Tag Archives: tribes

On the Virulence of Rage

The Parable of the Tribes (Vayishlach 5775)

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Originally published December 2, 2014 at www.rabbisacks.org
where you can read more of Rabbi Sacks’ work (audio available)
or follow him on Twitter @RabbiSacks

From beginning to end, Genesis 34 tells a terrifying story. Dina, Jacob’s daughter – the only Jewish daughter mentioned in the entire patriarchal narratives – leaves the safety of home to go out to “look at the daughters of the land.” She is raped and abducted by a local prince, Shechem, son of the king of the town known as Shechem.

Jacob learns of this fact but does nothing until his sons return. Shimon and Levi, Dina’s brothers, immediately realise that they must act to rescue her. It is an almost impossible assignment. The hostage-taker is no ordinary individual. As the son of the king, he cannot be confronted directly. The king is unlikely to order his son to release her. The other townspeople, if challenged, will come to the prince’s defence. It is Shimon and Levi against the town: two against many. Even were all of Jacob’s sons to be enlisted, they would still be outnumbered.

Shimon and Levi therefore decide on a ruse. They agree to let Dina marry the prince but they make one condition. The members of the town must all be circumcised. They, seeing long term advantages to an alliance with this neighbouring tribe, agree. The men of the town are weakened by the operation, and the pain is most acute on the third day. That day, Shimon and Levi enter the town and kill the entire male population. They rescue Dina and bring her home. The other brothers then plunder the town.

Jacob is horrified. “You have made me odious to the people of the land,” he says. What then were we supposed to do, ask the two brothers? “Should we have left our sister to be treated like a prostitute?” With that rhetorical question, the episode ends and the narrative moves elsewhere. But Jacob’s horror at the action of his sons does not end there. He returns to it on his deathbed, and in effect curses them:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers—

their swords are weapons of violence.

Let me not enter their council,

let me not join their assembly,

for they have killed men in their anger

and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.

Cursed be their anger, so fierce,

and their fury, so cruel!

I will scatter them in Jacob

and disperse them in Israel. (Gen. 49: 5-7)

This is an extraordinary passage. It seems to lack any kind of moral message. No one comes out of it well. Shechem, the prince, would seem to be the chief villain. It was he who abducted and raped Dina in the first place. Hamor, his father, fails to reprimand him or order Dina’s release. Shimon and Levi are guilty of a horrendous act of violence. The other brothers engage in looting the town.[1] Jacob seems passive throughout. He neither acts nor instructs his sons on how to act. Even Dina herself seems at best to have been guilty of carelessness in going out into the town in the first place, in what was clearly a dangerous neighbourhood – recall that both Abraham and Isaac, her grandfather and great grandfather, had feared for their own lives because of the lawlessness of the times.[2]

Who was in the right and who in the wrong are left conspicuously undecided in the text. Jacob condemns his sons. But his sons reject the criticism.

The debate continued and was taken up by two of the greatest rabbis in the Middle Ages. Maimonides takes the side of Shimon and Levi. They were justified in what they did, he says. The other members of the town saw what Shechem had done, knew that he was guilty of a crime, and yet neither brought him to court nor rescued the girl. They were therefore accomplices in his guilt. What Shechem had done was a capital crime, and by sheltering him the townspeople were implicated.[3] This is, incidentally, a fascinating ruling since it suggests that for Maimonides the rule that “all Israel are responsible for one another” is not restricted to Israel. It applies to all societies. As Isaac Arama was to write in the fifteenth century, any crime known about and allowed to continue ceases to be an offence of individuals only and becomes a sin of the community as a whole.[4]

Nahmanides disagrees.[5] The principle of collective responsibility does not, in his view, apply to non-Jewish societies. The Noahide covenant requires every society to set up courts of law, but it does not imply that a failure to prosecute a wrongdoer involves all members of the society in a capital crime.

The debate continues today among Bible scholars. Two in particular subject the story to close literary analysis: Meir Sternberg in his The Poetics of Biblical Narrative[6] and Rabbi Elhanan Samet in his studies on the parsha.[7] They too arrive at conflicting conclusions. Sternberg argues that the text is critical of Jacob for both his inaction and his criticism of his sons for acting. Samet sees the chief culprits as Shechem and Hamor.

