The Bible In Song

This month’s field trip with Yad Ben Zvi was different from its predecessors. Instead of concentrating on a particular book or chapter of the Bible, our band of intrepid explorers ( 馃槈 ) set off in pursuit of the many ways in which the Bible has inspired the world of song.
Whether it’s musical settings of Biblical texts, the influence of Biblical concepts and phrases on the Hebrew language, or contemporary takes on Biblical narratives, the Bible provides an endless source of inspiration.

A word first about the weather. Our trip took place three days before Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the Trees. Technically, we are still in the middle of winter, but throughout Israel, round about Tu B’Shvat, 聽many wild flowers are already in bloom and, traditionally, it is on Tu B’Shvat that the almond trees which symbolise the Holy Land (Land of the Almond Tree) burst into blossom. At the same time, however, the weather at this time of year is often cold and rainy. And, in fact, as we left Jerusalem, the grey, lowering skies threatened聽heavy rain and as we drove north, they made good on their promise.

The cold and the rain didn’t seem to bother this camel whom we met at聽the Almog Junction, where we stopped for morning coffee:


Although it was no longer raining by the time we reached the Dubi and Eran Shamir Observation Point, at one of the highest points in the Gilboa Mountain Ridge, it was still very, very windy. 聽Dubi and Eran Shamir were a father and son, both of whom loved hiking around the Israeli countryside, and both of whom fell in defence of Israel. Dubi was killed in 1977, in a training accident and his son, Eran, fell in battle in the Lebanon in 1997.
At the entrance to the observation point is a stone bearing a fragment of a poem by Yosef Sarig, who was himself killed in battle on the Golan Heights, in the Yom Kippur War.



The fragment translates as follows:

“We always loved our home,
The sun, the field that opens in the soul
And now we have returned to them,
Uncomplicated as ever
But there is no breath in us.”

In the last line, as you can see, the poet is echoing the expression used in Ezekiel 37:8, to describe the dry bones which are “the whole House of Israel”.

As I said, it was very windy at this spot on the Gilboa Ridge. In fact, it is one of the windiest spots in the country, which is why there is a wind farm there.



I always feel slightly nervous, looking up at huge wind turbines, like this. They seem to me like strange, other-worldly aliens towering over the Biblical landscape.

The Gilboa, overlooking the Jezreel Valley,聽is most famous as the site of King Saul’s final battle against the Philistines – a battle in which not only Saul, but also his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchishua met their deaths (1 Samuel 31:1-6).The battle inspired the聽songwriter and poetess Leah Naor and the composer, conductor and music teacher Yosef Hadar, to present the following song – which links that ancient battle with later, contemporary battles – at the 1969 Israel Music festival:



This is such a beautiful song that I cannot resist translating it for the non-Hebrew speakers among you. (The Hebrew speakers can follow the words in the subtitled video-clip.)


“Lovely is the summer in its season
On Mount Gilboa.
Saul leaned on his spear
On Mount Gilboa.
Only a lad was with him,
A lad of the sons of Amalek.

Dry and hot, dry and hot

In summer, in the Emeq 聽(Valley of Jezreel).
The earth is the colour of coal,
In summer in the Emeq.

Perchance there was a Sharav,

Perchance it was the hour of sunset,
Perchance a golden sunset,
Like today, at the same hour.

The Emeq was spread out at his feet

On Mount Gilboa.
The summer was as it is now,

On Mount Gilboa.
Lying opposite, Mount Tabor,
And Mount Hermon in the distance.

As if years haven’t passed

On Mount Gilboa.
The same rocks – arid rocks
On Mount Gilboa

Perchance there was a Sharav etc.”


Almost a quarter of a century earlier, in 1945, Nathan Alterman published his poem “Hineh Tamu Yom Krav”聽(讛谞讛 转诪讜 讬讜诐 拽专讘 –聽Behold the day of battle is ended), in which he describes the bringing of the terrible news to King Saul’s mother. Written in the wake of World War Two, it was set to music in 1960 by the Israeli composer Mordechai Zeira and can be heard every year on Remembrance Day, the day which precedes Israel’s Independence Day. It’s rather聽long, so I will only聽translate parts of it, but you can hear the complete recording here:





“Behold, the day of battle and its evening are done,
Full of the cry of聽the rout,

When the king fell upon his sword
And Gilboa was clothed in defeat….

