In Search of Edom

Yesterday saw the third field trip in the current Yad Ben Zvi series of Bible tours, “929 on the map of Israel“, about which I have written in the past, on more than one occasion. We are now well into the study of the so-called “Twelve Minor Prophets” and today, we finished the reading of the third and final chapter of The Book of Habakkuk. The Yad Ben Zvi field trips, however, take place only once a month and cannot possibly cover all the smaller books of the Bible. They have to pick and choose. Yesterday’s field trip was therefore devoted to a prophet whom we actually finished reading several weeks ago – Obadiah.

The Book of Obadiah must surely be the shortest book in the entire Bible, consisting, as it does of only one chapter – a mere 21 verses. Moreover, that one chapter is addressed, not to Israel or Judah, but to Edom.

We do not know exactly who Obadiah was. With most of the other prophets, we know at least their father’s names and where they came from, and often, they tell us in whose reign they prophesied. But Obadiah is anybody’s guess. The Talmud tells us he was that same Obadiah who was in charge of the household of Ahab, son of Omri, King of Israel (and husband of the infamous Queen Jezebel) and that he was, himself, an Edomite convert to Judaism. On the other hand, many scholars believe that the language of the book indicates that Obadiah actually witnessed the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, and the treacherous behaviour of the Edomites at that time, over two and a half centuries after Ahab’s reign, and so could not have been the same man.

At any rate, in order to understand the Book of Obadiah, it is important to remember that the hostility (if that is not too mild a word to use) between Israel/Judah and Edom went back many generations – even before the birth of Esau and Jacob, from whom they were descended.

The Bible tells us (Genesis 36:1) that Esau and Edom were one and the same. In addition, we are told (Genesis 25:21-26) that the brothers struggled with each other while still in their mother Rebekah’s womb and that God told her: “Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.

We also learn that hundreds of years later,the Edomites refused passage to the Israelite former slaves, on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land (See Numbers 20:14-21). In their request, the Israelites refer to the kinship (“your brother”) between themselves and the Edomites. It is this relationship which makes the behaviour of the Edomites so execrable in the eyes of Obadiah (Obadiah v.10, v.12).

For the violence done to thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever…..But thou shouldest not have gazed on the day of thy brother in the day of his disaster, neither shouldest thou have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress.

Bearing all this in mind, we set off yesterday, on an unusually mild day (for January), in search of Edom (or, at least, Edom in their expansionist mode) in the northern Negev. (Edom’s heritage, according to the Bible, was beyond the River Jordan, in today’s Kingdom of Jordan.)

Our first stop was Tel Arad. Arad is mentioned in the Bible (Numbers 21:1), in connection with the hostile actions of its king against the Israelites. There are Canaanite remains at Tel Arad, but it was the later levels which interested us. Tel Arad was one of a series of fortresses guarding the southern approaches of the Kingdom of Judah against Edomite encroachment. Archaeological excavations have unearthed many layers of settlement, pre-Israelite, Israelite and post-Israelite. One of the most interesting is the fortress from the 8th century BCE, which contained a Sanctuary which appears to have been a scaled-down version of the Temple in Jerusalem, with a hall, shrine and Holy of Holies.

 

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The ruins of the Sanctuary can be seen in the lower right hand corner.

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Close-up of the Sanctuary, with the Holy of Holies and two incense altars in the foreground

 

You may recall that in the Book of Kings, we are told of each king in turn either that “he did that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord”, or that “he did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord”, but even of the latter, there is the almost inevitable rider “Howbeit the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and offered in the high places.”  This is not necessarily to be taken as meaning that they worshipped other gods but that, in violation of the prohibition on bringing sacrifices to the God of Israel anywhere but at the Temple in Jerusalem, they set up altars to Him in other places. It is possible that there was a measure of religious syncretisation, with offerings being made, both to the God of Israel and to foreign (Canaanite) gods, as we shall see shortly. It appears that the Sanctuary found at Tel Arad (as well as similar temples elsewhere in Israel and Judah) was one of these “high places”.

It is not until we reach the reign of Hezekiah, that we find a King of Judah who not only “did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done” but also put in place a religious reformation and “removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah”.

If we look closely at the Holy of Holies in the Sanctuary at Tel Arad, we can see two standing stones and two incense altars, still containing remnants of incense. Why two? It is possible that this indicates joint worship of the God of Israel and the female deity, Asherah. At all events, this Sanctuary was destroyed sometime in the 8th century BCE (round about the time of the reign of Hezekiah), by the building of a wall right through it, but the incense altars, instead of being smashed, or re-used in later building, had been laid reverently on their sides and that is how they were found, two and a half millenia later. This might be because they did, indeed, serve in the worship of the God of Israel and so those responsible for abolishing “the high places” would not have wished to destroy them utterly, but preferred to store them (Genizah), as Torah scrolls are stored, prior to religious burial, but never destroyed. Or, possibly, those who participated in some form of syncretised worship of the God of Israel and the Asherah, faced with the order to cease, merely “stored” the altars, with the hope of returning to them at some time in the future, when the government in Jerusalem was more favourable to such things, or, at least, ready to turn a blind eye. It is impossible to know for sure.