Both point out, however, the remarkable fact that the text deliberately deepens the moral ambiguity by refusing to portray even the apparent villains in an unduly negative light. Consider the chief wrongdoer, the young prince Shechem. The text tells us that “His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, ‘Get me this girl as my wife.’” Compare this with the description of Amnon, son of King David, who rapes his half sister Tamar. That story too is a tale of bloody revenge. But the text says about Amnon that after raping Tamar, he “hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, ‘Get up and get out!’” (2 Samuel 13: 15). Shechem is not like that at all. He falls in love with Dina and wants to marry her. The king, Shechem’s father, and the people of the town, readily accede to the Shimon and Levi’s request that they become circumcised.

Not only does the text not demonise the people of Shechem. Neither does it paint any of Jacob’s family in a positive light. It uses the same word “deceit” (34: 13) of Shimon and Levi that it has used previously about Jacob taking Esau’s blessing and Laban substituting Leah for Rachel. Its description of all the characters, from the gadabout Dina to her excessively violent rescuers, to the plundering other brothers and the passive Jacob, the text seems written deliberately to alienate our sympathies.

The overall effect is a story with no irredeemable villains and no stainless heroes. Why then is it told at all? Stories do not appear in the Torah merely because they happened. The Torah is not a history book. It is silent on some of the most important periods of time. We know nothing, for example, about Abraham’s childhood, or about 38 of the forty years spent by the Israelites in the wilderness. Torah means “teaching, instruction, guidance.” What teaching does the Torah want us to draw from this narrative out of which no one emerges well?

There is an important thought experiment devised by Andrew Schmookler known as the parable of the tribes.[8] Imagine a group of tribes living close to one another. All choose the way of peace except one that is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. What happens to the peace-seeking tribes? One is defeated and destroyed. A second is conquered and subjugated. A third flees to some remote and inaccessible place. If the fourth seeks to defend itself it too will have to have recourse to violence. “The irony is that successful defence against a power-maximising aggressor requires a society to become more like the society that threatens it. Power can be stopped only by power.”[9]

There are, in other words, four possible outcomes: [1] destruction, [2] subjugation, [3] withdrawal, and [4] imitation. “In every one of these outcomes the ways of power are spread throughout the system. This is the parable of the tribes.” Recall that all but one of the tribes seeks peace and has no desire to exercise power over its neighbours. However, if you introduce a single violent tribe into the region, violence will eventually prevail, however the other tribes choose to respond. That is the tragedy of the human condition.

As I was writing this essay in the summer of 2014, Israel was engaged in a bitter struggle with Hamas in Gaza in which more than 1,000 people died. The state of Israel had no more desire to be engaged in this kind of warfare than did our ancestor Jacob. Throughout the campaign I found myself recalling the words earlier in our parsha about Jacob’s feelings prior to his meeting with Esau: “Jacob was very afraid and distressed” (Gen. 32: 8), about which the sages said, “Afraid, lest he be killed, distressed lest he be forced to kill.”[10] What the episode of Dina tells us is not that Jacob, or Shimon and Levi, were right, but rather that there can be situations in which there is no right course of action; where whatever you do is wrong; where every option involves the abandonment of some moral principle.

That is Schmookler’s point, that “power is like a contaminant, a disease, which once introduced will gradually but inexorably become universal in the system of competing societies.”[11] Shechem’s single act of violence against Dina forced two of Jacob’s sons into violent reprisal and in the end everyone was either contaminated or dead. It is indicative of the moral depth of the Torah that it does not hide this terrible truth from us by depicting one side as guilty, the other as innocent.

Violence defiles us all. It did then. It does now.

e-sig

[1] Disapproved of biblically: see Deut. 13: 13-19, 1 Samuel 15: 13-26, Esther 9: 10, 15-16.

[2] The Midrash is critical of Dina: see Midrash Aggadah (Buber) to Gen. 34: 1. Midrash Sechel Tov is even critical of her mother Leah for allowing her to go out.

[3] Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim 9: 14.

[4] Arama, Akedat Yitzhak, Bereishit, Vayera, Gate 20, s.v. uve-Midrash.

[5] Nahmanides, Commentary to Genesis 34: 13.

[6] Sternberg, Meir. The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985. 444-81.

[7] Elhanan Samet, Iyyunim be-Parshat ha-Shevuah, third series, Israel: Yediot Aharonot, 2012, 149-171.

[8] Andrew Bard Schmookler, The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution. Berkeley: U of California, 1984.

[9] Ibid., 21.

[10] Quoted by Rashi ad loc.

[11] Schmookler, ibid., 22.

