Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Netanyahu as Decider: Will He Go All the Way?

Netanyahu as Decider:
Will He Go All the Way?

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a special cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin,
July 21, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Uriel Sinai)

By: Ben Caspit for Al-Monitor Israel Pulse

Against the backdrop of the opening of diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in Washington [July 30] — once considered a trivial event yet today deemed a historic breakthrough — 
a debate is taking place in Israel between two schools of thought as to “What is the real nature of Prime Minister Benjamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu?”

Has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu matured, changed, “crossed the Rubicon” and resolved to reach a permanent status arrangement (or any other arrangement) with the Palestinians, thereby carving out his place in history? Or is it the same old Bibi — a conservative, hesitant leader who is interested only in squandering as much time for as little a price as possible, perpetuating the status quo in order to hold on to his seat for as long as possible? Is it the same old Bibi who doesn’t want to rock the boat and part with his father’s teachings to the effect that there is no room for two states in the narrow and troubled strip between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River?

Those believing that Netanyahu has decided to take action and “go all the way” allude to historic precedents and Netanyahu’s predecessors, namely the ‘princes’ of the Likud party and the champions of the “Greater Land of Israel” who had undergone a similar process.

The late Prime Minister Menachem Begin — they maintain — gave the Sinai Peninsula back to the Egyptians down to the last grain of sand, and made peace (1979). Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismantled dozens of settlements (2005). Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also saw his ideology and worldview transformed (2008). He laid out the most generous peace offer ever presented to a Palestinian leader. The same goes for Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, former Ministers Dan Meridor, Roni Milo and a long list of other leaders and politicians who hailed from Israel’s traditional right-wing circles but at some point crossed the lines, having realized that the two-state solution is necessary not only to bring an end to the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but also for the sake of Israel’s future.

The proponents of this heartening theory resort to telltale signs, trying to read the map in a way that suits their needs. In recent weeks, so they say, Netanyahu has been talking about the need to prevent the establishment of one state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River; “a state of all its citizens,” where Israel would lose its Jewish majority within a few years. If it wants to continue to be a dominant Jewish state, Israel will be forced to turn into a South Africa. That’s the narrative of the Israeli peace camp in all its glory.

The right is scornful and dismissive of those fearing “one state,” trying to blow off this argument and refute it in any way it can. Until not long ago, Netanyahu was deeply rooted in that camp. Yet lo and behold, he started using, almost overnight, the term “binational state.” Some people compare the term that Netanyahu now uses to the day when Ariel Sharon started using the term “occupation.” Those optimists further note that Netanyahu has long lost his Likud party which has veered sharply to the right, having more opponents than proponents to the two-state solution.

Netanyahu is a leader without a party, the optimists exclaim. It helps him to understand that there’s no point in wallowing in this state of affairs. He needs to do something in the spirit of Ariel Sharon: a big bang, the establishment of a new political framework ahead of the next elections — one which would offer Israelis an opportunity to vote for a historic peace arrangement, shattering the historic Likud party into a myriad of pieces.

This is a romantic view that is based more on the wishful thinking and personal hopes of its proponents than the facts on the ground. It thrives in the back rooms of Israel’s political corridors, in hushed conversations among well-placed associates. It is based on barely perceptible winks and nods among (self-proclaimed) Netanyahu mavens or some other fly-by-night kibitzers.

This view is predicated on a premise that Netanyahu is made of the same stuff as Begin and Sharon. However, it ignores the fundamental recognition that Netanyahu is a weak, pusillanimous leader who is not cut out for such turmoil. Notwithstanding, this is a legitimate view that is gathering momentum in the Israeli public as well as among seasoned media commentators.

To further maintain this approach, quite a few questions have to be answered, the most intriguing of which is the following: If Netanyahu is indeed resolved to go for an arrangement, if he has indeed changed and matured and reached the understanding and realization, etc., etc., why hasn’t he — on the way to resuming negotiations — agreed to take any step that would suggest any of that?

It should be recalled that Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen had two concurrent conditions for Netanyahu in exchange for returning to the negotiation table. The first one was to publicly acknowledge that the negotiations would take place on the basis of the 1967 lines. The second one was a declaration of a settlement freeze.

Somewhere down the road, when American pressure was cranked up, Abu Mazen decided, as was published in Al-Monitor, to step down from two conditions to one. You choose — the Palestinian leader told Netanyahu. What do you prefer — to recognize the 1967 lines as a basis or to freeze construction? I’ll take whatever you give me. In addition, he asked that prisoners be released.

Netanyahu could offer neither one of these two conditions. He cannot even fathom uttering the words "1967 lines" nor is he able to freeze construction in the settlements again, not even in the remote ones beyond the lines of the separation fence.

Is this to be expected of a man who is “resolved to make peace”? Instead of meeting either one of these two conditions, Netanyahu opted to release prisoners. You need to delve into the crux of this issue to understand its implications. From Day One of his political career to date, Netanyahu has built his entire career on the “war on terror.” Having written best-selling books on the subject, he gave speeches galore and constructed elaborate theories and political doctrines around this. And yet, to resume the negotiations, rather than say "1967 lines" or construction freeze, he preferred to release 104 Palestinian prisoners, some of whom are “heavyweight” murderers.

These are particularly heinous murderers who kidnapped and killed, who burned families and who have been sentenced to dozens or hundreds of years in prison. And now they will be sent home, just like that, in the middle of the summer, only so that the negotiations can resume. By his decision, Netanyahu has broken his own past records of absurdity, after previously releasing a thousand Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for the kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit [2011], releasing scores of prisoners (including Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin) in the wake of the abortive assassination of the chief of Hamas' political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, and other massive releases of prisoners.

Although he preached to the world not to negotiate with terrorists, not to bend and not to yield, Netanyahu does the opposite anew, and this time around with greater verve.

Why is this time different? Because this time around Netanyahu will — most likely — cross another red line by releasing Arab Israeli security prisoners and allowing Abu Mazen to blatantly intervene in Israel’s domestic affairs and judicial and punitive system.

Over the years, Israel has repeatedly underscored that when it comes to Arab Israelis, who are full-fledged citizens and have engaged in terrorism, it will not let foreign elements, including Palestinians, meddle in its affairs on their behalf. This seriously and flagrantly undermines Israel’s sovereignty. There are clear indications that Netanyahu once again has given up this casus belli.

Why did Netanyahu choose this path? After all, he could have kept the prisoners behind bars had he been able to freeze the activity in the settlements for a few months or admit to what every child in the region already knows, that the point of reference to any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is the Green Line. Is this to be expected of a leader who has come to understand the need of reaching an arrangement or is it the modus operandi of a person trying with all his might to dodge decisions, while emptying the prisons and abusing Israeli deterrence against terror so long as he doesn’t give a sliver of a chance to ever dividing this country between two peoples?

From here on, readers can choose for themselves the winning theory. Are we seeing a courageous leader who has reached his own crossroads of historic decisions and will walk the walk to make his mark in history, or are we dealing with someone who is trying to let the process slip away and just buy time? Has Bibi reached the understanding, the maturity and the decision or is he still leading us by the nose?

Incidentally, I would like to offer a third way to the “die-hard” undecided: It’s possible that Bibi understands but he himself hasn’t internalized it yet; or he has internalized it but has yet to reach the understanding; or he has matured but has yet to make a decision. In short, he is clueless about what to do next and he himself doesn’t know whether he will have the courage to dive headlong into the stormy, cold water that awaits him around the bend.

An Israeli study funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation clears a major barrier to enabling safe transplants between species.

An Israeli study funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation clears a major barrier to enabling safe transplants between species.

Insulin is made in the islet cells of the pancreas (highlighted). 
Image courtesy of Yuval Dor/Hebrew University-
Hadassah Medical School.

Alpha-1, a natural blood protein that fights inflammation, protects transplanted animal pancreatic islets – where insulin is produced – from rejection by the human body when used in combination with another anti-rejection therapy, according to an Israeli study financed by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

This discovery, reported in the journal PLoS ONE in May, could open the door to successful islet transplants from mammals, such as pigs, for Type 1 diabetes patients.
Type 1 diabetes affects an estimated three million people in the United States alone. The disease results from a problem with the production or distribution of the hormone insulin, which carries glucose to the body’s cells for energy. Insulin is made in the islet cells of the pancreas, and transplants of healthy human islets have successfully allowed recipients to stop using injected insulin on a daily basis.

However, because there aren’t nearly enough human donors, regulatory agencies including the US Food and Drug Administration have approved clinical trials using islets from pigs. Here, the problem is not availability but the human body’s aggressive immune response against tissue from another species.

This is why the study by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev scientists Eli C. Lewis, Efrat Ashkenazi, Boris M. Baranovski and Galit Shahaf is so significant.

Combination therapy is the charm

Lewis and his team at the Clinical Islet Laboratory in the department of clinical biochemistry and pharmacology already showed that alpha-1 protects human islet grafts from rejection by the recipient’s body. Next, they tested its effectiveness in protecting against rejection of non-human transplants. But their attempts failed, even when they tried increasing the dosage of alpha-1.

