David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Streams of Anxious Consciousness XIII

Albert Einstein once defined the Jewish people as having a fanatical pursuit of justice. It was a great characterization of our tribe. Meanwhile, our enemy has a fanatical pursuit of injustice.

I am not sure how we reconcile those two differences.

When the enemy breaks every statute of the Geneva Conventions, upends international laws and ignores rules of war, how can we be expected to protect the living and avenge the deaths of innocents by the book?

I have been loath to listen to detailed accounts from Israel of survivors and responders. My soul cannot handle it. Not now. I did see one video by accident. It was a twenty-something year old woman who lived in the Gaza envelope. She was on a news broadcast where she explained that her brother survived October 7th, because he hid motionless for seven hours under a bed in a pool of his parent’s blood until he was rescued by the IDF.

She concluded, “I apologize for not giving a damn about a humanitarian corridor. Where was the humanitarian corridor for me and my brother and my parents?”

There is no justice that could undo that injustice. There is no law to deal with that lawlessness.

Could you imagine a basketball game between one team has to follow every rule or the international whistle blows, and another that doesn’t dribble, fouls at will and loads the court with more players than regulation allows? And the fans have the chutzpah to shrug their shoulders at the rule breaking thugs and scream at the game plan of the rule following team?! The basic tenet between any match is that both teams abide by equal rules. If one cheats or ignores the rules, is there even a game to be played, or a field where both can square off?

Any group that is amoral, ruthless, unscrupulous or ajustical (I made up that word – but I gather you know what I intend) cannot exist in the same arena with those who abide by morals, follow ethics and have a fanatical pursuit of justice. This is what makes this conflict so much trickier.

Last night I was at a fundraiser for Israel. Its focus was dialed in since the 7th, but the event had been on the books for months. As I was hunting for mini-hot dogs wrapped in phyllo-dough, I heard some smart, well-respected people gathered around spewing data that was totally inaccurate. I forsook my quest for hors d’oeuvres to insert myself in the conversation. I heard statements like “Biden is forcing Israel to wait to enter the war and that is going to make Israel lose,” followed by “The Democratic party is going to tank this conflict and stop aid to Israel” and then, “We know Hamas has already killed all the hostages.”

I pushed back on these people – most I did not know well – with tons of questions that made them stammer in response. I then reminded them of the bipartisan 97-0 vote in the Senate in favor of Israel from earlier in the day. After that, I repudiated the malarkey they were shoveling about Biden and debunked the facts they manufactured about hostages. I took out a small soap box and stood tall and mustered the courage to rebuke, and remind them this is not a time to be fast and loose with facts and misplaced partisanship. That is reckless and dangerous. Too many people are ill informed. The worst antidote to that is to sell opinion as if it were truth and to spread falsehoods. They looked at me with embarrassment and some shame.

The same goes to all readers of this blog. This is a Dragnet moment. Just the facts. Of course, we are entitled to opinions. Mixing fact and opinion is a dangerous cocktail. Its consumption could lead to confusion, misperception and in some cases, grave danger.

Speaking of facts and editorials – allow me to share some of both.
In 2006, after the abduction of Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser on the Lebanese border, and Gilad Shalit on the Southern border, Israel responded by instantly sending loads of troops into the north and south to get them back and wage a retaliatory war. While indeed, we left that war victorious, countless blunders and missteps led to the removal of Olmert as Prime Minister and deep resentment and upset with the military brass. Troops were not ready. They were missing supplies. There was a total lack of coordination and communication and massive death tolls for soldiers. How? Why? When?

My hypothesis for the pause before the ground invasion is so we do not repeat those hurried mistakes. I have no verification. It is just my hunch.

It also could be a strategy to release as many hostages as possible. The longer Israel procrastinates the tanks rolling in, the higher the chances of getting any of the captives back alive, or even being able to bury Jewish bodies with dignity in their homeland.

Maybe Israel is just playing a mind game with Hamas. Causing them to jitter with fear and fright and to catch them off guard.