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Filed under Chicanery, Conflict, Esoterics, Life, Love, Reason

A Peace of Jerusalem

NB: This document version is frozen as it appeared on Feb. 4, 2013.
The live, evolving version of the document can be found @ apoji.org

 

An innovative proposal for long-term Semitic harmony in the Middle East based on ideas from hundreds of ordinary people — 2,000 words (or less!)


 

Initiated: October 27, 2009

 
  First iteration: November 5, 2009
  2010 core text agreed: August 7, 2010
  2010 print edition: December 13, 2010
  2011 edits: February 11 — May 12, 2011
  2012 edits finalised: December 22, 2012
 

Updated: January 31, 2013 — 10:05 JT

 


 
Participation is open to all. Your creative ideas are the lifeblood of this initiative and all constructive criticisms are welcome. The privacy default is ‘anonymous’ but participants are free to self-identify.

Confidential submissions can be made using this form. Public comments are subject to reasonable moderation. This document may change incrementally over time and without notice. How would you improve it?

Be creative but concise, fearless but polite… 

 

 

  

a peace of jerusalem

 

Preamble    


THERE
S A celebrated tale that provides insight into the wisdom of Solomon (Shlomo/Suleiman), son of David (Dovid/Dawoud), King of ancient Israel, and builder of the Temple of Jerusalem:

A newborn was brought before the King in his judgment of a case between two women, each of whom claimed to be the mother of the infant. 

Though a judge of the rarest quality—and despite having conducted a series of tests—Solomon could not determine who was telling the truth. Seeming to be stumped, he called for his swordsman to evenly divide the baby between the women, whereupon one of them tearfully begged the King to spare the child’s life and award it to the other.

By this mercy he discerned the identity of the true mother.

Despite its great antiquity, Jerusalem is easily imagined in the role of the child. The world stands divided over it, some battling for sole custody, some pleading for a split, and all appearing eager to receive their due. However, according to Solomon’s judgment, and as reflected in modern-day family case law, any such critical decisions must clearly favour the interests of the child.

Imagination, pragmatism, love and divine inspiration will surely be central to the creation of any successful plan for enduring peace, but who would have the authority (and the right) to judge the merits of such a case? In the absence of Solomon and his legendary wisdom, it would have to be ‘the people’.

Each individual is a well of possibility and a reservoir of sacred sovereignty. United in common purpose, even the impossible seems somehow less so.

 
    Respectfully,

    – the editors
 
 


 

 
 
Index

I.
   Land of the Covenant
II.
   States in the Balance
III.
   Mutually-Independent Rights of Return
IV.
   Representation and Taxation
V.
   Basic Services, Education & Health Care
VI.
   National Borders
VII.
   Rights of Passage
VIII.
   The Jerusalem Capital Region
IX.
   The Old City
X.
   Security, Order & Defence

 
 
 
 


Word count: 1,867 (2K max.)

 

 

I. Land of the Covenant
 
Let us imagine: two states, conjoined in peace; and two peoples, bound by blood and by a shared love for Jerusalem (Yerushalayim/Ursalim), the place so deeply revered by their common patriarch Abraham (Avraham/Ibrahim).

It was in Jerusalem, upon the Mount (Har haBayith/Haram Ash-Sharif), that the angel stayed Abraham’s hand, as G‑d dramatically (and forever) repudiated ritual human sacrifice — a torturous test of a man’s utter devotion to G‑d and a stirring, implied decree to guard against the senseless forfeiture of life.

The foundations of the Arab and Jewish peoples were both laid in Jerusalem, where Abraham circumcised his son Ishmael (Yishmael/Ismail) and his son Isaac (Yitzhak/Ishaq).

Isaac’s son Jacob (Ya’acov/Yacoub), also known as Israel, would father twelve tribes (B’nai Yisrael/Bani Israil) and become namesake to the modern Jewish state. The destiny of Ishmael (though a Jew by patrimony and rite) would carry him South, to sire the twelve tribes of Arabia.