Not willing to give up, the Israeli team studied microscopic changes inside graft samples and determined that alpha-1 might simply need help in order to overcome the strong immune response to inter-species grafts. This approach is called combination therapy.

The scientists decided to try an existing technique, temporary T-cell depletion, which commonly is used just prior to organ transplantation. BGU’s team found that, on its own, temporary T-cell depletion only delays graft rejection. When temporary T-cell depletion therapy was combined with alpha-1 in an experiment on lab mice, islet grafts from a different species were indeed accepted.

“This approach may be applicable in the near future for the purpose of pig-to-human islet transplantation, a procedure currently examined in several clinical trials around the world,” said Lewis.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Troubling Tale of Jewish-Muslim Relations

A Troubling Tale of Jewish-Muslim Relations


I love the new Jerusalem train. When visitors to Israel ask me what to do here, I tell them: Ride the light rail. It's a model of coexistence, Jerusalem style, I explain. Jews and Arabs, ultra-Orthodox and Russians: Everyone crammed together in unhappy proximity, yet making the best of it and getting on with their lives.

But not always. Late one night – it happened to be the eve before Tisha B'Av, the fast day commemorating the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem – I took one of the last trains from the city center to French Hill, my neighborhood in north Jerusalem. As the train pulled into my station, there were shouts from the back. I couldn't tell what was happening and got off.

So did the group from the back of the train. A young man in a large knitted kippah lunged at a young Arab man, kicking and swinging. A young woman who was with the Arab young man shouted in Hebrew, “Leave us alone!”

The Arab tried to back off. His main concern seemed to be to protect the young woman beside him.

I stood before the Jewish attacker. “Calm down,” I said.

"How can I calm down?” he shouted at me. “He's taking our sister to his apartment to rape her!"

So that’s what this was about. Protecting the purity of the nation.

I called the police. We’re already on our way, I was told. Hurry, I said, there could be blood here.

A group of Jewish teenagers, mostly haredim, gathered. “Leave our sister alone!” one of them shouted.

Meanwhile several Arab teenagers approached, trying to protect the couple. There was scuffling.

The haredim began chasing the couple. I ran after them. Someone sprayed mace in my eye.

Police came. The couple slipped away. The Arab young men retreated to the far end of the station. A haredi teenager pointed toward them: "They attacked a Jew!" he said.

The cops ran toward the young Arabs. I ran after them. “I’m a witness!” I shouted. “Jews attacked an Arab.”

One of the cops stopped and asked if I can identify any of the assailants.

I saw the young man in the big knitted kippah who had started the incident. He was now calmly crossing the street, just another innocent passerby. “Him,” I said to the cop. “You sure?” “A hundred percent.”

The young man was handcuffed and brought to me for face to face identification. “That’s him,” I confirmed. He looked at me – a fellow Jew in a kippah – more with contempt than hatred. He had tried to perform a mitzvah, a religious obligation, and I had betrayed him. “Kol hakavod,” he said to me sarcastically, Well done. Then he cursed me, or perhaps threatened me: “You’ve lost the world to come – and also this world.”

“I won’t let you do a pogrom in the streets of Jerusalem,” I replied.

My streets.

I was driven to a police station to give testimony. In the car a cop – an Arab, probably a Druse –admitted to me, “If you hadn’t stepped forward, we would have arrested the Arabs. In most of these situations, it’s usuallly the minorities who attack Jews.” “Minorities” is polite Hebrew for Arabs.

I gave my testimony and was driven home. It was 2 AM, less than 24 hours before Tisha B’Av.

So much for the story. No mention of the incident appeared in the media. It was, after all, a minor event. No one was seriously hurt.

But perhaps the real significance of the event lies elsewhere. My confrontation with the Jewish zealot was also a philosophical argument – not only an obvious clash over radically different perceptions of Jewish ethics, but over the responsibilities imposed by Jewish sovereignty.

When the young man told me in so many words that I was a traitor to my people, he was faulting me for placing Western democratic norms over his understanding of Jewish law. Not only was I turning him, a fellow Jew, over to police – some of whom weren’t even Jews! – but I was abandoning a sister in spiritual crisis.

One unintended consequence of Zionism is that, in creating a state that was not only Jewish but democratic, it placed necessary limits on Jewish solidarity. As an Israeli, I have responsibility not only to my fellow Jews but also to my fellow Israelis, whether or not they are Jewish. And I have responsibility to those who live among us who don't have Israeli citizenship but are dependent on the fairness of the state's institutions. Sometimes those multiple levels of responsibility conflict.

There is a deeper problem here than the violence of a fanatical fringe. Large parts of the Orthodox community haven’t yet internalized the hard but essential price of Jewish sovereignty. That price is the need to respect the primacy of democratic rules in the public space, even if that means restricting how one’s notion of Jewish law should govern that space. For the young Jewish assailant, the need to “save” a Jewish young woman from her Arab boyfriend was an overriding religious imperative. One can argue with his understanding of Jewish law – and that is an argument that must be vigorously engaged. But in one sense that argument is irrelevant: In the rules of a democratic public space, a young person’s partner is no one’s business but her own.

Ignore those rules and the result is anarchy. Hurban habayit – the destruction of the Jewish national home.

The streets of Jerusalem seem increasingly threatened with anarchy. During the same week that the incident occurred at the French Hill train station, several haredi soldiers in uniform were attacked by extremist haredim in the Mea Shearim neighborhood, where posters compare haredim who serve in the IDF to insects. As the fast of Tisha B’Av was ending, a haredi was repeatedly stabbed outside the Damascus Gate, presumably by Palestinian terrorists.

Multiple struggles are being fought to keep Jerusalem a safe, open and pluralistic city. A city that belongs to all of its residents, to Jews of every religious denomination and no denomination, to those from any faith who love and revere her. However weary one often feels from the pressures of living here, I am grateful for the privilege of being a custodian of Jerusalem, of taking responsibility for the future of this city, for the quality of our public space. That, after all, is what it means to be a sovereign people in its land.

Time to End the Disgrace at the Wall

Time to End the Disgrace at the Wall

by Yossi Klein Halevi

The most recent confrontation at the Western Wall between hundreds of members and supporters of Women of the Wall on the one hand, and haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jews on the other, was a hillul Hashem, a desecration of the Name of God, and of the good name of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Both sides have a share in that disgrace
Those haredi young men who jeered and threw garbage at women in prayer shawls behaved like pogromists. The silence within the haredi community added to the disgrace. Yes, the violence was committed by a minority, but the silence of the majority has become a pattern and an enabler of the violence.

The group of haredi women who had organized a counter-prayer against the Women of the Wall can hardly claim innocence either. Though they call themselves Women for the Wall, they too bear responsibility for its desecration. And it makes no difference that the haredi women didn’t call their gathering a counter-prayer, but a prayer for “achdus,” as they put it, using the haredi pronounciation for the Hebrew word “achdut,” unity. They encouraged the atmosphere of hysteria within the haredi community, of the need to rally and “defend” the Wall.

The appeal to “democracy” – to the right of the majority – issued by one of the leaders of the haredi women’s group was especially galling. Perhaps she’s right in claiming that, if there were a referendum regarding prayer at the Wall, a majority of Israelis would vote for the status quo. But the spokespeople of 
a community that routinely imposes its will on a reluctant majority should be careful about invoking majority will. One measure of democracy is its ability to balance between majority and minority rights in a nation’s public space. The Wall, one of the most resonant public spaces in Israel, should exemplify that principle.

Yet the Women of the Wall (WOW) can no longer claim innocence either. The timing of its latest massive show of force – which drew hundreds of people, one of its largest gatherings ever – couldn’t have been more inappropriate.

That's because a credible solution finally exists for accommodating non-Orthodox forms of prayer at the Wall. Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky recently presented a plan, backed by the government, which would create a dignified, ample space along the Wall for egalitarian prayer.

The significance of that offer hasn’t been fully appreciated – neither by WOW’s supporters nor detractors. For the first time, the government of Israel has committed to building and subsidizing an egalitarian “synagogue” - and at the most religiously charged Jewish site in the State of Israel. This is an historic victory for religious pluralism.

The Sharansky plan is also a victory for Zionism. At its core, Zionism is the ideology of Jewish peoplehood. The genius of classical Zionism was its ability to include almost every variety of Jewish ideology – from Marxist to capitalist, from anti-clericalist to theocratic – under a shared, basic commitment. As modernity fragmented the Jews into rival camps, Zionism insisted that those identities were mere adjectives, and that the unifying noun was "Jew."

To be true to itself, the state that was founded by Zionism must accommodate all parts of the Jewish people. And that is precisely what Sharansky is offering.

Yet instead of celebrating its extraordinary victory, WOW and some of its supporters have reacted to the Sharansky plan the way one does to a dentist’s appointment, as an unavoidable imposition. Worse, WOW has taken the ill-timed decision of the Jerusalem District Court supporting their right to pray at the Wall as a mandate to press on as if there were no Sharansky plan.

