Did God Care About the ‘Human Shield’ Euphemism on Yom Kippur?

Before the indignant or knee-jerk reactions to the title of this article, please allow me to explain my thought process.

I grew up in a religious Hebrew school in Los Angeles where we had “Bracha Bees” (similar to a spelling bee, but for Jewish prayers) and learned that work on Shabbat might even entail pressing a pen onto paper, or dipping a toe into a swimming pool and creating little, tiny waves.

We learned Rashi, heard stories about the power of mitzvahs, and boys like me wore tzitzit. I remember vividly a Rabbi explaining that in the afterlife, we’ll all see a sort of movie of our lives and that people in the next world wore name plates. I also remember little tidbits of information like when Yehudah got angry, a hair on his chest straitened stiff, and that Moses had a speech impediment because as a baby, he put a piece of coal in his mouth.

Above all, we learned that God was a relevant and important part of everyone’s life, and that he saw everything, knew everything, and cared deeply about justice. I took this also to mean that God couldn’t be fooled with language that fools most people, but that’s another story altogether; one addressed by this article.

I left my religious Hebrew school in the 5th grade, but this Jewish influence continues to stay with me, even though I’m not religious at all, and even though I question the existence of a higher being who’d allow 1.5 million Jewish children to die along with the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Interestingly, I’ve had Jewish people actually tell me, in all sincerity, that God allowed the Holocaust to happen because Jews were moving away from Judaism in various ways. These same people would never in a million years eat a Big Mac, but apparently know very well that God looked the other way when this was taking place; all because people were intermarrying. These same people, mind you, might also know that the guy upstairs doesn’t want you to consume non-Kosher water.

However, the biggest thing that stuck with me from Hebrew school, like an aura of Jewishness that protects against phrases like “anti-Israel” and “leftist” (I love Israel and believe in a Jewish state) is the hope that God actually does impose judgment in the afterlife against the human monsters of our world. People like Eichmann should to pay for their crimes, don’t you think?

I would also like to believe that God rewards those who’ve sacrificed everything to save the lives of people they’ve never met. The heroic and noble souls who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, saints like Raoul Wallenberg, should live forever in joy and heavenly paradise. This, in my book, means more than a life of eating Kosher or not driving on Shabbat, especially since, “In Eastern Europe, the Germans executed not only the people who sheltered Jews, but their entire family as well.”

To each his own, but as I grew older, I began to see my Jewishness from the vantage point of a God that doesn’t take sides. If God is all knowing, surely we can’t ALWAYS be right while others are conveniently ALWAYS wrong. With this mentality, the world sometimes has a way of making you see things differently from your upbringing.

The following Yiddish saying is perhaps the best way of summarizing life on Earth:

 Truth is found only with God, and with me only a little.

For certain religious people and for some people who claim to be spiritual enough to have a connection with a higher power, the old Yiddish expression is often times reversed in meaning. This goes for people of all faiths and backgrounds, by the way.

Thus, this Yiddish phrase is seen by most of the world’s population as, “Truth is found only with me, and with God only a little…especially if God might actually contradict my firmly held political beliefs or views on life.”

Our notion of what God wants or who he sides with correlates directly to geography. Unless you converted to Judaism, you and I are Jewish because we were born to Jewish families. If you or I were born in Saudi Arabia, what are the odds we’d be reading books by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach or seeing the logic of an Eruv?

Therefore, taking cultural allegiance out of the equation for one moment (yes, for a great many this might be impossible), ask what God sees from his view up above. He must see everything, therefore on a day where we ask for his forgiveness, it makes sense to ask forgiveness for even unintentional sins; something we already do on Yom Kippur. Interestingly, on a day centered upon atonement like Yom Kippur, very few people brought up the issue of the 495 children and 253 women who died in Gaza during the latest war.

Why atone for anything when Hamas terrorists literally handcuffed each one of these women and children to rocket launchers?

After all, the issue is clear cut, especially from God’s perspective. Everyone who has a different narrative must be anti-Israel, pro-Hamas, a liberal, a leftist, naive, lacking knowledge, ignorant, an idiot, or simply anti-Semitic, and the big guy upstairs knows this, right?

Surely, God knows this. He’s not anti-Israel.

The reality, however, is that the objective truths all human beings can agree upon are numerous, but sadly not plentiful enough to prevent wars, conflict, and untold human suffering. As a result, language is used by people to simplify a complex collage of human inequities into a nice, simplified picture. George Orwell’s “Politics and The English Language,” found in the University of Pennsylvania’s website for its Department of English, highlights Orwell’s view of euphemisms:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible….

Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification…

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is not such thing as “keeping out of politics.”

Therefore, does the Almighty agree with Orwell and believe that “political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question begging and sheer cloudy vagueness?” Or, does God agree with you that those women and children in Gaza got what Hamas gave them?

Of course, you might believe that in military affairs, there are rarely moments when, as Orwell states, “A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow.” True, it’s easy for me to write this when there aren’t rockets flying in my direction. However, my Hebrew school education taught me to view God as possessing infinitely more wisdom and intelligence than a human being; information that could be used to judge everyone, including people defending against insane terrorists. What I got from Hebrew school wasn’t only the belief I had to keep Kosher (I don’t anymore), but that God wasn’t going to be tricked by words, or by allegiance to a political mindset, or by the fact I was born Jewish.

On Yom Kippur, the odds are you didn’t think of the Palestinians, or the people who died in Gaza. However, did you ever wonder if God actually wanted you to think of them on the Day of Atonement? Like Orwell eloquently states, when “political language has to consist largely of euphemism,” there’s often times more to the overall story. Odds are that God sees the entire picture, and the chances are that he might not agree with you, or with me, entirely on this issue.

Most likely, George Orwell sees more to the phrase “human shield” than does Shmuley Boteach. That being said, how do you think God feels about the “human shield” euphemism? Unfortunately, your answer will be as good as mine. No doubt, we’ll all find out in the next life.

About the Author
H. A. Goodman is an author and columnist published in numerous publications and websites.