A Rediscovered Abundance of Goodness

Mr. Prime Minister,

Before the Shalit deal fades entirely from view, many of us are hoping that you have noticed what you unwittingly unleashed.  I don’t mean the next wave of terror or the terrible decisions that Israel must make before the next kidnapping.  We knew about those even before last week.  But last Tuesday, all of us – those opposed as well as those in favor (and there were persuasive arguments on both sides) – rediscovered something magnificent about this country.  It would be tragic if we returned to business as usual without pausing to take note.

In addition to Gilad Shalit, we got one more thing in return that few of us could have expected; we got a reminder of the abundant goodness that still resides at the very core of this society.  You could see it everywhere.  Compare the speeches on our side, celebrating life and freedom, to the blood-thirsty Palestinian harangues calling for renewed terror and additional kidnappings.   Compare the respectful restraint of our press to Shahira Amin’s immoral and abusive interview in Egypt.  But more than anything, we saw this reservoir of goodness in the streets – in the people so moved that they could hide neither the tears in their eyes nor the lumps in their throats.  We saw it in the throngs along the roads, people who wanted Shalit to know that they, too, celebrated his long overdue freedom.  And we saw it in the hundreds of people in Mitzpe Hila who continued dancing long after he’d entered his house and closed the door.  

We all felt it – it was innocent, pure and thoroughly decent.  We were witness that day to an entire country believing in something again.  Those young people outside the Shalit home were singing not only about Shalit, but about this land, this people, and about a future in which they still believe.  Did you see them?  Women and men, religious and secular, dancing with abandon in celebration of freedom?  Did you hear them singing anachnu ma’aminim benei ma’aminim …. “We’re believers, the children of believes, and we have no one on whom to depend, other than our Father in heaven”?  You didn’t miss it, did you?  Hundreds of people of all walks of Israeli life, proclaiming without hesitation their belief in something bigger than themselves?

The reason that the trade was wildly popular, Mr. Prime Minister, wasn’t ultimately about Gilad Shalit. It was about Israel.  About a country desperate to transcend the cynicism, that still wants to believe that it’s worth believing in.  Shouldn’t we – and you – therefore ask ourselves what can we do next to justify people’s belief in this place?   What will it take to make this a country that its citizens can love even when we’re not freeing a captive?

How about if we start by eradicating evil?  Take but one example and deal with it.  There’s a small but vicious group of kids living over the Green Line who bring inestimable shame on the Jewish people.  They burn mosques, tear down olive trees and sow fear everywhere – all with the implicit support of their rabbis.  And they make many young Israelis deeply ashamed of this entire enterprise.  Last week, you showed us that you do know how to take decisive action.  So do it again.  Rein them in.  Arrest them.  Cut off funding to their yeshivot.  If you show this generation of Israelis that your government stands for goodness even when that means making tough domestic decisions, you’ll unleash a wave of Zionist passion like we haven’t felt here for a generation.  It wouldn’t be any harder to do than what you just did, and it would actually do even more good for Israel than getting one soldier back.

And beyond goodness, there’s also Jewishness.  No, we shouldn’t make too much of that anachnu ma’aminim benei ma’aminim song, but admit – it’s not what you expect to see lots of secular people singing.  Yet they did.  Because this is a strange and wondrous country; not so deep down, even “non-religious” people aren’t “non-religious.”  Just like their observant counterparts, they’re searching, struggling, yearning – and at moments like that, they know that the well from which they hope to draw their nourishment is a Jewish well.

That’s why it was wonderful that you quoted from Isaiah (the Haftarah for Parashat Bereishit) in your speech.  It was your suggestion, I hope, that at its core, this society must be decent, but it must also be Jewish.  You know what the main problem with the summer’s Social Justice protests was?  It wasn’t the naïve embrace of high school socialism, or the utter incoherence of the demands.  It was the fact that there was simply nothing Jewish about their vision for Israel.  Dafni Leef and her comrades could have given the same vacuous speeches at Occupy Wall Street.  Or in Sweden, for that matter.  Those inane speeches were testimony to the failure of our educational systems and of Israel’s religious leadership.  The Yoram Kaniuk affair and the court’s willingness to let him declare himself “without religion” is a reflection not on him, but on the appallingly uninteresting variety of Judaism that the State has come to represent.  Can you – or anyone else – name even one single powerful idea that’s come from any of Israel’s Chief Rabbis in the past decade or two?  Me, neither.

But lo and behold, it turns out that Israel’s young people still want to believe in something.  We haven’t given them the tools to articulate it, but they still intuit that whatever we become, it’s got to be Jewish.  So ride that wave, too, Mr. Prime Minister.  What would it take to shape a country where the profundity at the core of Jewish tradition became once again the subject of discourse in our public square?  Does Judaism in the twenty-first century suddenly have to become dull and backward, or can we restore the intellectual and moral excellence that once characterized it?  Can you take this on, too?  Appoint the right people?  Build the right schools?  Can you help make this a country encourages those young people now searching for Jewish moral moorings?