The exclusion of any form but Orthodox prayer from the main area of the Wall is an Israeli tragedy. The 
Wall should have been designated as an open place of diverse Jewish prayer immediately after its liberation in June, 1967. The secular government of Israel should have insisted that all Jewish groups have access – through time sharing if necessary – to the space we have come to regard as “the Wall.” The first mass pilgrimage to the Wall in 1967, which occurred on the holiday of Shavuot, mere days after the end of the war, was a spontaneous outpouring of hundreds of thousands of Israelis, without any separation between bareheaded securalists and haredim – or men and women. In that moment of awe, the calculations of religious bureaucrats were superfluous.

But the decades since have created a haredi lock on the plaza before the Wall – a status quo which has taken on a powerful life of its own. Any attempt to reverse that reality, even backed by a court decision, 
will lead to further ugliness and violence – an ongoing hillul Hashem.

The solution, then, is to build another plaza along the Wall, expand our sense of sacred space. The Sharansky plan represents the first serious attempt since June 1967 to sanctify the Wall with Jewish inclusiveness.

American Jews have played a crucial role in helping us get to this point. For more than two decades, 
WOW appeared every month at the Wall and few noticed, but when the Conservative and Reform movements began to actively champion the group, the Israeli government was forced to take notice. When the Sharansky plan was presented, the egalitarian denominations played a second crucial role – in convincing WOW to accept the compromise.

That is a textbook case of positive Diaspora involvement in influencing the character of Israel, in an area of crucial concern for many American Jews. The leaders of the egalitarian denominations knew when to protest and when to compromise.

Now American supporters of WOW need to send the group another message: Suspend the prayer protests. American Jews should send a parallel message to the Israeli government: If you don’t come through with your promise to create a meaningful space for egalitarian prayer at the Wall, the prayer protests will be resumed – this time, outside the Prime Minister’s office.

Meanwhile, give Sharansky a chance. And stop the monthly desecration at the Wall.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tomorrow There Will Be No More Two-State Solution — and Then What?

Tomorrow There Will Be No More Two-State Solution—           and Then What?

Ex-Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin warns that Israel’s leaders appear to be dangerously detached from reality
By Yuval Diskin

We are approaching a point of no return regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, it may be that we have already crossed it. The issue may not seem as urgent to the Israeli public as the Iranian nuclear program, which has become, with the help of our leaders, a central focus of public discussion at the expense of other pressing issues. To my regret, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has yet to reach a prominent place at the top of our list of priorities, nor has it become the second, even third most important issue. However this very subject has a place in our essence, in our identity, in our souls, in our security, and in our perception of morality—as a society or nation that has been chosen to rule another nation.

The relative security calm that we have recently enjoyed creates a dangerous illusion that our problems have been solved and maybe worse—that we have actually “frozen the situation”: a kind of de facto strategy in the face of the “Arab Spring” that is raging all around us. But it is clear that it is impossible to truly freeze the situation as social, economic, political, and other processes are never frozen in time. Unfortunately we have yet to find a strategy or the technology that can freeze frustration. Look no further than at what’s been happening in the Arab world in recent years, at what’s been happening in Egypt in the last several days, what is happening simultaneously in Brazil, at what happened in Russia after Putin was elected, and at what happened in Iran in the latest elections—and even at what happened in the social protests that took place in Israel during the summer of 2011—and you will understand that in the latest era, which is represented by the “Arab Spring,” there is no way to freeze the frustration of a nation or of any public entity.

Among the Palestinians there is a growing sense of anger and frustration. The fading hopes for a real change in the situation haven’t just lowered the Palestinian street’s faith in a solution to the conflict through means of the negotiation, but it is also the reason why, at the end of the day, the Palestinians will take to the streets, leading to another round of bloody violence. And the construction of settlements (whether or not this is taken as a symbolic gesture toward Mahmoud Abbas) is not stopping; the number of settlers or “inhabitants” in the West Bank, outside of the main settlement blocs, is growing to (if they have not already arrived at) dimensions that no Israeli government will be able to dismantle in an orderly fashion, unless through willing consent—and it doesn’t appear that the current government possess the will and/or the desire to buck the trend.

Just as troublesome—many of our friends in the world, whose support of the peace process with the Palestinians is critical, understand the powerless leaderships of Netanyahu and Abbas. They see the continued expansion of the settlements and are choosing to call it quits regarding the possibility of ever implementing the solution of “two states for two nations.”

Until recently I believed with all my heart that there is still a chance for the “two-state solution.” However, in the absence of true leadership willing to take real actions instead of making idle statements, I am convinced more and more that this option, which until recently was preferred by the Israeli majority according to surveys, is becoming increasingly unrealistic and is no longer feasible.

So, I now return to where we are in time, the “point of no return.” It is possible to compare our situation to flying in a plane. When we fly, it’s worthwhile to know if we have enough fuel to return home. There won’t be any obvious signs that we have reached the “point of no return”; there won’t be any exploding sounds, and it won’t be possible to paint it on a poster to present during speeches made to the United Nations or anywhere else. Even researches and reports won’t be able to prove that we’ve crossed the line; it will be more similar to the picture of the cat that slowly turns into a dog. Except in this case, the dog will also be buried.

Considering all of the above, I will summarize my argument. In terms of the future, the identity, the nature and security of the state of Israel and the Jewish nation, it will be impossible to know when we have passed the point from which we will never be able to return home and retain our identity as a democratic, Jewish state.

The blame game taking place between Netanyahu and Abbas is foolish in my eyes, a useless game that is dangerous on a strategic level, in which the real losers are not the leaders themselves—rather their two nations and mostly the Jewish, democratic state of Israel.

As for the Palestinians, I believe that in the long term they will not lose from the disintegration of the two-state option and the shift to a nearly inevitable outcome of the one remaining reality—a state “from the sea to the river” meaning in other words, “one state for two nations.” When we get there, we will face an immediate existential threat of the erasing of the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and in a few years the reality of the country’s demographics will become a Palestinian-Arab majority and a Jewish minority, along with all that entails.

Anyone who wants to can see the data of the Research and Information Center Committee (based on a study by professors Arnon Sofer and Sergio Della Pergola) suggesting that at the end of the year 2010, the proportion of Jews—if you add the total population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River—was only 53 percent! If we study the issue of the geographical distribution of the various populations in the area between the sea and the river—we will understand that we will have created a state with a Jewish majority (temporarily) concentrated in small sections of its territory.


Meanwhile, the quiet on the security front creates the illusion of “everything is OK,” mistakenly lulling us into believing that there is no reason to worry. But what else do we really need in order to recognize the fact that we are in a state of national emergency in every sense of the term, an emergency whose resolution should have long been at the top of the list of priorities?

One only needs to consider what took place in the largest political parties that supposedly support a two-state solution. When asked to comment on their positions during the election campaign, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, who for the most part was certain that he was en route to a crushing victory, said nothing of consequence about the subject or other matters. Yair Lapid continued to dazzle us with mediocre pronouncements that were designed to be well-received by all, shrewdly avoiding the need to commit himself either way as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shelly Yacimovich has steadfastly refrained from any clear-cut statement on the topic, which has traditionally been a litmus-test issue for her predecessors in the Labor Party.

At the center of the Israeli political map and taking a clear stand were just Tzipi Livni, the leader of Hatnua, a party that placed a solution to the conflict as the central item on its agenda; Meretz, headed by Zehava Gal-On; and the disintegrating Kadima Party.

The reasons for this disappointing and disconcerting state of affairs could be found in a misunderstanding of the gravity of the situation as well as in discomfort from meeting this issue head-on, a discomfort motivated by narrow political interests. Then there is the populist stance taken by leaders who prefer uncontroversial, palatable sound bites that appeal to the widest possible audience. They take this stance while avoiding the task of dealing with a fateful, weighty, and unpopular issue that is still on the national agenda.

Whoever is adept at constantly drawing “red lines” for the Iranians would be better off taking a look at his next-door neighbors rather than those on the other side of the far-off, darkened hills, for doing so would reveal to him that it is here, right here, where we are nearing the point of no return. The problem is that our planes that will take off toward the unknown will also be of no use in solving the problem.


If our leaders in Israel and the Palestinian leadership both lack the necessary willpower to lead us to a two-state solution, then it would be best to begin thinking about the bi-national alternative in realistic terms. This isn’t because I necessarily support the bi-national model, but rather because it is gradually turning into the only alternative that is on the table. If the situation remains as is, then it would be best to begin preparing for the inevitable.

