I was walking up Fifth Avenue on my way to teach Torah, the other day, when I came upon a black gaggle of Chasidim, corralled and supervised by police behind metal barriers. The protestors were directing their attention towards a townhouse on the other side of the street. They were being led by a venerable octogenarian who was weeping and howling into a megaphone about the terrible tragedy that had befallen God’s Holy Ones. Swaying bodies to his left and right chanted Tehillim (Psalms) at the tops of their voices. What was this about? Was it about the victims of the Japanese tsunami, the peaceful protestors massacred by Arab dictators, the victims of war, disease, and poverty?
I approached a young Chasid. He was elegantly dressed and accessorized. By elegant, of course I do not mean the style of dress, simply the cut, cleanliness, and clear cost of his coat. I asked him what Chasidic dynasty he belonged to, was he Satmar, Bobov, Belz or Ger, naming the better known Hassidic courts. He refused to divulge his religious loyalty but asserted that he was one of “the Almighty’s Chasidim”. Of course I assured him I was too! He handed me a flyer.
From the flyer I learned that this was a demonstration organized by a body called “The Central Rabbinical Congress” (an organization, according to the dreaded internet, founded by the late Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teiltelbaum). The protest was taking place opposite the townhouse of a notorious Jewish real estate developer called Aby Rosen (no relation, thankfully), against “the uprooting of an ancient Jewish cemetery in Jaffa Israel for the purpose of building a luxury 600 million dollar hotel on the site.” Aha, I thought, this is an old trick. Make a nuisance of yourself to such an extent that the developer will pay you to go away. A nice little earner often employed in such circles where discovering Jewish bones and cemeteries is a huge and profitable business.
Then the flyer declared, “The Torah expressly forbids the existence of a Jewish state during our divinely ordained exile.” Now, I have read the Torah from cover to cover but have not found any such statement. It went on , “The State of Israel has trampled on every law of the Torah with impunity.” Strange, given that one of my complaints against Israel is the extent to which it imposes Jewish Law on reluctant citizens. And more: “It viciously oppressed all those who stood in its way.” Yeah, now that sounds more like anti-Zionism to me! I was sure I had stumbled on a Neturei Karta demonstration; that collection of peculiar homo sapiens who seem to think Ahmadinejad is a cuddly philo-Semite, and would rather trust their lives to throat-slitting barbarians than secular Israelis.
But this was not a local spat. There have been massive demonstrations in Israel because of bones, apparently around 1,500 years old, found in Jaffa when builders were working on the foundations for a new hotel. This is where Aby Rosen, comes in because he is one of the developers.
Now there is simply no evidence either of a Jewish burial site or indeed of Jews living there altogether. The Ministry of Antiquities examined the bones forensically and decided they were not Jewish. Some Charedi gentlemen with possibly extensive training in casuistry, but certainly nothing scientific, decided they were Jewish. Let us assume the Ministry of Antiquities is a thoroughly evil, prejudiced collection of blood suckers. Could I please see any empirical evidence from any objective source that these bones are Jewish?
All the evidence points to the contrary. Jewish settlement during that period was up in the Judean hills. The Coastal Plain was always dominated by Philistines, Greeks, and Romans. Just because some rabbi says so, these bones suddenly have converted? But let’s leave evidence out of this.
Neturei Karta and their running dogs seem to have forgotten that when in 1948 the Old City was captured by the Arab Legion and in Arab hands, the whole of the Mount of Olives graveyard was vandalized, tombstones used as paving stones, bodies simply dug up and dumped. This is the sort of regime these people think they’d rather entrust their lives and the lives of their families to?
But what disturbs me more is that thousands of the like-minded turned out in Jerusalem to honor and bury these self-same bones. Now by all means give honor to all human bones. Quite admirable. But honestly wouldn’t you have thought the living were more important? Wouldn’t you have thought that going to comfort the mourners of a family butchered in Itamar a bigger mitzvah? Did you see any of them there comforting the Fogel family? No, I thought not. Why? Because the Charedi camp despises the Religious Zionist camp and the settlers of Itamar are Religious Zionists. The last thing anti-Zionists would want to do is to be nice to Zionists, or even visit their sick or comfort their mourners.
Regardless of whether one agrees with an ideology or not, should not humanitarian issues override these considerations? Isn’t this so symptomatic of Jewish life, Israeli life today? They’d rather make a fuss and demonstrate over probably non-Jewish bones, than of living coreligionist human beings. Because bones don’t have different opinions. I only hope “Resurrection” comes soon enough for the bones to declare they’d rather have a Christian burial!