Another important find at Tel Arad was a collection of dozens of ostraca, many of which date to the last decades before the Babylonian conquest of Judah (597 BCE). The Edomites, as we know, sided with Babylon and therefore it is easy to understand the alarm evident in ostraca #24 and #40.

#24

From Arad 50 and from Kin[ah]…
and you shall send them to Ramat-Negev by the hand of Malkiyahu the son of Kerab’ur and he shall hand them over to Elisha the son of Yirmiyahu in Ramat-Negev, lest anything should happen to the city. And the word of the king is incumbent upon you for your very life! Behold, I have sent to warn you today: [Get] the men to Elisha: lest Edom should come
there.

#40
“Your son Gemar[yahu] and Nehemyahu gre[et] Malkiyahu; I have blessed [you to the Lor]d and now: your servant has listened to what [you] have said, and I [have written] to my lord [everything that] the man [wa]nted, [and Eshiyahu ca]me from you and [no] one [gave it to] them. And behold you knew [about the letters from] Edom (that) I gave to [my] lord [before sun]set. And [E]shi[yah]u slept [at my house], and he asked for the letter, [but I didn’t gi]ve (it). The King of Judah should know [that w]e cannot send the […, and th]is is the evil that Edo[m has done].”

The Arad fortress was also well-supplied with water, having a large reservoir, into which we descended via a tortuous, winding staircase.

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I mentioned that Tel Arad was one of a series of fortresses guarding the southern approaches to the Kingdom of Judah. It is strategically positioned on high ground above the surrounding desert and is within view of other fortresses, such as our next stop, Hurvat ‘Uza, a multi-layered site where both Israelite and Edomite artefacts were found and which controls a strategic path into the Judean heartland, through Nachal Kina, which it overlooks. 

The view over Nachal Kina is spectacular – and frightening. I was careful to stay well clear of the edge, fearful of the enormous drop to the riverbed below.

 

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Nachal Kina is so-called because the Kenites settled there. The ancient name is preserved in the name by which it is known to the Bedouin – Wadi Kini. The Kenites were on friendly terms with the Israelites. For this reason, when King Saul attacked the Amalekites on the border with Egypt (ie. in the Negev), he warned the Kenites, who were living among them:

And Saul said unto the Kenites: ‘Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them; for ye showed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt.’ So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.
And Saul smote the Amalekites, from Havilah as thou goest to Shur, that is in front of Egypt.” (I Samuel,15: 6-7)

The Kenites, therefore, moved eastwards and settled in the area of the wadi which now bears their name.

However, it is time to return to the Edomites. I mentioned that, at Hurvat ‘Uza, both Israelite (Judean) and Edomite artefects were found. I would like to mention  in particular, an ostracon in Hebrew, listing Israelite names – men’s names, including their fathers’ name and their place of origin. According to our guide, this is part of a list of men called to serve in the fortress. Why else would you have men from different towns gathered together in one place? He likened it to IDF reserve duty (miluim) call-up papers.

As for the Edomite ostracon, from shortly after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, it illustrates for us the Edomite encroachment into Judean lands and explains Obadiah’s anger at the way the Edomites took advantage of the fall of Jerusalem to lay their hands on Judean possessions:

In the day that thou didst stand aloof, in the day that strangers carried away his substance, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them….Thou shouldst not have entered into the gate of My people in the day of their calamity; yea, thou shouldst not have gazed on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor have laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity.” (Obadiah v.11, v.13).

The days are short in January, so we did not have much more than an hour or so at Hurvat ‘Uza – having spent much longer than intended at Tel Arad. The day was already waning and with the setting of the sun, the wind was rising. It can get very cold at night in the Negev desert. We therefore had to cut short our visit, reluctantly, and return to the bus where we could sum up the day’s lesson in warmth and relative comfort, before heading home for Jerusalem.

 

 

 

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Here Comes (Not) The Bride

Yesterday, over seventy nations took part in a so-called “Peace Conference” in Paris, allegedly to further the “Peace Process” between Israel and  the so-called “Palestinians”.

What a farce!

What kind of a “Peace Conference” can there be when neither of the rival parties is present?
Neither Israel, nor the “Palestinians” were present at the event.

