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.
Wednesday, October 11, 2023
In This Moment: Unity Government; Redeeming Hostages; What Does Judaism Say About Ransoming Captives?
In This Moment
"President Biden’s speech last night continued to reverberate throughout Israel today. Biden, who was often not taken seriously by many Israelis — today, is probably the most popular American President in Israel’s history." - Marc Schulman
We have a traditional practice for moments like this one: ta'anit tzibbur–a fast that draws in the entire community to unite for deliverance for those in crisis. We stand in horror as Hamas has taken over 100 Israelis and other citizens hostage, among them infants, toddlers, entire families, the elderly and Holocaust survivors. While political and military leaders are pursuing pathways to their release, we have a religious and communal obligation to stand up for the victims and to cry out to God. Please join us this Thursday, October 12th, the 27th of Tishrei, for a communal fast day supported by rabbis and leaders from across the Jewish world. The fast will begin at dawn and end at nightfall. Click here for halakhic information about communally-decreed fast days.
If you can't join in a communal service tomorrow, just listen to this version of "Shomer Yisrael" ("Guardian of Israel, sung by Neshama Carlebach, over and over again). it will bring you to tears, as it did me back in 2014, when we had to cancel a congregational trip because of Hamas rockets.
TBE's Jennifer Meth mentioned to me that her nephew's paratrooper sniper unit is looking for donations to buy equipment and has set up a GoFundMe page. Here is the sister's Facebook posting:
Forwarding from Melissa Mall Raab Mendelson
My son Daniel currently serves in the Israeli army. He, along with his paratrooper unit have been activated to battle on the Gaza border. So many of you have shown an outpouring of love and support to me and my entire family in the past 48 to 72 hours, asking what you can do if anything to help. My son has created a non-for-profit organization to raise funds that go directly to his unit, to purchase essential equipment for battle. They are in need for additional (and more advanced)helmets, rain gear, barrels, vests, sniper stands, silencers, camouflage and the list goes on. Any donation would be so appreciated! Please continue praying for the safety of every IDF soldier and citizen of Israel. Thank you in advance for your consideration, and for all of your love and support. I am quoting my son as he requested…, “Please share that we are fighting so hard, putting our bodies and souls on the line for the people and the land of Israel we love with our hearts and souls.”
The facebook page for the Friends of Paratroop 202:
At about 11 AM our time this morning, my "Red Alert" phone app began to "blow up" with alerts. But this time the warnings were not about rockets from Gaza, but "hostile aircraft" from Lebanon, headed to places that anyone who has traveled in northern Israel would be familiar with. Safed and Tiberias for sure, but also places like En Gev, HaGoshrim (we've stayed at that kibbutz with a couple of groups, accessing the Jordan River rafting, Neot Mordechai (are the Lebanese looking for a factory outlet to replenish their supply of sandals?) and Dalton (winery north of Safed - I can just see the spouse saying, "And can you pick me up a few bottles of chablis on the way home?" Sometimes you can only laugh in the face of indescribable evil. It turned out to be a false alarm, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?
While falling short of a full unity government, an emergency War Cabinet has been formed that includes Benny Ganz, whose portfolio will be "Adult-in-the-Room." There's also a place at the table for opposition leader Yair Lapid, should he wish to join. For as long as this cabinet exists, any controversial legislation, such as the judicial reform, will be frozen. That's good news, and it will be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court rules on the one piece of legislation that already passed in the midst of a war. Under normal circumstances one would assume not, but the pending retirement of a key judge applies significant time pressure to this ruling. If it is overturned, with Ganz and his part now in the government, it's hard to imagine the cabinet forcing a constitutional crisis on the country by announcing that it will not accept a Supreme Court ruling.
Marc Schulman, in his nightly missive, adds, "A pivotal component of this agreement is that the war cabinet will be entrusted with all decisions related to the ongoing conflict, from potential resolutions to handling hostages. This smaller cabinet, which is scheduled to convene at minimum every 48 hours, will also oversee matters concerning the West Bank." It's a good thing, because today, Minister Ben Gvir tried to stir up Jewish-Arab tensions by advcating the massive arming of civilian Jews
What Does Judaism Say About Ransoming Captives?
There are many moral questions in a war. I was shocked-but-not-surprised to hear this morning that Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon is treating Hamas terrorists. Once you get over the shock, and the concern that there might not be enough beds for Israelis, it is a real source of pride.
And then there's the most significant moral questions of the war, more pressing, perhaps, than it ever has been before in Jewish history: Redeeming captives. Israel doesn't appear to be in a bargaining mood right now.
See below a response I wrote a while back:
Here is the relevant passage from the Talmud:
See the responsum of Rabbi David Golinkin as it applies to terrorist organizations here. There are solid arguments on both sides, but never before, with the exception of the Holocaust, have we dealt with such enormous numbers of captives and such depravity on the part of the captors. It is not an easy question to answer, not as easy as answering the very morally clear question as to whether Hamas has forfeited its right to continue to rule Gaza. Below are two key sections of Golinkin's responsum.
Yediot's headline: "The Hurban!" - That's the term used for the destruction of the ancient temples. The headline on the lower right attests from American sources that the Egyptians warned the Israeli government days before the impending attack. Click on photo for full size pdf.