Monday, January 1, 2024

In This Moment: The Israeli Supreme Court Strikes Down the Judicial Coup; TBE Milestones: Friday Night Live; Haniyeh is Bin Laden


In This Moment

Happy 2024 to everyone.

The Israeli Supreme Court dealt a severe blow to the Israeli government's planned Judicial Coup today, with two rulings that, a) reversed a key government decision to weaken the courts and b) gave courts the right to block any future "Basic Laws" intended to forestall judicial review. As Marc Schulman put it in his blog today"The Court ruling asserts that the powers of the Knesset are derived from the Declaration of Independence. If the Knesset passes laws that contradict the spirit of the Declaration, those laws can be overturned."

Three months ago, before October 7, this would have been earthshaking news prompting a likely confrontation between the two main branches of government, in other words, a constitutional crisis (though there is no constitution). But the world has changed since that fateful day and even the reckless Netanyahu government will not dare bring Israeli society to the brink of Civil War when there already is a war going on. So the worst product of the year-long coup has been undone, but the damage to Israeli society has been incalculable.

Click on the headlines below to read full-page pdf

Israel's Front Pages

Jerusalem Post


Yediot Ahronot

Two Must-See Videos (Subtitled)

Freed Israeli hostage Mia Schem in first interview since her release from Hamas captivity in Gaza. See also the NYT profile

1000 Israeli musicians sing with one voice, BRING THEM HOME! See T.O.I backgrounder here.

Click for my Substack piece, "New Year's Resolutions, Jewish Style"

TBE Milestones: "Sheldon, Come Home!"

Friday Night Live Comes to TBE

As my final months as Senior Rabbi at TBE approach, I'm sharing insights on key moments of our time together here. I've mentioned this one often, but it can't be ignored. It had great historical significance, not just there but throughout the Jewish world.

In the winter of 2000, two things of note occurred: the Pope visited Israel and Craig Taubman came to TBE. The Pope's changed the way Jews and Catholics talk to one another and Taubman's "Friday Night Live" changed the way we talk - or sing - to God. My reactions at the time were strongly stated and somewhat controversial in the cantorial world (see the article here), but I felt that Taubman's style of service was the new wave that would soon become normative in the Jewish world. I'm not right about everything (for sure!) but I was right about that. And as a bonus, this service was one of the contributing factors to our hiring of Deborah Jacobson to be our cantor a couple of years later (long story).

The sanctuary was packed with over 400 people on that cold January night, filled with seekers of all ages, although we advertised it as primarily a service for young professionals, modeled after the service Taubman developed with Rabbi David Wolpe in L.A. This was F.N.L.s New York area premiere and we just couldn't keep people away. There was such a hunger, everywhere in the Jewish world, for a "new song," and Taubman, like Debbie Friedman before him, was answering the call. Now, 24 years later, creative Jewish liturgical music is ubiquitous, but people back then were fearful of bucking tradition, even though traditional music had been, in its own day, radical. Did you know that the old standard melody for Adon Olam was originally a German beer song?

I want to share with you two documents. The first is the letter Rabbi Sharon Sobel, my good friend and colleague at Temple Sinai, sent with me to the community, introducing this new concept. And below that, shared for the first time, my d'var Torah and notes that I used to introduce some of the featured prayers.

Here's an excerpt from the Jewish Week article I wrote a few weeks later, The Show Must Go On.

Was it a show? Yes. But no one exited that service feeling emotionally cheated or manipulated. No one would rather have been at Lincoln Center. We connected at the deepest level. And when I spoke briefly that night on the need for young, wayward Jews to return home to Judaism, I felt at one with my message.

A few days later, I got a note from one young woman with a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, who that night attended a Shabbat service for the first time. "It was WONDERFUL," she wrote, "filled with God’s spirit. I felt right at home. I’M SO EXCITED!!!" In reaching out to Jews on the fringe, we touched at least one who had strayed far beyond it. Her letter alone was enough to convince me that this show must go on.

Craig Taubman will be "performing" Friday Night Live at the upcoming Rabbinical Assembly Convention. I urge my Conservative colleagues to listen closely to their own voices singing along. Orthodox Jews will recognize this revolution in the popularity of the Carlebach style of service, which like Taubman's and B.J.'s, is also now being exported to distant places. And Reform Jews need to heed Eric Yoffie's recent cry for liturgical reform.

There is a Darwinian aspect to this that we must understand. That which brings life to our worship will survive, and that which doesn't will not. The Germanic-Eastern European music that energized synagogue life for two centuries did its job well, but its day is done, except as it is being synthesized into contemporary forms. The psalms themselves are imploring us, "Shiru L'Adonai, Shir Hadash," "Sing unto Adonai a new song." The caravan has already moved on to other ways of making our ancient, sacred prayers come alive. Service attendance will continue to decline until we all understand that it's either good show -- or no-show.

Recommended Reading

When Can Israel Declare "Mission Accomplished"?

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

When Israelis speak about the war against Hamas potentially lasting for years, Americans should understand exactly what that means. Conflicts such as these take on the air of personal battles against the leader of the opposition. For Americans, Al Qaeda was not truly defeated until the killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. At that moment there was a collective sigh of relief, a feeling of “Mission truly Accomplished” that had been lacking until that point. We felt much safer, even though that radical group would be supplanted by other threats, primarily ISIS.

So when will Israeli war aims be accomplished? When the hostages are freed, to be sure. But also when Hamas’s top leaders are eliminated. There is no other metric that matters. Israel has destroyed 70 percent of Gaza, according to the Wall Street Journal, but not a single Israeli resident of the southern communities near the border feels safe enough to return and rebuild. Hundreds of tunnels and thousands of weapons have been destroyed. Hamas fighting forces have been decimated.


But if they kill Ismail Haniyeh and decapitate the rest of Hamas’s leadership, there will be a feeling of “Mission Accomplished.” Every Israeli is waiting for that. Whether or not it's proper to measure military success in this way, that is the perception, and perception in this case is reality. Netanyahu knows it.


So the question arises: Why is Israel allowing Hamas leadership to sun themselves in Qatar and conduct diplomatic missions in Turkey and Egypt?


Israel should make it clear that these leaders are fair game wherever they are. They should never be able to board a plane without the fear of being blown from the sky, Putin-style. Hamas leaders should not be able to conduct business as usual. Any pretense of them having diplomatic immunity should have ended on October 7.  They've forfeited their right to diplomatic treatment. The kid gloves need to come off.

They are all now Bin Laden.

They've earned it.

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