What kind of “Peace Conference” requires the presence of seventy nations who have, in the past, demonstrated time and again their hostility to one party to the conflict (Israel) and their willingness to completely ignore the obstinacy and refusal to negotiate of the other party (the “Palestinians”)?
Indeed, even if the parties to the dispute had chosen to attend, why should seventy other countries be represented at such a conference?!

Israel quite rightly boycotted the Paris “Peace Conference” because it was clear that it would be no different from any United Nations session – a kangaroo court held with the intention of blaming Israel alone for the lack of progress in the (non-existent) “Peace Process”.
And the “Palestinians” didn’t attend because they had no need. There were plenty of supporters ready to do their work for them.
It is enough to point out that while the closing statement of the participants (or most of them, anyway) “reaffirmed that a negotiated solution with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, is the only way to achieve enduring peace“, the fact that neither of the parties to the conflict was present contradicts the very idea of a negotiated solution, and that while “the Participants …..
call on each side ….. to refrain from unilateral steps that prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues, including, inter alia, on Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees and which they will not recognize“, they themselves, in that selfsame closing statement, “reiterated that a negotiated two-state solution should ….. fully end the occupation that began in 1967 ….. and resolve all permanent status issues on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973)“, thereby dictating the outcome of negotiations.

Why was such a conference even necessary, given that the organizers – the French – knew perfectly well that at least one party to the conflict, Israel, would be absent?
Merely to hector and lecture the bride?

And then, when the “Palestinians” also failed to turn up, it should have been doubly clear to the conferences’s sponsors that this was nothing more than a colossal waste of time and money.

In short, the much-vaunted Paris Peace Conference can best be compared to a wedding without the bride and groom.

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Terror in the ‘Hood

This week saw the return of Arab terrorism to my Jerusalem neighbourhood. On Sunday, an Arab resident of the nearby neighbourhood of Jabel Mukaber drove a truck into a group of young IDF cadets who were visiting the popular Promenade at the entrance to East Talpiot, backed up and then ploughed into them once more, killing three young women and a young man, and injuring many more, before he was shot dead.

It came as no surprise that the headline of the BBC, not known as any kind of a friend to Israel, attributed the attack to the lorry which served as a weapon, rather than to the perpetrator (and even that, in quotation marks, as if to cast doubt as to whether this was an attack or merely a traffic accident). Only in the secondary headline is it noted that the perpetrator was a “suspected terrorist” and even this is only mentioned after Al Beeb notes that the “suspected terrorist” was shot by the police (in fact, he was shot, while still at the wheel of the truck,  by the soldiers who were attacked and by a tour guide who was, fortunately, carrying his licensed weapon). One gets the impression that he was only mentioned at all, because he was shot dead.

The same was true  of other news outlets such as CNN (a determined enemy of Israel). None of this came as any surprise. What did surprise me – favourably so – was the fact that major European capitals publicly expressed their solidarity with Israel, by displaying the Israeli flag on landmark buildings. Thus, the blue Star of David was flown at half-mast at Rotterdam’s City HallBrandenburg Gate in Berlin was lit up by the Israeli colours, and even the French capital emblazoned Israel’s flag on the façade of the Hôtel de Ville, in a rare gesture of solidarity from a country which is not known for its warmth towards Israel.

As the foreign press only describes the victims as “soldiers”, I would ask you to take a minute or two to get to know them as people – youngsters at the start of their lives, and – tragically – now at the end of those lives.

Erez Orbach, aged 20.
Shira Tzur, aged 20.
Shir Hajaj, aged 22.
Yael Yekutiel, aged 20.

May their memory be for a blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Herdsman of Tekoa

I have been wondering what would be the best subject for my last post of 2016. I had intended to present my readers with a round-up of some of the books I have been reading over the past twelve months. Then came the shameful betrayal of Israel at the UN by the moribund Obama regime – but, of course, everyone is writing about that, and I really would like to end the civil year on a positive note.
So, I have decided to take you all on yet another trip along the highways and byways of Jewish history in the Land of Israel and tell you about yesterday’s field trip in the framework of the course “929 on the Map of Israel“, about which I have already written several times in the past.
And of course, a reminder of how ancient is our presence in this land  which the UN has accused us of illegally occupying, won’t do any harm either…

For those who have forgotten, or who are new to this blog, I am participating in a Bible class, in which we read one chapter of the Hebrew Bible every weekday. In addition, I am participating in another course, under the auspices of Yad Ben Zvi, whereby, once a month, we have a field trip through the hills and valleys of Israel, in the wake of what we are reading that particular month.

Earlier this week, we finished reading the Book of Amos and so yesterday’s field trip was devoted to the Judaean herdsman, who prophesied, not in his own birthplace, Tekoa, but in the northern kingdom of Israel, which was at that time, under the rule of King Jeroboam II. It had been raining heavily for the past few days, causing flooding and mud, which necessitated a slight change in our planned route. Miraculously, yesterday was dry, and there was even quite a lot of sunshine, though for the first few hours, the sky was often cloudy and overcast. It was also bitterly cold.

