No. 33: Is Funding the Iron Dome Really an Israeli Victory?

The following is a transcript of Episode 33 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.

Donniel Hartman:

Hello, my name is Donniel Hartman and I am the President of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Today is Sunday, September 26th, 2021. And this is For Heaven’s sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage project. Our theme for today is entitled “Is Funding the Iron Dome Really an Israeli victory?” In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem and myself discuss the current issue central to Israel and the Jewish world. And then Elana Stein Hain director of the Hartman faculty in North America explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Let’s begin. Last week, Israelis and American Jews breathe a collective sigh of relief and celebrated what was touted as a great victory for Israel and for the American Israel relationship. An overwhelming majority of Congress, 420 to 9 voted to approve a special billion dollar allocation to restock interceptor missiles for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system after they were depleted by the last Gaza conflict in May.

Donniel Hartman:

In doing so, they overturned an attempt by a small group of progressive members of Congress to prevent this aid. “How,” Israel’s defenders asked with compelling logic, “could anyone justify denying Israel the right to protect its civilians from indiscriminate rocket and missile attacks?” For further justification, some noted the Iron Dome actually saves Palestinian lives also. If there were massive casualties on the Israeli home front, the Israeli government would have no choice, but to launch a major ground defensive against Gaza causing untold civilian casualties. But was this really a victory for Israel and the American Israel relationship? Did Israel with its thriving economy really need this billion-dollar handout? Is it consistent with his real identity as a sovereign nation? What strings come attached? Are we opening ourselves to the kind of scrutiny and conversation about our policies that creates an unhealthy relationship?

Donniel Hartman:

And what about our relationship with American Jewry? Which expended much of its political capital to get this aid package supported by such an overwhelming majority of Congress. Is this the type of relationship Israel wants and needs with American Jews? Is this the type of relationship that American Jews need and want with Israel? What are the costs of such a relationship? Now, we all know that no country is fully independent. To one extent or another, we’re all dependent on each other. But when should a country ask for assistance and when should it rely on its own resources? These are not only, or perhaps even primarily political questions. They’re ultimately questions about the meaning and value of sovereignty and national dignity. They go to the core of the kind of relationship we want with America and American Jewry. Yossi, nice to be with you. How was Sukkos?

Yossi Klein Halevi:

Oh, it was wonderful. Just why it’s my favorite holiday by far.

Donniel Hartman:

Really? Me too! We didn’t coordinate this. Sure. Yeah. I love it. It’s my number one.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

Number one by far.

Donniel Hartman:

What do you love about it?

Yossi Klein Halevi:

First of all, that it’s after Yom Kippur. It’s over. You can actually relax. And there’s just the beauty of leaving your home and stepping into another dimension. It’s really like entering into another world. That’s how I feel every Sukkot.

Donniel Hartman:

What I love, first of all, like you, I love the uncomplicated nature of Sukkot. It’s the only holiday we call “zman simchateinu,” the holiday of our joy. And I think one of the reasons is we don’t overcomplicate it. You know, it’s not the redemption story and the giving of Torah. It’s like, it’s not about teshuva. It’s not about the destiny and the meaning of human — there’s something just simply joyful. And the sukkah: I spend easily 6 to 10 hours decorating my sukkah. It’s this act of aesthetic love. It’s just beautiful.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

What are the decorations that you used this year?

Donniel Hartman:

Oh, I use the same ones. I add each year. But I started a tradition many years ago when I was decorating with my children who are supposed to be there with me when I decorate, but now somehow seem to claim to have a life of their own. I don’t know why. And they have their own sukkahs which is another story,

Yossi Klein Halevi:

The chutzpah!

Donniel Hartman:

The chutzpah. The rebellious children. But I started a tradition many years ago that every child could hang up whatever they want. And so we developed this eclectic sukkah. I have one daughter who loves Christmas decorations and tinsel and one child loves Oriental carpets and these strange tapestries. So now these are part of our collection. And every year I find another carpet or another tapestry and each one has a different story to it where I found it and what happened with it.

Donniel Hartman:

And I look, and the sukkah is just this years of coming together. And it was — it’s just beautiful. You know, it’s nice to be an uncomplicated Jew sometimes. Like don’t — just celebrate. Celebrate you, your life, your story. And sometimes the beauty of rituals is it’s just the feeling of the ritual itself, not the meaning that you can give to a ritual. And so sukkos for me is just, it’s the most un-Donniel Hartman holiday of the year. And maybe that’s why I love it the most.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

Well, it’s interesting because our Sukkot is actually very different and it is really focusing on not just meaning, but ultimate meaning. It’s really — we embrace Sukkot as an intimation of redemption. And so what we do in the sukkah is decorated with symbols of the world’s religions. And the reason we do that, of course, is because in the Temple they sacrificed for all the nations. And so this is our way of bringing in all the nations into our Jerusalem sukkah. But it’s interesting to me how different each Jewish impulse is. And I think that the anarchic spirit of Judaism is really our strength. And every sukkah reflects a very different sensibility.

