Project Hayei Sarah and reclaiming the Torah

Violence, repression, and constant intimidation. This is the reality of life for Palestinians in Hebron. At the mercy of the zealous settlers, and the army who protects them, they are treated as sub-human. Separate and unequal, Palestinians are banned from certain roads which are Jewish only, and subject to the repressive tactics of the IDF at all times of the day and night.

Hebron is a land deep within the West Bank, yet many, both inside and outside of Israel, consider this land Israeli.

This Shabbat, thousands will gather in Hebron to assert claims of Israeli sovereignty on this land. The significance of this Shabbat lies in parashah Chayei Sarah, which accounts how Abraham purchased land in Hebron for which to bury his wife Sarah.

They argue that, since this land was purchased 4000 years ago by Abraham, and seeing as the most sacred people are buried here, we as Jews have a right to this land that surpasses claims of others.

This interpretation focuses on the outcome, the purchasing of land in Hebron. In doing so it overlooks the rest of the parashah.

Unlike those who ‘celebrate’ Shabbat Chayei Sarah by marching in their thousands on Hebron, Abraham was respectful of the inhabitants of this land. He ‘bowed low before the people of the land’, demonstrating above all his respect. He acknowledges that he is a ‘resident alien’ amongst these peoples, yet still, in the parashah, the Hittites treat him as an equal. Abraham pays four hundred shekels, which was the amount any other person would pay.

Surely then, if we are to abide by, and learn lessons from this Shabbat, we should treat those who are different to us with respect, just as Abraham experienced. We shouldn’t discriminate because they are of a different nationality.  

Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba says “a person should only pray in a house with windows”.

Rabbi Kook, a prominent 20th century figure, interprets this to mean that we must be aware of the moral obligations we have to the world around us. In this way, we open our eyes to the effects of our action and inaction. Project Hayei Sarah is one such way Jewish people around the world are doing this.

By reclaiming the parashah, this campaign both encourages people to familiarise themselves with this highly complex situation, and demonstrates the plethora of opposition to these people marching on Hebron.

In both Israeli and diaspora communities, initiatives are being carried out to voice concern over this convergence of people in Hebron.

The New Israel Fund’s ‘New Gen’ Fellowship is the first organisation in the UK to pick up on Project Hayei Sarah, but more communities should get involved.

The Chayei Sarah ‘celebration’ in Hebron legitimates the disturbing actions of settlers whereby Palestinians are terrorised daily in the name of Judaism.

We must be vocal about our opposition to such a blatant political act being perpetrated in the name of our religion.

By being silent, we are complicit. Having been to Hebron myself, I have witnessed how a mere few hundred settlers are able to hold an entire city to ransom.

By linking their actions with the teachings of the Torah, these people are attempting to legitimise their aggression, supposedly on behalf of the wider Jewish community. Not only is this misrepresentative of the vast majority of Jews who oppose this violence, but it poses a serious security threat to us all.

Because these people claim to act in the name of Judaism, we are linked to their actions regardless of our own desires.

Therefore it is important that we protest the serious manipulation of our religious texts to suit extremist agendas. We must stand up against blatant injustice, particularly when it is in our name.

About the Author
Hannah is the New Israel Fund's New Gen Activism Fellow & International Relations MSc at London School of Economics.
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