Our time was limited, as it gets dark early here in December, and we had several places to visit. Therefore, instead of visiting Tekoa itself, we headed first for Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, where there is a spa and resort hotel, from the roof of which is a magnificent panorama, which includes a view to the south, where lie Bethlehem, Herodion and Tekoa.

 

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Inside the hotel lobby, there is a display of some of the many archaeological finds unearthed at Ramat Rachel, including oil-lamps from the time of Amos (as well as later finds, so one can see the developing style of oil-lamps, an artefact much loved by archaeologists, because their changing style is one of the ways by which they are able to date archaeological sites). There is also a Proto-Aeolian capital from the late First Temple Period – close enough to the time when Amos prophesied to make one wonder if, perhaps, he actually saw it and had it – or something like it – in mind when he was holding forth against the wealthy and the powerful who, from their palaces,  oppressed the poor and the weak.

From Ramat Rachel, we proceeded to Beit El, on the southern border of the Kingdom of Israel. Beit El was one of two sites (the other being Dan, in the north) where Jeroboam I set up statues of a Golden Calf, after the Division of the Kingdoms (I Kings 12: 20 – 33) in order to deter the Israelites from going up to sacrifice in Jerusalem (and possibly being persuaded, as a result,  to give their allegiance, once more, to the House of David). It was thus an important symbol of the rule of the Israelite kingdom.
The name of the Biblical site Beit El (Bethel)  has been preserved in the name of the nearby Arab village Beitin (the replacement of the Hebrew ending  -el with the Arabic -in is quite common).

Beit El was, of course, an important site from much earlier times. It was at Beit El that Jacob had his famous dream, in which he saw angels ascending and descending a ladder, and where God promised to him and his seed, “the land on which thou liest” (Genesis 28:12 – 22).

Our first stop at Beit El was the observation point atop the water tower, from where, on a clear day (which yesterday  most assuredly was not!), one can supposedly see as far as Jerusalem to the south, the coastal plain to the west, and Mount Hermon in the north. Yesterday, however, was a very cloudy day, and to make matters worse, there was a very strong, cold wind blowing. The topography also made things unpleasant. Beit El is higher above sea level than Jerusalem (almost 900 ft. above sea level), and thus colder and windier and it often snows there.
It was, therefore, not possible to see very far.

 

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There is, however, a (modern) mosaic map of the Promised Land.

 

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Nearby is a site known as the site of Jacob’s Dream and adjacent to it, a thousand year wormwood oak tree – maybe a descendant of the oak under which the Matriarch Rebecca’s wet-nurse Deborah was buried  “below Beit El” (Genesis 35:8). At any rate, it is the oldest tree of its kind in Israel.

 

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However, let us return to Amos. Amos prophesied the fall of the Israelite kingdom, not because of idolatry but, principally, because of the rampant corruption, the perversion of justice, the arrogance of its ruling class, and consequent oppression of the poor and the weak (Amos 4:1; Amos 5:7, ; Amos 5:11- 15; Amos 6:1 – 8, 12; Amos 8:4 – 6;).
Symbolic of the social injustice are the palaces of the rich and powerful:

The Lord GOD hath sworn by Himself, saith the LORD, the God of hosts: I abhor the pride of Jacob, and hate his palaces; and I will deliver up the city with all that is therein.” (Amos 6:8).

Besides the palaces with their pillars and ornate capitals (such as the Proto-Aeolian capital hitherto described), the beds of ivory and the couches on which the aristocracy reclined while feasting and enjoying music, the wealthy citizens of Beit El  built themselves winter palaces down in the Jordan Valley, in the vicinity of Jericho and the Dead Sea, to escape the cold of winter (which we ourselves experienced) – a tradition continued by later generations, including the arch-builder himself, King Herod the Great. Those unacquainted with the enormous variations in temperature to be found in what is, all told, a very small country, will be surprised when – as we did – they take the half hour drive from Beit El, up in the hills, down to Mevo’ot Yericho, down in the Jordan Valley, 150 metres below sea level. We went from 9 degrees Celsius in Beit El, to 17 degrees Celsius in Mevo’ot Yericho.  So called because of its proximity to Biblical Jericho, (which Israel ceded in accordance with the Oslo Accords, and from which Jews are now banned, despite the promise in those Accords that Jews would still be permitted access to their holy sites, including the ancient synagogue of Jericho), the temperature at Mevo’ot Yericho is mild and one can easily imagine a wealthy Beit El family building a winter palace here. After reading the words of Amos, one can also imagine how they came by their wealth and understand God’s vow to “smite the winter house with the summer house” (Amos 3:15).

