A Talmudic Perspective on the Israeli Elections

My father once told me that with the foundation of the State of Israel, Judaism, and the way we view our religion, has changed. The way we view our liturgy, our holidays, and our social justice have been altered because of the existence of the Jewish State. The way we look at our past, present, and future as a religion and a nation have been affected by the reality of the State of Israel.

With that said, our understanding of a teaching from the Talmud, in Tractate Yoma, has evolved from a teaching of Rabbinic history to a prophetic warning for our day and age. The teaching was already oft-quoted, but due to the first Jewish autonomous state in 2,000 years, it has become incredibly practical as well.

The Talmud asks, “Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, and violence… But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, Mitzvot, and charity? Because there was baseless hatred (Sinat Chinam). That teaches you that baseless hatred is considered as bad as the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.”

Living in an era with an established Jewish state, and especially in response to the recent Israeli elections, it is a lesson we must take to heart. Too often, we fight with each other, concerning many issues to which we must respond. This fighting often leads to a hatred of our opponent, whether friend or foe. We cannot allow the anger and hatred which results from fighting cannot come to define us, especially after such a divisive election. We cannot resort to hate. We cannot resort to division.

Do not misinterpret what I am saying. Debate is important, as it allows someone to not only see the flaws in their own arguments, but to better understand the people with whom he or she disagrees. But we must remember why we are arguing, and what greater goals we hope to achieve.

There are other texts in the Jewish Canon which express this idea, including the famous Mishnah in Pirkei Avot about the value of arguments for the sake of Heaven. But none express so plainly the dire consequences of division as this teaching from Tractate Yoma. If we decide to give in to our anger, to fight with those whom we must stand beside, we will befall the same fate as our ancestors.

I write these words not as someone who is thrilled at the prospects of a right-wing coalition, nor am I writing them as one who is distraught at the defeat of the Zionist Union. My personal politics are not important. The greatest threat to the State of Israel and the Jewish people is not Hamas or Iran, but a hatred which threatens to divide us internally. The supporters of Israel, religious or secular, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, must not allow the debates which divide us to overtake our mutual support for the State of Israel.

This hatred does not extend only to Jewish citizens of Israel. The Arab Joint List is now the third biggest party in the Knesset, democratically elected by Israel’s Arab citizens. The State of Israel and its Jewish majority can no longer alienate its non-Jewish citizens if it hopes to stand united against external threats. Surely we will have differences, but if we hate, that enmity will drive us apart.

The teaching from Tractate Yoma reminds us that due to hate, we lost a Jewish country. We cannot repeat the mistakes of our ancestors and expect different results. , We must remember that the State of Israel, now and forever, represents our 2000 year old hope to be an independent nation in our own land.

About the Author
Elliot Finkelstein is a Junior at Columbia University in the City of New York.
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