As daylight illuminated the mountains,
The runner came to his (Saul’s) mother’s threshold,
And, falling speechless at her feet,
Covered them with his (Saul’s) blood…

Then she said to the lad, Blood
Will cover the feet of mothers,
But seven times as many, the people will arise
Even if defeated on their land.

The King has met his fate
But a successor will arise…

So she spoke, with trembling voice.
And so it was. And David heard.”

Our next stop was Nachal Yitzpor, a seasonal brook聽which leads 聽from one of the peaks of the Gilboa Ridge down to the Valley of Beit Shean.聽From the lower reaches of the brook, which has no springs and is fed only by rainwater, one can see the mountains of Gilead – hence the name of the brook, which reflects the Biblical story of Gideon and the 300 men who defeated the Midianites.
Now therefore make proclamation in the ears of the people, saying: Whosoever is fearful and trembling, let him return and depart early from Mount Gilead.” (Judges 7:3)
“Depart early” is the translation given to the Hebrew word聽yitzpor (讬爪驻讜专), as it is understood to be related to the Aramaic word for morning, 聽tzafra (爪驻专讗).

The sky was still overcast and threatening rain when we started what turned out to be a three-hour hike down paths which were still muddy in places from the previous days’ rains, over rocks and through narrow gullies – parts聽of which could only be negotiated on one’s posterior and parts聽of which made me genuinely fearful that I was about to tumble off into the void. It did not help being overtaken by聽several school parties following the same route, teenagers oblivious to the danger and apparently sharing some of the DNA of mountain goats!




All around us, Nature was beckoning. And everywhere, Anat, our guide, found cause to reference the Bible. For example, almost before we started, we practically stumbled across a clump of mandrakes:




“The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and at our doors are all manner of precious fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.” 聽(Song of Songs 7:14)


And here it is, (to 2:35) set to music by Zvi Sherf and sung by the all-girl group Sexta:



Besides the mandrakes, there were anemones, red and white, and everywhere, growing between rocks and crevices, cyclamens, that most humble – and most beautiful – of flowers.

The cyclamen shows its humility in its bowed head, but legend has it that the flower once stood proudly erect. When King Solomon ascended the throne of Israel, an angel appeared before him and told him to go forth and choose the loveliest of flowers and to fashion a crown for himself in its shape. Solomon went forth and saw the beauty of the cyclamen, whose petals bore the shape of a crown. He therefore ordered his craftsmen to fashion a crown for him, which would resemble the cyclamen. For this reason, the cyclamen was also known as “Solomon’s Crown”.
The crown itself was handed down, generation after generation, until the Babylonians battered down the walls of Jerusalem, looted the Royal Treasury, stole the crown and took the people of Judaea into captivity, together with the surviving members of the Royal Family. From that day onward, the cyclamen’s head drooped in sorrow. So it is until our own times. The legend says that only when the crown of Solomon is placed once more聽on the head of the King of Israel, the Son of David, will the cyclamen once again hold its head erect.




A white anemone







And finally, an almond tree in blossom




At one point, we stopped in a steep gorge to allow one of the聽aforementioned聽school groups to pass us, while Anat read to us Psalm 104, which is all of it a hymn to the glory of God as the creator of Nature. We discussed, in particular, verse 18:

“The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the hyrax.”

The word I have translated as “hyrax” (砖驻谉 –聽shafan) is often mistranslated into English as “rabbit” – and indeed, these furry, short-eared little creatures are also sometimes known as “rock rabbits”, but they are not to be confused with the larger, long-eared bunnies so popular as pets in Europe. According to Anat, there are hyraxes in abundance in the Gilboa, but they only emerge from their hiding places when the sun is shining.
It was not shining – yet – although the further we descended along the channel of the now-dry stream, the warmer it got, and the sun did eventually emerge. We did not see any hyraxes, however. They are very shy creatures.

By the time we reached the end of the stream bed, it was already half past two in the afternoon. We had a late lunch at Beit Hashita, where I had an excellent houmous, before proceeding to the shores of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and the cemetery of Kvutzat Kinneret, last resting聽place of many leaders of the Zionist Labour movement, but most importantly, from our point of view, the place where the poetess Rachel聽 (1890 – 1931) and the composer-songwriter Naomi Shemer (1930 – 2004) are buried.