For or against, hardly a single one of us is not thrilled that Gilad Shalit is home.  He deserved his life back.  But so, too, does this country.  Shalit, hopefully, will now get better and stronger with each passing day.  Israel must do the same.  It needs to get better – we need to be honest about the evils lurking in our midst, and we must exorcise them.  And we must become stronger, which we can do only by engaging with the roots that brought us back home in the first place.

Can you do this?  Many of us hope so.  Because if this fails, it will in the long run have made no difference that Gilad Shalit came home.  But if it succeeds, we might just come to see his liberation as the turning point in our collective return to believing in ourselves.


About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

16 Comments on "A Rediscovered Abundance of Goodness"

  • Felix says

    I believe in Daniel Greenfield

    The most common justification for the Shalit deal is to wear it as a perverse badge of moral nobility. “What other country would exchange a thousand terrorists for one man.” This is a close cousin of the argument that says the United States treating terrorists with kid gloves proves that it is nobler than them. Both of these insufferable arguments are symptoms of the moral decline of civilization.

    If the life of a single soldier is more important than the battle, then why have battles or soldiers at all? We don’t send soldiers out to fight because we think that their lives are worthless, but because the objective of war is to save even more lives than those that will be lost in fighting it. Or to preserve that liberty and independence from enemy oppression which are the qualities that make life worthwhile.

    There is nothing to be proud of in a moral confusion that puts the soldier before the battle. Even less in a country whose commanders and politicians think nothing of sacrificing soldiers in order to preserve the lives of enemy civilians.

    All the kvelling over Gilad Shalit would be a trifle less dishonest if the pundits, politicians and generals did not believe that sending a dozen boys like Shalit into battle without air and artillery support to avoid harming enemy civilians was also evidence of moral superiority.

    If the moral equations say that the life of Gilad Shalit is worth a major national defeat and that the life of a Gilad Shalit is worth less than that of an enemy civilian, then it’s no wonder that the terrorists are thriving. Israel’s own idiot elites have laid out a formula under which the IDF must lose every battle to preserve the nation’s morality. It’s Masada as practiced by left-wing lunatics.

    This peacenik logic makes it appearance at rallies protesting against terrorism when someone breaks out into another round of, “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu”, to show that we really want peace. Whom do we want peace with? The people killing us. The people we are protesting against. But like teachers’ pets we have to keep reminding the teacher that we really are good students.

    Armed pacifism is a contradiction in terms. Reluctant warriors who believe that peace is the ideal state are forced to blame the lack of peace on someone else. “We would love to put flowers in our guns and let the birds nest in our cannons, but those people over there keep shooting at us.” It’s true, but it’s also besides the point. Expediency is a weak and unconvincing argument against an ideal.

    If you view war as an unfortunate response to violence, while the enemy views war as a moral act– then the moral weight of the argument will always be on their side.

    The Muslims declare that war is their ultimate ambition while the Israelis counter that peace is their ultimate ambition, but they just can’t make it work when the other side is trying to kill them. In a rational world they would win the argument. In a world where emotional arguments that appeal to ideals are more compelling than pragmatic ‘shades of grey’ positions, the people who believe that purity of arms comes from the righteousness of their cause win out over those who believe that purity of arms comes from avoiding killing civilians.

    Or take that famous Golda Meir quote. “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” The insipid quote assumes that people who love their children don’t hate other people. Or don’t hate them enough to send their children into battle against them.

    Nazi Germany was not a nation full of honor killings and suicide bombers. It may be assumed that they did a reasonably good job of loving their children. That didn’t mean that they loved other people’s children. It didn’t mean that they were unwilling to risk their children to achieve their objectives.

    The Islamists have built up an image of a cult of death and there is some truth to that. Islam as ideology disdains the life of the individual, as much as the mass parades of the Nazis or the Communists did. Does that mean Hamas leaders don’t love their children?

    Suicide bombers rarely come from the ranks of the leadership. The Nablus junkie or the high strung teenager who thinks she wants to die, is a useful tool for Hamas and Fatah leaders. Suicide bombers are no different than the canon fodder in any other war– taught that their acts make them glorious, when actually it means they were disposable all along.

    The Golda quote appears to be a simple moral equation, but what it leaves out is the risk factor. The majority of Arab Muslims don’t expect to be wiped out by fighting Israel. Some of them will die in the battle, but that is true of all wars. The individual risk factor is small enough that they can easily love their children and hate Israel, without having to make a hard and fast choice between the two.

