I was always able to believe that those rare acts of violence by Israeli Jews were condemned wall to wall across Israeli society; that those vigilantes, and the marginalized few who supported them, were just that: the marginalized few. That this highlighted a stark contrast between Israel and its neighbors, which incentivize terrorism.
While, thankfully, that is still true, this truth has been potentially punctures. If it’s not addressed properly, it could lead to the unraveling of Israeli society as we know it.
In preparation for Israeli elections, the Israeli political party Otzma Yehudit, which considers its ideological leader to be the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, has merged with a mainstream religious Zionist party, Bayit Hayehudi, the most recent incarnation of the National Religious Party of my childhood. One of the leaders of Otzma Yehudit has a framed photo of Baruch Goldstein hanging in his apartment, with a biblical verse hailing him as a zealot for G-d. To mainstream a party that normalizes the likes of Baruch Goldstein is horrifying.
In 1994, Dr. Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Arabs in Hebron in cold blood.
I know what a devoted physician Goldstein was to all in Hebron, Jew and Arab alike. But that is irrelevant to the fact that he murdered innocent Arabs who were at prayer.
I understand that the merger of Otzma Yehudit and Bayit Hayehudi was simply a realpolitik decision and not an alignment of ideologies. I understand how hypocritical the outcry is, considering how leftist parties embrace extremist Arab Knesset members who support Palestinian terrorism against Israelis.
And yet, there are certain lines that should never be crossed — the moral and ethical lines we must have that define who we are as a people and what Israel is as a Jewish state. Israel is a place that seeks to be a light, a deeper, kinder, humanitarian society, a place that lives and breathes the great tradition of Judaism.
One can cherry-pick verses from the Bible to create manifestos like those of Otzma Yehudit. But while the power of the pshat, the literal text of the Bible, is fascinating, the great achievement of the Jewish oral tradition is the often softer, humane interpretations of biblical verses. The most famous case is the understanding of “eye for an eye” as monetary compensation, instead of a violent gouging.
Zealotry. Revenge. Violence.
This is not the layered tradition of Judaism, the great rabbinic tradition intervened between the biblical era and our own.
When I hear Kahanists or leaders of Otzma Yehudit quote random biblical verses as though they constitute the backbone of a Jewish vision for the land of Israel, my hair stands on its head. In the spirit of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, on the most fundamental level Israel is a home, a sanctuary, a safe space for the Jewish people.
But Israel is more than shelter.
It is a place for the Jewish people to actualize a society reflective of the Jewish values and traditions we can be proud of — the ethical and moral values that make us who we are. The least of those values ought to be a wall-to-wall consensus against Jewish vigilante acts of violence.
And on their highest level, those values can mean Israel shining as a light unto the nations. The sky is the limit — and as we saw last week with the launch of Beresheet, even beyond the sky.
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News