Slaughter over the millennia to prove whose side G-d is on
That there are Jews who ascribe to the views embraced with approval by Choni Davidowitz in his letter published in last week’s issue of the SA Jewish Report, fills me with despair, namely the portion of the Torah describing Hashem’s directive to Moses to invade the Land of Canaan and slaughter the inhabitants.
There is actually very little difference in the objectives listed in the Hamas Charter, to Hashem’s directives to the Jews in Exodus and Numbers.
Hashem declares: “I have come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land to a good and broad land… (Ex 3: 7-8)
What follows is a detailed description of the events during the Jewish invasion of Canaan, the destruction of the cities of the tribes residing therein and the slaughter, ethnic cleansing and genocide visited on the unfortunate inhabitants, to say nothing of the theft of their properties. Particularly gruesome of the war against the Midianites, includes Moses’ order to his commanders to kill all the male children and all the married women, but to keep for themselves all the virgin girls – an invitation to indulge in debauchery, no less.
There is very little difference in a diary of an SS officer during the German invasion of Russia and the relevant parts of the Torah narrative describing the Midianite massacre, which ranks as the bloodiest of Moses’ legacy. Moses blames the Temple prostitutes for having sex with his men, which adversely affects their morality. Instead of punishing the healthy Jewish boys for understandably availing themselves of the plentiful opportunities for sex with willing young girls, he reacts by not remonstrating with his troop; instead he orders the slaughter of the entire Midianite nation, men women and children.
The Torah does not disclose the moral basis for Hashem’s directive to Moses to “drive out all the land’s inhabitants before you… Clear out the land and live in it, since it is to you I am giving the land to occupy…”
The Torah does not disclose Hashem’s moral and legal right to donate the Land to the Jewish people. I have yet to receive a meaningful rational answer to my question on the matter from a rabbi.
The result is that for thousands of years now Jews, Christians and Muslims have been fighting and killing each other to prove whose side G-d is on. Davidowitz’s letter reminds me that there is actually little difference in the mindset of some Jews who urge us to follow the precepts described in Exodus and Numbers to “eliminate” those standing in our way and Hamas’ infamous Charter warning of the coming obliteration of Israel and the genocide of the Jews. In fact, the Charter makes Hitler’s Mein Kampf read like some liberal treatise.
Whether we like it or not, our Torah started it all. Perhaps we should pray to Hashem that it is high time He considers issuing a second edition of our wonderful Torah in which these unfortunate provisions are edited out with retrospective effect, thereby saving countless lives.
Until then, of course we Jews will simply have to continue to fight our enemies to the death. Here I agree with Davidowitz, except I don’t look to religious faith as he does for the answer to our problems.
According to anthropological scientists the brains of our specie, Homo Sapiens, developed to the stage about 100 000 years ago when they began to look for supernatural reasons such as religion, for the answer to the meaning of life and our fear of death.
If the second edition (of the Torah) referred to is not forthcoming, we will probably have to wait another 100 000 years for our brains to evolve further until the need for religions which have bedevilled our species for so long, becomes a thing of the past.
The letter has been substantially shortened. – Editor
Don’t vote, don’t complain
The conversation would go something along these lines. “Mrs Feldman,” they would say, on seeing my late grandmother, “You are looking too wonderful!” A pregnant pause would follow as she contemplated the horror of what had been said. “Really?” she would finally answer, lips pursed, eyes narrowed, “You should only know how terrible I feel.”
And then, just to prove her point. Or to make them suffer, she would tell them. Complaint by complaint. Ailment by ailment, punctuated with a detailed description of her matching medication. At a family function, my grandmother would find desserts “too sweet” and the band too loud. She was never happy with where she had been seated, and there was always someone who didn’t greet her appropriately.
She wouldn’t have it any other way. Because complaining made her happy.
Whereas our generation might not complain about the same things, we’re hardly different. Social media is a complainer’s dream, where at a whim and at any time, we have the ability to slate, moan, and denigrate anything or anyone we choose. The “Hello Peters”, Google Reviews, and Facebook groups all provide fertile environments for anyone having a bad experience or simply a bad day. Because like it or not, complaining makes us happy.
It does, however, have its limits. And there are conditions attached to our ability and right to complain. We might, for instance, not be happy with the state of our roads, or the water pipes or electricity, but we forfeit the right to complain about them if we choose not to vote in the forthcoming municipal elections. No one will stop us, and maybe no one will even know, but electing not to participate in the choosing of representatives for our neighbourhoods and cities renders our complaining voices silent on a moral level.
The refrain of, “There’s no one to vote for” isn’t only inaccurate, it’s also lazy. The options might not be perfect, but each presents an opportunity for change and improvement.
The decision not to vote is a vote for the status quo. Which means that it’s affirmation that things are just as they should be. It means that the roads are pristine, that our water sparkles and is reliable, and that our lights switch on with the predictability and consistency of high school Charidy callers. It means that everything is just as it should be. Because, why else would anyone choose not to choose?
In conversations with the leaders of the Democratic Alliance, Action SA, and the African Christian Democratic Party, each told me the same thing: this election is all about service delivery. It’s about selecting the party and person who has the highest chance of getting the job done.