This alternative entails addressing some serious concerns. What status will be conferred upon the Palestinian citizens in this “from the river to the sea” state that we have created with our own hands? Will they have full voting rights like those enjoyed by Israeli Arabs? Will they be given equal rights as residents with the exception of the right to vote? Will we grant the Palestinians autonomy that will allow them to manage their own affairs? And what of the Arab citizens of Israel? Won’t they demand autonomy of their own? Will the security situation improve in such a setting? Will the Palestinians really relinquish their demands once this “river to the sea” state arises? Will we remove the separation wall in such a state? How will we sort out our identity as a Jewish and democratic once we turn into a minority? Will our status in the eyes of the family of nations improve as a result? We cannot simply brush off these questions as nothing more than “shrapnel in the buttocks,” in the words of Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi. Indeed, in the eventuality of a “river to the sea” state, one of the most difficult questions that need to be addressed is who is the shrapnel and who is the buttocks? These are questions that cannot be evaded by means of “bypass routes” or highway junctions, nor can they be sidestepped by annexing pieces of Area C or establishing Palestinian autonomous zones in line with the “progressive” vision propagated by Bennett and others. There really is no way to avoid these issues.

If we don’t wish to continue ruling over another people and thus turn into an ostracized apartheid state, there is no alternative but to grant full rights, including the right to vote, to Palestinians. In such a scenario, there is no need to hold further discussions about the future of the Jewish and democratic vision as put forth by our founding fathers, the same vision on which we were reared and educated. It will melt away and disappear.


Lapid and Yacimovich must help Netanyahu. Yes, on the surface this issue is quite simple, yet at the same time there is no more complex conundrum. It seems simple because everyone knows what the parameters of a settlement will inevitably entail: the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with territorial swaps that will allow Israel to keep large settlement blocs; a symbolic right of return for refugees, with financial compensation being paid to Palestinians in the diaspora; dismantling of settlements that are beyond the agreed-upon borders and compensation to those who will be evicted from them; a political partition of Jerusalem that would be in line with our interest to avoid ruling over a large Palestinian population; a creative solution regarding sovereignty over the holy sites in the Old City (internationalization, perhaps?); a resolution of the future status of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall; and a diplomatic solution over the contours of Israel’s eastern border and the Jordan Valley.

This alternative is also extremely complex for a number of reasons.

There are the enormous psychological gaps and lack of faith between those who are charged with leading the negotiations; the fact that apparently neither Netanyahu or Abbas has what it takes to lead their peoples to such a solution; the fact that Abbas has no solution to the serious rift that has been created between his Fatah-led West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip; the fact that it is impossible to solve this conflict without Hamas; and—let’s face it—the fact that Netanyahu has no realistic solution to the federation-like network of settlements that has grown out of control in the West Bank.

There is no way to solve this conflict without involving our brothers (and this is said without a hint of cynicism) the settlers.

There are those who say that the conflict is insoluble. I believe there are many strategic and tactical risks involved, but the alternative—a “river to the sea” state and continued occupation of another people, with all that it entails—is far worse. As such, the problem is unavoidable. It cannot be put on hold or contained.

This is Netanyahu’s moment of truth. He can prove to all of his most vociferous naysayers and critics (me among them) that he is not just a politician passing his—and our—time in the prime minister’s office, but a leader who is capable of grasping the gravity of the situation; a leader capable of freeing himself of his trepidations, fears and secret advisers; a leader capable of understanding the critical need to rise above himself and establish a proper set of priorities; and, most important, a leader capable of shepherding the nation (or, at least a majority of it) to the right path. I have huge doubts as to whether Netanyahu is such a leader, but I will be the first one to praise him if he proves otherwise.

This is also a moment of truth for Yair Lapid, who has a chance to liberate himself from the image of a Facebook-centric, shallow politician, and for opposition chief Shelly Yacimovich, who can restore the soul of a party gone awry. Together, these two individuals can help Netanyahu rise above himself. There’s no need to worry about Tzipi Livni and Hatnua not extending their support for such a move, and I am convinced that Zehava Gal-On of Meretz will also back it, as will what remains of Kadima and other parties.

This is also the moment of truth for another key figure—Naftali Bennett—who can prove that he possesses the maturity of someone who understands the strategic significance of this point of no return as it relates to the future of the state and this nation.

This is not a matter of Right versus Left, or who is in the political Center.

This is a matter that requires national responsibility of the highest order.

It requires taking advantage of what may be the last opportunity to extricate ourselves from the deadly clutches of our conflict with the Palestinians, clutches that we have tethered to ourselves.


I, too, believe that the risks are considerable, and success is not guaranteed because this is a very deep conflict, with dimensions that are religious, nationalistic, and territorial. In the Middle East, blood doesn’t turn into water. The two sides are also separated by deep economic, cultural, and psychological gaps, and the wounds are still fresh. We are still more likely than not to experience moments of crisis, disappointment, and failure, and there will be further need to readjust our expectations amongst ourselves as well as with our Palestinian interlocutors.

I still believe that genuine leadership that charts a clear path toward a defined goal could propel forward a process that if undertaken in a truly positive spirit (and I emphasize a truly positive spirit) could instill hope and create the momentum and positive atmosphere on the Israeli and Palestinian streets, thus leading to the crystallization of strong majorities on both sides that will support the process. Such a process would have to be devoid of pettiness and intrigue, and it would have to entail generous, confidence-building gestures by Israel. It would have to gradually establish a relationship of trust between the leaders, a relationship that just may form the basis of fruitful negotiations.

As part of this effort, a complete, immediate cessation of all construction in the settlements (with the exception of some building within the large blocs) for an indefinite period is critical to keeping alive the chances of creating a positive atmosphere conducive to relaunching negotiations. Even acceding to the Palestinian Authority’s request for the release of “pre-Oslo” prisoners and bolstering Fatah’s credibility in the eyes of the Palestinian street is, in my view, a worthy gesture. It is far more preferable than capitulating to the dictates of a terrorist organization that abducted an Israeli soldier and agreeing to the disproportionate release of murderers in prisoner swaps that will only encourage more abductions.

Perhaps we will fail. One cannot discount this possibility, which would most likely lead us to begin entertaining all sorts of interim alternatives that some have bandied about, most prominent of which is a unilateral Israeli move in which we exit most of the territories that we control today without coordinating it with a partner or delineating an agreed-upon border.

It would also be done most likely without summoning significant public support for the evacuation of outposts and settlements that lie outside of the large settlement blocs.

Such a move may partially—and temporarily—improve Israel’s image in the eyes of the world, though this is doubtful. It will not, however, solve the problem. Obviously I would recommend against giving this alternative any sort of preference at this stage. I do not believe in the utility of such a move or in the ability to implement it.

Given the complexity and the gravity of the situation, I would recommend that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is famous for his admiration for Winston Churchill and is wont to quote him, make it a point to internalize this quote from the latter: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” This is true leadership in a nutshell. It is a leadership that adheres to a determined path, one that is determined to realize the goals that it has established.

There is no alternative but to enter into a diplomatic process with the Palestinians, here and now, despite the anxieties and the numerous risks. Without such a process, we will certainly cross the point of no return, after which we will be left with one state from the river to the sea for two peoples. The consequences of such a state for our national identity, our security, our ability to maintain a worthy, democratic state, our moral fiber as a society, and our place in the family of nations would be far-reaching.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

When Europe demanded Israel surrender the Western Wall

When Europe demanded Israel surrender the Western Wall

Why a new directive against cooperating with Israeli institutions over the Green Line is being seen by some as a sign of the EU’s flawed grasp of the conflict


The Western Wall (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

The European Union’s new directive banning any cooperation with Israeli institutions over the Green Line isn’t new, and is actually being implemented for Israel’s benefit, according to the office of the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The directive contains two main planks: denial of European funding to, and cooperation with, Israeli institutions based or operating over the Green Line, and a requirement that all future agreements between Israel and the EU — and possibly between Israel and individual member states as well — include a clause in which Israel accepts the European Union’s position that all territory over the Green Line does not belong to Israel.

As Ashton’s office noted in a statement sent to The Times of Israel Tuesday, the directive was “in conformity with the EU long-standing position that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and with the non-recognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied territories irrespective of their legal status under domestic Israeli law.”

The European Union has indeed long held that view. It won’t invest or cooperate with communal or civic organizations over the Green Line, and has been one of the most reliable critics of Israeli settlement policy for decades.

Even the details of the directive aren’t new. On December 10, 2012, the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council stated that “all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”

But the fresh directive is still sending a shock wave through Israeli diplomatic circles — not because anyone is surprised about the position it takes, but because of the precision with which the EU indicates it is to be implemented.

“They crossed a line,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel Tuesday. “That the EU won’t sign an agreement with Ariel University is no secret. But now they are going to force the Hebrew University to promise that no scientist working on a program [that enjoys EU cooperation or funding] lives over the Green Line,” including in apartment complexes down the street from the university campus on Mount Scopus — “or in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, which has been Jewish a bit longer than the EU.”

“That’s absurd,” the official said. In adhering blindly to the Green Line, he claimed, the EU is in effect taking sides in the conflict in a way that distances its position from that of the majority of Israelis who support negotiations and a two-state solution. Indeed, the move has raised hackles with some on the Israeli left, which usually sees EU institutions as allies in the pursuit of peace.

As another official noted, the EU’s new policy is in effect demanding that Israel deny — in writing — any rights to the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, as a precondition for signing any agreement with the EU.

Ashton’s office tried to explain that the development was a positive one for Israel.

