Sheldon Paul Stone
A bit more Chesed wouldn't hurt!

Who am I? What do I say? Will anyone listen?

‘Anyone who can possibly protest the conduct of his household, his town or even the whole world, and does not, is punished for that conduct’  Shabbat 54a

Photo of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, originally in Yakar Shul in London,now in our house for 30 years.

I don’t like to criticize Israel, for I don’t walk the streets, risking random stabbing, shooting, or being rammed by a car.

It is not my sons and daughters who go to the army, leaving me lying awake worrying if they’ll come home safe or come home at all. Although, come to think, we have one child studying near Sheikh Jarah, and another who spent summer 2021 in Tel Aviv bomb shelters, so we know something of this.

I see both the oppression of ‘occupation’ and the threat and intimidation from Hamas, Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad,  Lion’s Den, lone wolves and Iran. I understand why the second intifada and Gaza rockets since unconditional disengagement shifted Israeli opinion. I appreciate that ‘It’s sometimes better to live with dirty hands, than die with clean.’ So I’m reluctant to speak out, lest I encourage Israel’s harshest critics.

I feel secret guilt or regret that I have not made Aliyah after my people spent 2000 years yearning for our ancestral homeland. I don’t take the risks or live the reality, so ‘who am I ’ to judge the decisions of those who do, even if I have a stake in Israel through family, friends, donations, or as a place of ultimate refuge or aspiration? “Do not judge your fellow until you stand in his place (1).”

I always believed, in a world where choices are not black and white but different shades of grey, that Israel tries to do what is right.

So, when a national-religious coalition emerges which seems to forgive, even normalise, corruption, poor governance, incitement, discrimination, intolerance, hatred and division, and plans to reform the rules of engagement, the law of return and the democratic norm of an independent judiciary restricting executive power, I barely know how to react.

I feel the “deep dark dread” of Avraham Avinu’s ‘deep sleep’ that revealed his descendants future sufferings in Egypt (2), for I can see the consequences of such a coalition in Israel for, to quote our declaration of independence, ‘all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex’ and for Jews the world-over. So, I stutter, I stammer, reluctant to speak, wondering, ‘Who am I? What do I say? Will anyone listen?’

To those who feel the same, and there are many in my small orthodox corner of North-West London-  be reassured, Moshe Rabbeinu had a similar problem!

Although young Moshe acted when Hebrew slaves were beaten by Egyptians or quarreled bitterly amongst themselves (3), the older Moshe was reluctant to speak for his people, asking in turn ‘Who am I?’ “What shall I say?” and “Will they listen?’ Finally, he pleads, “I am heavy of mouth and tongue,”(4) due to his stammer or stutter (5). The Midrash says Moshe was punished for this reluctance by not having his stutter cured, not being made High Priest, and was rebuked (6):

 If you do not…….no other will, for no other can do it.

In you Israel hopes, and upon you Israel waits.

The matter lies in your hands alone.

Is the Midrash telling us that when the time comes we must speak, whoever we are, whether listened to or not, and even if we stutter or stammer to find the words? The Gemara (Shabbat 54b) in the names of Rav, Rav Chanina, Rabbi Yochanan and Rav Chaviva says something similar.

 Anyone who can possibly protest (the incorrect conduct) of the people of his household, his town or even the whole world and does not– is punished for his household’s, his town’s or even for the whole world’s (conduct).

The Gemara concludes (Shabbat 55a) that that as none know in advance if anyone will listen to them, the right thing to do is protest.

Moshe has it easy! HaShem will ‘teach him what to say’! We in the Galut don’t have quite that hotline to Hashem, but we have recourse to many biblical prohibitions, Talmudic teachings and halachic rulings that call into question much of the coalition’s program (7).

Right now, as the government’s direction becomes clear, there is strife between Israelis, with large demonstrations, legal actions, talk of strikes, tax avoidance, civil war and coups. Strife, in Israel, lives up to its dictionary definition of ‘bitter argument or disagreement over fundamental issues!’

For religious Jews, this strife is a “Machloket LeShem HaShamayim‘ (argument for the sake of heaven). Coalition supporters advance their own halachic justifications. At its core, this Machloket is between Hashkafot (world views). Maybe between an eschatological ‘end of days’ event-driven Hashkafah, and one where “personal, natural, moral sensibility” transcends other religious behaviors (Rav Abraham Kook, Orot HaKodesh 4e), ameliorates the excesses to which religion and nationalism are prone. Maybe it’s between religious leniency and coercion.

So how should we in Galut who love Israel ‘approach’ such a Machloket?

‘Approach’ in the Tanach involves three things: speaking strongly, prayer, and conciliation or persuasion (8). Right now, the latter may be the most important. Whatever side of the strife we stand, my experience as an activist for the Uyghurs tells me that any protest we make should follow an Israeli lead, create allies across political, religious and ethnic divides, and use available legal, parliamentary and economic levers.

There will be many allies amongst those who voted for coalition parties without sharing all its aims, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians angry at and unrepresented by Hamas, PA and Israeli-Arab parties, and amongst single-agenda civil groups. We must acknowledge that many issues the coalition raises are real and important to all.

