The Babylonian Talmud teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. However, anyone who has learned the section of the Talmud (Gittin 55b) that details the genesis of the destruction of the Temple quickly deduces equal fault on the group of rabbis who sat idly by and stayed deafeningly silent in the face of this hatred – which served as a form of condoning the hatred and mean-spirited behavior as told in the Talmud. Thus, the rabbis were complicit in what unfolded to be the terrible tragedy of the destruction of the Second Temple.
While we have no temple today in Jerusalem, the same kind of silence by rabbinic and governmental leadership could be the reason the Jewish people lose the modern State of Israel.
Last week, another outrageous claim was made by a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis. The radical declaration du jour is that it is un-halachic (not religiously permissible) for Jews to sell or rent their land in Israel to non-Jewish people, including Palestinians. This law comes from a strange interpretation of an ambiguous text in the Rabbinic Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) and out of fear that non-Jews will take over all the land. This text is being misread and used against its original spirit and intent. Frighteningly, dozens of rabbis who lead communities within Israel, and each with significant followings, have signed this letter that is riddled with hypocrisy and racism.
Many of these very same rabbis sell their land to non-Jews every seven years during the sabbatical (shmitta) year when the Bible prohibits us to work land in Israel. To get around this issue, the rabbis created a legal fiction – much like the selling of leavened products on Passover – where we have use and rites over land that is not technically under our ownership during said sabbatical year. This exception highlights the hypocrisy of the ruling. Furthermore, which of these aforementioned rabbis would tolerate a letter written by priests within any country in Eastern Europe forbidding land sale to Jews? I would imagine in such a case the Anti-Defamation League, Yad Vashem, the United Nations, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and other groups that have as their charter to be a source of reason and tolerance would rise up in protest over such fanatic and racist behavior. Why should Israel be exempt from that moral code? Was not Israel built in the aftermath of such baseless decrees?
Today, the only democracy in the Middle East has a growing faction of rabbis – each paid governmental officials – behaving in an embarrassing and contradictory manner to the democratic essence and the Jewish nature of the State of Israel. Meanwhile, most of the leaders in the Israeli government and an overwhelming number of rabbis who have a sense of decency and strong ethical convictions are again sitting idly by with deafening silence. Their approach is to ignore this group and hope they go away. The problem is, they are not going away. Rather, they are growing in number and surprising the world weekly with another outrageous claim of Jewish law that offends and excludes countless people.
We must learn from our experiences and our texts. Rabbis and leaders, Knesset members and citizens, rise up! Liberate your courage and speak out against the fanatical and racist behavior that misrepresents Jews and Zionists worldwide. Not one of us can afford to have our silence understood as acceptance, lest we be seen as complicit in the destruction of the young, democratic, and Jewish State of Israel.