“This is important in view of the new opportunities that will be offered to Israel (as an ENP [European Neighborhood Policy] partner) for participation in EU programmes and other funding instruments in the 2014-2020 financial framework,” read the statement issued to The Times of Israel.

“We want Israel to play a full part in these instruments and we want to be sure that Israel’s participation is not put in question so that Israel will be able to make use of all possibilities offered by the new financial framework,” it added.

Or, in short: This is for your own good, to prevent any future challenges to your ability to get further benefits from the EU down the road — a carrot-and-stick approach where the carrot is further integration into the EU economy, and the stick is the inability of any institution operating over the Green Line to enjoy the fruits of that integration.

A spokesman for the EU delegation in Israel told the Associated Press that the new guidelines would not affect Israel’s private sector or companies, but rather bodies like research centers or NGOs. That didn’t stop the Israel’s Manufacturers Association from worrying about the “obstacles” the EU was placing in the way of further economic ties.

For decades, European bureaucrats have been hard at work building a world of unbreakable rules and regulations. Applied to a messy, unresolved conflict, the decision to apply one set of rules over another — adhering to the demands of the pre-1967 lines, for example, at the expense of major Israeli population centers beyond those lines — would appear to the Israeli critics of the move to involve choosing sides in the larger conflict.

Others on the left see it differently. Labor’s Nachman Shai didn’t praise the EU move, but did regard it as the unfortunate consequence of the government’s misguided, pro-settlement policies, which he said were gradually causing Israel’s isolation. Meretz leader Zahava Gal-on called the direct “very significant,” in distinguishing between sovereign Israel, on the one hand, “and the settlements and occupation,” on the other. Europe was telling Israel that it can’t simultaneously expect to maintain international credibility as a seeker of peace while building in the settlements.

Gal-on’s take was unsurprising. So, too, the outraged protests from less dovish Israeli leaders.

What was striking about the latter, though, was that they extended their criticisms to assert that the EU was demonstrating an incapacity to function as a fair-minded peace broker. And that was because, if it does indeed truly seek to implement its latest directive, and condition further dealings with Israel on a government acknowledgement that all territory beyond the Green Line is not part of Israel, the EU may have issued a demand to which few mainstream Israeli leaders will acquiesce.

The Chief Rabbi and the Car Mechanic

The Chief Rabbi and the Car Mechanic


For those engaged in the battle over the upcoming election for the next Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbis, this is no doubt an intense and riveting contest. It is perhaps unprecedented in the degree of controversy and political brawling it has engendered. And yet, it is not clear how many Israeli Jews - a Chief Rabbi's ostensible constituents - know who the contenders are, what the Chief Rabbis actually do, or how they are elected. More importantly, it is not clear how many actually care.

For many, this is seen as a narrow struggle in the Orthodox world over which camp is the more worthy custodian of the tradition, in a state in which orthodoxy is the established Jewish religion. In this model, the Rabbinate is seen as an office essentially created to outsource the maintenance and safekeeping of Judaism for a people who don’t really know how it works, and the Chief Rabbi is the personification of that system.

Viewed in this way, the Rabbinate functions, in the eyes of too many non-Orthodox or non-traditional Jews, a little like an authorized car mechanic. At certain intervals in the Jewish lifecycle in Israel, we need a stamp of approval that our Jewish ritual is “roadworthy.” Just like we make our obligatory annual visit to the car mechanic to process our vehicle's road test and registration, we turn to the Rabbinate as a service provider – enforced by law – so that we have the necessary documentation in matters of personal status. This is not an encounter necessarily imbued with spiritual significance - it is a bureaucratic procedure before, if ever, it is a religious one.

There is a serious debate in the Jewish world about the legitimacy of the role of the Rabbinate in Israel in institutionalizing orthodoxy as the only authentic form of Judaism. It is generally cast by the opponents of the current Rabbinate as a call for religious pluralism, and a demand for equality and respect for all Jewish denominations. But there is also a question to be asked about the core tasks any Chief Rabbi is entrusted to fulfill, and the personal attributes required to fulfill it.

When we think about successful rabbis in our own local congregations, we do not usually look merely for the "car mechanic" – the one possessing unique knowledge and authority in halakhic matters which seem beyond us. What we seek is a person who makes Judaism accessible, meaningful, and rich across a community. We seek a person of stature who serves as an example not only of piety but of decency, a person who can represent and cultivate a Judaism that we feel we can own and be a part of, a Judaism which we can incorporate into our core identity.

The rabbis who merely play the detached role of religious authority entrenches a Judaism that is distant from us. We engage them to get the seal of approval that we got married Jewishly or had the obligatory bar mitzvah, but they do not help make our Jewishness an organic part of who we are. We see them as some necessary technical requirement of religious life - to the extent we want a part of it - but not as a guide or mentor in the task of enriching our souls. As long as the Chief Rabbi in Israel is seen primarily as the guardian of Orthodox Judaism in the State, rather than as an ambassador of a Judaism that Jews of different convictions can be inspired by, we risk perpetuating a situation in which the institution itself lacks relevance and deeper meaning for the wider Jewish population.

It may be, as some argue, that the very institution of Chief Rabbi is inherently and irreparably flawed. That is a debate which may not be resolved quickly. The point here is a different one. Is it possible - until that larger debate is resolved - for the Chief Rabbi to belong to a particular stream of Judaism and yet be admired and respected by a wide swath of the Jewish world? Is it possible for us to view the Chief Rabbi as an exemplary representative of Judaism even if he does not represent our brand of it? Is it possible in a sovereign Jewish state to reimagine the role of Chief Rabbi in which a figure of faith, by force of personality, intellect and sheer greatness, plays a role in nurturing a Jewish public space that transcends the divides in the Jewish world? Perhaps. But only if the Chief Rabbi is selected less for the capacity to protect the strictures of religious observance than for that rare blend of exceptional personal qualities which stir in us the desire to connect and engage with the beauty, depth and range of our Jewish heritage.

Thursday, July 11, 2013



By Professor Moshe Benovitz

The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, 70 AD.

As a Zionist and a religious Jew, I see God's hand in the rebirth of the Jewish state, and the subsequent restoration of ancient Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to Jewish sovereignty. In fact, while most religious Zionists believe that the State of Israel marks the beginning of the burgeoning of our redemption, my sense is that this rebirth and restoration are the totality of the promised redemption foretold by the prophets of yore, for which Jews have prayed for 2000 years. As the amora Samuel has argued in a dictum cited by Maimonides, the only thing expected to change in the Messianic era is the subjugation of the Jewish people to alien sovereignty (Bavli Berakhot 34b; Maimonides, Hilkhot Melakhim 12:2), and if that is the case, we are already living in the Messianic era. That is not to say that our lives are perfect. There is room for improvement, no doubt, but I believe that striving for transcendence and self-improvement is inherent in the human condition, and even the End of Days should not be expected to tamper with that important aspect of the human soul.

Nonetheless, I have long felt ambivalent about marking Israel's Independence Day with religious ritual. The widespread practice of reciting the Hallel on Yom Ha'atzma'ut, and preceding that recitation with a ritual blessing asserting that God has commanded us to do so, strikes me as an imprecise application of the law and lore of our tradition. It is true that according to the Talmud, the Hallel is to be recited not only on Biblical or rabbinic festivals, but also on the anniversary of a miraculous rescue (BavliPesahim 117a); however, I would argue that the restoration of the land of Israel to its people is not to be considered a miraculous rescue. On the contrary, it represents a return to "the norm". The ultimate redemption of the people of Israel and the restoration of their land and holy city are considered by tradition the restoration of the norm after a long and troubling hiatus.

Both the Bible and rabbinic literature do single out a number of days, and one day in particular, as the day on which to celebrate the restoration of the land of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. But this day is not the day on which the Jews enter the land or recover their sovereignty over it; it is the day, or days, on which the Jews lost their sovereign presence in the land of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem. According to both Biblical prophecy and rabbinic tradition, when the redemption arrives, it is to be celebrated on the Ninth of Av and the other fasts commemorating the Babylonian exile, the very days which had hitherto been set aside as days of mourning.

If Yom Ha'atzma'ut is a religious festival, it is unique. There are no holidays celebrating previous instances in which God's promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish people was realized: no festival commemorates the entrance of the Israelites into the land of Israel in the days of Joshua, and no holiday celebrates the return of Babylonian Jews to Judea and Jerusalem in the wake of the Babylonian exile. The Israelites entered Canaan under Joshua's leadership on Passover, exactly forty years after they left Egypt. Yet how many of us celebrate Passover as the day in which the land of Israel was given, for the first time, to the Jewish people? Surely this is an event even more significant than the Exodus, since it is the day on which the goal of the Exodus was realized. And yet, the Haggadah doesn't even mention this event. In fact, while Mishnah Pesahim 10:4 seems to indicate that in addition to reciting and discussing verses describing the Exodus at the Passover seder, one should recite and discuss Deuteronomy 26:9, "He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey", our edition of the Haggadahomits discussion of this verse. There seems to be something in the Jewish tradition that is averse to celebrating God’s gift of the land”.

