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ISRAELI STYLE JUDAISM
I was quite busy the last six weeks preparing and teaching a seminar on the “Wisdom of Mitzvot” (Commandments) at our synagogue. I enjoyed it a lot since I had a chance to learn, especially from the students.
One significant item we had no time to cover however, was- how Israel practices Mitzvot, an essential element of Judaism. The usual tendency is to dismiss associating Mitzvot with Israel, after all, only ten percent of the Israeli Jewish population is orthodox. Therefore, many assume that the secular majority dismisses the Mitzvot outright. Wrong.
The Israelis practice some of the most difficult Mitzvot, at a great risk for their lives.
Many Israeli secular Jews, if not most, believe that living in Israel, is, by itself, a great Mitzva. They know they are Israeli Jews. They are the carrier of the true Jewish life in the land of Israel. You live in Israel, you are a Jew even if you do not practice Mitzvot knowingly. So much of Judaism is intermixed into the Israeli life, you just live it. For example, most commercial life stops Friday afternoon, many prepare for Shabat as a day of rest, as a normal practice. Many seculars that would rarely be in a synagogue, or ever think about mitzva will light the Shabbat candles before dinner. Shabbat is a day of rest, going to the beach, and enjoying family and friends. In Israel, the reality is that you are surrounded by Judaism. But that is relatively easy.
But the practice of Judaism in Israel has a larger significance than following some traditions, because, for the first time in millennia Jews are running their own country. With all our long and erratic history, from the biblical kings, to the destructions of the Temples, to the spreading among the nations, through the Holocaust and the continuous, deep global anti-Semitism, could Jews run a modern country?.
Not only that, could we run a country according the essential elements of Judaism: Justice, Compassion, Reverence to human life, peace, Tikkun- Olam, and the most difficult one in that neighborhood- love your neighbor. I believe it is an important question to all Jews. After all, is there any uniqueness to our way of life, to all that Judaism stands for? You may almost ask- is there any rationale to all the death and suffering Jews endured for thousands of years, to remain Jews, instead of disappearing among the nations.
I would not attempt, nor dare to answer this huge and complex question. But I would like to give you some examples that touch these important questions.
When I visited Israel a few years ago the Palestinians blew two armored trucks full of Israeli soldiers. Ten Israeli soldiers were blown by huge explosions. The Palestinians celebrated the event by playing football, on their TV, with the heads of the dead Israeli soldiers.
I watched the Israeli reaction for hours on TV. Israel was in a shock. How could they? How could they treat the dead in such disrespect.
Any sensible country would have shown this inhumanity on TV to the world, to expose the Palestinians on the type of atrocities they often commit against captured Israelis. But the Israelis, from all sectors, did not. They said this is disrespectful to the dead and their families. But more significant to me was the Israeli attitude. I did not see, or hear any Israeli, private or public, say what it would be common elsewhere: “kill the bastards, blow them to pieces for their atrocities” or any similar hateful words.
I did not hear, nor sense, anything of that nature of hate towards the Arabs, not then, not all the years I lived there, years of close contacts with my family and friends, of all political spectrum.
Despite the unrelenting Arab attacks and the murder of twenty two thousand Israelis in wars and peace times, most Israelis do not seem to exhibit animosity towards the Palestinians. They do not want to be near them or deal with them because of the inhumanity they have exhibited towards innocent Israelis, especially Israeli civilians.
To me this is amazing.
Now something about the deep reverence for life, probably the most important aspect of Judaism, that the Israelis have been practicing for so long,:
Several years ago a retired commander of the Israeli Air Force gave a talk in our congregation about the targeting of Palestinian terrorist leaders from the air. He asked our liberal American Jewish audience to think about the following real case: There is always a danger of killing uninvolved civilians in an air attack. A group of Israeli pilots are preparing to attack a group of terrorists driving to kill Israelis; estimated Israeli casualties at least ten. What is the maximum number of Arab civilians that this air attack might injure or kill?
The American audience allowed a larger number of civilian casualties than the Israeli pilots would allow themselves. The Air Force commanders do not make that decision, the pilots who risk their lives and carry the attacks, make them in the air.
The Israelis spent millions of dollars and made an extreme effort to reduce civilian casualties from their air attacks, few civilians if any are now being killed when Israeli aircrafts attack terrorist on the ground in Gaza.
Now look at a similar situation during the 2006 Lebanon war. You may have read about it, but think about these in light of the commandments the Israeli are willing to follow.
No other country would have done what the Israelis did to save Arab civilian lives while they were themselves under attack by Hizbullah which was supported and encouraged by most Palestinian Lebanese.
Let me illustrate these by three actual cases I followed closely:
1. In the middle of the first day of the war an Israeli pilot was ordered to blow the main bridge between Syria and the Hizbullah territory. This bridge was the only path to send additional missiles from Syria, the main supplier of Hizbullah. Approaching the bridge, the pilot radioed his controller that he would not attack because too many civilians would die. Although many weapons could have reached Hizbullah from Syria the pilot returned to base and destroyed the bridge at midnight when few civilians were on it.
Think about this for a few seconds.
2. A pilot detected at night a large truck- mounted missile launcher in Hizbullah land, it was going to hide in a few seconds after launching its medium range missiles on northern Israel. He was ready to destroy it when he thought he saw three kids in the area. He told his controller that he would not fire because he might hurt the kids, and returned to patrolling the sky. This is with the full realization that that weapon would fire additional rockets into Israel as soon as it could.
3. Hizbullah used an apartment in a high rise building in southern Lebanon as an observation post to spot Israeli aircrafts and troop movement. It had to be destroyed.
Three options were possible:
a. Destroy the building with a large air missile without any Israeli casualty and assure destruction of the target.
b. Shoot a small missile into the apartment, destroy it, but you may kill civilians in a nearby apartment. The likelihood of success was also lower.
c. Send ground troops into the building, attack the apartment directly through the door. This is the most risky option, most likely to have Israeli casualties but less risk to Arab civilians nearby.
The Israeli took the third, most risky option, one Israeli soldier died, other injured.
The Israelis do set an example to the world in their humanity under very diffficult conditions. They do practice some of the most demanding Mitzvot.