By now, it was almost three o’clock. At this time of year, the sun sets at about half-past four and by five-fifteen, it is dark. We still had to get to Qumran, which closes at 4 pm in winter. It meant foregoing lunch (most of us had brought sandwiches, and I, in fact, had been steadily munching mine since mid-morning!)

We reached the Qumran Park, at ten past three. The park closes at 4 pm in winter – not that this appeared to worry Arye, our guide.

Qumran is famous as the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. It is believed to have been a settlement of the Essene sect and that these scrolls were part of their library.  The scrolls contain both Biblical and non-Biblical texts. The Biblical texts include a complete copy of the Book of Isaiah, as well as parts of every single book of the Hebrew Bible, with the exception of the Book of Esther. Some of the books exist in more than one copy. The largest number of fragments, from the largest number of texts, was found in Cave 4, which is therefore the most famous of the Qumran caves – and also the most highly visible.

 

 

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Amongst the non-Biblical documents found at Qumran, in multiple copies, was one that became known as The Damascus Document, setting forth the community’s beliefs and rules. This work was known before the discoveries at Qumran, because it was one of the fragments found in the Cairo Genizah, at the end of the 19th century, and published by Rabbi Solomon Schechter in 1910. So called because of its many references to Damascus, it is believed by many scholars that this refers, not to the actual city of Damascus, but is a symbolic reference to a distant place of exile, as referred to by Amos (Amos 5:27): “Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith He, whose name is the LORD God of hosts.

Quite apart from that, it appears that Amos was “popular” among the Essenes because of his rejection and condemnation of the hedonistic and ostentatious lifestyle of the wealthy and of the aristocracy, which was so totally in opposition to their own lifestyle. Just as Amos railed against the priests  of Beit El, declaring that their rituals and sacrifices were worthless, as long as they oppressed the poor and the weak, so too were the Essenes opposed to the ruling, priestly class.

The Essenes placed great emphasis on ritual purity. At Qumran, a large number of ritual purification pools (מקוואות – mikvaot) were found. Here is one:

 

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We were just exploring what some scholars believe to have been the scriptorium, where the Essene scribes supposedly performed their work of copying the holy (and secular) texts, (because tables and inkwells were discovered there), when the inexorably approaching sunset forced us to leave. We dragged our feet for as long as humanly possible 😉  but to no avail.

The orthodox men of our group (of which there are many) recited the afternoon (Mincha) prayer, and then we slowly made our way back to the bus and, as the sun went down, we turned our backs on the Dead Sea and headed back to Jerusalem to light our Hanukkah candles.

 

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Wishing you all a Happy Hanukkah, and looking forward to seeing you again next time I post.
🙂

 

hanukkah

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Age of Babylon and the Valley of the Dry Bones

Last month saw the start of the 2016/17 academic year at Yad Ben Zvi, with a brand new series of Bible study tours linked to Project 929, about which I have written several times in the past.
Since, last month, we finished reading the book of Ezekiel, last month’s study trip focused on that period of Biblical history. Ezekiel is the only one of the prophets to have lived outside of the Land of Israel, in Babylon and so the first part of the tour took place in the Israel Museum’s archaeology wing, where we studied exhibits relating to the Babylonian conquest and occupation of Israel, as well as life in the Holy Land in the century preceding that event.

For example, we had a glimpse of the justice system in the years preceding the Babylonian occupation.  Unlike most ancient historical documents, in which the voice we hear is typically that of the rulers, the generals, the high and the mighty, the so-called “Reaper’s Plea”, written in ink on a potsherd, brings before our eyes the plight of a simple farmhand.

 

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Let my lord, the governor, hear the plea of his servant. Your servant is working in the harvest; your servant was at Hasar-Asam (when the following incident occurred). Your servant did his reaping, finished, and stored (the grain) a few days ago before the Sabbath (or: before stopping work). When your servant had finished (his) reaping and had stored it a few days ago, Hoshayahu ben Shabay came and took your servant’s garment. When I had finished my reaping, at that time, a few days ago, he took your servant’s garment. All my companions will vouch for me, all who were reaping with me in the heat of the sun: my companions will vouch for me (that) truly I am guiltless of any in[fraction]. [(So) please return] my garment. If the governor does not consider it an obligation to return [your servant’s garment, then have] pity upon him [and return] your servant’s [garment] from that motivation. You must not remain silent [when your servant is without his garment].

The author of this letter has performed what he believes to have been his fair quota of labour but his supervisor apparently thinks otherwise and has confiscated his garment, and is holding it until the farmhand fulfils his obligation – in defiance of Biblical law, as expressed in Exodus 22:25-26:

If thou at all take thy neighbour’s garment to pledge, thou shalt restore it unto him by that the sun goeth down;  for that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin; wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto Me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.