In my opinion, it's not that the land is less significant, from a religious point of view, than freedom or Jewish peoplehood, themes that are celebrated on Passover. Rather, the land is considered a given, like the air we breathe. The disconnect from the land is a serious breach to be lamented; return to the land, however, is a return to the norm, to be celebrated simply by breathing the air of Israel once again, tilling its soil and going about our business – thanking God for every breath we take and every bite we taste, of course, but doing so every day, not once a year.

This lesson is brought home in an even more pointed way in the book of Zechariah. The prophet Zechariah lived in the land of Israel during the restoration of Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile. Shortly after the Temple was rebuilt, a delegation came to the prophet to ask about the fast of Av, which had been instituted seventy years earlier, in the wake of the destruction of the first Temple: "Should I weep in the fifth month [=Av], denying myself as I have these past few years?" (Zechariah 7:3). Zechariah answers with a long prophecy covering the bulk of chapters 7 and8 inthe book. He touches upon the nature of fasting and the importance of acting righteously; he surveys Israel's disobedience, punishment and restoration, and concludes as follows:

Thus says the Lord of Hosts: the fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months [=Tammuz, Av, Tishrei (the Fast of Gedaliah) and Tevet] will be for the house of Judah joy and gladness, happy occasions [lesason ulsimhah ulmo'adim tovim]. Therefore, love truth and peace (8:19).

Commentators disagree as to what Zechariah means by this. Is he answering the delegation's question by ruling that the Ninth of Av and the other fasts commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem seventy years earlier have been abolished? Or is he promising that these fasts will be abolished in the future, when the redemption is complete? Apparently both interpretations were invoked during the Second Temple period, since there is evidence that some people fasted on these days and others did not.

Whether or not Zechariah was abolishing the fasts for his contemporaries, the ultimate message is clear. The restoration of Israel is not to be celebrated with new festivals marking the days on which God's redemption was made manifest, but by reversing the character of the fast days that had been instituted to mourn the loss of the Jewish sovereignty and presence in the land, the holy city, and the Temple – turning those days themselves into "joy and gladness, happy occasions". Why is that? Obviously, redemption is not cause for celebration in its own right, since it is simply the restoration of the norm. The day or days that must be marked are the days of the extraordinary reversal of the norm, the days marking the outrageous separation of the Jews from their land, the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile. It is these days – the Ninth of Av, and the lesser fasts of the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the fast of Gedaliah and the Tenth of Tevet, which had been observed during the exile with mourning and fasting, that are now more than neutralized by the redemption: they must become days of gladness and joy.

In the Talmud, the Babylonian amora Rav Papa (basing himself on a statement of the earlier amora Rabbi Shimon Hasida) reiterated Zechariah's prophecy, translating it into the language of halakhah:

Said Rav Papa: It means as follows – when there is peace, these days are to be joy and gladness; when there is persecution by [foreign] sovereign, they are to be fast days; when there is neither persecution by [foreign] sovereign nor peace, if they wish to do so, they may fast, if they do not wish to do so, they need not fast.

If so, [fasting on] the Ninth of Av, too [should be optional when there is neither persecution nor peace]? Said Rav Papa: The Ninth of Av is different, since troubles were multiplied on that day. (Bavli Rosh Hashanah 18b)

To sum up Rav Papa's rulings:
When the Jews are experiencing persecution by foreign empires, fasting on all four fast days commemorating the Babylonian exile is mandatory.

When there is neither persecution nor peace, fasting is mandatory on the Ninth of Av but optional on the minor fasts.

When the "peace" of redemption arrives, these very days of fasting, including the Ninth of Av, are to become the days of joy and gladness celebrating the redemption. The breach in the natural relationship between the Jewish people and their land is over – and that very sadness should turn into our joy.

The word "peace" in this passage is used as a synonym for "redemption". It is variously defined by commentators on the passage, but it is interesting that none of them seem to insist that we wait for world peace before turning the Ninth of Av into a day of celebration. According to Rabbenu Hananel, the word "peace" refers to the rebuilding of the Temple. According to Rashi, it refers to a time when "the hand of the Gentiles is no longer overpowering Israel"; when the Jews are sovereign in their land or are treated by non-Jews as equals, the fast days, including the Ninth of Av, are to be turned into days of celebration.

Whether this "peace" has arrived in our day is debateable, just as it was in Second Temple times. The Jews of Judea in Zechariah's day had the rebuilt Temple, but they lived under Persian rule; we are sovereign in the State of Israel, but the Temple has not been rebuilt. If the rebuilt Temple is essential to redemption, this time of "peace" has apparently not yet arrived. If, however, Jewish sovereignty or equality among the nations is the essence of the "peace" of the Messianic era, as argued by the amora Samuel, Rashi and Maimonides, it would seem that we are living in the time of "peace".

Israel is a modern nation, and as such it can and should decide when and how to celebrate its national day. Religious and secular Israelis and Zionists alike ought to join together in celebrating Yom Ha'atzma'ut in any or all the beautiful ways which have come to mark the day on which Jewish sovereignty in Israel was restored: ceremonies, parades and Bible contests; hikes, picnics and barbecues. Religious people should of course be grateful to God every day, and especially on the anniversary of Israel's independence, much as they are especially grateful to God on their wedding anniversary and other joyous occasions without specific religious ritual.

Nonetheless, the Jewish tradition does not seem to consider the day on which Israel's sovereignty is restored as the day set aside for religious celebration of the end of exile and the onset of redemption. The traditional view seems to be that making much of this day would undermine the notion that Israel's sovereignty in its own land should be thought of as the norm, rather than something to get excited about. The days the tradition has set aside to give thanks for the restoration of the norm are the very days that hitherto marked the breach in the norm. It would therefore seem that ritual marking the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount – including Hallel – should be reserved for the days of joy and gladness ordained by the Lord of Hosts for this purpose: the Ninth of Av and the other mo'adim tovim of Zechariah 8:19.

Monday, July 8, 2013



Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin

In late 2012, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies published my new book The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa. The following dialogue about that book was published in the LA Jewish Journal in June-July 2013. Headings have been added here at the beginning of each exchange.

I) May Women Wear Tefillin?

Dear Rabbi Golinkin,

On Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, I spend several hours at the Kotel watching and talking to the protestors against Women of the Wall, most of them Haredi youngsters. As I reported following this event, it was quite interesting to see these Haredis fiercely debating among themselves the question of women putting on Tefillin. As I'm sure you know, the fact that one of the women of this group is putting on Tefillin was the cause for much protestation and at times ridicule, but the Haredi youngsters did know that the Talmud doesn't exactly forbid women from putting on Tefillin (those studying the Daf Yomi met this short Talmudic discussion just a couple of days ago).

Your book has a long and detailed discussion of this issue that begins with the Talmud but then moves to present some interesting facts about women wearing Tefillin in later generations. Your conclusion might not surprise our readers -- women can put Tefillin. But the way to this conclusion is interesting, and while we can't repeat all the details here, I'd like you to give us a taste of the core reason leading you to reach such a conclusion (if possible, can you also tell us what you consider as the best argument that leads to the opposite conclusion?).

Thank you,


Dear Shmuel,

As we shall see in a moment, the Babylonian Talmud does not forbid women from wearing Tefillin at all. Indeed, some rabbis of the Mishnah thought that women are obligated to wear tefillin (Eruvin96b). Most, however, felt that women are exempt from wearing tefillin every day (Mishnah Berakhot 3:3) because it is a positive time-bound commandment (Kiddushin 35a) or for other reasons.

The Babylonian Talmud relates (Eruvin 96a) that Michal the daughter of King Saul used to wear tefillin "and the Sages did not protest". Rabbi Abahu, however, reported in the Palestinian Talmud (Berakhot, Chapter 2, fol. 4c) that Mikhal wore tefillin and "the Sages did protest". Thus, on the basis of the Talmudic sources alone, our ruling would be that women are permitted to wear tefillin, since when the two Talmuds contradict each other, we follow the Babylonian Talmud.

The Rishonim, or Medieval authorities, can be divided into two major camps: Rashi, Maimonides and others rule that women may perform positive time-bound commandments such as tefillinwithout a blessing. Rabbeinu Tam, the Rashba and many others rule that women may perform positive time-bound commandments with a blessing. Thus, all of them would allow women to wear tefillin; they would only differ as to whether they may recite the blessings.

Almost all opposition to women wearing tefillin stems from one sentence attributed to Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (d. 1293), which says that women should not wear tefillin "because they do not know how to keep themselves clean" or, according to another version, because "they do not know how to keep themselves in purity". This lone opinion was later codified by Rabbi Moshe Isserles in his Ashkenazic glosses to the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 38:3), but it contradicts the Babylonian Talmud and almost all Rishonim, as explained above. Furthermore, if Rabbi Meir said "in purity", this contradicts another Talmudic passage which says that "words of Torah are not susceptible to impurity" (Berakhot 22a); and if he said "clean", no known halakhic definition would exclude women.