    The assumption that pacifism is the only true form of love is a dangerous one. Take the Golda quote at face value, and you have to question why Israelis send their sons into battle at all? Many of the fathers and mothers of the left no longer do. But if you don’t send some of your sons to battle, then all your sons will die anyway, or end up second-class citizens or slaves.

    All of Israel is expected to love Gilad Shalit enough to die for him at the hands of the terrorists who are his blood price. But then why must IDF soldiers second-guess themselves in a combat situation to avoid being sent to jail. And why have soldiers been sent to the front line underequipped and without the proper support. Is it really Shalit that the country is expected to be willing to die for, or pacifism? The willingness to deal rather than fight. The Korbanot Shalom, the Sacrifices for Peace, that have defined Israel in the Oslo age. With Yitzchak Rabin, acting out the role of a secular version of the patriarch of that same name, as the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of peace.

    There are more rational ways to reword the Golda quote. For example one might say that, “Peace will come when the Arabs do not see any advantage that they can gain for their children by hating us.” The New Middle East plan was loosely based around such thinking. So is the One State Solution. Eliminate any practical reasons for the hate by minimizing Israel as an economic and political entity and the hate will stop.

    It’s a condescending approach that completely ignores the function of such hate for the haters. The Third Reich did not hate Jews for any of the reasons that appear in Mein Kampf, but because hating Jews allowed Nazi Party members to seize their belongings, and gave their supporters an identity. Hating an outside group fulfills that function for Arabs and Muslims, who cling to Anti-Semitism in times of doubt– and no amount of peace songs will change that.

    Arabs and Muslims love their own children by hating Jews. It is a perverse kind of love, but it is love nonetheless. Lacking a meaningful identity beyond the family and the tribe, they build one of hate instead. Hate is what they pass down to their children. Hate is their prophecy for the future. If their children do not hate enough, then they will kill them. Out of a love that is so mixed with hate that there is hardly any difference.

    Alternatively one might say. “Peace will come when the Jews love their own children enough to hate the Arabs.” It’s not a pretty thought, but a relevant one to an Israeli political system where soldiers are sent off to die in avoidable ways for the sake of enemy civilians and Israeli civilians are forced to absorb terrorist attacks by a security establishment that is unwilling to do everything it takes to protect them.

    Israeli leaders have treated their own people as “Sacrifices for Peace” in a liberal holocaust, a fire offering to the gods of pacifism and international law. Israeli leaders traded a relative peace for a constant war in the name of what they called peace. But the “Peace Process” had no more to do with peace, than another round of “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu” or the withdrawal from Gaza. It was an act of ritual sacrifice for reasons moral and political.

    The Shalit exchange was more of the same. One life traded off for many more who will die at the hands of the freed killers. But it was necessary for political and moral reasons. The political reasons are obvious. The moral ones are even more obvious. To remind us that we are better people, no matter what the final cost of that moral morale boost may be.

    But true morality isn’t found in ritualized self-sacrifice, it’s localized in moral priorities. Ritual self-sacrifice is not moral, no matter how much it may seem that way in the light of the cameras. It is profoundly immoral to act without considering the consequences and all the rationalizations in the world do not change that.

    “Peace will come when the Jews love their own children more than they need to be loved by their enemies.” That is perhaps the most rational formulation of the Golda quote. And it seems as equally hopeless an expectation as Golda’s original quote.

    The Muslim world expresses its dysfunction by violently rejecting the outside world and the free world expresses it by seeking external validation. The collision between the two is the essence of liberal dysfunction which makes the way that we treat outsiders into its highest standard of morality and then abuses its own people to showcase its broken telescopic morality.

    If we must feed rabid dogs and starve our own children to show how moral we are, then only through such suicidal behavior will we ever feel good that we are truly good people. If the essence of feeling good about ourselves is to feel bad about ourselves, and to feel good by feeling bad, then we become the ASHamed Jews of Jacobson’s novel, The Finkler Question, who find redemption in this warped form of Jewish identity.

    The question however is not only a Jewish one. In a civilization where the national ethics of Western nations demands that they find their moral center at the bottom of a grave pit, the old moral code of “Love the Stranger” has been transformed into “Hate your Brother”. The socialist position that the stranger is the stranger because your brother has his boot on his head, means that it is your mission to love the stranger by hating your brother. And once the stranger is your brother and your brother is the stranger, then the inner becomes the other, and your nation and civilization are on the edge of a cliff.

    This isn’t morality or ethics, but a mockery of them that twists them to the furthest possible extreme until they become a suicide pact. But the balance of power is on the side of the suicides who have the purity of idealism on their side. And everyone to the right of them huddles in their shadow, devising weak compromise arguments that fail against the extremity of their positions.

