The Immigration Tightrope

Readers may or may not know that the issue of illegal African migration to Israel has been on my mind for a long time now, and like everyone else I have no great answers to the dilemma. There is a fundamental tension between two basic instincts that are central to the Jewish state; almost every article I've seen on the issue espouses one of these instincts, but rarely both. Today's feature at JID is an article I wrote expressing the tension and looking for signs that the country is moving toward a responsible policy. If you find it to be a balanced and hopeful piece that does not shy away from criticism, if you think that taking a broad and complex perspective is important (and that my article succeeds in taking a broad and complex view) - then please share it. Maybe is there's enough optimism it will become self-fulfilling. Let's hope.

A separate issue involves the citizenry and how we relate to the migrants who are here, while they're here. As of now the country's record has been less than stellar. I'm trying to do what I can on the local level, and I hope to have an announcement about a larger-scale project soon, but this is probably a losing battle. I allude to some of the reasons in the article - basically, Israel hasn't ever worked through these issues before, so there is hope that with time and education things might still change.

This is the first of a series of posts and articles on the issue of African migrants in Israel that will appear in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.


NYT Misses a Big Part of Battir’s Cultural Heritage

Yesterday’s New York Times had an article by Isabel Kershner on the efforts to get the village and area around Battir recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Battir is an Arab village southwest of Jerusalem that is home to an ancient irrigation and terracing system. Petitioners claim that this ancient system is worth preserving and is hoping to prevent Israel from building its security fence right through the area, which straddles the Green Line.

The villagers have petitioned the Supreme Court in Israel to have the barrier rerouted here to prevent the destruction of the striking beauty of the area and its ancient system of cultivation. A court decision is pending. The conservationists hope that a recommendation from the World Heritage Committee may help persuade the court not to reject the villagers’ petition…

“Nobody thinks that Israel’s security concerns are not legitimate or important,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an organization that works to promote cooperation on environmental issues in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. But, he added, “there are alternative ways to bring about security without destroying 4,000 years of cultural heritage for the Israelis, the Palestinians and all of humanity.”
The article is fascinating, and Kershner is one of the better journalists writing in Israel for Western print outlets. Moreover, Battir would be an excellent choice as a World Heritage Site, though perhaps for reasons other than the ones cited by Kershner. There are some small bones to pick (for example, the article refers to the Green Line as an “armistice line”; one wishes that the arbitrariness and flexibility implied by that description would extend to all discussion of potential future borders between Israel and Palestine), but the biggest problem with the article is the egregious omission of perhaps the most significant chapter in Battir’s history.
Battir draws its name from Betar, the last Jewish stronghold to fall in the Bar Kokhba revolt. The fortress is identified with an area next to the present town called Khirbet al-Yahud – “the Jewish ruin.” The fall of Betar in 135 CE has been preserved in the archaeological and historical record as the final and utter defeat of the Jews, the last gasp of Jewish sovereignty for 1,800 years. Jewish memory – as preserved in the Talmudim and Midrashim – recalls Betar as a catastrophe of massive proportion whose implications for the future of Judaism exceeded even that of the destruction of the Temples. The rabbis viewed the fall of Betar, not the Temple, as worthy of adding a blessing to the Grace after Meals – a blessing that sought God in the minor miracles of an exilic existence and not in the divine flourishes of an integral Jewish civilization.

In fact, the Talmud offers an alternative explanation for the fertility of Battir: “For seven years [after the fall of Betar] the gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.”

So Battir and its environs are certainly worthy of being marked as a significant site with Jewish as well as world culture. No doubt the ancient terraces are worth preserving. Yet if these hills are to be recognized as a World Heritage Site, they must be acknowledged, first and foremost, for its significance to Jewish history.

Cross-posted to the Times of Israel. Also, see Yisrael Medad's response to the NYT article]


30 Years since Israeli MIAs Disappeared

My latest post at the Times of Israel marks exactly 30 years (on the Hebrew and English calendars) since the Battle of Sultan Yacoub, where Yehuda Katz, Zachary Baumel, and Tzvi Feldman went missing. Take a look.

I spoke about them a bit at the brit of my son, Zechariah Yehuda (whose name coincidentally is that of two of the MIAs - the two who attended yeshivot where I studied as well), 6 years ago tomorrow (Hebrew calendar); his brit was on the day that Gilad Shalit was captured.


Quoted in an Article on SSM in Israel

I'm quoted in Michal Shmulovitz's article on same-sex marriage in Israel. I take the line (which I articulated more fully here) that Israel should have a civil marriage option, and that the civil option should recognize same-sex marriages.

The third-to-last paragraph of Shmulovitz's article is mind-blowing (yes, I know more and helped her with that paragraph; no, I'm not talking about it any further). The existence of lesbian couples who are keeping taharat ha-mishpacha (I wonder if they keep chumrot based on the chashash of poletet shichvat zera; by all counts, that should be, um, a non-issue) and covering their hair is the next step in the trend I discussed in my Orthosexuality article. Going back a bit further, to some much earlier musings on the subject of LGBT members of halakhic/Orthodox communities, I actually raised the question on this blog about whether same-sex couples should be encouraged to keep some form of taharat ha-mishpacha. Go figure.

We Remember the Ice Cream, and the Fish...

In honor of the parsha, I reposted this post from 4 years ago at the Times of Israel (with some additions from this post).
If you get to the end of the post, you will realize that it is a subtle zinger, not a Tuttle-Singer.