Marc J. Rosenstein

Red Line, Green Line

(Inconclusive reflections on the Independence Day blog posts of Mishael Zion and Avidan Freedman)

  1. In regard to cruelties committed in the name of a free society, some are guilty, while all are responsible.        -Abraham Joshua Heschel
  2. It is human nature to be drawn to the beliefs and opinions of one’s friends and neighbors and to behave according to the custom of the place; that is why we must surround ourselves with the wise and the righteous, so as to learn from their actions – and to distance ourselves from the wicked… And if one finds oneself in a land where the customs are evil and the people aren’t righteous, one should move to a place where there are righteous people and morality prevails.  And  if all the other lands are wicked too (as in our times), or if one can’t move because of the dangers involved, one must withdraw, and keep aloof from one’s surroundings.  And if the wicked people won’t leave one alone, but drag one along in their deeds, then one must flee and live in a cave in the desert.       -Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De’ot 6:1
  3. My teacher, Rabbi Martin Rozenberg, used to say, “if you want to succeed in the rabbinate, you must live with your bags packed.” i.e., the community has to know that you have a red line.
  4. Abraham got up and went. We don’t know how long he struggled against, or ruminated on, the evils of his environment before he left his father’s house and his homeland.  Lot lingered in Sodom, that most evil of societies, for years, and even when the evil affected him personally, he was ultimately dragged out of town against his will.  Thousands of Spanish Jews in the fifteenth century preferred baptism to leaving their homeland.  The Jewish communal leadership of Germany in the 1930s sought to discourage emigration, preferring to stay and fight for a just society in the homeland.  Here in the homeland, most of the idealistic pioneers of the Second Aliyah got up and left.  And of course communities of [maybe] former Israelis thrive in every corner of the “exile.”  It has always been hard to know when to get up and go, for we never have hindsight to guide us as to the future.  Even if we can decipher the handwriting on the wall, we don’t have a Daniel to interpret it for us.
  5. We live in a democracy (well, if you don’t count the West Bank), and no one is suggesting that the last election was stolen. The majority voted for parties whose ideologies, and/or interests, lead them to support the government’s policies, regarding judicial reform, settlement of the West Bank, and conducting the war in Gaza.  I can demonstrate every week (is demonstrating pikuach nefesh?  can I go on Saturday?), block traffic, display bumper stickers, write blog posts, attend parlor meetings, etc., but the majority is unmoved; the government is stable.  It and its ministers make decisions and statements in my name that in my mind are morally repugnant and will lead to disastrous consequences.  I can’t imagine resorting to violence – and if I did, it seems likely it would be counterproductive.
  6. If the government of the nation state of the Jewish people represents the collective will of that people, at what point do I have to say: “no, I don’t belong here; this is not my will, not my understanding of the meaning of Jewish belief, Jewish sources, and Jewish history. This is a chillul hashem, a profanation of God’s name – and I can’t keep on being complicit in it?”  Does banging on the guardrails on Route 90 in Karmiel on Saturday evening absolve me of that complicity?
  7. I could turn off the TV, tend my garden, and play with my grandchildren, while “ignorant armies clash by night” and historical processes work themselves out. Perhaps the body count and the corruption and the frustration will mount to the point that the government will indeed fall.  Or perhaps this iteration of a Jewish state will run its course, drifting from a utopian vision to an apocalyptic, messianic implosion, and we’ll all have to get up and go (we’ve been through this before).   Perhaps my grandchildren will bless me for providing them with foreign passports.
  8. We frogs seem to find the water in the pot just a little too warm, but one gets used to it. Every stick on the fire raises the temperature a little, but no big deal. Occupation; settler violence; police brutality; media censorship; government corruption; Jewish terror; racist and genocidal pronouncements by national leaders…   The years go by and the moral baseline shifts, and we become inured, until we find ourselves suppressing our feelings of horror at the burning of Palestinian children.
  9. So even here in our homeland we have not escaped the eternal dilemma: is leaving an act of heroism, asserting our commitment to our moral values and making a serious sacrifice to avoid complicity, to distance ourselves from chillul hashem? Or is it a cop-out, evadng responsibility for saving and perfecting the Jewish state, passing up the opportunity to make it into the first flowering of our redemption?
  10. Anyone who could have protested the sins of their household but failed to do so is considered complicit in those sins; likewise for the sins of their city; likewise for the sins of the whole world.         -Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 54b


About the Author
Marc Rosenstein grew up in Chicago, was ordained a Reform rabbi, and received his PhD in modern Jewish history from The Hebrew University. He made aliyah with his family in 1990, to Moshav Shorashim in the Galilee. He served for 20 years as executive director of the Galilee Foundation for Value Education, and for six as director of the Israel rabbinic program of HUC in Jerusalem. Most recent books: Turnng Points in Jewish History (JPS 2018); Contested Utopia: Jewish Dreams and Israeli Realities (JPS 2021).
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