    By accepting the moral validity of the pacifist argument on any level, the purity of any extreme form of that has also been validated. Accepting the pacifist argument nullifies the morality of self-defense and paradoxically means that only those who reject it have morality on their side.

    The terrorists who have never accepted that position in any way, shape or form have become the heroes of the left. Their very rejection of peace testifies to their credibility as their intractability proves their suffering and their ideals. Conversely the more Israelis talk of peace, the more they discredit their own moral case. Once you admit that you would rather not die for your ideals or your country, then you have lost the emotional argument to those who will.

  • Judy Singer says

    Excellent piece – good for you. As I’ve said in the past – important to get this translated and into the mainstream Israeli press.

  • Claire says

    I agree with you that the Prime Minister should stop the hatred of the thugs who are encouraged by their shameful rabbis. Since when are rabbis equating themselves to immams?
    I also agree aboutgetting the people together, a solidarity which will make them strong instead of bickering one about the other.

  • Brian Maissy says

    Kol hakavod, an excellent and much-needed article

  • David Waksman says

    Kvod HaRav Danny;

    it is amazing how you get to the heart of every piece you write.
    You mentioned the thugs, with the encouragement of their rabbis, destroying the property of the Arab neighbors. Having just read the Lords of the Land, we can see the majority of the settlers for what they are. It is one thing to live on the land of Abraham, it is another to shoot into the neighboring Arab homes, burn their mosques and destroy their means of cultivation and sacrifice Jewish lives in a fight that need not be fought. Is this not Kristallnacht all over again? The rabbis who support this criminal activity are no better than the Arab terrorists. The settler terrorists, some convicted in israeli courts are no better than Arab terrorists. They have killed many Arab children by random acts of violence. Carrying dead Jewish children thru out the Arab town, instead of immediately burying them clearly runs afoul of Halacha, but the Jewish dead are being used for political purposes, is that higher than Torah law? And how do they justify killing Yitzchah Rabin? Turning Dr Goldstein’s grave into a shrine is no different that Arabs naming squares in their towns for suicide bombers. Yes, we are all glad Gilad is home and we accept the heavy price. But let all Israelis remember they are Jews, especially the ones with the crochet kippas living in Judea and Samaria. If you wear the kippa on your head, wear it in your heart as well.

    I am not left wing, a super liberal or an “Arab lover.” Just a Jew asking how we can do these things, “under strict rabbinical supervision?”

  • Betty says

    Beautiful, inspiring absolutely perfect!

  • Ayala Zonnenschein says

    Every time I read one of your articles, I am humbled at how precisely you hit the nail on the head. Thank you for that.

    I actually think it would serve Israel well to release any remaining Palestinian prisoners being fed and supported in Israeli prisons – and deport them so that our enemies will have no reason to kidnap another soldier.

    Did the world notice how pale and weak Gilad looked and how well-fed and healthy the Palestinians looked who were released in the exchange?

    I pray that the PM will hear your words and take them to heart.
    Shabbat Shalom!

  • Yiscah Bracha says


  • Birgitta Yavari-Ilan says

    I am an artist/writer in Yemin Moshe with a Swedish origin. You put words to the message I also carry in my heart. You add to the hope I live with and never ever lost. Thank you and should you be in my neighborhood come for coffee on our balcony. I am one of those who are glad my heart found its way to Zion.

  • Judith Rahmani says

    Thank you for expressing the feelings of every Jewish soul, in Israel and abroad.
    Your words reminded us all that we can be united as a people and as a nation, with pride and courage…

  • Lisa Brink says

    Superb writing.

    I love how you articulated emotions I wasn’t even aware I was feeling.

    I will be sharing this.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so.

  • tova barth says

    I wish I could share the idea that our
    Prime-minister will do anything to get rid
    of those settlers that burn mosques and
    destroy olive-trees- please prove me wrong.

  • david v. amar says

    I am amazed by your logic , wondered what is your doctorate ? you are truly a confused individual! Thoughts of your caliber have value only in the netherlands. Your leftists views are dangerous to the state of israel may we should enact laws for your kind…..

  • Nancy F, says

    David Waksman,
    You are so far off in describing, “the majority of settlers.” The majority are nothing like the violent extremists that Daniel Gordis described (in fact he wrote that there is a “small but vicious group of kids living over the greenline”.(hardly a majority) As someone with many ties in many settlements, I can tell you that the majority are good people, good Jews, building beautiful communities. Put your book down and go see for yourself. Thank you to Felix for his brilliant response!

  • Debbie Albert says

    Thanks, beautiful. Simply, perfectly beautiful.

  • DK says

    Thank you for the article, Daniel.
    And many thanks to Felix for an extraordinarily compelling comment.

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