Sunday, May 15, 2011

Herzl in Tel Aviv - 2011

In 2004 the Israeli Knesset passed the Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl Law (In Commemoration of His Memory and His Work), 5764-2004.The purpose of the Law is, “to inculcate future generations with the vision, legacy and activity of Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, to honor his memory, to teach future generations and to effect the creation of the State of Israel in accordance with his Zionist vision, together with its institutions, its objectives and its image.”

Tomorrow, the Knesset is due to have its annual session which discusses Herzl and Zionism's vision.

Two comments are worthwhile making.

1. Herzl's vision could not have been more successful. We have a living, breathing country in our "old-new land" fulfilling Herzl's dream of normalisation.

But Herzl's vision couldn't have been more wrong! Herzl thought that our Statehood would bring anti-semitism to an end, facilitating Jewish normalisation in the global community. And yet, today, Israel is the focal point of world anti-semitism. This reality lends a fundamental paradox to Herzl's legacy that we don't quite know how to digest.

2. But the real reason that I wanted to write this post is due to this graffiti that I found and photographed in Tel Aviv:

This graffiti is a play on Herzl's famous line: "If you will it; it is no dream." Herzl's original statement indicated that if we have the determination, the courage and desire, then anything is possible. This sort of ideology which animated the founding generation of the State of Israel was responsible for the passion and belief that Medinat Yisrael would come into existence and that it was worth toiling for, fighting for.

Unfortunately, this graffiti shows that there are some who today preach a different ideology: "If you don't want; there is no necessity." לא רוצים - לא צריך. This is not a joke; and if it is, it is humour in poor taste. This way of thinking takes Israel for granted, or worse - suggests that Israel is just worthless, not worth fighting for. It is sad to see how within 63 years of independence there are Israelis who fail to understand what we fight for, who lack the historical perspective to know how desperate the situation of world Jewry was in a pre-Medinat Yisrael world. These are people who fail to envisage the incredible state that we CAN create in Eretz Yisrael.

We still need to plant and tend the seeds of ideology, nurturing and fostering a passion and love for our country, hope for the future, and the wherewithall with which to build our collective future.

Happy Herzl Day!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

At the Israel Museum

The other day I visited the newly renovated Israel Museum to see the archaeology section there. For a Tanakh teacher, it was a real treat; there are phenomenal exhibits which bring Tanakh to life.

We saw artifacts from ancient Hazor, the royal archway from Achav's palace in Shomron. Here is the earliest reference to the "House of David" (See right - highlighted in white")

Here (below) is Sennaherib's prism which tells the story of the Assyrian attack on Hizkiyahu. It is incredible what these archeological artifacts reveal. For example, until we had these Asyyrian records, we never knew that Sennaherib described his besieging of Hizkiyah as if Hizkiyahu was a "caged bird." But after we learn this, we better understand why Yishayhu (31:5) uses the metaphor that, "as birds fly free, so will the Lord of Hosts protect you." Yishayahu MUST be responding to Sennaherib's propaganda, but until this archaeological find, who knew?

It is incredible to see these connections with the past. When you see Hizkiyahu's royal seal in front of your eyes, when you can look at "shekel" and "gera" weights and measures, the amazing silver "scroll" of Birkhat Kohanim, found in the Hinnom valley, and so much else which directly overlaps with Tanakh, it is quite wonderful!

The museum has been beautifully refurbished and renewed and it looks amazing.

One of the things I was excited to see was Anish Kapur's special new sculture. The way I read about it is that it reflects the notion of ירושלים של מעלה\ ירושלים של מטה as it switches heaven and earth. In Jerusalem, the "heaven" is on "earth," and the "earth" is in the "heavens." What an amazing metaphor, and what a stupendous creation to express this idea.

Come visit!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Beauty - A terrible basis for marriage!

I am currently teaching a course at Pardes entitled, "War and Peace." No! It isn't about Tolstoy. It is an examination of the morality of war in Sefer Devarim.

This is taught on the Community Education program at Pardes which means that the class is exceedingly heterogeneous. In my class of 20 students this week, we had two 20 year old WUJS students, a 40 year old tour guide, a retired president of a prestigious university, and two fully participating students who were over 90 years old! The beautiful thing about having mature adult students is the life-wisdom they they bring with them, and a perspective of experience that comes with a long life. As Devarim 32 tells us:

Remember the days of old;
consider the generations long past.
Ask your father and he will tell you,
your elders, and they will explain to you.

We were studying the case of the אשת יפת תואר - the beautiful captive woman. The Torah legislates an entire procedure for a man who sees a beautiful woman amongst the prisoners of war and wishes to marry her. There are serious questions of morality here that relate to human rights, to intermarriage, assimilation, and so forth. (Read more on the topic here.)

One elderly man - he must be at least 85 - raised his hand, quite agitated. He objected to the entire discussion:

"I am bothered by the Ramban," he said; "He keeps talking about beauty as the basis of attraction between this man and this woman. But doesn't he know - beauty is a terrible basis for a marriage. Beauty fades and is fleeting; marriage is based on so much more!"

Everyone in the class laughed. The wonderful thing about this man was the straightforward, almost naive, simple way in which he said it, with a "childish" innocence. Only after everyone laughed did he realise that what he had said could sound funny. It was if he was unaware that we live in a society that is youth-intoxicated, botox-injected and obsessed with external appearances. For him, it was most preposterous to base a relationship on good-looks, which, as this wrinkled, stooped, wonderfully cheerful and happy man knows, dissipate and diminish with the years. Love is based upon something deeper.

In Hebrew, the word "זקן" means "old" but also "wise." - How true that is!