Therefore, according to the Babylonian Talmud and almost all of the Rishonim, it is perfectly permissible for women to wear tefillin if they choose to do so.

Finally, there are actual precedents of women wearing tefillin in 13th-century France, 16th-century Italy, and among Hassidic female Rebbes.

The Haredim at the Kotel are probably familiar with the negative ruling of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg as quoted by Rabbi Moshe Isserles, but the thorough investigation in Chapter 1 of my book summarized above reveals that this is a minority opinion which is opposed to the Babylonian Talmud and almost all of the Rishonim.

David Golinkin

II) On Picking and Choosing when Deciding Jewish Law

Dear Rabbi Golinkin,

Thank you for your answer on which I'm going to ask my next question. Like the case with Tefillin, we find throughout your book this type of "thorough investigation", uncovering opinions once held and later abandoned to be replaced by stricter rules. In the chapter about the Mehitzah in the synagogue, you go back to look at evidence that men and women mingled in the Temple in Jerusalem and that "there is no literary source or archaeological proof for the existence of a women's gallery in the ancient synagogue". Yet, at some point, a Mehitzah was added to the synagogue -- the rules changed. You suggest that changing them back to where they were at previous times is recommended, as "this custom hurts the feelings of many women and keeps them away from the synagogue".

My question though is this: as you go to search for evidence in the past with which to prescribe a change to custom, are you not engaging in a pick and choose mechanism -- namely, are you not only using more ancient sources when they serve a goal of less strictness, yet stick to later rulings on more contentious matters?

A complicated question to answer, I'm sure, and I am eagerly awaiting your response.

Thank you,

Dear Shmuel,

You ask whether I am engaged "in a picking and choosing mechanism, only using more ancient sources when they serve a goal of less strictness"? The answer is: not at all. As I explained in the book we are discussing (The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, pp. 112-115), my approach follows that of the Geonim (ca. 500-1000 c.e.), Maimonides, the Rosh (1250-1327), Rabbi Shlomo Luria (16th century), the Vilna Gaon (18th century), as well as important halakhic authorities in the 20th century -- from very different backgrounds -- such as Rabbis Abraham Isaac Kook, Louis Ginzberg, Moshe Feinstein and Hayyim David Halevi. They established the principle that the Babylonian Talmud is the highest authority in Jewish law.

The Rosh said that "one can contradict the words [of the Geonim], because all of the things that are not explicitly in the Talmud arranged by Rav Ashi and Ravina, a person can contradict or build up, even to contradict the words of the Geonim" (the Rosh to Sanhedrin, Chapter 4, parag. 6).

Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi (1924-1998), longtime Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, wrote: "and if your intent is to hint to me that that great rabbi [an oblique reference to Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef] already ruled and [therefore] one cannot change [what he said]… I will reply to you that that is the power of the halakhah. And there was never a ruling of any great rabbi in Israel after the sealing of the Talmud which was binding, and permission is given to any person to disagree with correct and honest proofs, even with his own teachers… and even Maimonides and Maran [Rabbi Yosef Karo] z"l, were disagreed with both by contemporaries and by those who came after them, and in many matters we do not do like them…" (Aseh Lekhah Rav, Vol. 2,
pp. 146-147).

This is my approach in the fifteen responsa in this volume, as well as in hundreds of other responsa which I have written. For example, in this volume, I prove that, according to the Talmud and almost all of the Rishonim, it is perfectly permissible for women to wear tefillin; the "prohibition" was invented by Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg in the 13th century (Chapter 1). Similarly, there is no blanket Talmudic prohibition against women singing; that "prohibition" was invented by Rabbi Moshe Sofer in the early 19th century (Chapter 2). Women are required to recite the Amidah three times a day exactly like men and may be counted in a minyan – on the basis of a very careful reading of the Talmud itself (Chapter 3). Women may read the Megillah in public exactly like men because the Talmud clearly states that they have the same obligation as men (Chapter 7). Finally, women may serve as Mohalot based on the Talmud itself (Chapter 9).

Thus, my method is not about picking and choosing; it is about examining all of the major halakhic sources for a law or custom and giving precedence to the Talmud and the Rishonim (early authorities).

David Golinkin

III) How can we make the debate on Jewish law more broad and inclusive?

Dear Rabbi,

Your detailed answer -- in addition to your detailed and illuminating book -- only makes it more puzzling that so many other rabbis disagree with your analysis and conclusion -- and that is the topic of my next question. Surely, there were debates, at times fierce ones, between rabbis who made different rules for different communities. It does seem though -- and correct me if you think my impression is wrong -- that today the problem isn't just difference in interpretation but even more so the lack of discussion between different factions/ schools of thought/ streams/ denominations -- you name it. In other words, when your responsum is written, it is a debate "within" the faction, but has little chance of convincing the rabbis of other factions.

So my question is really this: should we strive to make the debate on Jewish law more broad and inclusive, and do you have any idea how such a goal of having an all-encompassing Jewish discussion can be achieved?

Thank you,

Dear Shmuel,

At the outset, it should be stressed that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Kohelet 1:9). This is not the first time in Jewish history when there was a lack of discussion between different factions/schools of thought/streams/denominations in Judaism. Some famous examples include the Pharisees-Saducees-Essenes in the late Second Temple period, Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai, Rabbanites and Karaites, the Maimonidean controversies, the pro- and anti-Sabbateans, the Hassidim and Mitnagdim, and the pro- and anti-Zionists. In some cases, these controversies led to a permanent split in the Jewish people; in other cases, such as the Hassidim and Mitnagdim, the storm passed and it is difficult today to tell the difference between these two groups.

Today, as you indicated, Orthodox rabbis tend to ignore halakhic discussions by non-Orthodox rabbis, as I explained in the book under discussion (The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, pp. 26-27):

Orthodox Rabbis and congregations, as a rule, ignore non-Orthodox rulings on women in Judaism in two ways: They usually do not cite non-Orthodox responsa… More interestingly, Orthodox Rabbis seem to go out of their way to find a different way to allow the same or a similar thing...

In my opinion, this approach is a shame. Maimonides already stated "accept the truth from he who says it" and this idea was echoed by many famous Rabbis (I cite in a note sources such as:Berakhot 5b, Shabbat 55a, Rav Saadia Gaon, Rabbi Abraham the son of Maimonides, Rabbi Samuel David Luzzato, and Rabbi Kook). Ignoring non-Orthodox responsa or looking for alternative approaches entails a lot of wasted effort and leads to unnecessary or even mistakenhalakhic results.

You further ask: "should we strive to make the Jewish debate on Jewish law more broad and inclusive?" My answer is an unequivocal "yes"! Indeed, there are Orthodox scholars and rabbis who adhere to the words of Rabbi Judah the Prince: "do not look at the jar but rather at what is inside" (Avot 4:26). Prof. Zvi Zohar, a modern Orthodox scholar who teaches at Bar Ilan University and the Hartman Institute, is one of the world's leading experts on modern Sefardic responsa. As he stated at a symposium marking the tenth anniversary of the Va'ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel which I chaired for many years (Responsa of the Va'ad Halakhah, Vol. 6, 1998, p. 334, also available at "In my opinion, distinctions by stream are not relevant. He who writes halakhah well, let him write halakhah well, without dependence on the question where he or she comes from and what is their ideological affiliation…; and a person who does not know, let him not write." A similar approach is reflected in his recent review of the book we are discussing (Times of Israel, May 29, 2013).

I myself adhere to this approach. When I write a responsum, I utilize Orthodox, Conservative and Reform responsa on the subject, along with a wide range of sources and interpretations gleaned from the modern academic study of Judaism. Utilizing a Reform or Haredi responsum doesn’t mean that I agree with everything the writer says or believes. It means that I respect all rabbis and hope to arrive at a correct halakhic decision by "accepting the truth from he who said it". I hope that this approach to halakhah will spread both as a way of improving the responsa we write and as a way of uniting the Jewish people.

Finally, you asked: "do you have any idea how such a goal of having an all-encompassing Jewish discussion can be achieved?" This question leads to the much broader topic: how can we teach and propagate Jewish pluralism? As I have shown elsewhere (Israel as a Pluralist State:Achievements and Goals, The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, 2006, pp. 3-4), our Sages believed that pluralism is good when studying Torah, among people and within Jewish Law.

Pluralism in the Torah – how so? Our Sages said that "There are seventy faces to the Torah" (Bemidbar Rabbah 13: 15-16) and they taught in the Academy of Rabbi Ishmael: " 'And like the hammer that breaks 
the rock in pieces' (Jeremiah 23:29) – just as [the rock] is split into many splinters, so also may one Biblical verse convey many teachings" (Sanhedrin 34a). In other words, the same verse is interpreted in different ways and this is perfectly fine.

Pluralism among people – how so? We have learned in the tractate of Berakhot (58a): "Our Rabbis taught: 
If one sees a multitude of Israelites, he says: Blessed is He who discerns secrets - for the mind of each is different from that of the other, just as the face of each is different from that of the other”. In other words, 
we bless God for having created millions of people who are different form each other in their ideas and appearance.

