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Judentum und Israel
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By Rabbi Uri Regev

The fourth Memorial Day of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (of blessed memory), at the hands of a Jewish religious zealot, is marked by a new debate, one which leads in a direct line to the action by an assassin who justifies his act by religious zealousness. This is a debate over the mere fact of observing the Memorial Day and the dignity of the victim of the assassination, who wished to fulfill one of the basic Jewish commandments: to plant the seeds of peace.

The State of Israel, as well as many in the enlightened world, mourn the untimely death of a leader, statesman, and foremost, the man who dared to advance the vision of peace, which for so many years has merely been a ephemeral wish.

Judaism sees the value of peace as the greatest divine blessing. Yitzhak Rabin tried with courage and wisdom, to give substantial content to the vision of peace.  In doing that, he contributed, consciously or unconsciously, to strengthen the values of Judaism.

On the eve of the Memorial Day and during this difficult day itself, we witnessed a new phenomenon.  It became clear that not everyone shares the grief. The education institutions of the Sephardi Ultra-Orthodox religious movement, Shas, were instructed by their rabbinic leaders to avoid mentioning the Memorial Day. The reason given by the Director of the Shas educational system Rabbi Maya was that their educators do not want to expose the pure souls of their pupils to the model of a "Shabbat violator".  According to Rabbi Maya, such a man, who does not observe the commandments, cannot be a role model.   He said that they do not ignore Rabin, rather they include him in their Israeli history studies alongside Ben Gurion and others.

In one of the Shas youth movement centers, photographs of Rabin were taken off the walls. Probably in order not to lead the children into sin, God forbid!

This phenomenon is disgusting on a day of national mourning declared by the Knesset in memory of the first Jewish Prime Minister whose blood was shed especially by a Jew calling himself religious. Shas, and others of their ilk, ignore this Memorial Day, and its meaning, the same as they ignore the rule of law in Israel.

This behavior is a siren signal urgently calling for serious soul searching. What is needed is a thorough examination of the deep gaps separating the Jewish communities in Israel, concerning their understanding of the basic values of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Freedom, Justice and Peace

In the coming weekly Torah portion, Parshat Vayera we read about what seems to me to be the central pillar of Judaism. "Now the LORD had said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him?  For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is just and right, in order that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.'"  ( Bereshit, Chapter 18:17 -19).

In these verses, we find the meaning of "the chosen people" and the divine plan in which the people of Israel should be partners with God -- the creation of an ideal society and tikkun olam. To my sorrow, tragically in Israel, the meaning of these verses have been distorted.

Rabbi Maya and his colleagues consider that a good Jew is one who observes the commandments concerning Shabbat, family purity, kashrut and the like. I do not mean in any way to belittle the importance of these elements in the Jewish tradition. The fact is that these were not God's conditions when he chose Abraham and his descendents to be his "chosen people". According to the clear words of the verses, the way of God is righteousness and justice. This basic Jewish value was adopted by the founders of Israel who incorporated this principle into the Declaration of Independence: "…will be founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace as envisioned by the prophets of Israel; will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex; will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."

The Withdrawal from Israel and authentic Jewish tradition

Those who claim to speak in the name of Judaism, like Rabbi Maya and others, do not only injure the memory of Yitzhak Rabin; more than that they withdraw from the nation and from authentic Jewish tradition. The Judaism that Israel needs is: "its ways are pleasantness and all its paths are peace" -- a Judaism that is based upon genuine Jewish brotherhood, a Judaism that includes our religious commitment towards all who are born in the image of God, whether Jew or gentile.  We need an understanding that the criteria for the Jewishness of the State of Israel is the measure of equality the State gives to its minorities, the measure of support given to weaker sectors of society, much more then stopping public transportation from running on Shabbat.

Only a tolerant Judaism, which goes hand in hand with the basics of democracy, will defend us from similar tragedy in the future.

Rabbi Uri Regev
Director, Israel Religious Action Center

haGalil 10-99
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