Naomi Graetz

Parshat Devarim and Doomsday Scenarios

My husband gave me a great one liner this morning, when he said after reading all the emails that his rabbinical colleagues sent him overnight: “why do we enjoy our destruction so much?” He then paraphrased the middle verse of Eicha, The Book of Lamentations: we have to examine ourselves (Lamentations 3:40).  We are responsible for this preoccupation with doomsday scenarios and it is stopping us from moving forward. Instead of focusing on our tzorres we should be thinking creatively of how to drag ourselves out of our morass of despair. The popular joke we always tell about all our Jewish holidays–they tried to kill us, we survived, so now let’s eat–is getting stale, and possibly dangerous.

It is getting difficult to focus on anything when things are “heating” up. The weather is not a metaphor; it is actual; but go to any public space and you will find people protesting. Our university in the Negev is debating whether to strike, or to declare a work stoppage—the latter doesn’t mean deducting pay from the monthly salary. We pensioners are privy to the debate, but it seems immoral to me to sign a petition that would not hurt me financially. On the one hand, there are fiery arguments and on the other, lassitude. People are still fighting, yet assuming the worst.


This Shabbat is called shabbat hazon, the shabbat of vision (hazon) because we read the prophetic reading of Isaiah 1:1-27 as the haftarah before Tisha b’av. And Wednesday night we will read Eicha. Pick up any newspaper and the pundits are comparing our situation now to then. The main difference is that the Second Temple was destroyed by outsiders and our country is being destroyed by our own Knesset members, those we 51% of the country’s citizens presumably voted for.

Here and there, people retell the story in the Talmud of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza (BT Gittin 55b) who because of contempt for each other and lack of civility, brought on the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

A modern-day association of Jew vs. Jew appeared in Colin Schindler’s review of two recent books, Martin J. Siegel’s Judgement and Mercy (2023), a biography of Judge Kaufman, and Anne Sebba’s Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy (2021):

Seventy years ago, in June 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were electrocuted at Sing-Sing prison in New York — 15 minutes before Shabbat began out of respect for Jewish tradition. It is an anniversary that Jewish organizations in the Diaspora have chosen to ignore — and one that they may not wish to be reminded of (here).

Schindler writes:

The trial itself was very much a Jewish affair. The judge, defendants, prosecution and defense were all mainly Jews. One non-Jewish juror later commented: “I felt good that this was strictly a Jewish show. It was Jew against Jew. It wasn’t the Christians hanging the Jews. Any other judge would have been more lenient than Kaufman.”

This article immediately reminded me of both the Talmudic story and our present internal strife and how the outside world regards us as ripe for the picking.

I no longer read the morning newspapers. They are all too predictable. We are on the path to destruction and we are ignoring the lessons from the past. There is even a television channel (14) that devotes itself to justifying the takeover of democracy. The strikes will continue and the counterstrikes as well. We may not physically self-destruct, but the moral damage is done. Right now, our prime minister is not welcome in the U.S. He doesn’t care, as long as he can encourage and pass laws to keep himself out of prison. Instead of the news, I’ve started reading the obituaries of the many luminaries in the NYTimes. They highlight stories of lives well-lived, not like the scoundrels who are running our government. I get inspiration from their lives. It is a form of escape literature.

I envy my friends and family who believe that marching or picketing will do any good. I can only hope that no one gets hurt. Someone wrote today in a letter commenting on the news, that in other countries, people would take out guns and start shooting. And I thought to myself, the writer is letting loose the ayin ha-ra, the evil eye. Knock wood three times, I thought to myself and let’s hope he’s right. So far, there have been several car rammings of protesters; police using fire hoses to quell riots; but no guns, YET! It is a matter of time before things escalate further. I fear for my country.


In this week’s parsha, there is justification for extreme action in eradicating the inhabitants of the land, in particular Sichon, king of Hesbon the Emorite (Deuteronomy 2: 24-35). The Israelites are told not to fight against the nations who are descended from our relatives (Esau, Moav and Amon who are descended from Lot). But everyone else is fair game. Today when we are witnessing internecine warfare, it pays to read the haftara carefully.

Your rulers are rogues
And cronies of thieves,
Every one avid for presents
And greedy for gifts;
They do not judge the case of the orphan,
And the widow’s cause never reaches them
(Isaiah 1:23).

The haftara ends with a hopeful note:

I will restore your magistrates as of old,
And your counselors as of yore.
After that you shall be called
City of Righteousness, Faithful City.

Zion shall be saved in the judgment;
Her repentant ones, in the retribution
(Isaiah 1:26-27).

However, the chapter continues and makes clear that all is not well:

But rebels and sinners shall all be crushed,
And those who forsake GOD shall perish.

Truly, you shall be shamed
Because of the terebinths you desired,
And you shall be confounded
Because of the gardens you coveted.

For you shall be like a terebinth
Wilted of leaf,
And like a garden
That has no water,

Stored wealth shall become as tow,
And he who amassed it a spark;
And the two shall burn together,
With none to quench
(Isaiah 1:28-31).

As the summer heats up, we should keep this in mind. If we are not careful there will be a conflagration, a fire which will devastate us. Hopefully, there will be some water left in the firehoses that were aimed at innocent bystanders gathered to peacefully protest a government which does not seem to care about its citizens. Otherwise, there will be no way “to quench” the fires!

Shabbat shalom.

About the Author
Naomi Graetz taught English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev for 35 years. She is the author of Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God; The Rabbi’s Wife Plays at Murder ; S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories (Professional Press, 1993; second edition Gorgias Press, 2003), Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating and Forty Years of Being a Feminist Jew. Since Covid began, she has been teaching Bible and Modern Midrash from a feminist perspective on zoom. She began her weekly blog for TOI in June 2022. Her book on Wifebeating has been translated into Hebrew and is forthcoming with Carmel Press in 2025.
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