Both women were heavily influenced by the Bible. Rachel identified strongly with the Matriarch Rachel. In one of her poems,聽Hen Dama聽(讛谉 讚诪讛 – Behold, her blood), she compares herself to the Biblical Rachel:

“Behold, her blood in my blood flows,
Behold, her voice within me sings –
Rachel, herding the white flock,
Rachel – my mother’s mother.”

In another poem,聽Zemer Nogeh (讝诪专 谞讜讙讛 – A Melancholy Song), better known as聽Hatishma Koli (讛转砖诪注 拽讜诇讬 – Will you hear my voice?), and made famous,聽in the setting by Shmulik Kraus, as the song which Rona Ramon dedicated to her husband, Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, 聽on board the ill-fated space shuttle Columbia, the poetess foresees that “My final day is already at hand, perhaps.
Already the day is near, of parting tears.
I will await you, till my life is extinguished,
As Rachel awaited her beloved.”

As Anat pointed out, the Bible tells us that Jacob waited seven years for Rachel – only to be tricked into wedding her older sister, Leah. We are told that those seven years “seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” (Genesis 29:20). We are never told about Rachel’s feelings during those seven years – but Rachel the Poetess gave voice to Rachel, our Mother.

And what of Leah, the unwanted wife, the one whom the Bible describes as “hated”?
Did Jacob continue to hate the woman who bore him six sons and a daughter, more children than all the rest of his wives put together? The聽Israeli songwriter Ehud Manor refused to believe he could have done so, and in his song聽“I love you, Leah”, he puts into Jacob’s mouth these words:

“Behold, many days have passed
And my two hands have grown weary,
And how beautiful your eyes have become,
Like Rachel’s eyes.
I love you, Leah.
I love you, proud one.
If I forget thee, Leah,
My name is not Israel.”

Note the Biblical allusion in the words “If I forget thee”, reminiscent of Psalm 137 – “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning” – an allusion hinted at also in the words “my two hands have grown weary”.Here is the song, set to music by Zvika Pik, and sung by Lior Sa’ado on the Israeli talent show “A Star is Born”聽(the Israeli version of “American Idol” or “Britain’s Got Talent”).



Perhaps the most poignant of Rachel the poetess’s comparisons of herself to her Biblical namesake聽is the poem “Barren” (注拽专讛 –聽Akara), written in 1927/8. Rachel the poetess never married and her love life was tragic. She compares herself to our mother Rachel who, for many years, longed for a child but was forced to behold the fecundity of聽her elder sister Leah, the “hated” wife, before finally giving birth to Joseph, and then dying at the birth of Benjamin. In this poem, she compares herself, not only to Rachel the Matriarch, but also to Hannah who, though herself “the favoured wife” of Elkanah, had no children of her own until she came to the Tabernacle at Shiloh, where she prayed silently for a child, though her lips moved, was rebuked by Eli the High Priest, and finally gave birth to the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1).

“If I only had a son! A little boy,
Black-curled and clever.

To hold his hand and slowly walk
Through the garden paths.
A child.
A little one….

I will yet complain bitterly like Rachel, our Mother.
I will yet pray, like Hannah at Shiloh.
I will yet await him.”

This poem has been set to music many times, by such diverse composers as Paul Ben Haim, Yehuda Sharett and Mordechai Zeira. In fact, there are at least sixteen melodies to the song, some of whose composers are unknown and which have been considered “popular” or “folk” melodies. Here is is one of these settings, by the prolific composer Anonymous 馃槈 performed by Dorit Reuveni and Hanan Yovel.


Unlike the poetess Rachel, who was already nineteen years old when she first came to the Land of Israel, the composer and songwriter Naomi Shemer was born in the kibbutz on the banks of the Kinneret and the language of the Bible was hers from birth.

Naomi Shemer makes reference to the Bible in many of her songs, which Anat played to us. We discussed them, as we stood at the site of her grave which, like that of Rachel’s, overlooks the Kinneret. One such is聽聽Kad Hakemach 聽(讻讚 讛拽诪讞 –聽“The Jar of Meal”) – a modern retelling (1986) of the story of Elijah and the Widow (1 Kings 17).





“I read in the Book of Kings,
In the 17th chapter,

I read about the Man of God
Who said

The jar of meal shall not be spent,
Neither shall the cruse of oil fail
Until the time that rain shall fall
Upon the land.

