Posts Tagged 'Jerusalem'

Besieged: Choice, SCOTUS, and Jerusalem

Recently I have been reading about the Supreme Courts decision to let the Texas law SB8 stand and their pending decision on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case in Mississippi. On the second the Center for Reproductive Rights wrote, “For many, the barriers will simply be too high, and they will be forced to endure the substantial risks of continued pregnancy and childbirth.” The implications for women’s health are scary to me. I stand by any religion’s claim that this it is wrong to end a potential life. The Torah takes life and potential life very seriously, even if not the same as each other. And because this is a religious matter I do not believe that the state has a role here. This issue is only compounded by class and access to resources. Only wealthier people have the funds to get out of Texas or Mississippi to terminate those unwanted pregnancies. This newest push to limit women’s access to health care seems like an assault of women’s agency and choice over their own bodies.

It is painful to see laws, mostly written by men, about women’s bodies, lack empathy or understanding of the personal, religious, or public health issues of women. How is a women who believes it is her religious right to make decisions about her own body supposed to interpret this moment? Why is the state in the business of making rules for other people’s bodies? It might seem as the though the womb is being besieged.

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Regarding the Supreme Courts most recent decision to let the Texas law stand Marc Hearron, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights is quoted to have said:

While SB8 is about abortion, this private enforcement scheme implicates every other constitutional right, If a state can prohibit the exercise of any constitutional right that’s disfavored in that state and get around federal court review by allowing private citizens to sue someone for exercising that constitutional right, then it’s hard to say where this scheme ends. Today’s decision is a marker that says every constitutional right is now at risk.

Texas Tribune 12/10/21

Be it that you agree with Roe v. Wade or not, pushing against this long standing precedent opens a Pandora’s box. This has the potential of allowing the states the discretion to see different people differently under the law. Will we strive to treat everyone fairly, equitably, or justly?

I was thinking about all of this today as Asarah B’Tevet, the 10th of Tevet. This fast day commemorates when Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, began the siege of Jerusalem (588 BCE). 18 months later, on the 17th of Tammuz his troops broke through the city walls. The siege ended with the destruction of the Temple three weeks later, on the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), the end of the first Kingdoms and the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon. The Tenth of Tevet is thus considered to be the beginning of the end of the Jewish world as it was known during the First Temple period.

As we know from sources such as Eicha (the Book of Lamentations), this siege was brutal, depriving the residents of Jerusalem of basic necessities and forcing them into horrific situations. Asara B’Tevet is significant because it marks the onset of a period of tremendous suffering for the Jewish people.  Jerusalem was the center of our people. In diaspora our yearning for Jerusalem became a bedrock of Jewish identity. I was not just a direction to pray it became our national orientation. It came to represent our national agency and autonomy.

siege of jerusalem | The Deadliest Blogger: Military History Page

Today on Asara B’Tevet and seeing where the court is headed it is hard not feeling besieged. Is this the beginning of the end?

As the story goes, in 1787 as the delegates to the Constitutional Convention are just leaving Independence Hall, a crowd had gathered on the steps there in Philadelphia. They had just decided on the general structure for the new United States. The crowd was eager to hear the news. An anxious women, wearing a shawl, approached Benjamin Franklin and asked him, “well, Doctor, what do we have, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied sagely, “a republic, if you can keep it.”

It is moments like this, when we feel besieged, that we have to ask, will we keep it?

Red Alert: Israel Above Our Greatest Joy

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of being at a wonderful wedding. Near the end of the chuppah, the officiating rabbi who was also the father of the bride explained the ritual of the breaking of the glass.  Many people who know nothing of Jewish law, tradition, or history know that you break a glass at the end of the Jewish wedding. This custom is based on an event mentioned in Berachot 30b  where Mar, the son of Ravina, was making a wedding for his son. When he saw that the guests were becoming overly joyful, he took an expensive glass and broke it in front of them, thereby tempering their joy. But what is wrong with being joyful at a wedding?

One reason is that we were learn to recall the destruction of the Temple. This is based on the verse, “I shall elevate Jerusalem above my greatest of joys” (Psalm 137:1-6). A wedding is our highest joy, but even at this moment Mar teaches us that we need to keep Jerusalem higher in our consciousness.

I have been to many weddings in my life, but none like this one. Last week when I was in Israel I put the new App Red Alert: Israel by Kobi Snir on my iPhone. Red Alert provides real-time alerts every time a terrorist fires rockets, mortars or missiles into the State of Israel. Without exaggeration I can say that my phone alert went off more than 15 times during the Chuppah. There is no doubt that I was keeping Jerusalem over my highest joy. People ask me  why I did not take the App off my phone after having left Israel. As my phone was going off in my breast pocket I was thinking about Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi‘s famous quote describing life in the Diaspora, “Libi BaMizrach VaAni BeSof Maarav– My heart is in Jerusalem although I am living physically in the farthest part of the west.”  We should be standing under the chuppah and not sitting in bomb shelters. We should be breaking glasses and not dropping bombs. We need a lasting peace for everyone. And I hope that the buzzing on my phone stops soon.

