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The “Jewish State” Bill, Pathways of Peace, and Tikkun Olam – What in God’s Name are they thinking!

Posted by rabbiart on November 27, 2014

On Thanksgiving Day in the United States, as Americans we should remember that we are all immigrants who in one way or another have made a new life out of the American Indian. (For a most devastating midrash on this subject listen to The Firesign Theatre doing “Temporarily Humbolt County”).  As Jews we should be greatly concerned over the “Jewish State” bill being pushed by zealots in the Knesset.  For a most emotionally devastating  experience, read the claims of both sides on the intent, purpose and effect of this bill.  There is a common thread that binds these two topics together: the concept of Mipnei Darchei Shalom.  Are we making hate? Or are we making peace?

Literally translated, darchei shalom are ‘pathways of peace’. We need to consult our sources for the intention of this phrase. We need to ask ‘are we walking toward shalom or away from it?

The classic text for this concept is Mishnah Gittin 5:8. The Mishnah enumerates a number of things that are enjoined in the “interests of peace”.  It begins with that most prized of honors, an aliyah to the reading of the Torah. To prevent arguments, a cohen is called first, followed by a levi and then a yisrael. On shabbes this means one priest, one levite, and five members of the general community of Israel.  The text lists a number of other rules enacted in the interests of peace. It concludes with this rule (Danby Mishnah, p. 314). “They do not try to prevent the poor among the gentiles from gathering gleanings, the forgotten sheaf, and the corner – mipnei darchei shalom.

A bit later in the Gemara (daf 60b) we find a teaching about water rights. R. Shimi b. Ashi goes to R. Abaye and asks for lessons. Abaye needs time to irrigate his fields. (The Gemara has just previously discussed whether those whose fields are lower down – farther from the source of the water – or those higher up, have first right to the water).  R. Ashi goes to the people higher up and tells them the people lower down have the priority rights. He then goes to the people lower down and tells them the reverse. Having put both groups on hold, Ashi dams the watercourse and irrigates the fields of R. Abaye.

When Abaye finds out, he refuses to eat of the produce from his field for an entire year!

What does this passage have to do native American Indians?  What does this passage have to do with the “Jewish state” bill?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe everything.

Think of native American Indians both as a people and as a proxy for all the underclasses in arguably the wealthiest country in the history of humankind.  Ask yourself  -are we walking toward shalom? – translating it here not as just ‘peace’ but wholeness, completeness, fully integrated (that word chosen deliberately!) into our society. Are we acting in ways of darchei shalom? Are we recognizing all are fellow inhabitants as created b’tzelem elohim?

Think of the “Jewish State” bill.  I can’t know but I definitely wonder.  Are its proponents walking the paths of darchei shalom?  Or are they acting like R. Ashi and playing both sides against the middle; misrepresenting their intent and purpose so that they can simply water their own field?

Far be it from me, an American Jew living safely and comfortably in California, to comment on Israeli politics. (That of course is code for “I will now proceed to comment on Israeli politics”. )

Some Knesset members are considering walking out of the Knesset when this bill is presented. If they do, and I hope they do, and I hope the voices of former president Peres and current president Rivlin will prevail. We must ask our fellow Jews “are we recognizing all our fellow inhabitants as created b’tzelem elohim?  If Knesset members flee the governing coalition, if they walk out of the Knesset, if they refuse to play any part in this, then they will be following the example of one of the great Talmudic voices, and refusing to eat from the produce of this poisonous legislation.

They – and we – will be walking the pathways of peace.  In the words of the Psalmist, traditionally ascribed to the greatest warrior-king of the Jewish people – בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ.  Ask for peace, seek peace, work for peace, and pursue it. And for hamavin yavin, check the first part of that verse as well.

Happy Thanksgiving Day


One Response to “The “Jewish State” Bill, Pathways of Peace, and Tikkun Olam – What in God’s Name are they thinking!”

  1. StillPnina said

    Beautiful, as usual. Thank you so much for your questions and observations. This is important stuff! Happy Thanksgiving Day!

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