Those who know why we have yet to go in to Gaza have not told me and probably, they have not told you either. Let’s not manufacture facts or sell opinion as the gospel. It will not help.

I just learned of the release of two American hostages. It caught me off guard. I cannot begin to fathom the trauma they have endured and the healing they will need. They are physically safe now. Their journey towards rehabilitation – physical and emotional – is just beginning.

Their release has left me confused. Of course, I am relieved that they are free and headed home. I suppose I should be grateful to their abductors for showing kindness, but that does not feel right. Not at all. There is nothing generous about Hamas. There are no positive or appreciative feelings I can garner towards them. I hate the idea that they did anything, even something so slight, that could reflect a kernel of humanity. Especially when their raison detre is about acting inhumanely.

I could easily swallow my pride and sing Hamas praises if it led to the release of every hostage. I could live with that lie if it brought some solace to the families and some hope to the country.

However, if presented with the choice of the release of all hostages on the condition of no retaliation against Hamas – no ground invasion and going back to the status quo, I am not sure if I could make that deal. Who could?

Honestly, I think I would accept the deal, get them home and then renege on the promise and invade without relent until every last one of those vermin were eliminated. I guess October 7th has eroded my fanatical pursuit of justice.

There is a forgotten reality that will be reminded to the Arab world, especially the Palestinians, in the coming days. Iron Dome saved more of your people’s lives, than ours.

Iron dome intercepting the dozens of rockets that would be lobbed over the separation walls gave a great source of comfort to Israelis. When sirens would blare, some would drink wine and naively go to their rooftops to watch the intercept, like they were fireworks. So long as Iron Dome worked and Israel could respond with targeted air assaults, the casualty rate on both sides was low. It was what people mistakenly called, proportionate.

What has been preached for years and clearly forgotten by our southern neighbors is that were it not for Iron Dome, we would have had to send troops to Gaza to clear out the terrorists, the launchers and the rockets which would have resulted in mass fatalities and casualties. I am reminded of the philosophical dictum, every solution creates a new problem.

Never did we expect that the enemy would break through a wall and wreak a day of horror, like they did. When the Palestinians added guerilla and paramilitary infiltration to their arsenal of terror, they forgot that the reprisal would be numbers far greater than ever before. Not equal or “proportionate.” Rather, massive. Enormous. Incalculable. After this monstruous act, it is unfair to beg for mercy. When elected members of congress and Palestinian sympathizers complain of the imbalance Israel has by employing Iron Dome, remind them that the technology saved more Palestinian lives than Jewish ones. And believe me, it saved thousands of Jewish lives!

I will close with a personal confession.

I am having a really hard time with prayer right now. I am still going to organized services. In the morning, I put on teffilin and talis but I cannot focus on the prayers. I am not saying the liturgy. My lips move and mumble, but no devotions are coming out. I am not in the head space to thank God, talk to God or even plead to God.

If you see me in any house of worship and I am not reading from the prayer book or swaying along, deep in meditative thought, you should be allowed to know why. I have always encouraged my flock to show up and wrestle in their relationship with God. I am practicing what I preach. I doubt it will be like this forever. But it is for now.

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, after receiving the greatest gift from God, the Torah (10 Commandments) Moses sees the Israelites dancing around the human made idol called the golden calf. Moses is filled with such anger, rage and disappointment that he shatters the newly given gift from the Holy One.

That story gives us license for our emotions. We are allowed to be mad, sad, confused, angry, pensive or any other word that you can think or feel. We are permitted to not say the words in the Siddur or, if we choose, to say them with even more energy. There is no correct response to this moment.

I hope we can all create space where all emotions are welcome, and all reactions are acknowledged.

May this Shabbat bring us peace, healing, hope and resolve. Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC and an adjunct faculty member at the Academy for Jewish Religion, (AJR). He is the author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness, featured in The NY Times Book Review (Feb '24) and has over 11,000 copies in circulation in its first three months since publication. He has spoken on his book and topics connected to Judaism and Zionism across the world.
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