The Jewish Thought Series: What Bibi Should Have Replied to Obama

November 24, 2016 22:58

This post originally appeared today on Daphne Anson’s fine Blog:
(There it appears with a colored background, and accompanied by photographs. But Daphne's blog is well worth a visit chiefly because of its high-quality content.)

Obama insisted on a settlement freeze - and Bibi agreed.

In the face of Jewish Thought. And against it. We have precedent. A number of precedents.

I'm saying here how I think the Jew Natanyahu should have answered the gentile Obama.

And I'll say it first in Obamese, and then in Jewish.

Mr. President, former President Calvin Coolidge is reputed to have said that the business of America ... is business. I have to remind you that the business of Israel is ... Zionism. And Zionism first and foremost means building the Land of Israel. Settling the waste lands, and making them liveable.

During the Cold War Mr. President, had the Soviets come to an American President with a condition for disarmament talks that America stop doing business for three months, on the grounds that Capitalism negates the Communist way of life, would any American President have taken the demand seriously? Would he have said "peace with the Soviets is more important, let's stop doing business just for three months"?

I hope you can infer both my position and my answer from that analogy, Mr. President.

That was in Obamese.

Now in Jewish Thought. From two different sources.

What is considered as probably the holiest of prayers uttered on our holiest of days, Yom Kippur, is probably the "Unetaneh Tokef" whose composition is attributed to Rabbi Amnon of Magenza, at the time of the Crusades.

(A translation of the prayer into English can be found at: )

For the sake of brevity I am using a Google source to tell the story.

The prayer entitled "U'Netaneh Tokef" is attributed to a Rabbi Amnon of Mainz, Germany, who lived about one thousand years ago. The story behind this piyut, a prayer-poem, is sad and poignant, and may shed light on the prayer itself.

The Bishop of Mainz summoned Rabbi Amnon, a great Torah scholar, to his court and offered him a ministerial post on the condition that Rabbi Amnon would convert to Christianity. Rabbi Amnon refused. The Bishop insisted and continued to press Rabbi Amnon to accept his offer. Of course, Rabbi Amnon continued to refuse. One day, however, Rabbi Amnon asked the Bishop for three days to consider his offer.

As soon as Rabbi Amnon returned home, he was distraught at the terrible mistake he had made of even appearing to consider the Bishop's offer and the betrayal of G-d. For three days he could not eat or sleep and he prayed to G-d for forgiveness. When the deadline for decision arrived, the Bishop sent messenger after messenger to bring Rabbi Amnon, but he refused to go. Finally, the Bishop had him forcibly brought to him and demanded a response. The Rabbi responded, "I should have my tongue cut out for not having refused immediately."

The Bishop angrily had Rabbi Amnon's hands and feet cut off and then sent him home.

A few days later was Rosh HaShanah, and Rabbi Amnon, dying from his wounds, asked to be carried to shul. He wished to say the Kedushah to sanctify G-d's Name and publicly declare his faith in G-d's Kingship.With his dying breath, he uttered the words that we now know of as the U'Netaneh Tokef.

Three days later Rabbi Amnon appeared in a dream to Rabbi Kalonymous ben Meshullam, a scholar and poet, and taught him the exact text of the prayer. Rabbi Amnon asked that it be sent to all Jewry and that it be inserted in the prayers of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur for all time.

That story, Mr. Prime Minister of Israel, should have been the guiding light and spirit behind your reply to President Obama.

But we can go back much further. The Torah, the Written Law, is written entirely in Hebrew, except for two words. These two words are in Aramaic. The English translators couldn’t handle them, and so they appear together as one word, in transliterated Aramaic.

Genesis 31, 46-48:
46 And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
47 And Laban called it Jegarsahadutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
48 And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed.

The translation is little short of atrocious, but the meaning is understandable even in the current translation.

The commentator Sforno points out that Jacob uses the Hebrew term for a monument (the “Galeed” is actually 2 Hebrew words: “Gal Ed”, ‘Gal’ meaning a heap of stones, and ‘Ed’ meaning a witness. Such a heap of stones thus ‘bears witness’, and is therefore what we know as a monument.)

So what actually happened here, says Sforno, is that Laban (whose native tongue was Aramaic) named the monument to peace between himself and Jacob in his language – Aramaic – but Jacob insisted on using the Hebrew – “Gal Ed”. And Laban “capitulated”, reverting to the Hebrew term as declared by Jacob.

This, says Sforno, is the power of Jacob: when Jacob insists on his terms, he has the power to subjugate his opponents. Jacob, of course, after he fought with the Angel, was later named Israel.

Did you get that, Bibi?

November 24, 2016 22:58

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