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Rabbi’s Sermon Saturday 2nd December 2023

There is a strange passage at the beginning of this week's reading, Genesis 35:2. "Jacob said to his household: Get rid of the foreign gods" אֶת-אֱלֹהֵי הַנֵּכָר Foreign gods? Why does the household of Jacobs have foreign gods, in other words, idols? This household has been monotheistic for three or four generations since God spoke to Abraham. They are supposed to have got rid of idolatry. So why are they keeping idols? There is one moral explanation. These foreign gods are not actual idols. The expression must be read as a metaphor. The verse instructs the sons of Jacob to undergo a process of purification of their bodies and clothes. Because - as we read in the previous verse - they are about to build a Temple in Bet El. And before building a Temple, you must purify yourself. There is, though, another reading which links this passage to the previous chapter: the rape of Dinah. Shechem, the son of Hamor, rapes Dinah, the daughter of Jacob. After the rape, the family of Shechem offers Jacob what we call a "shotgun wedding". Jacob's sons - the brothers of Dinah - accept, on condition that the male inhabitants of Shechem agree to be circumcised. Shechem agrees. But when they are recovering from the circumcision and are weak, Simeon and Levi, two sons of Jacob, attack the city of Shechem. Simeon and Levi kill all the men of Shechem, loot the animals, and ransack the city, including their precious statues and their idols; אֶת-אֱלֹהֵי הַנֵּכָר - the foreign gods. It is a disconcerting episode - and Jacob's reaction is even more disturbing. Once he learns of the massacre, he reproaches his sons. He says the land's inhabitants will gather against him and his family. Simeon and Levi give their father a chilling reply: "Is our sister a prostitute?" They have exterminated an entire city and do not regret it. It has been an act of revenge and Jacob, at this point, is silent. This is the most chilling part of the whole episode. The silence of our Patriarch when he learns that his sons have committed a massacre and show no regret at all. I have always found Jacob's silence very distressing and ethically problematical. I grew up in the 90s when rape and revenge were part of the horrible wars in the Balkans, near Italy, where I lived. Did Jacob give his approval to a similar action? I recently read the commentary of the Maharal, who sees this episode as part of a war. The Maharal explains that Shechem was at war with the Israelites. The rape of Dinah was an act of war. Shechem proposed not a marriage but a ceasefire of three days. When the truce ended, Simeon and Levi attacked Shechem. Now, if we read the story this way, the matter of the foreign gods makes sense. Jacob's family were holding on to these idols that were looted from the city. They were a souvenir of their military enterprise, which is a terrible thing on several levels. Spoils of war must be removed from the households of Jacob as they are about to embark on building for the first time. It is an essential part of the process of purification. Reading today about the story of the rape of Dinah and the massacre of Shechem as being part of the war, forces us to confront the contemporary situation. Because in this current conflict, rape is being perpetrated as an act of war. It is what Hamas has done against our brethren in the Land of Israel. Hamas terrorists have been instructed by their religious authorities to rape the Jewish women. They have filmed their deeds and posted videos online on social media to encourage others to do the same. And, let me remind you, the so-called moderate Palestinian authority, that of Abu Mazen, has still not condemned those rapes. Nor - if you hadn’t noticed - have many Leftist feminist organizations. Israeli soldiers do not rape Arab women. Even avowed anti-Zionists admit that rape is not part of the toolkit of the Israeli Army. The sociologist Tal Nitzan, a ferociously anti-Israel academic, published a study in 2004. In such a masterpiece of social science, Nitzam explains that Israeli soldiers refrain from raping Palestinian women because they have been taught to dehumanize the Palestinians. Nitzan also maintains that soldiers don't want the Arab population to increase through pregnancies. Let me quote: "As Israelis/Jews, who view themselves as moral, the soldiers find it difficult to commit military rapes. Jews identify themselves as non-rapists, non-assimilationists, and as a nation unique in the embrace of God. Rape and non-rape are two sides of the same coin, and in different situations, the use of either can lead to the same results". Get it? Israeli soldiers do not rape Arab women because they are racist. What an extraordinary sample of anti-Zionist logic... Anyways, it proves my point. Israelis do not commit rape. However, to the Palestinians, as we have seen, things are precisely the opposite. Rape, to them, is a legitimate weapon. Does the systematic rape of Israeli women justify the bombing of a city or a similar action, as we have seen against the inhabitants of Shechem? I don't know. No one knows. Ramban suggests that the town of Shechem is an evil place worthy of destruction and makes a long list of horrible things that have happened there. Maimonides justifies the actions of Simeon and Levi by accusing the town of moral failure. He states: "All the inhabitants of Shechem had to die. They saw the rape and the kidnapping, and they were aware of the horror, but they did not prevent it." Maimonides argues not only that kidnapping and rape must be punished but woe to the society that allows this to go on unchecked - as is the case in Gaza nowadays. I am not Ramban, nor Mainonides. The death of civilians horrifies me, although I am aware that civilian casualties have outnumbered military deaths in every war since WWI. I also know that any hostages who have tried to escape from their kidnappers in Gaza have been captured and brought back to their torturers. This suggests that the population of Gaza is not as opposed to the Hamas rulers as the BBC and others like to think they are. And so, like Jacob, I am silent. I have no answer. I do not dare to preach "peace! peace!" or "ceasefire! ceasefire!" from the comfortable safety of my home in Southern England: Brighton, Hove. I do not admonish those Jews whose sisters and mothers have been raped, tortured and murdered by Hamas, with the support of many Palestinians. I follow Jacob's example. My heart is with them, and I wish the war ends soon.


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