Shabbat Shalom – And I mean Shalom.

 

Question of Focus: A Reflection on My Past Week in Israel

This last week I had the pleasure of going to Israel for the First International Dialogue on the Israel Educator. The program brought over 120 Israel educators from around the world to explore the future of Israel education. As part of the program I spend part of Tuesday hearing from social innovators who are bringing different flavors of spiritual rebirth to Tel Aviv. These innovations were exciting and spoke of a mutual relationship between Jewish life and expression in Israel and in diaspora.

After this I met up with a friend to take a walk and have dinner. As we were walking we heard the sirens announcing incoming missiles from Gaza. Not sure what to do, I started looking around for a bomb shelter. Across the street I saw a family of three in an empty lot waving us over. The father calmly said that we should stand up next to the wall. So there we were standing and I innocently asked which direction Gaza was. If  we were on the south side of that wall it would not help in shielding us from the approaching missiles. The same father immediately responded by saying that Gaza was on the other side of the wall.  A few minutes passed and then we heard the two pops of the Iron dome hitting the approaching missiles. We waited a few more moments to let what ever debris from the explosion come down. And just as fast as our little huddled mass banded together we disbursed to go about our day.

It was a surreal experience. These few minutes have left me with many questions. How could we just go back to our normal routine of life? How could we not? How could this have become the new normal for people in Israel? How might this new normal impact what we think of in terms of Israel education? How has this new normal impacted the constant state of geographic consciousness? The father just knew where we were relative to Gaza.

In the oft quoted saying of Rav Nachman, “Wherever I go, I am going to Jerusalem.” The Jew should always know where he or she is in relationship to Jerusalem.In writing this post I grasp the necklace I have worn since my Bar Mitzvah. The back of the necklace says, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” ( Psalms 137:5) With the constant barrage of missiles and growing range of missiles a larger segment of Israelis always need to  be aware of where they are in relation to Gaza. I cannot help but think how this consciousness overtime will ware at the Jewish soul. I know that we need to come up with a more peaceful, dignified, and sustainable reality with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, but I do not want this existential crisis that Hamas has imposed on us to allow us to lose focus on our own moral grounding. We should stay focused on our hopes and dreams and not just our fears and nightmares. I hope that this situation resolves itself soon with no more needless bloodshed.

Hitting the Wall

Today is the 10th of Tevet. This commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia. On the  17th of Tammuz they breached the walls of the city. This cycle of terror culminated on the 9th of Av with the destruction of the First Temple and the conquest of the southern kingdom. In our liturgy, this fast day also commemorates other calamities that occurred throughout Jewish history around the 10th of Tevet.

In 1949, the Chief Rabbi of Israel declared that the day on which the first hurban (destruction) commenced should become a memorial day also for the last hurban. Two years later the rabbinate decided officially to turn the 10th of Tevet into a memorial day for Shoah (Holocaust)victims whose date of death is unknown.

Last night there was a rally in Brooklyn to remember all those whose names we might not even know who’s lives have been destroyed due to anti-LGBTQ violence.

We cannot just light a candle in their memory. It is not enough. In the name of Torah we need to speak out against violence. Today being a day to remember the nameless victims, more Rabbis need to sign their names to the Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community. And yet, that is still not enough.  We cannot stand idly by on the blood of our neighbors.  No one should be targeted or victimize because of who they are. Bullies still lurk at our gate. We need to do more. We need to stand up in the name of God to end this siege.

On this 10th of Tevet as we fast in memory of the people in Jerusalem who stood in fear behind that wall, I want to think about another stone wall. In 1969  there  were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid on homosexuals at the Stonewall Inn. This is frequently cited as the first instance in American history when people in the LGBT community fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted sexual minorities. Historian Nicholas Edsall writes,

Stonewall has been compared to any number of acts of radical protest and defiance in American history from the Boston Tea Party on. But the best and certainly a more nearly contemporary analogy is with Rosa Parks‘ refusal to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1955, which sparked the modern civil rights movement. Within months after Stonewall radical gay liberation groups and newsletters sprang up in cities and on college campuses across America and then across all of northern Europe as well.1

On this 10th of Tevet I do not just think about shuttering in fear behind a wall. Today we need to think about what we can to do join together to stand up to oppression in front of that wall.  This is not just something to commemorate, we must also learn to celebrate; the Jewish community has a lot to learn from LGBT community.

Tzom Kal– Fighting oppression is hard, so I hope that fasting goes easily.


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