A Purim story for our times
by Jonathan Rosenblum
February 22, 2002
The Jewish people at the beginning of Megillat Esther are a dispirited and demoralized lot. The Megillah begins with the Achashverosh’s feast. Among the magnificent vessels displayed by Achashverosh were those taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed the feast itself celebrated, according to Achashversosh’s calculations, the non-fulfillment of the prophecy that the Jews would return from Exile after 70 years.
Despite Mordechai’s warning not to attend, the Jews eagerly joined in the feast in honor of their humiliation. The presence of the Temple vessels, serving as a potent reminder of the loss of their former glory, did nothing to stifle their eating and drinking.
When Haman sought to win over Achashverosh for his plan to annihilate the Jewish people, he described the Jews as a "scattered and separate people." At the most obvious level, Haman was warning Achashverosh that the Jews constitute a potential fifth column because they preserve their own customs.
But at a deeper level, Haman was hinting to the vulnerability of the Jews. They lack internal unity; they are dispersed and divided from one another.
Only when all the Jews of Shushan gathered together to fast for Esther before she appeared in front of Achashverosh to beg for her people, did the tide begin to turn. After the final deliverance from Haman and his allies, our Sages describe the Jews of the empire as "fulfilling that which they had already accepted." They accepted out of love, the Torah that they had previously accepted at Sinai out of fear.
The mishloach manos that we send to one another on Purim are a reminder of the unity and love for one another that joined the Jewish people at the conclusion of the story. Just as we accepted Torah as "one person with one heart" at Sinai, so too did we reaccept the Torah in Persia as one unified people.
THERE is no gainsaying the parallels between the Jews of Israel today and our ancestors at the opening of Megillat Esther. We too are a dispirited and humiliated lot. The Jews of Persia drank in full view of the Temple vessels mockingly displayed by Achashverosh. And we have shown total indifference to the systematic obliteration of our historical connection to the Temple Mount by the Moslem Wakf. At Camp David, we proved that nothing of our historical patrimony was non-negotiable.
No one has yet come forward with a plausible plan, or one commanding widespread support, to stanch the daily flow of Jewish blood. The upper echelons of the American government, according to news reports, are concerned that Israelis have lost their will. American government officials fear that the petition of reserve officers who refuse to serve in the territories heralds something like the breakdown that took place in America during the Vietnam war.
The kid gloves treatment, even glorification, with which the reservists have been treated by the media, and the support given them by prominent public figures, like former attorney-general Michael ben Yair and Ami Ayalon, reflects the desperation of the Left. Having failed to persuade the public of the possibility of a negotiated peace with the Palestinians, the Left now seeks to so demoralize Israel that we will have no choice but to sue for peace.
THIS week’s Supreme Court decision requiring the Interior Minister to list anyone bearing a conversion document from anywhere in the world as a Jew on the Israeli identity card strikes a further blow at Jewish unity in Israel. The principal recipients of that blow are all those traditional, and even secular, Jews who still bear the name "Jew" with pride. The name "Jew" has been drained of all value.
By declaring the word "Jew" to be incapable of definition, the Court effectively removed the nationality line from the identity card. A word that has no definition is meaningless, and that which is meaningless is as if it did not exist.
The logic of the decision makes access to a printing press the primary criterion for conversion. Conversion certificates issued by Humanistic Judaism, which denies the existence of G-d, or "secular conversions" ala Yossi Beilin would be equally valid, as would those of Jews for Jesus. If two "rabbis" belonging to diametrically opposed religions – what one (Torah Judaism) forbids, the other (Reform) permits (actually the latter permits anything so long as one is sincere); what one classifies as an abomination, the other celebrates -- can both issue certificates of conversion to "Judaism," why limit conversion to those with a piece of paper stamped "Rabbi?"
Even limiting the decision to Reform and Conservative conversions is sufficient to render the term "Jew" standardless, and thus meaningless. The Reform movement has no uniform conversion standards and recognizes the autonomy of every rabbi to set his own (just as it recognizes the autonomy of every individual to determine his "mitzvos.")
That includes hundreds of rabbis who openly advertise their conversion services for a fee in the Yellow Pages; that includes Rabbi Everett Gendler, who co-officiated with a Baptist minister, at the marriage of his daughter to the latter’s son, and the thousands of other Reform rabbis who perform intermarriages; that includes the Baltimore rabbi who officiated at the same-sex "marriage" of his assistant rabbi and the assistant rabbi himself.
Without rules, one cannot play chess. And by the same token, an identity that can mean anything loses all power to bind. David Ben-Gurion’s envisioned Jewish identity as the glue that would bind Jews from over 100 countries and as the link between the modern state and more than 3,000 years of Jewish history. That vision lies in the dustbin today.
Jews have always argued with one another about many things, but for more than three millennia they agreed about who was entitled to participate in the argument. The common thread was Sinai. One was a Jew because one’s maternal ancestors back to Sinai were Jews. Or one was a Jew because one had personally reenacted the acceptance of the Torah’s mitzvos at Sinai through conversion.
The tie to Sinai provided the bond between all Jews across time and space.
Our divided and weakened people must find its way back to Sinai, as we did in the days of Esther and Mordechai. The alternative is to fall prey to the Hamans of our generation.
Related Topics: Israeli Supreme Court, Pluralism
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