 

II. States in the Balance
 
To mitigate problems arising from inevitable demographic shifts over time, a special permanent resident class (endowed with rights of residency that are irrevocable but renounceable and non-inheritable) should be established in Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel) and in the new Arab state, such that:

  • an Arab citizen of Israel could:
       retain Israeli citizenship; or
       claim citizenship in the Arab state, while retaining…
           – special permanent residency rights in Israel; and
           – a future one-time right to reclaim individual Israeli citizenship
     
  • an Israeli citizen currently residing in the West Bank could:
       retain Israeli citizenship and become a
         special permanent resident of the Arab state; or
       claim citizenship in the Arab state, while retaining…
           – a future one-time right to reclaim individual Israeli citizenship
               with special permanent residency rights in the Arab state

This arrangement should limit the need for physical population exchanges upon execution of a final agreement while allowing Israel to democratically maintain its character as a uniquely Jewish state that guarantees political participation for its citizens and permanent residents — and freedom of worship for all.

The new Arab state, herein provisionally referred to as Dawlat Ismail (State of Ishmael) or simply as Ismail, would enshrine similar guarantees of religious and secular freedom in its founding charter.

A child born in Israel or Ismail to a special permanent resident of that state would inherit citizenship from his/her parent(s) and, upon attaining age of majority, might opt to become a citizen of the state in which s/he was born.

Each state would pledge to make every reasonable effort to accommodate the safe passage of pilgrims, tourists and other visitors between the two states.

Each state would vow to serve and protect the personal and collective interests of the people under its jurisdiction, regardless of religion, race, gender, political affiliation or citizenship.

Each state would aver to protect and to preserve, without prejudice, all the Holy Places under its mandate.

 

III. Mutually-Independent Rights of Return
 
Each state would be free to set its own policy for the return of its people from the diaspora, with all future “returnees” (Hebrew: olim; Arabic: waa’ilin) becoming resident citizens of whichever state repatriates them.

A “returned citizen” of either nation, once established in his/her new homeland for two years, could petition for residency in the other state, with the approval of both governments, and with priority being given to requests from waa’ilin who resided in present-day Israeli territory prior to 1948. Urgent humanitarian cases would be considered on an expedited basis.

A regime for the compensation of displaced persons should be agreed by all regional states under a comprehensive treaty on refugees and human rights.

 

IV. Representation and Taxation
 
Citizens would vote in the national elections of their respective homelands but would vote in municipal and district/governate elections based on residency.

Revenues from income taxes paid by individuals who are citizens of one state, but who are special permanent residents of the other, would be divided equally between the two states. Tax would be calculated using the methods established by the state in which the income is earned.

Given the disparity between average incomes in Israel and those in the West Bank and Gaza, this revenue splitting arrangement should provide significant economic stimulus for Dawlat Ismail and help to fund the settlement of those making the Arab “ruqia” (Hebrew: aliyah; English: ascent). 

Property tax would be paid to the state, district/governate or municipality in which the property is located.

Sales tax, if applicable, would be paid to the state in which a purchase is made.

 

V. Basic Services, Education & Health Care
 
The enhanced tax base of Dawlat Ismail, along with an expected surge in foreign investment and donations, should contribute substantially to the development of critical infrastructure for the diffusion of services across Ismail’s numerous, fast-growing communities.

State-funded education programs (on either side of a future border) would be required to openly publish their curricula in order to encourage fairness and accuracy of content.

National health insurance premiums, if applicable, would be paid based upon residency, but a citizen of either state would always be free to seek treatment in his/her national homeland.

 

VI. National Borders
 
The division of territory between the West Bank and Israel is seen as generally agreeing with the path of the “Green Line”, with any deviations and associated land-swaps to be negotiated by the parties to a final-status agreement.

The Israel-Gaza border is well-defined, having effectively gained international recognition via the 1949 Egypt-Israel Armistice Agreement, but this proposal suggests a modest expansion of Gaza by gifts of territory from Israel and Egypt, as a gesture of goodwill, and to contribute to the security of these nations by distancing Gaza’s extensive tunnel network from its newly-enlarged borders.

 

VII. Rights of Passage
 
Israel would apportion lands for the creation of road and light rail corridors (above- and/or below-ground) to facilitate travel, commerce and social links between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Security at both ends of each pathway would be jointly managed by Ismail and Israel, with security of the intervening distance (in-corridor) being managed by Ismail and remotely monitored by Israel. The efficacy of this regime should be reviewed periodically to improve system effectiveness and eventually obviate the need for Israeli inspection of rail & motor passengers at the termini.

Commercial goods passing through such conduits would be subject to on-going inspection by customs officials of both states.

Recognising the importance of these corridors to Ismail’s culture and economy, Israel would undertake to minimise delays or closures associated with imminent security threats, health or weather emergencies, natural disasters, etc.

Sovereignty over all such apportioned lands would remain with Israel.