We can learn several things from this man’s heartfelt plea. For one thing, it is clear that he knows his rights. For another, we can deduce that, not only does he know the law is on his side, but that he has sufficient faith in “the system” to apply to the authorities with, presumably, a reasonable expectation of obtaining justice.

Our visit to the Israel Museum was a short one, no more than a couple of hours, intended merely to give us an idea of the way people lived in the Land of Israel at the time Ezekiel was prophesying. From there, we proceeded to the place which, more than any other, symbolises the 20th century embodiment of Ezekiel’s best known prophecy – the Vision of the Dry Bones. That place is, of course, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Campus.

I think most of us, if asked to visualise the Holocaust, would immediately see in their mind’s eye a picture of the piles of corpses that greeted the Allied Forces who liberated the death camps, or of the horribly emaciated survivors, no more than skin and bones.

 

A mass grave soon after camp liberation. Bergen-Belsen, Germany, May 1945.

A mass grave soon after camp liberation. Bergen-Belsen, Germany, May 1945                                                                             –  US Holocaust Memorial Museum

 

Jewish survivors at Ebensee – Photo credit: National Archives, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives

 

And I think that most of us who have read the Bible, would immediately think of the words of Ezekiel 37:1-14 and, in particular, verse 11:
Then He said unto me: ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole House of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.

It is no coincidence that Yad Vashem is situated on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, linked by a path to the Mount Herzl National Military Cemetery, where the Founders of the State of Israel, as well as Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, are buried. Mount Herzl is the largest of Israel’s all-too-many military cemeteries and its proximity to Yad Vashem is charged with symbolism.

So too is the Children’s Memorial, perhaps the most moving of all the exhibits at Yad Vashem – commemorating the one and a half million Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust by the Nazis and their collaborators.

Outside the entrance is a symbolic representation of trees cut down – all different sizes, representing the children of all ages who never grew to adulthood, their lives cut short by the monstrous evil of the Nazi butchers.

 

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As you walk into the underground cavern which houses the exhibit, you may notice (depending on the time of day) that the sun striking the roof creates a pattern of bars on the floor, reminiscent of railway tracks. As you first enter and pause, to let your eyes become accustomed to the dim light, you will see many portraits of child victims of the Nazis. Then, a circular path leads you down into the darkness, illuminated only by the light from six candles (one for each of the six millions Jews who perished in the Holocaust), which is endlessly reflected in mirrors, thus symbolising the many millions more who were never born, because of the lives which were snuffed out, like so many candles, before they had time to bring children into the world. And in the background, you will hear, in Hebrew, English and Yiddish, the names, ages and places of residence of some of the murdered children.

 

 

When you enter the main exhibition hall, you will first see items which show the richness of Jewish life in Europe before the Holocaust – because it is only by understanding what there was before that you can begin to comprehend the magnitude of what was lost. And you will notice that, as you move further and further inside, the floor slopes downward – like a descent into hell.

It also gets darker and darker  – but when you reach the end, you step out of the doors to be confronted with a view of the future, a spectacular panorama of the city of Jerusalem, capital of the reborn State of Israel.

 

The balcony at the exit from Yad Vashem

(Photo credit: http://www.museeum.net/article/227/yad-vashem-the-world-holocaust-remembrance-center.html)

 

 

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View from Yad Vashem at dusk

 

Ezekiel’s prophecy does not end with the despairing cry of the host of dry bones, declaring their loss of hope.  It continues with a promise to open the graves of the House of Israel and to bring them up to the Land of Israel. The poet Naftali Herz Imber, who wrote the words of what became, in the course of time, the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah (The Hope), echoing and reversing the words of the prophecy, defiantly declared: “Our hope is not yet lost, the hope of 2000 years”.

 

The Hope still lives.

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More Random Thoughts on the Race to the White House

The race is over – but it seems the losing side is unable to accept the results. Much as was the case with the UK’s Brexit referendum, what might be described as “the incumbent party”  felt that the election had somehow been “stolen” from them. Unlike the case in the Brexit vote, one has to admit that Hillary Clinton’s supporters appear to have some justification for such a feeling, as the Electoral College system allows a Presidential candidate to garner a majority of Electors, even when his or her share of the popular vote is actually less. This is what has happened in the recent elections – but it is not the first time it has happened, and the Electoral College system, with all its inherent unfairness, has remained in place.

And that brings me to the point  I wish to make. There is now a petition circulating, calling upon the Electors in states which voted Republican, to defy the decision of their voters and elect Hillary Clinton rather than Donald Trump, on the grounds that this is what the majority of US citizens want. That may be so – but the time to change the rules is between  elections. One doesn’t go tearing up the rule-book simply because one failed to achieve the hoped-for result. (I could say the same for the anti-Brexiteers in the UK, whose immediate response to their loss in the Referendum was to demand another Referendum.)

