Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Saturday, October 28, 2023
In This Moment: The Ground War Begins..on Shabbat; The Day the Music Died (and the month it came back)
Below: Click to watchthis running loop featuring the names of those who perished in Hamas's terror attack on southern Israel, from Israeli TV.
The Ground War Begins..on Shabbat
I am not surprised that Israel chose to begin its ground attack on the Sabbath. While some might consider it bad luck, or even a sin, a war such as this one can - and must - be fought on Shabbat. It was also one of the few ways Israel could use the element of surprise, since the "devout" Hamas brass would think that Jews wouldn't dare risk angering Adonai by fighting on Shabbat. Fighting on Shabbat is what israel's enemies do when they want to pull a surprise attack, which is what happened on Oct 7.
In the second century BCE, Seleucid armies adopted the strategy of attacking Jewish renegades on Shabbat. The Jews offered little resistance and were slaughtered. In 1 Maccabees, the Hasmonean patriarch Mattathias rejected that blind piety, stating, "If anyone comes against us on the Sabbath day, we shall fight against him and not all die as our brothers did in their hiding places."
The Talmudic sages taught that one who is vigilant in saving a life on Shabbat is praiseworthy. The Talmud presents several scenarios involving permissible Sabbath violations to save a life including rescuing a child from a pit or saving someone drowning in the sea. The rabbis applied the principles of Pikuach Nefesh both to saving the lives of Jews and gentiles and also made it clear that the risk of death did not need to be certain or immediate. (See this parsha packet on Pikuach Nefesh)
By any definition, rescuing hostages, one of the prime goals of the invasion, justifies fighting on Shabbat.
■ Israel’s military operation in Gaza has entered a "new phase," says Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, amid reports of a far more significant Israeli incursion into Gaza involving infantry, armor, engineering and artillery forces in cooperation with the air force. IDF Chief of Staff Herzl Halevi reiterated that the objectives of the war require a ground operation in Gaza. “To expose the enemy, to destroy it, there is no choice but to enter forcefully into their territory,” he said. Israel says it assassinated Hamas' naval and air force commanders overnight Friday.
■ Amid an almost complete internet and cellular blackout in Gaza, heads of major international aid organizations, media outlets and charities said they’d lost contact with their local representatives.
■ U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking with his Israeli counterpart, emphasized the “importance of protecting civilians” during IDF operations and and on the “urgency of humanitarian aid delivery for civilians in Gaza," according to a Pentagon statement.
■ The U.S. has deployed its second aircraft carrier strike group, the USS Eisenhower, in the Mediterranean, further bolstering its military presence amid concerns of an escalating conflict with Iran and Hezbollah.
■ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas since October 7. Netanyahu told the families that he’s “not sure people understand how” the effort to return the hostages “is conducted and in what scope, including instructions to the forces in the field and in very broad, global, and local contexts - and it continues all the time."
■ A Hamas spokesperson claimed that the organization was about to reach an agreement with Israel over the hostages held in Gaza, but that Israel had "stalled" on that possibility. He added that Hamas would only release all the hostages if Israel freed all of its Palestinian security detainees.
■ Rocket barrages targeted northern and southern Israel throughout the day. IDF exchanged fire with Hezbollah fighters near the Lebanon border; a surface-to-air missile from Lebanon intercepted by Israeli air defense system.
■ The IDF’s spokesperson said Israel was “expanding the humanitarian effort” to bring water and medicine into Gaza, adding that Gazans who moved to the south “will receive assistance."
■ A Palestinian man was shot and killed by an Israeli settler in the West Bank on Saturday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry and Israeli military sources, as violence continued to soar in the area.
■ The Palestinian Authority’s health minister, Mai Alkaila, accused Israel "committing genocide in Gaza" and claimed that 7,300 Gazans have been killed so far, and 19,000 were wounded.
■ At least 29 journalists have died covering the Israel-Hamas war so far, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
■ Israel has ordered its diplomats to return from Turkey to Israel in response to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan repeating, in front of a mass pro-Palestinian rally, that Israel was an occupier but Hamas was not a terrorist organization.
■ In London, thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched to demand the UK government call for a ceasefire. Meanwhile Egypt’s foreign ministry said “Israeli obstacles” are impeding the delivery of aid to Gaza.
The Day the Music Died
and the month it came back
Click to watch a telethon held a few days ago, called "We are here," a show of support for residents living on those communities devastated on October 7. The program raised over 8 million shekels and featured some of Israel's most famous musicians. There are no subtitles, but music is an international language and these songs are all pretty well known among Israelis - for good reason.
October 7 was literally the day the music died. Israelis love music and especially to sing together at festivals, so the fact that a music festival was a prime Hamas target was, in a sense, an attempt to kill music itself. Because of that, it is more important than ever to restore music to its rightful place in Israeli and Jewish culture. We have to keep on playing and singing.
Every war in Israel has had its signature songs. As the tanks rumble into the fray this night, it's still too early to know what tunes from this war will capture the hearts of a grieving nation. But already, musicians have been working overtime to lend comfort to troops and to those on the home front, and to raise money for victimized families. I'll share some of what has come out this far, in the hopes that it might restore music to our lives as well, and in the hopes that quiet and safety might soon return in a more permanent way for all those who live in the region, Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The Israel Philharmonic has been working overtime. Not only did they provide accompaniment for the telethon, but they performed a program of classical music before an empty hall (for security reasons) but which has been seen all over the world.
Against the backdrop of the Gaza war, Yuval Dayan released a new song titled "Keep Your Heart." Dayan shared that the song was born out of a meeting with a bereaved mother who requested a song capturing the situation and the power of togetherness. Dayan never considering releasing a new song right now. Instead, she found solace in connecting with fighters, wounded individuals, evacuees, and finding comfort in consoling those in mourning. Each encounter inspired her even more. (See 'Waiting for You at the End:' Yuval Dayan releases new Gaza war song - JPost). The song is below, and English lyrics below that:
If the light goes out between us, it will reignite in its place
If the sea becomes entangled between us,
We will navigate away and return in due time
Let the sadness peel away, aiding its passing
If you are unsure,
I will provide you with reasons, just take care of this heart
Remember the good because I promise to protect us,
I will not leave
Just trust this heart, focus on the girls because
I promise to safeguard us.
Israel specializes in songs to comfort and strengthen the spirit in troubled times. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a cottage industry. A nice collection of these songs has just been put together by an Israeli music site: See below:
The Maccabeats came up with this new version of the traditional prayer for Israel.
Here's Zamir's version of the Prayer for the IDF, performed several days ago. (Yes, that's Dan in the third row). And below that, David Burger's exquisite version of the Prayer for the State of Israel.
Last week, Israel's top satire show, Eretz Nehderet, returned to the air. Remember how SNL returned after 9/11 (seeing Mayor Giuliani in the opening is a little freaky)? Well, this was similar, with a song led my Shlomo Artzi.
David Broza did a full concert at B'nai Jeshurun in NYC lsat week. The concert begins about 30 minutes into the video, and you'll find Yihye Tov where it belongs, as the finale.