And when the rivers dried up
And the rain tarried,
That man hewed the words
From his heart…

And in these聽hard times,
Days of neither dew nor rain,
Always I return to that man,
And then I remember…”

Those familiar with the Bible will recognise many Biblical turns of phrase and allusions in this song, and in particular, the reference to the lack of dew or rain, echoing both Elijah’s prophecy (1 Kings 17:1) and David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:21)

“Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew nor rain upon you, neither fields of choice fruits; for there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.”


I could go on forever about Naomi Shemer, but since sunset was rapidly聽approaching and we were obliged to take leave of the Kinneret, I, too, shall end here and leave you with this view of the lake, and of the quiet graveyard which the founders of the Jewish Labour and kibbutz movements, soldiers, farmers and fishermen share with poets and musicians, all of them dreamers who, together, helped rebuild a nation.













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In Search of Edom

Yesterday saw the third field trip in the current Yad Ben Zvi series of Bible tours,聽“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聽21 verses. Moreover, that one chapter聽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.聽On the other hand, many聽scholars believe that the language of the book聽indicates聽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聽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聽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聽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聽8th century BCE, which contained a Sanctuary which聽appears to have been a scaled-down version of the Temple in Jerusalem, with a hall, shrine and Holy of Holies.



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


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


You may recall that聽in聽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,聽there is the almost inevitable rider “Howbeit the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and offered in the high places.” 聽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聽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聽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聽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.


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

“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.



I mentioned that Tel Arad was one of a series of fortresses guarding the southern approaches to the Kingdom of Judah. It聽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聽were found and which controls a strategic path into the Judean heartland, through Nachal Kina, which it overlooks.聽

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.




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 聽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聽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 聽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聽…..
call on each side ….. to聽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 …..聽fully end the occupation that began in 1967聽…..聽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聽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聽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, 聽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 聽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 Hall,聽Brandenburg Gate in Berlin was lit up by the Israeli colours, and even the French capital emblazoned Israel’s flag on the fa莽ade of the H么tel 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 聽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聽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.





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, 聽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, 聽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) 聽has been preserved in the name of the nearby Arab village Beitin (the replacement of the Hebrew ending聽 -el with the Arabic聽-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聽 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.




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




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




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;聽Amos 5:7, ; Amos 5:11- 15;聽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.”聽(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 聽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)聽– a tradition continued by later generations, including the arch-builder himself, King Herod the Great.聽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聽9 degrees Celsius in Beit El, to 17 degrees Celsius in Mevo’ot Yericho. 聽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聽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聽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.聽It is believed to have been a settlement of the Essene sect and that聽these scrolls were part of their library. 聽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.





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聽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 聽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 (诪拽讜讜讗讜转 –聽mikvaot)聽were found. Here is one:




We were just exploring what some scholars believe to have been the聽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聽approaching sunset聽forced us to leave. We dragged our feet for as long as humanly possible 馃槈 聽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.




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









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The Age of Babylon and the Valley of the Dry Bones

Last month聽saw the start of the 2016/17聽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聽the Babylonian occupation. 聽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.




Let聽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;聽 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聽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聽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 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 聽 – 聽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聽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聽– 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.



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聽the richness of Jewish life in Europe聽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聽 – 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:




View from Yad Vashem at dusk


Ezekiel’s prophecy聽does not end with the despairing cry of the host of dry bones, declaring their loss of hope. 聽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,聽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聽referendum, what might be described as “the incumbent party” 聽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 聽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聽between聽 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聽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, 聽are those of us who are not Americans聽but聽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聽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聽real cause for grief – only聽they don’t have the luxury of聽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. 聽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聽November 9th to discover that America was not the nation they had believed her to be.
One of the most publicised聽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聽– what Hillary Clinton famously (or infamously) described as “a basket of deplorables”. 聽Hillary “generously” attributed the quality of deplorability only to half of Trump’s supporters, but many聽of her supporters聽insist that聽anyone who voted for Trump is “part of his bigotry“. Despite a slew of聽聽articles聽analysing the reasons聽why so many people voted for Trump – even people who, in the past, supported Obama and are clearly, therefore,聽not聽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. 聽(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:聽“The Sophie Theallet brand stands against all discrimination and prejudice…..聽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鈥檚 presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by.鈥
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. 聽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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