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A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 8/8/14

I have heard from rabbis throughout the Bay Area that you can scarcely have a public conversation about Israel without stirring-up a storm of controversy. There is heated disagreement within the Jewish community about Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Israel’s discrimination toward its non-Jewish citizens. There are deep and pervasive arguments whether a Palestinian state should be created. The subject of Israel can be so controversial that some colleagues avoid talking about Israel at all lest debate cause irreparable division in the community.

Fortunately, this is not the case here at Temple Beth Torah as evidenced by the conversation we had last night. Twenty-eight adults participated in a study session I led. We utilized two texts as a framework for our discussion. The first, a debate between an Orthodox Jewish professor and a Reform rabbi, provided a rich resource for delving into the question “Do Jewish ethics justify Israel’s war in Gaza?” A second text, an article about Moshe Halbertal, professor of Jewish philosophy and co-creator of the Israel Defense Force’s code of ethics, was useful for portraying the principles by which Israel’s morality on the battlefield can be evaluated.

Clearly, there was consensus among all of us that Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorist threats. There was revulsion toward Hamas, whose hatred of Jews knows no bounds. There was deep sympathy for the well being of Israelis who live under the barrage of missiles fired by Hamas with the intent to kill indiscriminately. In our meeting last night, there was wide-spread admiration for the bravery of Israeli soldiers and sorrow for the deaths of those who gave their lives in defense of the Jewish state.

In addition, there were members of our community who voiced their anguish over the deaths of well over a 1,000 Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Some wished to contextualize these deaths by holding Hamas responsible for placing its weapons in the midst of civilian settings such as schools, mosques, and hospitals. Others expounded about how in war, there are always civilians who are “collateral damage.” But these perspectives could not wipe away the horror of seeing dead children killed in war. As Jews we should never have our hearts hardened to the deaths of non-combatants.

During our discussion last night, a few people expressed their deeply felt concern about the effects of Israel’s war on Israeli society. They noted with alarm a recent surge of violence by Jews against Arabs. In addition, there has been an aggressive push to intimidate those who criticize Israel’s most recent war in Gaza. Israelis have always been passionate about the issues confronting their country. However, there are those who fear that discourse in Israel is descending down a slippery slope where minority opinions are being suppressed. I am grateful for our engaged conversation last night at Temple Beth Torah. Needless to say, we did not come away agreeing on every issue. However, there was a willingness to hear one another and a respect for listening to divergent opinions.

One final note, there was complete agreement last evening that we have a responsibility to not only discuss issues, but also to take action to support Israel during this time of crisis. Both Yifat Bar-Dagan and Bettie Scodel have identified concrete actions we can take during this time. I hope you will write President Obama and make a financial contribution for the benefit of Lone Soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces.

(Editor's note: Links for writing to the president and donating to lone soldier's are on the Social Action page of our website)

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