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But the 400 rabbis should not be seen as a merely insignificant rabble protesting against what they do not understand. Such truancy of conscience is only an instance of a far more comprehensive attitude to the Zionist experiment and the welfare of the beleaguered nation where it has taken root. There is little in the way of kiruv, the Hebrew term for “coming near,” the practice of drawing Jews closer to Judaism (usually, but not necessarily, Orthodox Judaism). Quite the reverse. As often as not, we observe a sense of radical estrangement from the yishuv, the Jewish community in the Holy Land, whose survival is constantly under threat.
Undeterred by existential peril, our Theban rabbis go their alienating way. These reverend shufflers speak in large measure for the Reform/ Reconstructionist denominations, liberal-minded and left-leaning Jews, and social pressure groups that purport to be reasonable and even-handed, sponsor debates and colloquia weighted toward the Palestinian cause in the interests of “openness” and “fairness,” and treat their declared enemies with forbearance. It’s called, variously, “interfaith dialogue” or “peace activism” or “social justice,” but what it really amounts to is shilling for the other side.
Indeed—to adjust my Herodotean metaphor—if our troop of rabbis had been the 400 men who rode with Esau to meet Jacob at Peniel, as we learn in Genesis 33, they would not have experienced a change of heart and reconciled with the patriarch. They would have accused Jacob of deceit, aggression, self-aggrandizement, unfairness to the surrounding tribes and who knows what other transgressions, and Israel would have been nipped in the bud.
Thus it is not just a question of Glenn Beck or any other particular individual who may be the object of communal resentment. Ultimately, the 400 rabbis are no less inimical to Israel and to authentic Jewish concerns than the 400 Thebans, who would have preferred not to fight the enemy massing against them, were delinquent to their own cause. More so, actually, since the rabbis have, as it were, fled their post. In this way, they abet the growing international conviction that Israel is a historical mistake and a pariah state to be boycotted, sanctioned and eventually erased from the map or folded into a Palestinian-dominated bi-national entity.
Interestingly, diffidence did not spare the Thebans from the fate that befell their more courageous compatriots. Those who do not have their heart in the fight go under just like those who are ready to stand and deliver—except that bravery and clear-sightedness will sometimes prevail, absent betrayal. This is a lesson the good rabbis and their communicants might keep in mind. But if worse should ever come to worst, what form of penance or contrition they will exhibit when it is too late does not bear much consideration.
And what, I wonder, would be the Hebrew name for Ephialtes?
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