Wednesday, May 30, 2018

On Misuse, Dismiss and Other Misses

In response to Ezra Zuckerman Sivan, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he is deputy dean, who had published "The Ambassador's Misuse of Torah", I had tweeted:

"Moses is cautioning us against naturalizing the connection between nation and land" - you're kidding, right? Mitzvot Tlyuot Baartez. Etc., etc. The land is "promised only when Israel emulates God". Christian theology.Mitzvot Tlyuot Baartez. Etc., etc.The land is "promised only when Israel emulates God".Christian theology.

and he responded:

If I were kidding, I wouldn’t have written it. None of what I wrote contradicts anything to do with מצוות התלויות בארץ or even מצות יישוב הארץ. I’ll try to read and respond to more serious reactions later.

His oped's thrust was

Religious Zionists like the US ambassador argue that the commandment to love the foreigner applies only to those who accept Israel’s sovereignty over the land.

And adds that he sees as a core problem that

the Torah...argues against the naturalization of the link between nation and land, and for the moral primacy of minorities.

Well, to be serious, I am not quite sure how that conclusion can be drawn from the example he gives. Besides that, I do not quite understand the practical aspect of a minority's "moral primacy". Primacy over what, or who? Must a stranger, a non-citizen for lack of a better term in today's vocabulary, be better treated?

Zuckerman Sivan, further on, writes

You must also show love toward the foreigner, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

and that is the exception to the categorization of what is incumbent on the Jew.  The command is simply not to oppress or mistreat or cheat the non-citizen resident. It does not include awarding him rights he does not deserve. Or if he violates his responsibilities as a citizen that he cannot be stripped of the same. 

Remember, Israel's Nationality Law reads:

11 (b)The Minister of the Interior may terminate the Israel nationality of a person who has done an act constituting a breach of allegiance to the State of Israel.
Would Zuckerman Sivan apply a formula of naturalization that should override that law?

The commandment - And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” - obviously draws a parallel to the Jewish situation in that we were not 'citizens' of that country and did not assimilate and kept our own customs.  While I cannot say whether we accepted Egyptian sovereignty, what is clear is that indeed, there is a factor of naturalization involved if we are referring to the biological aspect of  naturalization which is the process by which a non-native organism or species spreads into the wild and its reproduction is sufficient to maintain its population. 

Moshe himself notes in Exodus 2:22 his own status in Egypt as

גֵּר הָיִיתִי בְּאֶרֶץ נָכְרִיָּה


I was a stranger in a foreign land

A land that is 'strange' means that you are in a territory which is not one's natural surroundings or habitat. It should follow that living in one's land, where your history, religion, culture and identity were formed is natural and that is, indeed, a naturalizing existence.

Now, to move on to a second element in Zuckerman's revisionist reading.

Dismissing the first Rashi in the Bible - "the nations of the world may not accept the Torah’s authority (or that of the medieval exegete Rashi['s]...interpretation)" for "the chain of title from God directly to the Jewish people for the land of Israel", Sivan thinks it worth asking

whether the Torah really says that God “gave” the land of Israel to the Jewish people to “own”? And does the Torah really say that national ownership of land is a good thing? No and no.

Part of his proof is that

nowhere in Deuteronomy (or in the Torah more generally) is the land described as the “Land of Israel”! Instead, Moses employs an ever-changing array of cumbersome descriptors such as “land flowing with milk and honey”; “land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”; and “land that is under God’s scrutiny.” Only once does Moses give it a name: Canaan.

Why? Because Moses is cautioning us against naturalizing the connection between nation and land.

Of course that is incorrect so he quickly alters and finesses his assertion so:

yes God “gives” the land to Israel. But title is not transferred; it is more like a lease that can be revoked at any time depending on the behavior of the tenant. 

Zuckerman's basic error is conflating "revocation" with "punishment by exile".  Even if the Jewish people were exiled, the end result was to have them return to their natural habitat.
I would agree, though, that his view that the commandment to love the foreigner does not apply only to those who accept Israel’s sovereignty over the land. Nevertheless it is his reading that is 

a dangerously narrow reading.

That is because in today's political and security reality to ignore threats by Arabs who refuse to be called "Israeli Arabs" but rather "Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship", who demand ethnic autonomy in various areas of Israel, and to excuse the behavior of Arab MKs has nothing to do with a responsibility to 'love the foreigner'.

To do so is to act in a way Zuckerman does not want us to to act which is to

stop straining to hear the Torah’s purported proclamation of support for... maximalist claims

In this reality, to promote a supposedly but quite mistaken 

more moral, compassionate form of nationalism.

is to endanger Jewish lives, place Israel's security and diplomatic standing at risk and, all the while, indicating to a people who wish to eliminate the Jewish people's rights to a Jewish democratic national state how weak and unsure we are about our natural right to maintain that state.


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