Thursday, January 11, 2024

In This Moment: Israel's Day in Court; The Truth About Lies; The Talmud of MLK


In This Moment

You may have heard the news that Fauda star Idan Amedi (who plays Sagi) was seriously wounded in Gaza. He seems to be out of danger, thankfully. It's one more example of how the war hits home for Israelis. Amedi is also a singer, and he first became known to Israeli audiences several years ago with his participation in the reality series, "A Star is Born," (Kochav Nolad). Below is when he introduced what became a signature song for him, "K'ayv Shel Lochamim," "The Pain of Warriors," about the trials of a soldier with PTSD.The actual song begins a few minutes in, and the translation is below. War hits close to home for all Israelis.

TBE Milestones....A Sermon Sampler

Israel's Trial,

Gay's Resignation &

The Truth About Lies

With Israel being put on trial for genocide today in the most Orwellian of terms imaginable - accused of turning Gaza into a "concentration camp," it seems as if the entire concept of truth has been turned upside down. There's no greater miscarriage of justice than accusing the nation founded by victims of the Holocaust of a Holocaust.

As Semafor describes it:

The case...carries huge symbolic weight. On one side, Israel’s founding came in the wake of the killing of six million Jews in the Holocaust. On the other, South Africa — which sees parallels between apartheid and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and whose apartheid rulers had a close military alliance with Israel — was the subject of an ultimately unsuccessful 1960s ICJ case seeking to end the system of segregation. “Like the [1960s] case,” a legal expert wrote in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, “this is about more than just the present legal dispute.”

Apartheid...Holocaust...Genocide... It seems as if the one who owns the language owns the truth.

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan included this prayer in the Reconstructionist Prayerbook.

From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth

From the laziness that is content with half-truths,

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,

O God of Truth deliver us. (Reconstructionist Mahzor p.190)

The fine line between truth and falsehood can be complicated at times. One of the first High Holidays sermons I ever gave here, back in 1990, discussed the hard truths about lying. I've made truth a key theme of mine often during my tenure (for example, here, here, here and here), but what makes this sermon special for me is that not only has it stood the test of time in a general sense, but I could have delivered the exact same one this year (to be truthful, not quite exact). Some excerpts:

Moving ahead a quarter of a century, here are some excerpts from my 2015 sermon, "Truth and Trust."

Why am I bringing this topic up now? Because, of all the evils that afflict our world, and especially our country, the degradation of truth and, by extension, trust, may be the most insidious. What I spoke about in 1990 has gotten exponentially worse. Fox News wasn't even invented until 1996, and no entity in our society has done more to take the "Big Lie" and make it flourish on American soil. The Big Lie, so often attributed to Goebbels (though truthfully, we don't know who invented it) but now it's as American as apple pie (even though, truth be told, apple pie actually originated in England, not America). The Big Lie has infiltrated every cranny of our society.

The rabbis were immensely invested in truth and integrity.

It should also be noted that when Harvard's president resigned, the reason was not her regrettable testimony to Congress and lack of conviction in condemning antisemitism. It was for her betrayal of strict academic standards of truth and attribution. While I do not think her testimony warranted dismissal - a clear change of course in dealing with antisemitism on campus would have been much more constructive - I do think it's no small thing to ask our community leaders to stand up for truth. The Talmudic rabbis were absolutely obsessed about attributionAs we read in Pirke AvotWhoever repeats a statement in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world. (Avot 6:6). That's a pretty big deal.

So yes, the accusations that led to Claudine Gay's resignation were impeachable - just not the ones many Jews have been focusing on. It's about truth. VeritasOr as they say at Brandeis, Emet.

Here's what I wrote about the word Emet in 2014:

The one sermon about truth that I did not mention yet is the one that is most recent, this year's Rosh Hashanah second day talk about A.I. I could not have imagined in 1990 that within my lifetime, not only would the whole concept of truth be subverted, but that humanity would be subsumed by a world of artificiality and deception. As I stated:

A.I. is built on a premise that artificiality can appear real, that a mechanical construct can fool us into believing that it is sentient. And even when it learns from its mistakes and spews out more facts, it is still fake. We must stand up for the primacy of the real.

As we move forward through uncharted waters, we need to maintain our independence of thought and understand that, in the words of Pamela Meyer in her TED talk:

Lying is a cooperative act. Think about it, a lie has no power whatsoever by its mere utterance. Its power emerges when someone else agrees to believe the lie.

Ultimately, we have the power to affirm, protect and defend truth. This year, more than ever, we need to do just that.

Tomorrow's Front Pages

Jerusalem Post


Yediot Ahronot

The Jerusalem Post, like so many of us, is sick of the hypocrisy, and brings a most gruesome photo to Friday's front page. Click on it to see the full page pdf.

Yediot features Idan Amedi up top and on he lower left, children's drawings from captivity.

Recommended Reading

Click below to read Jewish passages reflecting MLK's key themes

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