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September 22, 2006

Eitam Was Wrong, But So Were Gaza Expulsions

A September 15 editorial terms Knesset member Effie Eitam’s call for the expulsion en masse of Palestinians from the West Bank as “lamentable” and a “mischievous assault on decency” (“Effie’s Choice”). I agree. Even Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the iconic nationalist Zionist, rejected the idea.

In the now-famous 1923 article setting out his basic doctrine vis-à-vis the relationship with the Palestinians of the Jewish national home, “The Iron Wall (Part I),” Jabotinsky wrote, “I am reputed to be an enemy of the Arabs, who wants to have them ejected from Palestine, and so forth. It is not true…. Politically… I consider it utterly impossible to eject the Arabs from Palestine…. I am prepared to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone.”

Nevertheless, in characterizing Eitam’s message as “rooted in a form of messianic optimism,” the argument must then be expanded and the question need be asked whether the forced removal of Jews from those very same areas is legitimate, democratic and moral. It is obvious that the establishment of a second state in the territory the international community set aside for the reestablishment of the Jewish commonwealth will result in a uni-ethnic polity.

No Jews would be able to reside in Hebron, Beth El or Shiloh. Is this expulsion, perhaps, also stemming from despair, and is it that exiling of Jews from their homes is also a messianic optimism?

If so, we only have to review the total failure as well as the dangerous developments of the disengagement from Gaza. Terrorism has not stopped, and the Qassams are only improving.

Eitam is wrong, and so are those who seek to ban revenant Jews from living in their patrimony. But if the expulsion of Jews is a solution, there will always be people who secretly harbor the hope of removing Palestinians, believing that what is good for Jews is equally good for Palestinians.

**-Yisrael Medad*** *The writer lives in the West Bank town of Shiloh.

The fuss over Knesset member Effie Eitam’s call for mass expulsion of Palestinians from the Land of Israel is a sign of decadence in the Jewish world. The actual mass expulsion of fellow Jews from their land is met with apathy or even delight, but when a Jew starts talking about expelling the enemy, he is ostracized. A nation that reacts like this has lost its moral compass.

Joakim Förars Vasa, Finland

The People Have Spoken, But Joe’s Not Listening

Opinion writer Hal Lewis argues, “Whatever else one thinks of [Joseph Lieberman’s] decision to stay in the race, from the perspective of classical Jewish sources… the incumbent is on solid ground” (“The Bible Is on Joe’s Side,” September 15). Hardly.

The Mishnah, in Avodah Zarah 2:5, suggests otherwise. It begins with Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Yehoshua walking on a path, and Rabbi Yishmael asks: “Why have [the Sages] forbidden cheeses made by gentiles?” Then there is a back-and-forth between Yishmael and Yehoshua, with Yehoshua explaining how they reasoned their way toward the ruling and Yishmael offering reasons why they should have ruled differently. Eventually, Yehoshua tires of the argument and diverts Yishmael to the explication of a verse from the Song of Songs.

Yishmael knew very well why the Sages had ruled as they had. And the Sages had likely taken all of Yishmael’s arguments into account before making their ruling. Yishmael, however, was not willing to accept the decision of the majority.

Just as in another famed talmudic tale, the oven of Akhnai, in which Rabbi Yehoshua dismisses God’s intervention on behalf of Rabbi Eliezer with the tart reminder that the Torah is “not in heaven” — Yehoshua’s role is to defend majority rule.

The text comes to teach that new decrees should at the very least be allowed to sit unchallenged until the community has had a chance to assess their effect. They may be revisited after a proper test, if they prove to be excessively burdensome or have unanticipated and unintended consequences — but first they must be accepted and given the benefit of the doubt.

In Judaism, we have a duty to choose our school and then abide by the rulings of the majority of its sages. Joseph Lieberman chose to follow the Democratic Party. He rehearsed his arguments before its Sanhedrin, and the decree of his party was delivered: they chose another candidate. They heard all the arguments he had to offer, and the majority voted against them. Yet, like Yishmael, he repeats the arguments as if there had been no decree.

Of course, the Democratic Party is not the Sanhedrin, but Lieberman’s response is the moral equivalent of excommunicating himself from the Democratic Party.

Neil Litt Princeton, N.J.

Hal Lewis’s defense of Senator Joseph Lieberman’s refusal to take his party’s no for an answer and run as an independent offers an interesting tour through biblical and rabbinic texts — but it is beside the point. No one disputes that it is a good thing for a politician to put the interests of the people as a whole ahead of the interests of his or her particular faction. And had Lieberman decided from the outset that he could best serve the people of Connecticut as a nonpartisan senator, that would have been perceived, even by partisan Democrats, as an honorable thing to do.

What galls a lot of us is that he both sought his party’s nomination and announced that, if he didn’t get it, he would run on his own party line. As in 2000, when he insisted on running for reelection for the Senate even as he ran for vice president, Lieberman seemed not to be putting the interest of the public at large over party interest, but his own personal interest above all else.

Of course, politicians, like the rest of us, are entitled to advance their personal interests. In Hillel’s words, “If I am not for myself who will be for me?” (Pirkei Avot I). But as Hillel went on to say, “Yet, if I am for myself only, what am I?”

Mark Silk Director, Leonard E. Greenberg Center For the Study of Religion in Public Life Trinity College Hartford, Conn.

Let the Power of Elul Hold

I commend a September 8 editorial on the period of Elul being a time for self-reflection as well as reflection on the global situation (“Renewal in Elul”).

From the perspective of an American Jew living with global insecurity and rapid change, I agree that the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina are evidence as to why we need both private and public reflection at this time of year. Public reflection has been all around us with the fifth anniversary of September 11, and in my mind, this only leads to more questions about the future of relations between Israel, the Western democracies and the Arab world.

The power of Elul must hold. We must support each other in our public and private reflections, and in our search for understanding and renewal.

Nathan Weissler Bethesda, Md.


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