Language is critical. We Jews know only too bitterly how Sinat Chinam, gratuitous hatred (9), broke us as a nation in the past and lead to a Prime Minister’s recent assassination. Indeed, Moshe warns the quarreling Hebrew slaves that they were heading for violence, “Why, you will strike your fellow! (3)”

Terms like ‘Fascist’, ‘Nazi,’ ‘Traitor,’ ‘Self-hating,’ ‘Civil War,’ ‘Coup’ and even the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ are unhelpful and should be abandoned. Talk should be about values, consequences, and what kind of Israel all Israelis want to, in the words of its Independence Declaration, “develop for the good of all its inhabitants” and for that matter the wider Jewish world.

How do I approach it? Our eldest daughter pointed me to the joint Jewish-Arab movement  ‘Omdim b’Yachad” (Standing Together). I don’t yet know what their ‘Theory of Change,’ so beloved of activists is (!) but I like their slogans ‘Peace and Equality’ (sounds better in Ivrit- Shivyon veShalom) and ‘HaBayit Shel Kulanu,’ and that they focus not just on security, but people’s real issues: the cost of living, climate change, living wage, public transport, quality broadcasting, even cleaning services. I’ve signed up to their emails, donated and follow them on Twitter, which is excellent for my Ivrit, supplementing my weekly Ulpan homework! A new Religious-Zionist group, Smol Emuni, has formed to oppose the coalition, and I will follow them with interest. When time permits, I’ll join one of the shabbat demonstrations in Tel Aviv, after davening of course!

I recently said Kaddish for both parents. They had a strong “personal, natural, moral sensibility” and probably bequeathed their social conscience to us, for my sister has worked for years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and the Jewish Council of Racial Equality, and I have my Uyghur thing. Sadly, Citizens’ Advice has been savaged by cuts, antisemitism is rising and the Chinese Government continues to kill, sterilize and enslave the Uyghurs, but we travel in hope!

Kaddish ends with the Almighty making peace. In our liturgy, mankind always pursues peace, but only God makes peace. The mystical explanation is that only when mankind has exhausted the search for peace, does God come down and helps us make peace (10). Now I don’t know a can-opener works, let alone the Almighty, but this kind of makes sense to me! Maybe the same is true for protest, that only when we’ve exhausted  all avenues, Ha Kadosh Baruchu comes down and helps us succeed.

Who knows, the religious wing of the coalition may nurture the same hope!

But the idea may explain why I like Omdim b’Yachad’s  English website’s strapline,

 Where there’s struggle

there’s Hope!


FOOTNOTES for those, especially non-Jewish readers, either not speaking Hebrew or unfamiliar with our traditional sources.

General note:  ‘HaShem’ is God (lit ‘the name’),  ‘HaKadosh Baruchu’ is ‘The Holy One Blessed be He,’

(1)  Pirkei Avot 2.4.

(2) Rambam (13th Century Spanish Commentator) to Bereshit (Genesis) 15.12.

(3) Shmot (Exodus) 2.13. The word Nizim is often wrongly translated as fighting instead of striving (‘bitterly arguing or disagreeing over fundamental issues-Oxford dictionary), or quarreling, and the Rashi commentary explains why this was not actual fighting.

(4) Shmot (Exodus) Chap 3 vv 11 & 13;  Chap  4 vv 1 & 10

(5) Rashi (11th Century French Commentator)  and Ibn Ezra (12th Century Spanish Commentator) to Shmot (Exodus) 4.10. Also Midrash Lekach Tov Shmot 4.10 (3)

(6) Many Midrashic sources e.g. removal priesthood:  Shmot Rabbah 3.17; non-cure of stutter: Ramban to 4. 14 hints at this, and Louis Ginzberg Legends of The Jews Vol II  1946  JPS America p326 reference 140 quotes other Midrashic sources;  the rebuke to Moshe: Midrash Lekach Tov Exodus 4:12 and other sources to which I have no access but quoted by Louis Ginzberg (above, p317).

(7) Amongst the Jewish norms and values challenged by the coalition and its leaders (see links above)  are the biblical  prohibitions of Theft, Bribery, Lying, Swearing Falsely,  Love of the Stranger and of one’s fellow man. Halachic considerations include  Dina d’Malchuta Dina, the Laws of Rodef (use of minimum force cf. Rambam Hilchot Rozeach 1;6-7 ), Pikuach Nefesh (changes to the law of return may imperil those facing persecution; measures against LGBT people may exacerbate their high suicide rate), Sinat Chinam, Darchei Shalom (Ways of Peace) and even the overarching concept of  all humans beings created in the image of God.

(8) Rashi to Bereshit (Genesis) 18.23

(9) Often translated as ‘baseless hatred’ and referring to hating someone simply because they are ‘different’ or hold a different opinion  to you.

(10) I cannot find the source for this but I think it was the Sefat Emet on Sukkot and is  certainly consistent with his thought. If anyone can find it please let me know.

About the Author
Sheldon is a 67 year old, London-born, Meikal Orthodox retired Teaching Hospital Consultant Physician for Older People and Stroke. His research in infection control and behavioural science helped introduce bed-side alcohol hand-rub. Now an Advisor to World Uyghur Congress, London Office for STOPUYGHURGENOCIDE campaign. Wife consultant physician. Two daughters, one son. University or graduated. One cat. Spurs season ticket holder (except shabbat!). Aliyah one day (PG!).
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