hear. A false prophet arose, Hananiah son of Azzur, preaching the opposite. Babylon, Israel’s enemy, would soon be defeated. Within two years the crisis would be over. Jeremiah knew that it was not so, and that Hananiah was telling the people what they wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear. He addressed the assembled people:

He said, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster, and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.”

Jeremiah makes a fundamental distinction between good news and bad. It is easy to prophesy disaster. If the prophecy comes true, then you have spoken the truth. If it does not, then you can say: God relented and forgave. A negative prophecy cannot be refuted – but a positive one can. If the good foreseen comes to pass, then the prophecy is true. If it does not, then you cannot say, “God changed His mind” because God does not retract from a promise He has made of good, or peace, or return.

It is therefore only when the prophet offers a positive vision that he can be tested. That is why Jonah was wrong to believe he had failed when his negative prophecy – the destruction of Nineveh – failed to come true. This is how Maimonides puts it:

“As to calamities predicted by a prophet, if, for example, he foretells the death of a certain individual or declares that in particular year there will be famine or war and so forth, the non-fulfillment of his forecast does not disprove his prophetic character. We are not to say, ‘See, he spoke and his prediction has not come to pass.’ For God is long-suffering and abounding in kindness and repents of evil. It may also be that those who were threatened repented and were therefore forgiven, as happened to the men of Nineveh. Possibly too, the execution of the sentence is only deferred, as in the case of Hezekiah.

“But if the prophet, in the name of God, assures good fortune, declaring that a particular event would come to pass, and the benefit promised has not been realized, he is unquestionably a false prophet, for no blessing decreed by the Almighty, even if promised conditionally, is ever revoked … Hence we learn that only when he predicts good fortune can the prophet be tested (Yesodei ha-Torah 10:4).

Fundamental conclusions follow from this. A prophet is not an oracle: a prophecy is not a prediction. Precisely because Judaism believes in free will, the human future can never be unfailingly predicted. People are capable of change. God forgives. As we say in our prayers on the High Holy Days: “Prayer, penitence, and charity avert the evil decree.”

There is no decree that cannot be revoked. A prophet does not foretell. He warns. A prophet does not speak to predict future catastrophe but rather to avert it. If a prediction comes true it has succeeded. If a prophecy comes true it has failed.

The second consequence is no less far-reaching. The real test of prophecy is not bad news but good. Calamity, catastrophe, disaster prove nothing. Anyone can foretell these things without risking his reputation or authority. It is only by the realization of a positive vision that prophecy is put to the test.

So it was with Israel’s prophets. They were realists, not optimists. They warned of the dangers that lay ahead. But they were also, without exception, agents of hope. They could see beyond the catastrophe to the consolation. That is the test of a true prophet.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/testing-and-prophecy/2013/08/07/

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