Sometimes True Power Isn’t Using It

This week’s Torah portion (Matot/Mas’ey) can teach us a lesson about the incendiary events on the Temple Mount/Haram Al Sharif.  Firstly, we are exposed to how the Torah permits women to be seen as property subjugated to men. If a man makes a vow (In the rabbinic period later on, our sages took a dim view of vows.) it stands. A woman’s vow can be annulled by her father, and later on by her husband. Among other reasons, the property a woman vows is not truly hers. Rashi, based on Talmudic sources, tells us that a widow’s vows stand, as do the vows of an unmarried woman over the age of 12 and a day. She is no longer under his authority. It is not surprising that in Talmudic times it was strongly encouraged to marry off daughters as close to age 12 as possible.

If I want to find something redeeming in this seemingly clear discrimination, it would be that the father/husband is not required to annul the vow of his daughter or wife. The Torah becomes an eternal guide because it leaves us the flexibility to adapt to changing times.

Last week a terror attack defiled a place holy to both Judaism and Islam.  The Torah teaches us that the Land is pained when blood is shed upon it.  Last week I wrote about the dangers of incitement. It is also entirely likely that the perpetrators hoped to spark an explosion of ethnocentric religious passion.

For several days, I simply could not understand the Palestinian and Muslim incitement over metal detectors. I still believe that the language being used to oppose them is not just playing with fire, but playing with a nuclear bomb. However, what has become clearer and clearer in recent days is that much of the professional police leadership (As opposed to Minister Erdan, whom I see as an inciter himself), believes that it is simply impossible to use metal detectors when we are talking about the numbers of people who can be coming to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque on a Friday.  Many have intimated or outright stated that the metal detectors were imposed upon them by the political echelons. In the press this morning, our political leadership was insisting that they decided at the fateful meeting last night to allow the police to do as they see fit, whereas police sources were quoted as indicating that they were not given the option of removing the metal detectors.

Thank God that things were not as bad today as they could have been.

So, what is the connection?

The patriarchy in the Jewish tradition is not the result of a threat from women. While there may have been Jewish incidents of the burning bed syndrome throughout history, that is not comparable to the physical threat we feel from potential Palestinian violence. While there has certainly been physical violence towards women in Jewish history (We also have in our Torah portion the command to put the Midianite women to death for their role in seducing Israelite men into practicing idolatry), it was not sanctioned or systematized as is Israeli State violence towards Palestinians. However, when we step back and cease to search for all examples where the analogy doesn’t fit, both the treatment of women in regards to vows and the issue of the metal detectors are connected to systems of power and oppression seeking to hold on to power in the face of real or perceived threats.

Israeli leadership painted themselves into a corner with the metal detectors.  Even if it is true that they ordered the placement of the detectors without properly consulting security professionals, let alone the Palestinian leadership, they felt they couldn’t back down in the face of equally irresponsible Palestinian hyperbole and incitement about these detectors.  Ultimately, just as what may have been most dangerous in the eyes of Jewish men was the “betwixt and between” young woman who was neither under her father’s authority nor under a husband’s authority, our real and imagined fears of Palestinians lead us to believe that our security is dependent on maintaining control.

However, the Torah also gives us an out. We don’t need to make vows, and arguably shouldn’t. I wish the Torah would have not allowed even a potential double standard. Perhaps in order to speak both to people then and now, God chose to permit it.  However, we don’t need to exercise the power that the Torah doesn’t eliminate.

Our exercising the power we have to set up metal detectors may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory that doesn’t enhance security and ultimately weakens us. Sometimes true strength is demonstrated by not exercising the power we possess.

Could we Israelis feel secure enough by the fact that we have power to choose not to use it?

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.
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