Harriet Gimpel

Ramadan and Rabbis

Amidst demonization and dehumanization of the other, it’s easy for Jews to find sources in Islam to exacerbate their fears that Muslims are fixed on their annihilation, on the decimation of Israel, on taking control of the western world. It’s easy to say there are no innocent Gazans, that Gazans are synonymous with Hamas. It’s easy to dismiss the peaceful, introspective, spiritual character of Ramadan when headlines resonated with Hamas withholding from genuine engagement in the negotiations of a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages before Ramadan. But let’s not let Hamas represent Islam for us, nor Gazans, or Palestinians in the West Bank or Israel. Don’t do yourself that disservice, certainly not if you are Jewish.

In the Old Testament, God orders Moses to remember the Amalek people attacking the Israelites when they left Egypt, and orders King Saul to kill them all – men, women, children, and infants. Bibi Netanyahu, and others, find it appropriate to make an analogy between Amalek and Hamas, loose interpretations regarding all Gazans notwithstanding. Progressive rabbis and researchers have emphasized that the Amalekites no longer exist, but extremist right-wing leaders and politicians prefer claims that the Palestinians are the Amalekites. Take it from there and you will obviously find a perpetual call for the militancy of the Jewish people.

“Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:15) is more the brand of Judaism, I would want the world to hold me too.

A news headline last Friday reported a Hesder Yeshiva [a Jewish studies academy attended by religious young men prior to military service] rabbi in Jaffa teaching, reasonably, that according to a principle of Jewish law the soon-to-be soldiers should follow army orders. By the same principle, he added, all Gazans should be killed, including women and children. One Member of Knesset called for his resignation. That seemed to fade into the background of news engulfing us on this evening of the beginning of Ramadan. In my version of the State of Israel, his resignation should have been immediate, with a retraction.

In my microcosm, Jews sent Ramadan greetings today to their Muslim Palestinian friends with wishes for a ceasefire, the return of Israeli hostages and a peaceful resolution to the war and the ongoing conflict.

By my standards, we should expect or ask rabbis – from Orthodox to Reform and everything in between – to make loud and clear declarations of opposition to rabbis and politicians calling for the demise of all Palestinians. Some of us are demonstrating, demanding elections now. We call for the resignation of Netanyahu, responsible for the tragedy of October 7, that could have been preempted.  I do not want him as our leader – not today, amidst the unending war, and not the day after. Reserving further comment on our polarized, divided society at the top of his list of accomplishments.

Please don’t identify me with the Israel and the Judaism that Netanyahu and his extreme right supporters, politicians and rabbis, have made into the easy image to find, and connect to Jewish sources.

Please don’t identify Islam with Hamas and let’s wish Muslim Palestinians and all Muslims a peaceful, spiritual, reflective Ramadan.

About the Author
Born and raised in Philadelphia, earned a B.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University in 1980, followed by an M.A. in Political Science from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Harriet has worked in the non-profit world throughout her career. She is a freelance translator and editor, writes poetry in Hebrew and essays in English, and continues to work for NGOs committed to human rights and democracy.
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