Considered Engagement for the Hardened Heart


By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
January 16, 2013
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“Vayechezak leiv Paroh v’lo shama aleihem.” Pharaoh’s heart strengthened and he did not listen to them.

The accounts of the plagues that God was said to have punished the Egyptians with, contain some subtle additions to the stock phrase that “Vayechezak leiv Paroh v’lo shama aleihem.” Pharaoh’s heart strengthened and he did not listen to them. These nuances are beautiful literary devices that I hope that we have the opportunity to study together but for now, let us address the general motif.

Pharaoh is caught in a vicious cycle. He will not listen – his heart is hardened so he will not listen. At first, this cycle is propagated because Pharaoh’s magicians are able to duplicate the wonder. His resistance is strengthened. So he does not listen. The plagues worsen and the magicians are not able to revoke the plagues and then are themselves afflicted by boils and in their pain or embarrassment do not even show-up. Pharaoh responds with silence. In the words of Aviva Gottleib Zornberg, “Fear freezes him in a catatonic silence (The Particulars of Rapture, p. 98).” The change from ‘Pharaoh’s heart hardened or Pharaoh hardened his heart’ to ‘God hardened Pharaoh’s heart’ in the final plagues, Zornberg suggests is an attempt to describe the utter helplessness of the man to act any differently – he seems to have been seized by a devil leading him to his own destruction.

It is so distressing for us to see such a similar scenario being played out in Syria. For over a year, President Assad has refused to accept the will of a large portion of his people to live in freedom from his rule. Each act of the opposition is met with another show of force, the military acting as Assad’s magicians. Yet there can be no victory. Whilst there is no sign of either side being able to conquer the other, Assad’s grip on power does continue to wane. It is as if he has been beset by a devil, a supernatural power. This intransigence, this inability to act differently brings only wanton destruction upon his people and cities. Assad is so wrapped in one narrative that it now owns him.

I can think of a number of other international examples of a narrative entombing its creators. Yet what I would like to focus on is the struggle emblazoned on the front of the Jewish Chronicle this week, an attempt to scupper a proposed project ‘Grow: Tazmiach,’ that partners the Board of Deputies of British Jews with Oxfam. It would see young adults trained as activists to work in their local communities to alleviate food poverty.

It should be a complete no-brainer for British Jews to applaud such a project. Oxfam are offering first-rate training for young adults, potential future leaders in our communities and an opportunity for Jews to put some of their core values into practice.

What stands in its way is a group of Deputies who I am sure do represent others within the Jewish Community, who are so obdurately sticking to the notion that one cannot work with anyone who speaks a word against actions of the Israeli Government. Oxfam as an organisation has been outspoken about Israeli Government actions as it has been about any government that stands in the way of alleviating poverty. We must not be held to ransom by those whose hearts are so hardened that they cannot listen to another narrative.

I am proud that this Synagogue’s Deputy, David Simmons, will be speaking on Sunday in support of ‘Grow: Tazmiach.’ Whilst I do not believe that God will be able to do anything about the hearts that are already so hardened, I do pray that the majority will listen and hear the voice of reason.

This project of the Board of Deputies sits comfortably with Liberal Judaism’s policy of Considered Engagement. This means that our Chief Executive, Rabbi Danny Rich together with the Lay and Rabbinic Leadership of Liberal Judaism review every invitation for involvement in a project to decide on its own merits whether to participate. This does mean that we may engage with those who do not hold our views on the Middle East or indeed on many other issues.

This exposes us to other opinions and viewpoints that help us to shape our own thoughts, to grow and to make mature decisions. Supporting a Zionism or nationalism that overrides the universal right of every human being to a meal exemplifies a need to sit down and engage with others.

COMMENTS

Hannah

Wed, 01/16/2013 - 17:54

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-2 points

Your prayers are my prayers, Rabbi Goldstein. I can't believe this is even being discussed.


