“Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not, and upon the kingdoms that call not upon Thy name. For they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his habitation.”
These lines from Psalm 79 are familiar to us all from their recitation at the Passover seder, added when our Festival of Liberation was transformed, in Christian Europe, to a season of pogroms and blood libels.
The psalm itself, of course, long predates Christianity and the diaspora; as is clear from its opening verse, it targets “the heathen who are come into Thine inheritance; they have defiled Thy holy temple.”
These heathens – presumably Nebuchadnezzer’s Babylonians – “have given the dead bodies of Thy servants to be food unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of Thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. They have shed their blood like water round about Jerusalem, with none to bury them.”
Now, the psalm has been repurposed to pray for protection against a new enemy that has arisen.
Not Iran. Not Hamas. Not Vladimir Putin.
No, the new enemy, which hundreds of thousands of self-styled fervently Orthodox Jews gathered to protest, in Jerusalem and New York, is the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which planned this week to pass a law that would – ostensibly – require some yeshiva students to serve in the Israeli army.
(We say ostensibly because the law has been criticized as too little, too late; its most dramatic sanctions don’t kick in until 2017, allowing time for a new election and a more pro-charedi coalition to form.)
“50 Thousand Haredim March So Only Other Jews Die in War” is how the Jewish Press concisely put it – until, in response to the ultra-Orthodox backlash, the article was pulled down from the web and its author fired.
Most of those marching perhaps believed they were protesting the current incarnations of Pharaoh and Haman, as one Agudat Yisrael Knesset member at the New York rally put it. For some, that may be a sincere interpretation of a law that indeed would have the effect of moving members of the community from the cloisters of kollel to a real world of employment. Others, who have been fed only a diet of rabbinically controlled media, may really think that Israeli troops plan to empty the yeshivot.
In truth, Torah study and army services are not incompatible – as has been proved by decades of students and soldiers who combine the two at Orthodox hesder yeshivot. But it is true that the iron grip of charedi rabbis on their followers may well be lessened as they enter the workforce and the broader Israeli society.
Given the kind of hatred for most Jews evinced at the anti-draft rallies, that could only be a good thing.