Friday, October 29, 2010



Dr. Abner Weiss, Rabbi





No, my lord.  Hear me out.  I have given [natati] the field to you, as well as the cave that is in it.  I have given it [netatiha] to you.  In the presence of the members of my people I have given it [netatiha] to you.  Bury your dead.  (Genisis 23:11)

Our text contains the Hebrew verb natan [give] three times.  The three-fold repetition of a word in a single biblical sentence is unusual, given the Torah’s well-known economy of language. Obviously, the repetition is deliberate  and invites interpretation. 

Many of the commentators stress its simple moral lesson.  Although Efron the Hitite, the owner of the property, says over and over again that it is his gift to Abraham, he has no hesitation in suggesting an exorbitant sum of money as payment.  His “talking the talk, but not walking the walk”, contrasts sharply with the Jewish ethical imperative: ”Say little, but do much,”  annunciated centuries later by Shammai. (Avot 2:15).

I believe that our text contains another crucial lesson.  Abraham was not naïve.  He was fully aware of the self-serving strategies of Efron.  He was not at all taken in by what Efron so clearly stated because he knew that Efron’s actual intentions were in stark contrast to his verbal generosity.  The Hittite political niceties were not to be taken at face value. 

Significantly, not withstanding  Efron’s politically correct statement,  Abraham knew that, if he wanted a piece of the promised land, he would have to pay dearly for it.  This is, I believe, the real message of our text:  If you want the promised land, do not rely on the words of others. In its Balfour Declaration, Great Britain promised that all the territory from the Jordan to the Mediterranean would be the Jewish homeland. But it emasculated its commitment by issuing White Paper after White Paper, reducing the size of the homeland, limiting Jewish immigration even during the Shoah, and thus implicitly encouraging  bloody anti Jewish  riots and massacres  in such places as Hebron. 

The Family of Nations  promised us a State by voting for the partition of Palestine in 1947, then stood back as we were invaded by seven Arab nations.  Promises after worthless promises.   Why is there a Jewish State today? It is because, like Abraham, we have paid for it be-achuzat kever, with precious Jewish lives, with many thousands of Jewish graves.

The Declaration of the Catholic Bishops this week is yet another striking reminder of the emptiness of diplomatic utterances.  Think back on the history of the Church’s relationship with the Jews.  In the view of the founders of the Christian faith, the Jewish rejection of their messiah-god  caused God to reject the Jewish people, by embracing the Christian community as the new Israel, and Rome as the new Jerusalem.  The Jew could thenceforward be legitimately persecuted, and  made permanently stateless as living testimony to the Church triumphant and Israel defeated.  

Raoul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews has convincingly demonstrated the parallel between Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws and centuries of Church decrees against the Jews.  The complicity of the Vatican with Hitler’s Third Reich remains a very black chapter  in the Church’s long, dark history of anti Semitism, and even in the aftermath of the Holocaust, even after the UN vote to enable the establishment of the State of Israel, the Vatican refused to recognize its existence. 

Naively, we rejoiced at the long delayed recognition of the Jewish State by the Catholic Church as an act of penance for its bloody past, foolishly believing that the horrible history of anti Jewish prejudice by the Church had finally ended. 
We should have known better.  We should long ago have learned not to trust diplomatic documents. 

Stop and think. Why were Catholic Bishops meeting in Rome?  Their agenda was  their concern for the safely and security of the diminishing and increasingly embattled Christian communities in the Muslim world.  The Declaration at the end of the convention conveniently shifted the blame for Muslim intolerance to the Jewish people.  The Clerics actually had the temerity to suggest that the Israeli “occupation” was the reason for the suffering of  Christian communities in Muslim countries. They declared that the Israeli political leadership arrogantly invoked the notion  of the Chosen People and scriptural promises about the Promised Land  to justify immoral, indeed abhorrent, political policies.  According to the Bishops, Israel’s Knesset had become the Devil quoting Scripture.  No matter that the largely secular Knesset has never invoked such claims, despite the price we have paid for the land be-achuzat kever, with our blood and Jewish graves, the Bishops again trumpet  the old anti Semitic  canards.

The more things change, the more they are the same.  The despicable Declaration of the Bishops is eerily reminiscent of the Vatican’s complicity in the Shoah, once more cynically ready to sacrifice Jews on the false belief that Christian communities will thereby be spared.   The chutzpah of the Bishop’s moral judgment about Israel is monumental.  The blatantly Machiavellian strategy of the Church is, on the contrary, itself a massive instance of immorality.  Besides, what makes the Church, itself  so deeply mired in accusations of widespread child-abuse and moral turpitude worldwide  an acceptable arbiter of  the ethical standards of others?

The disgusting Declaration by the Catholic Bishops reminds us yet again of the lesson of our text. Abraham taught us not to rely on the pretty words and politically correct promises of others.  He bought initial possession of the Holy Land with the grave of his beloved.  We have continued to do so.  We cannot, will not rely on the word of others.  We have long ago learned that there are no allies, but only interests-- and that interests change.  Our claim to the land of Israel does not change.  For us it is a matter of life and death. And we shall choose life, whether the Church likes it or not.  

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