It might be true that there’s no perfect party and no perfect candidate, but then it might be worth choosing the one that’s the least imperfect of them all. Failure to do that will result the loss of the right to complain about all the things we love to complain about.
Which would make our grandmothers very unhappy.
Making us count in the conversation
Let me introduce myself. My name is Karen Milner, and I’m the newly elected chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). I look forward to engaging with all of you through this column, and welcome any feedback, comments, and input.
It’s my pleasure to start my tenure by announcing the results of the elections of the SAJBD national positions:
Shaun Zagnoev – national president
Mary Kluk – national vice-president
Zev Krengel – national vice-president
David Kuming – national treasurer
Marc Pozniak – national vice-chairperson (Gauteng)
Rael Kaimowitz – national vice-chairperson (Western Cape)
Susan Abro – national vice-chairperson (KZN)
Our elections took place last Sunday, 17 October, as part of the SAJBD’s biennial national conference, and it’s an amazing privilege for us to begin our term of office on the back of such an inspiring and thought-provoking event. The Board’s national conferences are typically a hybrid of past, present, and future, where reflecting on the events of the previous two years goes hand in hand with assessing current realities and looking to the potential challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. This conference was no exception, addressing issues of real substance while also showcasing what the Board has done on behalf of its constituency.
We were honoured to have an exceptional panel, comprising Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, Advocate Wim Trengove, and Eskom Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter to address the critical challenges facing our country – the economy, the rule of law, and electricity. None of the speakers attempted to airbrush the sobering reality of the difficulties ahead, but they also relayed a message of genuine hope. This message was reinforced as we learned about the remarkable work done by the recipients of our communal leadership awards – the Kirsh family; Professor Barry Schoub; Dr Richard Friedland; Uriel Rosen (the initiator of the Hatzolah COVID-19 Wellness Programme); and Vivienne Anstey. We are humbled and inspired by their example. They showed the truth of Margaret Mead’s profound words, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Upholding Jewish civil rights remains the core mandate of the SAJBD, but its mission includes leading the community in being an active, identifying part of society. By addressing at our conference such critical issues as the economy, the role of the judiciary, and the Eskom question, we helped ensure that the community, in spite of its small number, continues to be a dynamic part of the national conversation. I congratulate all those who helped to put this very successful event together, and in particular, our superb professional staff team headed by Wendy Kahn. The widespread media coverage that the conference generated, together with the interest shown in such recent Board events as the #MakeUsCount pre-election debates, also shows how our community continues to be regarded as a significant voice
I thank my colleagues for the trust they have placed in me, and look forward to working with them in protecting and promoting the welfare of our vibrant, resilient Jewish community.
Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.
Challah – bread of Jewish men’s affliction
There are many reasons why it isn’t easy to be a Jewish male. Expectation of performance begins at eight days, and hardly eases up until we shuffle off the mortal coil, well ahead of our time, exhausted from the effort and stress of it all.
The expectations are seemingly without end. We need to make our parents proud, we need to provide for our families, to be good husbands and better fathers, and we need to have run at least one marathon in a far-flung city by the time we are 45.
We need to be able to sing in front of the community at our Barmitzvahs, just when we are at our most awkward and when our voices are the most unreliable. We need to be able to intone anything at any given time.
And then, on the one night of the week when we can relax, we are required to cut the challah with the precision of a surgeon, the speed of Usain Bolt, and we need to do so while everyone watches in hungry expectation.
Following the kiddush prayer and the ritualistic washing of hands, there is a period of silence. With no speaking until the eating of the challah, it’s one of the most underrated aspects of being a Jewish male. It’s a moment that represents almost every aspect of “Jewish maleness”, and it happens week after week after week. Why?
Because no matter what, it will be done wrong. The slices will be too thick. Or thin. Or the wrong challah would have been selected. Too much, too little salt will have been added. And the challah serving plate will have been passed in the wrong direction. Eyes will be rolled, lips pursed, and heads will be slowly shaken. From side. To side. To side.
A Jewish male it would seem, cannot please a Jewish woman.
I have asked around. A friend’s wife told me that she can’t stand the way he cuts the challah, and prefers to do it herself. “He just can’t get it right. It’s got so bad that I hardly even let him carve the meat.”
She even went as far as to buy an electric carving knife, which she used before he got home from work on a Friday so that he didn’t need to. It might be worth mentioning that when he’s not “butchering” the challah, he’s a well-respected surgeon. At least he made his parents proud.
And there are those who are too precise for their own good. My father-in-law is one such case. Each piece of challah is measured to perfection. Sliced the way through, and then checked in case any remnants of attachment to the piece before remains, before moving on to slice number two. And so on.
Generally, we like to start Shabbat on Wednesday when visiting, as it takes about that long before we get to eat. All while we sit in silence.
The slicing of challah is the most underrated aspect of being a Jewish male. It carries with it all the expectation along with all the disappointment of generations of men who have failed before them.
It’s a moment that’s shared in all households across the Jewish world week after week. It bonds Jewish women to the past, and will link them to their great granddaughters, who will one day share knowing looks with their sisters as they watch their husband “butcher” the challah, just as their father did.
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