A suitable air traffic regime should be agreed between the parties.

 

VIII. The Jerusalem Capital Region
 
Jerusalem is the national capital of the modern state of Israel and remains, as ever, the singular direction of prayer (mizrach/qibla) for all Jews worldwide.

Jerusalem and its many surrounding communities (on either side of an agreed border) would constitute the Jerusalem Capital Region and share in a common infrastructure network for meeting such basic needs as water, power and waste management.

This network would be directed by a proposed Jerusalem Stewardship Board dedicated to ensuring the highest quality of life for all Capital Region residents. The Board, half elected by the residents of the Capital Region, half appointed by the governments of Israel and Ismail, would shepherd the implementation of appropriate planning, building and environmental codes.

Ismail’s capital would be established in an eastward expansion of Jerusalem contiguous to the Old City along some measure of its easterly perimeter. The exact determination of this contiguity (as well as the basic configuration of the Capital Region) would be decided between the negotiating parties, taking into account matters of culture and faith, geography and demographics, as well as concerns related to the land and its waters, and to the preservation of peace upon them.

There would be a city council and mayoralty office for each side of the border.

The official work week in the Capital Region would be four days, Monday through Thursday, with all government offices closed Friday through Sunday.

 

IX. The Old City (less than 1 km² of land)
 
Rising above Jerusalem’s Holy Basin, the Old City, with its hallowed steps and ancient quarters, serves as sacred platform to the stony font from which the spirit of Jerusalem flows.

As it can be considered neither “east” nor “west” of itself, Jerusalem’s Old City would constitute a separate legal entity managed by a Regency Council with an identical number of members appointed by Israel, Ismail, the Chief Rabbinate, the Islamic Waqf, and the Vatican.

Council activities would be officiated by a Civil Sheriff elected to a five-year term by the residents of the Capital Region from a slate of candidates pre-approved by four of the Council’s five primary seats, with unanimity preferred.

Passage of routine measures in Council would require five primary-level votes, whether obtained by consensus of the five primary Council members or by support of four seats with the assent of the Sheriff.

Critical issues, such as those relating to the status quo of the Old City, would require unanimous support in Council and confirmation by twin, national referenda in Medinat Yisrael and Dawlat Ismail.

Religious and cultural groups could petition the offices of any of the primary members to represent their interests at Council. Those with current standing in the Old City (houses of worship, shrines, cemeteries and other properties) could petition the Council directly on a case-by-case basis.

Mundane civil disputes and crimes committed in the Old City (G‑d forbid) would devolve to a special Magistrate’s court operating independently of either state’s judiciary but affiliated to both. Appointments to the court would be made by Council with the assent of each state’s Chief Justice.

Basic services to the Old City should be freely provided by the Capital Region infrastructure network.

 

X. Security, Order & Defence
 
Responsibility for security in West Bank Areas “B” & “C” would be transferred to Dawlat Ismail on a flexible timetable based upon clear goals decided between the parties. Responsibility for security in Gaza would pass to Ismail within 90 days. (The Palestinian Authority, whose mandate will be subsumed by the new state, presently commands security in Area “A”.)

A permanent Canadian peacekeeping force, reporting to the Sheriff and engaging cooperatively with the security services of both states, would provide general security within the Old City; render personal protection for the Regency Council; guide Ismail in its development of a robust, responsible and accountable police force; ensure reasonable freedom of access to designated Holy Places; and help to maintain order in the Capital Region.

Protection of Ismail against foreign attack would be undertaken by Israel acting in concert with Ismail’s security services and the peacekeeping team. Ismail’s defence would be bolstered by Jordan in the East and by Egypt in the West.

The security of Israel would be tremendously enhanced by a peace treaty with the League of Arab States and by Israel’s formal diplomatic recognition by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
 
 
 
 
 


 
 

 

.

 

There’s a sort of existential futility–and no small irony–inherent in
man’s claiming of land, for in the end, it’s the land that claims us all.
 
This may nowhere be so true as it is in Jerusalem.
 

.
 
 
.
 

It is our fondest hope that the boundaries which separate us
will
be overgrown in time with vines bearing fruit enriched
by the bloom
of tolerance; that we might all derive sustenance
from such bounty; and that, years from now, it will be difficult
to remember
why it seemed so incredibly hard to find peace
 
.
 
 

.


May this work be found pleasing

in the eyes of G‑d, Blessed be He,

to Whom all glory is due
 
.
 
.


 


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