June 22, 2024
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Daf Yomi Provides Template for Negotiating An End to Israel’s Uncivil ‘Civil War’

Without taking sides in the uncivil “civil war” in Israel, God forbid (which, hopefully, will have been resolved peacefully by the time this article will be published, especially with negotiations now underway), it is clear that proponents of both sides believe that the only way to save democracy is by following their approach—either in favor of the current judicial system or against it. The politicians have staked out and claimed the exclusive lanes in the high road, and have fomented hatred of half the population of the country by each side—on a level whose most outstanding precedent was when Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans—and the Jewish factions burned down each other’s storehouses, leading to catastrophe. History stands on the brink of repeating itself, God forbid, with a potential existential conflict, God forbid.

Not one, but two pages in the Daf Yomi in the Talmud that were read throughout the world—this past Sunday and Monday (Sotah 4, 5) (assuming this article will be published about a week after its submission)—would have solved the problem, had the majority of the most influential and impressionable Israelis taken the trouble to read these pages, and not left them to the participants in the Daf Yomi course of study. The focus in these pages is on the ills of arrogance. The focus of this article is on arrogance compounded by ignorance. (I don’t claim familiarity with the fine print of all of the proposals for judicial reform or their legislative history either, nor do I claim to agree with some of the new proposals.)

“R’ Yochanan said in the name of Rav Shimon ben (or bar) Yochai (the kabbalist whose tomb in Meron attracts a different kind of crowd especially on a day featuring symbolic fires not designed to be disruptive or destructive), every man (and presumably woman as well, as to this and future generic references) who is haughty is as though he worships idols, as it is written, ‘Everyone who is haughty in his heart is an abomination to God,’ (Proverbs 16:5). Rabbi Yochanan added, ‘He is as though he had denied the fundamental principle (viz., the existence of God),’ as it is said, ‘Your heart will become haughty and you will forget God,’ (Deuteronomy 8:14). … Ulla said, ‘He is as though he had erected an idolatrous altar,’” (Sotah 4).

But this is only half of the problem—and solution.

Maimonides most famously discusses the shvil hazahav, the golden mean—also known as the derech haemtza, the middle approach—without reaching any extreme, a variation of which was discussed earlier by Aristotle and later in the rabbinic and mussar literature—a balance, moderation, simplicity—as the way to lead a mentally stable and moral life. Imagine how different life in Israel would be had more of the hysterical demonstrators who are interfering with the health, lives and livelihoods of Israelis—and of Israel itself, its army and its infrastructure—had the humility to take the trouble to read the fine print of the actual judicial practices that now rule the land and the actual proposals that are now being made, in context. But there is more.

Humility would be a starting point. Maimonides also carved out two exceptions to the rule of moderation—when it comes to arrogance and anger. There should be no room for even a moderate amount of arrogance or anger. Arrogance leads to anger. When people are not accorded the respect they expect, they often react in anger; they often tend to lash out at those who seek to limit their influence. So, what began in Israel as arrogance—with people largely ignorant of the finer points and contexts of the judicial status quo and the reform proposals—has evolved into anger and hatred between Jew and Jew, not experienced since the days of the Haganah and the Irgun—fighting for the birth and soul of the country, and fighting each other (actually, the Haganah fought the Irgun, at the Altalena and elsewhere, but the Irgun only resisted the British occupiers; nevertheless, Jews still fought Jews).

The uncivil “civil war” is characterized by arrogance on both sides, and anger on both sides, though the demonstrations and violence by the left—including literal bonfires—may seem a bit angrier than Netanyahu firing his defense minister, on the right.

Arrogance causes people not just to forget civility, but, eventually, to forget God as well (Deuteronomy 8:11; 8:14). And then, what will be left of the Jewish state?

Rabbi Awira expounded (sometimes, in the name of Rabbi Assi and sometimes, in the name of Rabbi Ami), “Every man who is haughty will in the end be reduced in rank (Sotah 5) (some would look to Netanyahu—with his ups and downs—and some would look at the recently fired defense minister), as it is said: ‘They are exalted, there will be reduction of status,’ and lest you think they remain in existence, the text continues, ‘… and they are gone.’ If, however, he changes (and becomes humble), he will be gathered (to his fathers (he will die)) in his due time. If not, ‘They are cut off as the tops of the ears of corn,’” (Job, 24:24).

But, the lesson goes a step further … The Iyun Yaakov notes that arrogance (which leads to hatred) is not just something that individuals have to work on, but it extends to a community level as well. Raba said in the name of Zeiri, “Shimu v’ha’azeenu—hear (in the plural) and ‘give ear’ (also in the plural), be not proud (Sotah: 5). “What is happening in Israel has gone far past a debate between a chief judge and a proponent of reform, and is far more pervasive than a contest between two debating teams and their cheering squads. It conjures up images of gladiators fighting to the death, in front of amphitheaters of people calling for blood. But, now, we are at the point of the theater of the absurd, where reservists are threatening the viability of the Jewish defense forces, God forbid, is more dangerous than any foreign enemies. The cycle continues…

Those who arrogantly believe they know better than the majority of their fellow citizens are seeking to overturn an election, in effect, and have set in motion a chilling chain—whereby arrogance begets anger, which begets hatred, which begets violence, which begets death, which begets chaos, which begets massacres, which begets revolution, God forbid—all in the name of democracy.

It is time for every Israeli to step up, and then to step back, study the Daf Yomi and the Bible that it cites, and follow its teachings—instead of following the media and some maddened masses into the streets and the gutters and into the abyss of hatred, instead of to the negotiating table that was finally set up—with an open mind, humility, and positivity in a quest for restored and renewed Jewish unity.

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The author acknowledges Rabbi Shalom Rosner, whose lectures on the Daf Yomi inspired this article, but accepts full responsibility for the applications and references to current and past events not mentioned in the two pages on which these lectures focused, as well as any errors.

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Rabbi Aaron I. Reichel, Esq., writes, edits and/or supplements books on leaders who have asked many of the right questions, come up with inspiring and useful answers, and acted upon them – and encouraged others to do the same — for the betterment of their fellow Jews and, in many cases, non-Jews as well.

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