Of turbines and power
by Jonathan Rosenblum
August 20, 1999
Not since Sonny Liston waded into Cassius Clay's right hand in the first round in Lewiston, Maine, has anyone set himself up for a one-punch knockout quite so successfully as Eli Suissa did last week. Had his purpose been to insure that the transport of the huge electric turbine section from Ramat Hasharon to Ashkelon take place on Shabbat, he could not have found a better way to do so than to threaten Shas's withdrawal from the government over the issue.
Suissa should have known that Barak eats those who threaten him for breakfast, and enjoys doing so. He is more than happy to cultivate an image of ruthlessness and to be feared rather than loved.
By throwing down the gauntlet as he did, Suissa provided Barak with an opportunity that was tailor-made for him. He could win points with Shinui and Meretz voters by demonstrating his disdain for Shabbat. More importantly, he could cut Shas down to size and demonstrate in the most public fashion possible how little leverage the party wields over him.
The prime minister's pure political agenda became crystal clear on Sunday, when he offered to discuss the feasibility of alternatives for subsequent transports. He had made his point and called Suissa's bluff. Now he would discuss the issue.
But if such alternatives exist, what was the urgency of ordering the first transport two hours before Shabbat? In fact, Barak knew that the Israel Electric Corporation had already prepared alternative plans, and that a majority of the directors of the corporation had concluded that those plans were feasible.
The halachic rule is that a Jew must sacrifice all his money rather than violate Shabbat. Jews throughout our history have lived according to that rule.
Needless to say, the willingness to watch all one's possessions go up in flames - where, of course, there is no threat to life - is incomprehensible to most Jews today. But, until recently, most Jews could at least relate to the 'ideas' of Shabbat (even if divorced from the actions that make those ideas real).
Shabbat allows us to connect with the Source of our being. Jews refrain from creative activity on Shabbat to remind ourselves that there is One Who created from nothing. From the fact of creation, it follows that our world is one of purpose and meaning, for why would a Being perfect and complete unto Himself have created a world and Man if He did not have some goal for them?
Not only does Shabbat allow us to see purpose in the world around us, it provides us with an opportunity to listen to the echo of the Divine within us. On Shabbat we experience ourselves as something more than ping-pong balls buffeted about by the pressures of day-to-day life. We have the opportunity to contemplate who and what we really are and how we can connect ourselves to some purpose beyond the satisfaction of our immediate needs.
Ahad Ha'am was surely right, that more than the Jews have guarded Shabbat, Shabbat has preserved the Jews. Our unique identity as a people has always been bound up with the observance and sanctification of Shabbat.
The heart sinks, then, to read that last week Jews lined the route of the turbine to cheer. Our politicians no doubt provoked some of this by resorting to political threats. But we as a nation must still take stock when the desecration of Shabbat becomes a cause for celebration.
When the prime minister speaks of his decision as guided by purely 'professional" considerations, he means that Shabbat is not even a value to be placed on the scale. Whatever cannot be reduced to a dollar sign does not exist.
Am Hofshi's suit to ban transport on any day other than Shabbat was explicitly predicated on the assumption that giving any weight to the desecration of Shabbat or the feelings of the Shabbat-observing population is by definition unreasonable. And one suspects that the High Court of Justice would have agreed had it been forced to decide the issue.
Has 'tens of millions for new ministers, but not one shekel for Shabbat" become our new national slogan? What if those protesting the transport had been environmentalists concerned with how moving such a large load would affect garter snakes whose habitat is adjacent to the road? Would Am Hofshi have rushed to the High Court to protect us against environmental extremists? Would anyone have lined the road to applaud the transport?
Among much of our intellectual elite, expressions of contempt for Judaism have become the measure of intellectual sophistication. Our leaders share amusing stories for journalistic profiles of how they horrified younger siblings by popping grapes into their mouths on Yom Kippur.
Disdain of Judaism is only part of a larger project of debunking all values that provide any link to the past or sense of pride in being Jewish.
The history departments of our universities and the textbooks that our schoolchildren read are increasingly dominated by the 'new historians.' Ilan Pappe, a leading member of this group, describes it as a revolutionary movement that has taken root in all areas of Israeli intellectual life, whose purpose is to 'reconsider the validity of the quest for a Jewish nation-state in what used to be geographic Palestine.'
But children raised to believe that we stole the land in the manner of European colonialists will feel little reason to continue living here when opportunity beckons elsewhere. After all the old 'myths' have been skewered, leaving only end-of-the-millennium cynicism and crass materialism, where, one wonders, will we find the strength to survive in what remains a rough neighborhood?
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Society
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