Pluralism in Jewish law – how so? The rabbis valued pluralism so much that they even praised halakhic disagreements! We have learned in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 4:2, 22a): "Rabbi Yannai said: if the Torah were handed down cut and dried, [the world] would not have a leg to stand on… [Moses said to God]: Master of the Universe, teach me what the law is? He said to him: 'Lean towards the majority' (Exodus 23:2)…". In other words, Moses our Teacher, requested a Torah with clear and unequivocal decisions, but God preferred that the Sages argue over every detail and decide according to the majority.

If and when we succeed in teaching Jews that pluralism is an integral part of Judaism, it will be much easier 
to have a broad and more inclusive discussion on many important halakhic topics.

David Golinkin

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Say Goodbye to Surgical Stitches and Staples

If a new Israeli product from IonMed gets market approval, surgeons will have a revolutionary tool in their hands for scar-free incision closure.

Surgeons do not need complex training to learn how to use BioWeld1.

Women giving birth by Caesarean section could be the first to benefit from a revolutionary Israeli invention for closing surgical incisions without stitches or staples. The technique also promises to leave patients less prone to infection and scarring. BioWeld1, a unique trademarked product from Israeli startup IonMed, welds surgical incisions using cold plasma.

The procedure takes a few minutes, seals the area completely, leaves minimal scarring or painful stitches, 
and does not require complex training.

“No one has done this before — and more than that, the platform of cold plasma is a technology that is not available in medicine yet,” says Ronen Lam, IonMed’s co-founder and vice president for business development. “We will probably be the first,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

The company anticipates receiving the CE mark of approval in Europe by the end of the year. After closing its next financial round, IonMed would then look into beginning trials in Europe and in the United States toward getting approval of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and launching its next cold 
plasma-based product.


BioWeld1 is the brainchild of Ronen’s brother, Amnon, who led development projects at Tower Semiconductor in northern Israel and at Intel’s Israeli research center. Prior to that, he’d been a medic 
in the military.

The product provides a next-generation alternative to staples and stitches.His familiarity with cold plasma from Tower – where it was used for etching semiconductors — gave him the idea of welding together his two areas of expertise. Amnon Lam saw the potential of cold plasma in healthcare, and toyed with applications in cosmetics, dental and skincare.

“At the end of the day, he found wound closure the most attractive one,” says his brother. That was about three years ago.

“Tissue reconnection has been done for thousands of years with sutures, and in recent years with staples and glues,” says Lam. “It is time for something new in this traditional market, and that’s why we decided to start here.”

With half a million dollars in seed money from the Israeli Office of the Chief Scientist, IonMed joined the Trendlines incubator in northern Israel and developed the concept to the point where it closed a $3 million financing round in 2011. The company now employs six people in its office in Yokne’am Ilit.

Lam explains that many companies have been bringing advanced surgical staples and adhesives to the market. “But our cold plasma technology is unique because of its impact on tissues and the wide spectrum of applications it can address, so there is a lot of interest from big players,” he says.

The BioWeld1 generator delivers the cold plasma through a variety of disposable tips. The skin closure procedure is performed using a cold plasma jet to apply a trademarked biological film called Chitoplast to weld the tissue together. Other applications in development do not require Chitoplast and rely solely on the tissue effects of the plasma jet.

Successful trials

The company’s three clinical trials, which have so far focused on closure of Caesarean section incisions, showed BioWeld1 to be excellent for sealing the incision and promoting healing and tissue disinfection, Lam reports. It also has potential for reducing hospitalization and operating room usage.

“We are focusing on the Cesarean section first, because we found it will be the easiest path to market due to the importance of achieving a superior cosmetic result while reducing time in the operating room,” says Lam.

“We are in the midst of strategic discussions right now in order to chart our next application. Areas under consideration include external closure in plastic surgery, treatment of chronic wounds as well as internal applications in abdominal, thoracic and colorectal surgery.”

IonMed gathered an advisory board with leading obstetrician-gynecologists and surgeons in Germany, Brazil and Italy. Four OB/GYNs in Europe are poised to launch the product later this year, pending CE approval.

“All of them have tested our equipment in trials,” Lam stresses. Investors are now being sought for a Series B funding round, says Lam. “We will be carrying out additional trials in the near future to expand the use of cold plasma to go deep on external closure while promoting additional applications.”

Monday, July 1, 2013

Make the Three Weeks a Time for Healing

Make the Three Weeks a Time for Healing


With the onset of the "Three Weeks," the mourning period for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple that culminates with the fast day of Tisha b'Av, the contemporary Jewish sensibility faces its annual dilemma of dissonance between ritual and reality.

Of all the significant periods on the Jewish calendar, the Three Weeks seem the most problematic. Considering Jewish reality today, how is it possible to truly mourn the ancient hurban, the destruction? The simultaneous emergence of a sovereign Israel and of the most powerful and accepted Diaspora community in Jewish history has created an unprecedented moment of triumph. There seems, then, something contrived, even coercive, in the ritualized grief of the Three Weeks. Sitting on the ground at the Wall and chanting Lamentations on Tisha b'Av while being protected by soldiers of a Jewish state, with Jews gathered from around the world, appears to be an inherent contradiction. The crowds of young people socializing in the plaza on Tisha b'Av eve seem to have it right: Enough mourning! We've survived! More than survived: thrived.

Our prayer life hasn't internalized the transformation of Jewish life. We continue to pray for the in gathering of the exiles, even as millions of Jews have come home and the exile has ended, replaced by a voluntary Diaspora. We continue to pray for the restoration of the Temple and its service, even as most Jews today find the notion of animal sacrifices repellent. And we continue to wish those sitting shiva that they be comforted "among the mourners of Zion" even as we no longer mourn for Zion but celebrate its resurrection.

How, then, to deal with the Three Weeks? Perhaps the appropriate response isn't mourning as much as sobriety, a heightened awareness of our collective failures.

The Rabbis cited mutual hatred among Jews as the sin responsible for the destruction of the Temple. In contemporary terms, that translates into our failure to function as a people that appreciates its diversity and can manage its disagreements with mutual respect for each other's visions and fears.

The basis for an individual's spiritual life is humility, awareness that we are transient beings whose understanding of the world is at best incomplete. That same insight is the basis for a healthy national life. No part of the Jewish people can claim to be sole heir of Jewish history. Those who believe that their community is the only repository of Jewish wisdom, and that other communities are empty vessels with little to contribute to our growth, risk a spiritually fatal arrogance.

The Three Weeks remind us that we are a survivor people. But do we behave as a survivor people? In one sense, certainly: Jews emerged from the Holocaust determined to undo the powerlessness of exile, and that effort has achieved extraordinary success.

But in our relations with each other, we have failed to internalize the wisdom of a survivor people, which knows that all our competing certainties vanish before the abyss.

We experienced the brutal wisdom of the abyss briefly, in May 1967, as Arab armies converged on Israel's borders and Jews around the world shared a common dread of another holocaust. The unity that Jews expressed in those weeks led to the victory of the Six-Day War, the resurrection of Soviet Jewry and the political empowerment of American Jewry. The Jewish world we live in today is largely a creation of that brief moment of unity in May 1967.

But the Six-Day War, of course, also opened the way for Jewish strife. The argument over land for peace – if that option ever becomes possible – cannot be silenced by appeals to Jewish unity.

Still, there are ways of managing our schisms that would help us remain one people. Just as a body feels the pain that affects any of its limbs, a healthy people knows how to grieve for the wounds of its separate communities. In Israel today, there remain open wounds, inflicted by fellow Jews. Many still quietly grieve for the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, for our descent into fratricide – a grief that some on the right have resented as politically motivated. And while there is no moral comparison between the two events, many Israelis still grieve for the uprooting of thousands of Jews from their homes in Gaza's Gush Katif, a trauma that has been confined to the religious Zionist community but should be shared by all parts of the Jewish people, regardless of political orientation.

The Wall itself, symbol of Jewish unity in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, has become a symbol of our collective dysfunctionality, hurban of our cohesiveness. As the monthly confrontations over Women of the Wall attest, we can no longer even pray together. But we can at least try to pray in proximity to each other – and the Israeli government has, for the first time, offered space at the Wall for egalitarian prayer. That too is a form of healing.

Finally, one spiritually useful way to mark the Three Weeks is for each Jew to consider the community he or she most resents, and then contemplate a positive Jewish value embodied by that community. Think of the settlers' love of the land of Israel, of left-wingers' love of peace, of the anti-Zionist Satmar ladies distributing kosher food to any Jewish patient in New York hospitals, of Reform rabbis struggling to keep Jews in an open society Jewish. Without compromising your convictions, allow yourself to feel a measure of gratitude toward ideological opponents who are trying in their way to be worthy of the Jewish story.

The Three Weeks are an opportunity to pause in our communal chatter, our endless arguments over morality and survival and tradition and innovation, and ask ourselves: Is this the Jewish people we want to be?

Enough mourning for the sake of mourning. Let us turn the Three Weeks into a time of Jewish healing.