To Be, or Not To Be: A Covenant in Conversation

Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the Right Honourable Gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the Temple of Solomon. – Benjamin Disraeli

Disraeli, a conservative, was speaking to William Gladstone, the anti-Semitic liberal leader in the British parliament in 1874. To say they loathed one another might be considered tame.

To be, or not to be … a proud Zionist Jew: Isn’t that the question? Over the years, I’ve followed the Covenant & Conversation writings of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, undoubtedly a most gifted commentator on the Torah. I have often quoted him, with attribution. Yet there have been times, while he was Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, that I had to scratch my head in puzzlement, taking exception to some of his political statements, particularly his criticisms of Israel. So what I write is more of a question than a criticism. The ultimate question is whether to be, or not to be a strong, unapologetic Jew and Zionist believer of the words echoed over the millennia to our patriarchs: “To your descendants (Abraham), I will give this land.” (Gen. 12:7) And to Isaac, “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your offspring will I give all these lands, and establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.” (Gen. 26:3) “And I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the Land.” (Lev. 26:42)

To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them. … For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, the oppressor’s wrong…? Thus conscience does make cowards of us all…

Your commentary on Ki Tavo a number of years ago notes that “each Israelite was to make a personal declaration of faith in the presence of G-d in history.” You ask, “How can it be that when you have everything to thank G-d for, you forget to thank Him?” Yet there have indeed been blessings for which thanks have not been forthcoming, such as the indisputable fact that Israel is a modern miracle of G-d’s desire, not only surrounded by barbaric, deranged human beings, but having to deal with these savages within its own borders.

My questions are simple and direct:
1. “Britain’s chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, [on August 27, 2002] delivers an unprecedented strong warning to Israel, arguing that [Israel] is adopting a stance ‘incompatible’ with the deepest ideals of Judaism, and that the current conflict with the Palestinians is ‘corrupting’ Israeli culture.” (From Jonathan Freedland’s “shocking” interview in the August 27, 2002 Guardian.)

Which “deepest ideals of Judaism” are corrupting Israeli culture? Self-defense? Protecting Jewish lives against suicidal Arab terrorists is “corrupting Israeli culture”? Dear Rabbi, the days of martyrdom and meaningless eulogies are over. Europe, including England, for too long loved their Jews served up defenseless. Surely you’re not suggesting that dead Jews are compatible with our deepest ideals! As my friend Tuvia wrote, “Fishermen love to fish, Europeans love Jews, and both would like the object of their love well fried.” (Tuvia Tenenbom, Catch the Jew!, p. 437)

2. The Guardian continues, “There is no question that this kind of prolonged conflict, together with the absence of hope (?), generates hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture.” Whose culture is being corrupted? For historical accuracy, the newly created, mythological Palestinian-Arab culture was corrupted long before their most recent outbreak of violence, and long before there was a State of Israel. Remember, Yasser Arafat pledged non-violence and peace; and sadly, you believed him. In the first seven years of Oslo, which you wholeheartedly supported, over 500 Jews were murdered. From the ” intifada” (better known as barbaric suicide bombings) in 2000, another thousand Jews were slaughtered on the streets and buses of Israel. Please, let’s be clear who the corrupted aggressors have been — not just since the 22 years of the charade called Oslo, but for the last 67 years.

You’ve heard their proclamations. As you recently wrote, “Listening is not easy. I confess I find it formidably hard.” (Covenant & Conversation, Oct. 10, 2015) It’s sad when your British courtesanship compels you to make excuses for them. Can we agree that Jewish lives matter?

3. “He [Rabbi Sacks] also admits that in 1967 he was ‘convinced that Israel had to give back all the [newly gained] land for the sake of peace’ — and he does not renounce that view now.” (Ibid.) Give back to whom, Rabbi? The “West Bank” — the land Jews call our Biblical homeland of Judea/Samaria — was under the control of Britain in 1922. Britain then betrayed its obligations under the Palestine Mandate and the Balfour Declaration by creating the illegal country called Trans-Jordan in 1923. Remember that line about the “reconstitution of the Jewish homeland in Palestine…on the banks of the Jordan”? Did you mean, “Give it back to Jordan”? Between 1948 and 1967 there were no Palestinians around!

4. “Prof. Sacks is at pains to underline his continuing, avowed support for the Jewish state… Since becoming chief rabbi in 1991, Prof. Sacks has successfully avoided any overtly political pronouncements on Israel.” (Ibid.) To be, or not to be: Why so often silent?

