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  • August 30, 2014

    Shof'tim, Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9

    By Rabbi Shira Milgrom for ReformJudaism.org

    Breathing New Life into Ancient Teaching



    One of the joys of Jewish life in the Land of Israel is the way ancient texts can be used in ordinary moments of daily life. A rabbinic colleague tells the story of a Jerusalem traffic jam: traffic had come to a complete halt, and drivers were leaning on their horns in frustration. The taxi driver (who was driving my colleague) finally stepped out of his car and reprimanded the driver behind him, with a full, verbatim quote of Exodus 14:15, in its original Hebrew:

    "Why are you yelling at me? Speak to the people of Israel and tell them to move!" (The translation here is meant to reflect the use of the text.) Never mind that in the original context it is God speaking to Moses at the Sea of Reeds.

    At another moment of Israel's story—a moment neither joyous nor quotidian—members of Israel's judiciary community brought a different Torah text to bear on Israeli society. It was 1982. Israel was in control of southern Lebanon when Lebanese Christian Phalangists attacked the predominately Muslim refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, and many were killed. Huge protests in Israel against the killings forced the government to take action, resulting in its convening a commission to assess the responsibility of the Israeli government and army. The Kahan Commission,1 established by the Israeli government, was chaired by Yitzhak Kahan, president of Israel's Supreme Court. It concluded that the Gemayel Phalangists bore direct responsibility for the massacres in the refugee camps, and that Israel was to be held indirectly responsible. It is to this second charge, that of indirect responsibility, that we turn our attention.

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