In my last post, and on my Facebook page, I asked what makes a nation great and it became clear that for a good many people, a nation’s greatness lies in how it is perceived by outsiders.
What, then,  are those of us who are not Americans but merely interested spectators, to make of the hissy fit to end all hissy fits, which has enveloped Clinton’s disappointed supporters?

What do you think it does to our perception of America, when students are granted deferment of exams, in order to attend “grief counselling” sessions?! Some of us may simply shrug and see it as the inevitable result of the spread of so-called “safe spaces” across American university and college campuses, where students are wrapped in cotton wool and “protected” from the merest mention of any opinion which conflicts with their own (I use the words “their own” advisedly, because more often than not, it is merely the parroted declamation of the current Politically Correct Group Thought).
Others – and I make no bones about being one of them – are outraged at such namby-pamby behaviour. In Israel, 18-year-olds are serving in the armed forces, often having to deal with the violent deaths, in war or to terrorism, of their friends – in short, with real cause for grief – only they don’t have the luxury of safe spaces or time off from exams to deal with their grief, but climb back up on the horse (or into their tanks or armoured cars) and get on with the business in hand.

What do the anti-Trump supporters hope to achieve by all their protests? Protests? No. Smashing shop windows and burning the American flag goes beyond mere protest. These are rioters, not protesters.  Is this supposed to express their “love” for the America they claim the President-Elect is going to destroy?

Most infuriating of all are some of the reactions of so-called “celebrities”, which have gone viral on social media. A common theme seems to be that those who supported Trump are all racists/antisemites/misogynists/homophobes and that they themselves are grieving and in shock because they didn’t realise how many of their fellow Americans shared Trump’s racist/antisemitic/misogynistic/homophobic views. In short – they claim that they woke up on the morning of Wednesday November 9th to discover that America was not the nation they had believed her to be.
One of the most publicised was a letter by actress Lena Dunham, who writes:
“A lot of people have been talking about how we need to try to understand how this happened and what’s going on in the minds of the people who voted for Donald Trump. Maybe. Maybe. But maybe let’s leave that to the strategists, to the men in offices who need to run the numbers. It should not be the job of women, of people of color, of queer and trans Americans, to understand who does not consider them human and why, just as it’s not the job of the abused to understand their abuser.

What is Ms. Dunham saying here? It’s clear enough. In her mind, the people who voted for Trump (all of them) are bigots/misogynists/racists/homophobes. In short – what Hillary Clinton famously (or infamously) described as “a basket of deplorables”.  Hillary “generously” attributed the quality of deplorability only to half of Trump’s supporters, but many of her supporters insist that anyone who voted for Trump is “part of his bigotry“. Despite a slew of  articles analysing the reasons why so many people voted for Trump – even people who, in the past, supported Obama and are clearly, therefore, not racists (this one, for example, by David Dayen of The New Republic, or this extraordinarily thoughtful and honest post by a 19-year-old college student blogger ) – the disappointed Clinton supporters, who expect to be mollycoddled and helped to deal with their grief over Trump’s win, are unwilling to extend the same understanding to those who voted for “the other side” and insist on painting them all as bigots/racists/antisemites/misogynists/homophobes.  (See this one, for example.)
Yes, they are right. America is not the nation they had supposed it to be. But not because their fellow Americans (those who supported Trump) are all bigots and racists, but because millions of their fellow Americans are living in a completely different world, a world as described by Tori Sanders, a world unseen and unknown by the liberal and political elite. And it’s that mind-boggling arrogance, which even now refuses to see that, which refuses to acknowledge the hopes and fears of those Americans who don’t enjoy the wealth of California or the cultural advantages of New York, which is likely to cost the Democrats the election in four years time as well.

I spoke of hissy fits. What are we, the dispassionate observers who are not Americans, to make of the spiteful calls to boycott members of the President-Elect’s family? The call by one Sophie Theallet ( a fashion designer, apparently, although I had never heard of her before this) to fellow designers to refuse to dress the future First Lady, Melania Trump, for example? Now, quite apart from the fact that, as far as I know, Ms. Theallet has not been invited to dress her, as a former model and wife of a multi-millionaire, Mrs Trump is, I am quite sure, perfectly capable of dressing herself and stands in no need of free dresses. Ms. Theallet herself has much more to gain (in free publicity) from dressing the First Lady than Mrs Trump has to lose from not being dressed by a hypocritical fashion designer who loudly proclaims: “The Sophie Theallet brand stands against all discrimination and prejudice….. As one who celebrates and strives for diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles. I will not participate in dressing or associate myself in any way with the next First Lady. The rhetoric of racism, sexism, and xenophobia unleashed by her husband’s presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by.”
Ms. Theallet appears to have some difficulty in practicing what she preaches, however.
In refusing to dress Melania Trump because of Donald Trump’s supposed racism, sexism and xenophobia, she has declared to all the world that Melania is no more than an adjunct of her husband.
Could there be any greater manifestation of sexism?