5. I read that you would like to sit down over a spot of tea and masghati “for a dialogue with the most extreme representatives of radical Islam.” (Ibid.) I’d like to see you do that. Just make sure you bring some flowers in your kippah. I understand that about the same time you voiced your idea for a get- together, Sheikh Abu Hamza, the North London cleric and self-described Taliban sympathizer, was equating Jews with Satan, saying, “It is okay to kill non-Muslims.” (Ibid.) I’d like to see you meet with Hamza and tell him how wrong he is about Jews … that he must change his philosophies – maybe even give him a lecture on how he’s misinterpreting the Koran and how it’s really a book of peace and loving thy brother. You say you’ve already met with one of Iran’s highest-ranking clerics, Ayatollah Abdullah Javadi-Amoli, and the two of you “established within minutes a common language, the particular language believers share.” So when Sheikh Hamza talks about slaughtering Jews, or Iran’s leaders proclaim their desire to destroy Israel, did you discuss that in the “common language” you “share” with your Iranian co-believer? I’m just curious. You see, as you have eloquently written so often, words matter.

6. In 2004, you created a bit of a stir when you made the claim that the BBC has “stood for honesty, fairness and balance.” Michael Bliss, president of B’nai B’rith UK, responded in a letter to you that he “could not believe my ears” at the “embarrassing” and “self-serving paean of praise for the BBC.” (Jewish Chronicle, Feb. 6, 2004) Yes, as you wrote, “More important than the BBC itself was the people it served, the British public.” (Ibid.) Yet following your lavish praise of the BBC for its honor and integrity, Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen had a slightly different view, “that the BBC has shown unremitting bias in its reporting of Israel’s case. Such bias may well have contributed significantly to the anti-Israel sentiment that is growing apace around the world, and which has, in turn, fueled the naked anti-Semitism that parades as mere opposition to the policies of the government of Israel. … Not only was the Chief Rabbi’s fulsome praise of the BBC’s ‘integrity, honesty, fairness, balance, impartiality and objectivity’ misplaced, to say the least, but to suggest that, somehow, it was fulfilling a sacred purpose, a ‘service,’ is quite preposterous.” (Ibid.)

7. In March 2008, you rightfully described Israel as “the Jewish home of hope, the place where our people was born in the age of Abraham and where, after the longest exile ever endured by a people, it was reborn in our time.” You then quote David Ben-Gurion proclaiming the State on May 14, 1948:

The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world. Exiled from the Land of Israel, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom.

“We pray for it still, for there has hardly been a day in sixty years when the people of Israel have not lived without war or the fear of war, terror or the fear of terror. … And though Israel was built by human hands, it is impossible not to sense beneath its history, the hand of heaven.” Was this part of the conversation you “established within minutes” with your newfound Iranian soul mate?

I suspect you believe these words to be your truth, but, dear Rabbi, to be or not to be is the question. On January 16, 2009 you wrote in the Jewish Chronicle, “I believe the Palestinians have a right to a state.” Where might that state be? In our four-thousand-year-old Biblical homeland! What would Abraham, Isaac and Jacob think? You “believe they have a right to dignity.” Are you now pandering to political correctness? Any “right to dignity” is based on actions; and murdering Jews to the tune of “Allahu Akbar” is rather undignified. You “believe their children have a right to a future.” Splendid! A J.D. degree (Jihad Doctor) from Sharia Law School? Could it be that your Cambridge-educated values and their madrassa-educated values just might not be the same? Have you seen the videos of children happily putting on suicide vests, eager to be shahids — suicide bombers? Makes a mother proud.

Remember, you have admitted that your game of multi-culturalism hasn’t quite worked. Yet, for a smart, well-educated Englishman, you write, “The paradox is that…Israel’s friends and its opponents want the same things.” (Covenant & Conversation, Jan. 16, 2009) One can only be stunned by those words! How on earth did you come up with that? It defies reality and TRUTH. Let me remind you that when they chant their dream of a “Palestine from the river to the sea,” I doubt that most Israelis “want the same things.” You are a gifted Torah commentator. One should use his gifts wisely.

To be, or not to be: Whether to be a strong, unapologetic defender of Israel, our promised Land given to our people by G-d in His covenant with Abraham four thousand years ago, or support the enemies of Israel by capitulating to political correctness in fear of slings and arrows — That is the question.

No one should be forced to live a lie. In Judaism truth is the seal of G-d and the essential precondition of trust between human beings. …

Every Amidah ends with the prayer, “My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful speech.” What the Torah is telling us … is the connection between freedom and truth. Where there is freedom there can be truth. Otherwise there cannot. A society where people are forced to be less than fully honest merely to survive and not provoke further oppression is not the kind of society G-d wants us to make. (Jan. 21, 2012) Your words — not mine.

To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of political correctness or to take arms against those who wish to kill us, and by opposing prevent it. As always, I look forward to your words of wisdom. Respectfully,

Shabbat Shalom, 10/30/15 Jack “Yehoshua” Berger * * Back issues are archived at The Times of Israel.com

About the Author
Educated as an architect with a Masters in Architectural History, Jack Yehoshua Berger became a practicing architect and real estate developer. In his late 30's he met a Rabbi who turned him on to the miracle of Israel and he began learning how the amazing country, against all odds, came to be the miracle of the modern world.
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