The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Disengagement from Gaza

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  1. Having returned a few hours ago from spending the past four weeks in Israel I wish to mention, by way of an interim communication before the next planned issue of the Sceptic Tank, the two most powerful images which have stayed in my mind from all the things I saw and heard about the disengagement.
  2. There are two texts of the poem “El adon” which we sing on shabbos morning just after bor’chu.  One has the phrase “chessed v’racahamim lifnei k’vodo” (kindness and mercy precede His glory) and the other has the phrase “chesed v’rachamim molei k’vodo” (His glory is filled with kindness and mercy).  Each is used, by those praying according to different customs.
  3. As always when two texts have survived in mainstream use, it is because there is merit in each.  The first version is along the lines of the famous saying “derech eretz kodmo laTorah” (good behaviour precedes Torah).   Before one attempts to aspire to the Divine one must master the humane: one cannot become holy without first being a thoroughly decent human being.  The second version stresses that the values of kindness and mercy are not just prerequisites for holiness but that they also permeate, and are inseparable from, Divine behaviour (which is why Abraham could say to God about Sodom “choliloh lecho …” – “it is inconceivable for you to behave in such a way as to kill the innocent”; see also paragraph 7 of the issue of 21st July).
  4. I saw both these texts exemplified in the sight of two Jews approaching each other on apparently irreconcilable courses destined for violent collision; a Jewish soldier bound by his understanding of Torah and secular law to evict a resident, and a resident bound by his understanding of Torah to resist the secular law of eviction so far as possible without infringing any Torah commandment.  (As to why dina d’malchuso may not make observing the secular law a Torah requirement in this case, if there is a sufficient demand I will bli neder address this on another occasion).  The resident’s behaviour towards the soldier showing dignity and understanding for the other’s position, and vice versa: a profound sensitivity for each other showing that the Torah of each is based on a profound humanity, and that his or her religious observance is also imbued with and permeated by sensitivity.  The soldier lifts the resident carefully and respectfully and carries him out of the house: the resident is careful not to harm the solider who lifts him, and utters not even a word of protest, only cries; and when he is placed carefully on the ground outside his former home, the two cry together.
  5. I do not know whether you saw these images here, or only the occasional tyre being burned in the streets by a hot-headed youth who was probably not even a resident of Gaza.  But it is the former images and not the latter which remain in my mind, as a picture of inspiring behaviour and a testament to Jewish values.  Let the politics of the situation be what they may, and even leaving aside how one construes Torah obligations in the matters of settling the land of Israel and of obeying commands, a religion that teaches both sides of a bitter conflict to behave in this fashion to one another is clearly both founded on and imbued with principles of humanity and divinity inextricably entwined.
  6. Of course, not all residents of Gush Katif decided that it was necessary to be carried out of their homes; and my second most powerful memory of the past month is of being told by one of our friends in Israel that his uncle had been told by his rabbi that it was forbidden to leave in advance, forbidden to pack even the day before, but that in order to avoid loss of dignity and even a risk of violence the family should wait until the police were actually coming towards their house, so that the evacuation was for all practical purposes at last inevitable, and then stand up and walk out with dignity.
  7. We all suffer losses throughout our lives – most are relatively trivial although irksome enough at the time, and some unhappily are truly tragic.  I have no idea what the political or security message of the disengagement process is; but I think the principal religious message for me is clear, to try to learn to suffer loss – and where necessary to inflict loss – with dignity, sensitivity and humility.

Written by Daniel Greenberg

August 29, 2005 at 12:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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