Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Yemenite Saga

By HaRav Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

“We cannot look at the man’s face if our little brother is not with us” [Bereisheet 44:26].


Recently more than two hundred thousand documents were published resulting from the investigation of the affair of the “Children of Yemen.” About a thousand children from among these immigrants “disappeared” in the early years of our country (the era of the “maabarot” – the shanty-towns), and their families, prodded on by various organizations, made accusations of scandals in their definite belief that this was the result of a concerted policy of the government of Israel and its various branches . According to the many stories that were heard throughout the years, (almost all) the children were sent to hospitals, from which they have not returned to this day. In past years, hundreds (?) of undocumented graves of nameless children have been found, showing that many of the missing children died. On the other hand, everybody agrees that the attitude of social welfare, medical, and absorption authorities towards the “primitive” Yemenite immigrants was haughty and patronistic.

One of the main complaints was and continues to be the question of why nobody took the trouble to find the families and to tell them about the deaths of their children, and to hand the bodies over to the burial societies. In partial defense, we can say that the inhabitants of the maabarot did not live at well-defined addresses, and the circumstances of mass absorption in the early days of the state were very difficult. This was especially true in the case of children, where the Yemenite immigrants did not understand how to manage and were not able to keep track of their children in the hospitals. The heartbreak of the families is touching, and a dark cloud envelopes the officials of the time, who showed a severe lack of sensitivity to what was going on. However, it is not reasonable to suggest that there were criminal actions by individuals. Not only has the time run out on the statute of limitations, but the circumstances are clouded and misty, and evidently the new 200,000 documents do not give any evidence for criminal or negligent behavior.

What about Kidnapping?

So much for a discussion of minor matters in this affair. However, the main accusation which has caused a great tumult in the Yemenite sector is a story that there was an organized movement under the auspices of the government authorities to “kidnap” the babies and hand them over for adoption in Israel and in the United States (to rich families who wanted to adopt a child, or to Holocaust survivors). The accusers also did not hold back from raising suspicions of “medical experiments” and the like. High-level whispers gave a picture of nightmarish scenarios, while it can clearly be seen in the new documents that these claims are a “blood libel” which has no basis in fact. I always felt that the “Yemenite speculation” against the “Ashkenazic nobility” was patently absurd. Such an operation could not have been carried out without the collusion of dozens of active participants. I cannot believe that in the sixty years that have passed nobody rose up – not a physician, or a nurse, an activist from WIZO or the Jewish Agency, an official from the medical authorities or a border smuggler – to make a deathbed confession that they took part in such organized crime at a personal and national level , in order to come to peace with their conscience before passing away. Our objective media investigators have not been able to find any proof of such a massive national conspiracy, which has been beating on our ears for decades. And finally, a very important point: It would be impossible to conceal massive adoption of Yemenite children by Ashkenazi families from a visual point of view. This blood libel is shattered by a wall of skin color!

Until now I have kept silent, like many others, out of a fear that the investigatory committees might have indeed found some evidence of criminal activity, as might have been implied by the fact that until now the material has been kept secret. However, now, to my great joy, the shadows have been pushed away! No evidence has been found of any organized kidnapping or of a system of widespread adoptions out of kindness.

I am fully aware that the families involved and organizations “for” and “against” will not let a small matter of a lack of evidence interfere with the historical accusation which has become a fundamental sectorial belief. And what better proof could there be than what has happened with the investigations of Arlozoroff’s assassination?

* * * * * *

The saga of Yosef, kidnapped and sold into slavery, rises up to taunt us anew every year. This fantastic story defies all logic, and in spite of Yosef’s meteoritic rise to power we are left with one unsolved key question, a challenge for any commentator – Why didn’t Yosef take the trouble to tell his father that he was still alive?

Ramban discusses this question: “We might wonder why he didn’t send a letter to his father to let him know the situation and to console him. After all, Egypt is a mere six-day trip from Chevron, and even if the distance would take a year to cover he should have notified his father, out of respect. The answer is that Yosef acted when he did in order to fulfill his dream (where his father and brothers bowed down to him, or to his bale of grain). Other early commentators did not like this explanation (Abarbanel, the “Akeidah”): “The one who sent the dream is responsible for making it come true,” not the dreamer! Others explain that Yosef waited to reveal himself in order to get the brothers to repent, specifically with respect to Binyamin. And here are some “modern” commentaries. Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun suggests a surprising idea: It was all a big mistake! Yosef expected his father to search for him, and when this did not happen Yosef felt that the Holy One, Blessed be He, had pushed him away like Eisav and Yishmael (“G-d has made me forget” [Bereisheet 41:49]). And the late Chanan Porat said: Yosef’s righteous feeling not to cause his father sorrow and to cover for his brothers took precedence over his personal emotions. Prof. Shalom Rosenberg suggests this was a case of repression as a result of trauma.

As for me, I am all for the approach of “a man of Tanach at the level of the sages,” as opposed to psychological reasoning “at eye level.” I therefore accept the mystical solution of the Ramban, based on the approach of the sages: “The tribes were busy with selling Yosef. Yosef was busy with his sackcloth and his fasting. Reuven was busy with his sackcloth and his fasting. And Yaacov was busy with his sackcloth and his fasting. Yehuda was busy looking for a wife. And the Holy One, Blessed be He, was busy creating the light of the King, the Machiach... ” [Bereisheet Rabba, Vayeishev, 85]. There is no point in analyzing the messianism of Yosef, which is wrapped up in the clouds of redemption...

(Written after the end of Shabbat, Torah portion of Mikeitz.)

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