One final thought. Today, millions of Americans will be sitting down with their extended families to celebrate Thanksgiving.  From articles I have read, it appears that many families have been so deeply divided by this election that they don’t feel they can even sit down over the Thanksgiving turkey with family members who voted for the opposing candidate.

To those, I say: Remember this. You can change your President every four years.
Family is forever.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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Some Random Thoughts On The Race To The White House

It is not my habit to write about the internal politics of other countries, but, since the President of the United States is so often described as “The Leader of the Free World” (even  those Presidents in whom qualities of leadership have been conspicuously lacking – and I shall name no names), and since I can’t recall another election campaign so cut-throat in nature, I shall make an exception in this case.

Quite apart from the rather obvious comparison to “House of Cards” – or possibly, to “The Game of Thrones” – what has struck me most in this race between two of the worst contenders America has seen in many a long year (and certainly within my adult memory), is the fact that other than cutting down the other side, neither candidate seems to have very much to offer. It has been a campaign of slogans rather than substance.
And I have to say, some of those slogans have me quite baffled.

Take this one, for example: “Let’s Make America Great Again”.
What does that mean, exactly?

I posed precisely that question on my Facebook page and received the swift response from a Clinton supporter: “America is great already”.

An answer as meaningless as the original slogan.

How does one measure a nation’s greatness?  By its military might? The strength of its social fabric? Its wealth? Its determination to uphold its ideals? Its contribution to science? To the arts? To humanity in general?

The aforementioned Clinton supporter wrote: “I would say we have the most versatile culture in the world – we are a culture that regularly produces Nobel laureates and Olympic medalists; Americans are (or have been) behind most great advances in science and technology since WW1 or even before. America pioneered the concept of international law and global democracy with the League of Nations and the War Crimes court. At the heart of America’s greatness is the freedom of expression, which, while not an American invention, is still something that the American culture has adopted as sacred.”

For this Bostonian, then, America’s greatness lies in the versatility of her culture, her sporting prowess, her pre-eminence in science and technology.

Another of my friends, however, a New Yorker who supports Trump, sees America’s greatness in her military and industrial strength. She writes: “When an American soldier walked down the street anywhere in the world after WWII and Korea, they were respected. When we had factories in our country that were making American products, rather than send all our factories to other countries who can do it cheaper. Go along the whole of the North East on the train or a bus. See all the factories that are sitting there in ruins.”

A third friend, born in the United States (I know not where, precisely), but now living in Israel, came up with a more unusual definition: “A country, any country, is great when its citizens are proud of their country, are proud to be a part of that country’s process, and are proud to represent their country.”
I have to admit, I was tempted to adopt his suggestion. It certainly has its merits. But after I stopped and considered it more deeply, I realised that that statement could also have defined Nazi Germany!

I pressed my friends further. What about morality?

It was then that my Bostonian friend finally came up with the Jewish point-of-view (which was, in fact, what I had been waiting for).
“Judaism judges the greatness of society by how its laws treat the lowest societal rungs – the poor, the orphans, the immigrants and strangers. “
Well – almost. I would say that Judaism judges a society’s greatness not merely by how its laws treat its weakest members (de jure), but how that society treats the poor, the orphan, the widow and the stranger in deed. It is not so much the letter of the law that counts, as its spirit.

And all at once, I thought of a hymn that we used to sing in school, in England,when I was a young girl,  on Commonwealth Day.
“I Vow To Thee, My Country” was a favourite of both the late Margaret Thatcher, and the late Princess Diana, and was, in fact, sung at both the wedding and the funeral of the latter.

 

 
In these changed times, the ultra-nationalist nature of the first verse has aroused controversy in “progressive” circles:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

Now, those are lyrics that could be encapsulated in the words of another American President – none other than John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

But take a look at the second verse:
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Not jingoistic at all. And the oddest thing is that last line, which strangely parallels the words sung in Jewish synagogues after the Torah reading, as the scrolls are being carried back to the Ark:
It (ie. the Torah) is a tree of life to them that grasp it…its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”

So for the writer of that hymn, maybe a truly great nation is one based on God’s law, whose ways are ways of gentleness or pleasantness, and all of whose paths are peace?

Is there such a nation anywhere on this earth?

I leave it to you.
What do you think?

 

 

 

 

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