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Scott Copeland

The Words of the Prophets on a Cardboard Sign

“How can I stand to see the downfall of my people?” Esther 8:6 Photo by Scott Copeland (11 March 2023)

“Damned be those who subvert justice.” Deuteronomy 27:20

On Saturday night outside the President’s residence in Jerusalem, I was impressed by a protester bearing a sign with the verse above from Deuteronomy – part of a series of promises that the people make as the transfer of power begins from the generation of the desert to Joshua and the generation that will come into the Promised Land. Each of these vows finishes with the phrase – “And all the people shall say Amen.”

The relevancy of the Biblical text authored in the ancient Jewish past and held aloft on a cardboard sign amidst a throng of people in 2023 represents a powerful moment. Now it must be said that among the protesters are people from a wide swath of Israeli life, and likely many disagree about much, but on Saturday nights of late, we leave our disagreements at home and come out to the streets for almost three months straight to let our leaders know that the majority of the people of Israel deeply desire to halt the stampede of legislation driven by the current government to slash the golden knot holding together Israel’s self-definition as both a Jewish and a democratic state.

Other signs also brought the Bible to life. Some of the folks grasping them were religious. Others appeared to be so-called secular.

“Justice, Justice you shall pursue.” Deuteronomy 16:18

“I clothed myself with righteousness, and it clothed me…” Job 29:14

“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes …” Deuteronomy 16:18

Despite disagreements, the words of the Bible were hoisted high as a flag and torch for our moral lives as a people. Israel’s Scroll of Independence – signed by religious and secular, by rabbis and atheists, by Israelis of different and even opposing backgrounds – declares itself as a continuation of the Biblical ethos:

{The State of Israel} will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

The opposition ought to bring signs emblazoned with the words of the Bible into the Knesset and hold a filibuster that proudly includes a public reading of the Scroll of Independence and continues with verses and sections from Torah and the Prophets declaring Israel’s unwavering commitment to a political system that works for all, that sees each person as created in the image of the Divine, and that rejects fraud, bribery, and perverting public service for personal gain.

Some would have us accept the lie that Jewish and democratic are incompatible opposites. These voices of fanaticism and fraud argue that democracy is a foreign weed invading the Jewish garden. To their understanding, the garden must remain pure, always be defended from external influence, and the weeds uprooted.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. At the shared root of the Jewish experience and the democratic principle is the recognition that each and every one us is unique and possesses an inalienable right to life, to dignity, and to equality.

The authors of the Bible were not shy in speaking truth to power.

King David has Uriah – the Hittite commander – placed in the front lines of battle and Uriah is struck down.  David orders his Chief of Staff Yoav, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” (2 Samuel 11:14)  David after arranging Uriah’s demise takes Uriah’s wife –  Bathsheba. Natan the prophet fearlessly admonishes and rebukes David. Natan was likely labeled a left-winger, an anarchist, and an enemy of Israel. It may have been that in the streets of Jerusalem, protesters supporting the prophet held signs high declaring the Biblical commitment to justice and decrying the king’s criminal behavior.  David is warned that: “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” (2 Samuel 2:12).

When David and Bathsheba’s second son – Solomon becomes king of Israel – he gathers immense wealth, expands his empire, and while building the Temple engages in idolatry. The Bible rejects Solomon and promises that the kingdom will be torn asunder; the internal corruption of Solomon’s unbridled lust for wealth and personal gain leading to the establishment of two warring Jewish kingdoms – Israel and Judah. Torn in half, and weakened by internal corruption; Jewish independence is easily trampled by both the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians.

Israel’s Law of Kings (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) warns of rulers who aspire to amass personal wealth, who imitate the Pharaohs of Egypt, and who forget the limits of power and their sacred role as public servants for the present and future of Israel.

David forgot this and was punished. Solomon forgot this and was punished. If current Israeli leaders forget all this – all of Israel will suffer. The Bible is audacious and uncompromising in challenging a world order where kings lived under the delusion that they were gods, where human life was cheap, and where political cynicism conspired to undermine basic decency and fairness.

On Saturday night, I saw another sign. A young woman held high a picture of a handsome young man. Her sign read, “He was killed in action in Lebanon. I am here because he cannot be.”

And so I will continue to be there on Saturday nights inspired by the prophets of Israel, by my fellow protesters and by that young woman.

“And all the people shall say Amen.”

About the Author
Scott is a veteran educator and guide with a great passion for all things Jewish and Israel. He grew up outside of Boston (and still has a profound accent) and made aliyah from Young Judaea in 1987. Throughout his career, Scott has held leadership roles in a wide variety of cutting edge projects and educational institutions. Scott is the Executive Vice President at J² Adventures. J² is a leading travel brand that crafts Jewish educational and experiential journeys to Israel and around the world.
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