Ben F

Wed, 01/16/2013 - 18:02

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-1 points

Yeah but a no brainer is beyond the reach of those with negative brains.


happygoldfish

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 10:20

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3 points

perhaps the major difference between liberal and traditional judaism is liberal judaism's reliance on (and "ever growing understanding of") the divine will, rather than the divine word

in other words: replacing rules by guidelines that are easier to understand and to apply because they offer little or no restriction

liberal judaism's official "policy" of considered engagement is at the extreme end of this …

Liberal Judaism operates a policy of ‘considered engagement’ which means that its Chief Executive (and members of his staff) and the Chairman and other National Officers review each and every invitation that is received and decide on an individual basis whether a Liberal Judaism representative will participate

Liberal Judaism – particularly Rabbi Danny Rich, its Chief Executive – receive many such invitations, and accept the overwhelming majority even where the aims of the hosting organisation or the views of other participants (if known) are not in accord with the articulated policies of Liberal Judaism.

unfortunately, having an actual policy sometimes means debating exactly what that policy is, and exactly where the line is to be drawn …

one can see why aaron goldstein has a liberal's disdain for such a policy and such a debate

how much more satisfying, and more consistent with the divine will, to adopt a policy of "considered engagement" that is so vague that it allows engagement with almost anyone (well, with the "overwhelming majority")!

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein: Supporting a Zionism or nationalism that overrides the universal right of every human being to a meal …

oxfam is not the only partner with whom british jews can operate their "tatzmiach" scheme …

and suggesting that zionism or jewish nationalism doesn't care about (or is causing) human poverty is very close to racism

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein: … a group of Deputies who I am sure do represent others within the Jewish Community, who are so obdurately sticking to the notion that one cannot work with anyone who speaks a word against actions of the Israeli Government.

hmm … even further than your previous accusation …

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein: … in dealing with other Faiths, those bodies that represent the Jewish Community, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, respond to issues by shouting accusations.

aaron, these deputies do not draw the line at "anyone who speaks a word against actions of the Israeli Government"!

on the contrary, they appear happy to have relations with those who criticise israel, and only to draw the line at those whose criticism merges seamlessly into selective and inappropriate action

is oxfam (whose motivation is not racism) institutionally racist in that it proceeds in a way which is bound to lead to inappropriate or discriminatory results? is liberal judaism (whose motivation is not racism) institutionally racist in that its curiously-named "considered engagement" makes it proceed in a way which is bound to lead to relations with racists or institutional racists?

the question here is whether oxfam's well-meaning support for other primarily humanitarian organisations is leading to actions against israel which are inappropriate, unhelpful to the peace process, and are not in fact taken against other countries against whom there are stronger grounds

are you saying that liberal judaism's "considered engagement" does not involve such considerations?


Rich Armbach

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 12:51

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-2 points

What ??


Jonathan Hoffman

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 16:58

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2 points

This Liberal Rabbi is missing the point entirely as well as misrepresenting the many Deputies who oppose the Oxfam tie-up.

We are not saying "do not work with Oxfam"

We are saying that for the time being, dialogue must be confined to trying to tell Oxfam the truth about Israel and persuading Oxfam to become less anti-Israel.


Hannah

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 17:50

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-3 points

I've read some disgusting disgraceful things on this blog site, but this "person" (goldfish) calling Rabbi Aaron Goldstein a racist, well I'm sorry, I just can't find the words.


Rich Armbach

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 17:56

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-2 points

So when Oxfam,after taking all the risks, needless risks at that, are kicked in the teeth, and you then start telling them " the truth about Israel ", they will be listening right ?

Note the language....DIALOGUE....CONFINED TO TELLING THEM....

So that's what my wife is doing when she tells me, engaging in dialogue.

There is no parallel with the coop situation and therefore no contradiction. Oxfam have never called for a boycott of Israel partial or otherwise,


happygoldfish

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 18:14

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3 points

hannah: I've read some disgusting disgraceful things on this blog site, but this "person" (goldfish) calling Rabbi Aaron Goldstein a racist, well I'm sorry, I just can't find the words.

uhh? where did i call him a racist??

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