Baruch Taub

Zivotofsky vs. Kerry – Timing is Everything

There is something poetic about the US Supreme Court case of father and son Ari and Menachem  Zivotofsky (Zivotofsky vs. Kerry) being decided during the week of the Torah reading of Parshat Vayeira, which includes the story of the Akeida (the binding of Isaac).

Abraham and Isaac, the first Jewish father and son on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, set a gold standard for the centrality of Jerusalem in the entire Jewish enterprise.  The echo of that Akeida moment reverberates today in the appeal to have Jerusalem recorded as the capital of Israel on a United States passport.

The Midrash (rabbinic commentaries) relates that “twice Avraham is commanded to depart on a journey: Lech lecha. The first time he is told to leave his home, his birthplace, and to go in the direction of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel; the second time he is commanded to take his son to the Akeida on Mount Moriah – Har Habayit, the Temple Mount.

The Midrash continues: “We do not know which Lech Lecha is more dear and challenging.”

It would seem that there is no level playing field.  Potentially sacrificing one’s child versus leaving home seems to be a no-brainer.

The Midrash concludes that “since the second Lech lecha includes the phrase ‘to Har Hamoriya,’ it is clearly the decisive of the two.”  Why?  Because in both commands the direction is to Jerusalem!  In the first Lech lecha moment, Avraham takes the initial steps to the yet-unnamed final destination.  In the second, it is clearly named.  It is all about Jerusalem and clearly articulating it as the pinnacle of the journey.

Avraham Rabinovitch, in his monumental book The Battle for Jerusalem, describes the three-day battle during the Six Day War to take Har Habayit.  It was a battle not fought by Romans or other foreign invaders, but by Jewish soldiers – 19, 20 and 21-year-old holy chayalim with no precise knowledge as to where they were heading, weaving their way through the alleys of the Old City. They notice a man in Arab garb watching them and they ask him for directions. They proceed onward, eventually reaching the Kotel and raising the flag on Har Habayit as the Arab continues to watch from a distance.

The Arab’s name was Abdul Shleifer.  A New York Jew married to a Jordanian journalist!

What a strange witness to one of the greatest moments in modern Jewish history.

Jews today have a choice. To be participants or to be witnesses and spectators as events continue to unfold in the Holy City. Make no mistake about it. The battle for Jerusalem is at the center stage of our existence today.

This US administration is the first to lump together Jerusalem with the rest of the “settlements” and the first to question our right to build and live there.

Israel is the only country in the world that is not allowed to declare its capital in official documentation as such. To add insult to injury, this position is supported by our best friend and ally.

Every Israeli prime minister has refused to put Jerusalem on any negotiating table.

Every country is a country with a capital. Israel and Eretz Yisrael is different, however.  It is a capital with a country!

Every Israeli knows this and every Jew knows and declares this.

להיות עם חופשי בארצנו בארץ ציון ירושלים

Liheyot am chofshi beartzeinu Eretz Tzion Yerushalayim 

We Jews have a tradition about the weekly Torah portion.  There are reverberations of its message in each contemporary moment that it is read.

It is hoped that the Zechut Avot (merit of our forefathers) of father and son, Abraham and Isaac, will win the day for father and son Ari and Menachem Zivotofsky.

About the Author
Rabbi Baruch Taub is founding rabbi and Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Avraham Yosef of Toronto congregation, the largest orthodox synagogue in North America. He made aliyah in December 2010.