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How is this Israel's Independence Day Different from Others? 

17 May 2024

Dear Members and Friends,

This week we are reading one of the most recognisable verses in the Torah:

שֶׁבֶר תַּחַת שֶׁבֶר עַיִן תַּחַת עַיִן שֵׁן תַּחַת שֵׁן
fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth

 
This is not the first time we have known this formula in the history of humanity. The Code of Hammurabi – ancient Babylonian legal text composed in the 18 Century BCE - had a similar principle - if a man destroyed the eye of another man, they were to destroy his eye. If one broke a man's bone, they were to break his bone. However, if a person of higher social status destroyed the eye or broke the bone of an ordinary person, he was to pay monetary compensation. If one destroyed the eye of a slave or broke a bone of a slave, he was to pay one-half of the slave's price.

It's possible that the Torah verse isn't just a set of laws but a critique of the Hammurabi Laws. The Torah presents a different perspective, advocating for a universal and egalitarian principle. 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, fracture for fracture' applies to all, irrespective of their social standing, origin, wealth or position.

In other words, when you apply the law to your citizens, you need to do the same to all. The equality of the law seems obvious, but it was not always the case in the past, and it is not always the case now. It is easy and wrong to demand justice from the most vulnerable, whose position in society is weak and not demand it from those in power.

This verse makes another point—there is no competition in suffering. This has been one of the hardest ethical challenges of the last months. There seems to be an illusion that people must take sides and either sympathise with Israelis or Palestinians. Why cannot we have feelings for both?

This week marked two significant days in Israel – Yom Ha-Zikkaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for the fallen soldiers) and Yom Ha-Atzma'ut (Israel’s Independence Day). Like many other milestones and festivals this year, these days feel very different. The shadow of the horrific terror attack of October 7th and the rising humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza are making it hard to find the right words to say these days.

Our sister Jewish movement in Israel – The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) - has issued a collection of prayers written by Israeli Rabbis to mark these days. [1] One of the Prayers for Israel, written by Rabbi Nardy Grun, stands out in its humanity, balanced approach and clarity. I would like to finish this week’s Thought for The Week with a quote from this prayer:

 

Blessed be those who make peace and strive for co-existence between peoples
Blessed be those who defend freedom and democracy
Blessed be those who defend the nation’s security

 
[1] Click 
here to read the full booklet.

 

Shabbat Shalom,
Igor Zinkov

Fri, 24 May 2024 16 Iyar 5784