Posts Tagged 'current-events'

The Other Gate of Justice

I recently read a compelling article by Prof.  Chaim Saiman in Cross Currents.  In his piece If Trayvon Were Tuvia: The Orthodox (Non)response to the Zimmerman Verdict Prof. Saiman lays out a compelling thought experiment. If Trayvon was a Tuvia would the Orthodox Jewish community have reacted the same way?  He concludes that while he thinks it is legitimate for the Orthodox community to start with our own interests showing some concern for this case would have gone a long way in the larger community. Saiman writes, ” Orthodoxy creates a community that is strong enough to reach beyond its comfort zone and empathize with the Other—even when the Other is distant indeed.”

I was thinking about this while I was looked at this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim. There we read:

You shall make judges and officers in all your gates, which the Lord your God gives you, tribe by tribe; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. “(Deuteronomy 16:18)

We all understand the importance of law and its enforcement. In the wake of the Zimmerman case we are all hard pressed to overlook the issues with law enforcement in maintaining social order and the inherent issues of the lack of justice with our existing social order. What is the significance of the Torah having these judges stationed at the gates?

It seems that elsewhere in the Bible we see the gate as the sight of law.  For example, Boaz took Ruth to the gate to announce their getting married (Ruth 4:1). In the world before websites, the city gate was the best sight to communicate information to the masses. But, it also seems that the Israelite judges were philosopher kings who were charged to not only to know the law, but to administer it. In the book of Judges, the judges seem to be better warriors then jurists. In light of this we might think that the judges were stationed at the gates to protect the people inside the city walls. We might conclude that the role of the judge is to stand his or her ground and protect the city. Is the job of today’s judge to keep the denizens of the law safe from the outsiders? Prof. Saiman’s comments stir us to ask who is the insider and who is the outsider to the law. In our society is Tuvia included in the same ways that Trayvon is excluded from the law? For so much of history we were the outsiders to the law. How could we stand idly by as others are excluded?  In the seeking of justice, the judge cannot pervert the law, but how can s/he do so without seeming judgmental?  In my mind, today’s judges should stand there at the gate trying to wave down passers-by and to usher them into the law.

With the advent of Elul, I believe we all need to be thinking about how to include more people in the law and not exclude them. It is the time when  Ha Melech B’Sade- the King is in the field  (Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b). God is not in God’s castle , hiding behind the gates of the law, or even standing guard at the gate. God has gone out beyond the gates welcoming us back . In order for us all to do teshuvah, and return, we need to figure out ways in which we can help include everyone equally under the law even or especially the Other.

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Sacrifices of Israel

Like most years as I am getting ready for Yom Kippur I try to think through and make sense of the liturgy. And as always, I get stuck at the Avodah, which retells the Temple Yom Kippur sacrifice. It is hard to imagine being into it even if I was actually at the service in the Temple. Thousands of years later and in a synagogue which does not resemble the Temple it is really hard to relate. It seems that I am just out of touch with the sacrifices.

This past Sunday I read in the New York Times of the passing of Haim Hefer.  He was one of the great song writers from the founding of  the State of Israel.  Curious to learn about the impact that he had on Israeli music I looked into some of his writings. I was amazed to see how many of the songs that I took for granted as always being there were actually penned by him. I believe the most famous of these was Hafinjan. Please feel free to watch this classic video:

I always thought it was simply a song about a coffee pot until I read the lyrics. There he wrote:

The cool wind blows,
we’ll add a chip to the campfire,
and thus in scarlet
it will rise in the flames like a sacrifice.
the fire flickers,
its song rises up
the coffee pot spins, spins around.

The fire will whisper to the chip,
our faces grow so red by the fire
if more fuel is prepared for us
from every broken branch stub in the garden,
every tree and log
will sing so softly
the coffee pot spins, spins around.

When looking at the lyrics we see that this song was not written as a simple song of the Founding Fathers of Israel to sing around the camp fire. In a profound way Hefer was evoking the Temple sacrifice. Over time the fire which was “like a sacrifice” made their faces grow “red by the fire”. Hefer was not just playing with the language of the Temple in the reestablishment of a Jewish State, he was pointing us to the huge sacrifice made by that generation.  We need to make sure that we do not take their sacrifices for granted. Unfortunately for many of us it is as hard to relate to the sacrifices of that generation as the sacrifices of the Temple.  This Yom Kippur I will try to rekindle my connection to all of the sacrifices of Israel.


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