Baruch Hashem, this past week, the residents of Amona reached an agreement with the Israeli government enabling a peaceful evacuation of this yishuv. My daughter Elisheva is studying in Migdal Oz this year, a women’s seminary in Gush Etzion. Last week, she told me that the seminary was sending a bus for those young women who wish to protest the impending evacuation of Amona. She told me that she thinks that probably only Israeli students will go, and that Americans need to receive permission from their parents. She asked me if I would give her permission to go. Realizing this was likely a theoretical question because Elisheva is very focused on her studies so probably didn’t really want to go, I deflected her question in my response. I told her, “I know you don’t really want to go.” Since the agreement, this question has become purely an academic one. But it is a question that may unfortunately repeat itself again and again in different forms throughout our life, if not through my daughter’s year in Israel.
Amona has a complicated history, dating back to its founding by the Israeli government 20 years ago. The first settlers in Amona were initially encouraged and financially supported by the state. However, it was later discovered that the land was not the property of the state but it was actually privately owned by Arabs. After a battle in the Supreme Court, a ruling was held in favor of evacuating and destroying Amona on December 25th of this year. The issue before the court was whether the Israeli government must return land that was taken unwittingly from Arabs with state assistance, despite Israeli settlers having lived in the land for such a considerable amount of time. Some argued that the extreme hardships faced by the people currently living in Amona justify a compromise solution. Perhaps, they suggested, the current residents should be allowed to stay there and the prior owners should receive compensation, either in the form of cash or other similar land. What made this issue before the court more sensitive than a simple political or property dispute are the human rights issues involved. In the case of Amona, the real concern for the human rights of its residents led even typicall more moderate religious Zionist Rabbis like Rav David Stav and Rav Nachum Rabinowitz to sign on to a letter encouraging the wider community to non-violently oppose the evacuation and destruction of Amona.
In our Torah reading, we just read about the passion of Shimon and Levi standing up to the city of Shechem after the abduction of their sister Dina. Shimon and Levi avenged Dina’s rape by killing off all the males of Shechem after they had all circumcised themselves. Though Yaakov initially criticizes them for doing this, he later includes mention of their behavior when he blesses Shimon and Levi at the end of his life. My Rebbe, Rav Rosensweig, notes this seeming dissonance, and makes an interesting inference from Yaakov’s response to his sons’ actions. Immediately after their violent actions, Yaakov responds with criticism. However, when it comes time to bless his sons, Yaakov notes their sense of passion, thereby indicating a certain amount of praise. Passion is a powerful trait, and can be tremendously positive when channeled for good. Deeds that are born of passion and committed within a framework of appropriate behavior and Kiddush Hashem are indeed praiseworthy. Yaakov’s criticism of Shimon and Levi was that they used brit milah, the unique symbol of our devotion to God, to avenge Dina’s rape. Additionally, Yaakov accuses them of “achartem oti,” of causing a Chillul Hashem, in their behavior. This tension between appropriate and inappropriate passionate response has played itself out time and again throughout our history, and it does so once again in our reaction to Amona.
As such, I supported a passionate response to the Supreme Court’s Amona ruling. I supported passionately protesting this ruling through non-violent means, in the hope that a compromise could ultimately be reached to allow those living in this yishuv not to be evicted without a fair deal in place. Non-violent civil protest has always been deemed an acceptable method of freedom of speech, and assembly to express disagreement with governmental policies need not constitute a Chillul Hashem. Additionally, now with the benefit of hindsight, it seems that all of this pressure did work to secure a deal that was acceptable to a majority of the residents in Amona.
However, I received a copy of a prayer composed by the Rabbi of Amona who suggested that it be recited at the end of Shema Koleinu blessing in the bracha of Shomaya Tefillah. The middle of the prayer states, “Batel machshvot son’ainu ha’fer atzatoyvenu,” – cancel the thoughts of those who hate us, annul the plans of our enemies. Even though one could read this line as praying to annul the evil plans of the true enemies of Israel who want to destroy us, a reasonable reading of this prayer indicates that this is a prayer to cancel the plans of the government. I believe the language of this part of the prayer is anti the government of Israel. Demonizing the Israeli government, as I believe this prayer does, would constitute a Chillul Hashem in its own right and has the potential to lead to even more extreme behavior. And while passion is to be praised, chillul hashem in the name of passion is not. May our future be free of any more national crises like the situation we confronted in Amona. But when our collective conscience is tested, may we all approach these very painful situations with passion that is always balanced with wisdom.