Thursday, June 02, 2016

The War of the "Thugs" in Jerusalem Lives On

By Zvulun Orlov

Self-Reckoning on "Yom Yerushalayim"

As one who was a newly-released Hesder student of the Nachal Paratroops and fought for the liberation of Jerusalem in the Fifty-fifth Brigade (Battalion 71), Jerusalem Day for me is first and foremost an occasion for my own personal blessing of thanks that I survived the fighting. A soldier from the Arab Legion "merely" managed to injure my knee (I walked on crutches for about a year...). As a result, I was moved over from the paratroops to the Jerusalem Brigade.

Forty-nine years later, I am still exhilarated by the memories of this great day. It began with preparations for parachuting for combat duty in Sinai and ended later in the day with the liberation of Jerusalem. With all of this in the background, I find that I am troubled today by the severe erosion of the excitement and the tremendously raised spirits that took hold of the entire Jewish nation, all over the world, after this great victory – as opposed to the very different confused reality today. I find myself worrying about the status of Jerusalem, in sharp contrast between the high spiritual level then and our current harsh internal struggles about the future of the city.

In an act of self-reckoning about the status of Jerusalem today and how we can guarantee its future, what we must do is review the stories of the destruction which we study during the Three Weeks and the Ninth of Av, in order to renew the lessons we were taught about preventing another destruction, heaven forbid. Specifically on of this day of celebration, I feel a need to study the lessons of the destruction in order to know how to work with determination in order to strengthen the spiritual status of the city (in heaven), together with its physical strength (down below). Even if this is not a popular approach, it seems to me to be correct and proper.

We cannot ignore the fact that the joy of this day has not been accepted by the entire nation but only by our own religious sector. We cannot deny the harsh disputes about the boundaries of the city and against those who demand that it be divided once again. How can we close our eyes to the limits that have been placed on the expansion which is so necessary in order to increase the Jewish population of the city? How can we remain silent in the face of Arab sections of the city which welcome terrorism with open arms? How can we reconcile ourselves to the financial weakness of the city because of a lack of sufficient budgets and funding by the national government? (Note that this is merely a partial list of existing problems, which I will not expand out of my respect for the city.)

Internal Disputes in Jerusalem

In the stories of the destruction (Gittin 56), the sages listed a number of reasons for the tragic events: baseless hatred in the story of Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza; the extreme modesty of Zecharia Ben Avkulus, who rejected the sacrifice that was sent by the Roman Caesar; the food reserves of Nakdimon Ben Gurion, Ben Kalba Savua, and Ben Tzitzit Hakesset, which were destroyed by thugs who rebelled against the rabbis; and other disputes and divisions. The sages did not choose a single reason for the destruction, and evidently the in the end the cause was a combination of all the elements that appear in the stories. The common denominator of all the reasons listed by the sages is that they were internal disputes and not external. The sages did not think to mention the military prowess of the Roman armies as an important reason for the defeat.

I find that what stands out in my mind is the story of the "biryonim" – the thugs. The sages felt that the best plan of action was a good defense, but the thugs burned the stores of food in the besieged city (which would have lasted for 21 years). They wanted to force the people to attack the Romans, an act which the rabbis felt was doomed to failure. This violent act against the wishes of the recognized leadership failed, and the city was conquered.

Isn't this story reminiscent of the belligerent actions of modern Jewish "thugs" against the Jewish state in general and against the integrity of Jerusalem in particular? Modern-day thugs do not burn warehouses. Instead, they "burn away" on the internet and on social networks, in demonstrations, anti-Semitic campaigns, boycotts, and actions aimed at delegitimizing the Jewish national homeland. We can conclude that "in each and every generation" there are thugs who rise up from within in order to revolt against the authorized leaders of the time.

As then, so today the problems of Jerusalem stem first and foremost from arguments among our own people and from internal disputes about the future of the city. When Jewish thugs, citizens of the land, slander the country and work against its best interests while the government does not spend all of its resources to cope with them, how will we ever convince the world that we are right? If we ourselves cannot reach an agreement about the future of the city and its boundaries, it will be difficult if not impossible to get the rest of the world to agree. The outside world did not accept that our capital was the western section of the city even before the Six Day War.

We should follow the path of our sages, who expended great efforts in order to neutralize "thuggery," attempted to prevent disputes in Jerusalem, and worked hard to enhance the level of national agreement about the city: "'Jerusalem which has been built up is a city that has been linked together' [Tehillim 122:3] – the city makes all of Yisrael into chaverim – pious colleagues" [Yerushalmi, Chagiga 21]. "Jerusalem was not parceled out among the tribes" [Yoma 12b]. Rashi explains, "When David bought the granary from Aravna of Yevus, he gathered money from each and every tribe." The Temple belongs to all of the tribes, even though it is in the heritage of Binyamin.

The war about the unity of Jerusalem and its status as our capital has not come to an end. Now the main front is within, fighting against the "thugs" of today. Only if we succeed in this struggle will we be able to succeed also on the external front, in the world as a whole.

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