Donniel Hartman:

I feel like we could keep on talking about Sukkos, but I think I’m going to enjoy it more than the Iron Dome. But you know, so much of iEngage is asking how does each one of us — what’s our take on Israel? What do we take away from each event? Just like we’re going to do now, but that’s our, that’s the essence of our tradition. That’s the deep pluralism that it’s such a family-centered holiday, very much like the Seder, and as such is so reflective of what we want and what we need, and what we’re looking for. So anyway, in the midst of this Sukkos, you know, in the midst of this story, you know, while we’re in our sukkas and we’re traveling all over, Israel and Israelis are celebrating, there’s this story, this Iron Dome story, initially, this angst, “oh my God, they turned it down.”

Donniel Hartman:

I told you the Democrats, I told you it’s terrible. The progressives are there that whole, all in the drama, drama, drama, drama, and then quickly gets overturned celebration. It’s almost like this classic Purim or Hanukkah story of, you know, how it gets transformed. So in the midst of all of this partisan rancor, and then the excitement that the approval of the funding, well, what was, while you were in your sukkah commensurating with the world religions, what did you feel? What was your take on all of this?

Yossi Klein Halevi:

So, you know, like, it’s interesting Donniel because I had two responses, consecutive responses. The first was this feeling of relief that the democratic party is not turning into the British labor party under Corbyn. And that was a visceral reaction that really had nothing to do specifically with the Iron Dome. But my second response was more I’d say in line with some of the questions you raised in your introduction to this episode. And that was that maybe we made a mistake, the pro-Israel community, and the State of Israel in setting the bar for pro-Israel support too low. And the way in which we promoted the Iron Dome, and if you listen carefully to what was being said by the pro-Israel faction in the democratic party, they were saying: this is a good weapon. This is a safe weapon. This isn’t even really a weapon at all. So we can give this to Israel. This is purely defensive, And they’re setting us up for a very uncomfortable situation because the next time a vote comes around for offensive weapons, which we need. We’re not only in the business of stopping rockets from falling on our cities. We also have a modern army that needs to be equipped with effective weapons. But by framing the pro-Israel position as equating it with a purely defensive weapon, we might have really made a very serious mistake.

Donniel Hartman:

It’s really interesting. I thank you for that because I didn’t notice that. I was very uncomfortable and I’ll share why in a moment, maybe it grew out of what you were saying, and I couldn’t give a language to it, but this notion of this is the good weapon as distinct from the bad one. I don’t know if somebody was setting us up or we’re setting ourselves up and at any given time you make an argument, be careful what your argument is.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

Yeah.

Donniel Hartman:

Be careful what your argument is. I was very uncomfortable by the whole thing because I didn’t understand, you know, here, I apologize for the heresy, why were we asking them to fund the Iron Dome? What? We don’t have a billion dollars. What is it? Is America my bank? Why would I turn — did I turn to America to ask, “could you please fund buses in Jerusalem? Could you please fund new highways?” I felt like I was in Israel in the 1950s. It didn’t feel like Israel 2021.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

What does that do to you as an Israeli? What did that make you feel?

Donniel Hartman:

Embarrassed! Embarrassed.

Donniel Hartman:

My first thought was: I was embarrassed. You know, I don’t see military aid, you know, and here Michael Oren’s article in Tablet, I thought it was really a serious one. I don’t know why it’s not part of the — why is it a foreign aid issue and not a defense budget as Michael [said]? And I think he’s absolutely right. He’s right.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

In other words like Germany and South Korea.

Donniel Hartman:

Billions. Money far excessive, far, far in excess. And then when I take into account military aid where it’s all spent in America. I don’t want to go into the details. It’s in the context of mutual interest, a relationship. But here – I, start-up nation wealthy country, 300 plus billion dollar budget in the midst of this period of like, please help me replenish my missiles. I almost felt as if Israel was forgetting what it means to be a sovereign country. Now it’s one thing when, as you know, as I said in the introduction, none of us are completely independent, but it felt like it was childish. And maybe that’s also part of what you were saying beforehand. When you come and ask somebody for something which you don’t really need, what are you doing? You’re creating a parent-child relationship with America. And I don’t think that’s a healthy relationship for any country. And then all of a sudden, an American will say, why are you doing this? I feel like I’m a child. You know, here you go to your parent, ask them for something. And you should know when you ask them for something they’re going to get involved in your life. You know what I mean? You want independence? Well, act independent.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

And then the child gets resentful of the parents. “What do you mean? You’re telling me what to do.” “Well, I’m paying for you.” So it is an unhealthy dynamic. Do you remember, Donniel, in the nineties, there was an Israeli debate over whether to continue Israel bonds? Do you remember this?

Donniel Hartman:

Yes. Yes.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

And the very credible argument was made that we don’t need Israel bonds anymore. As you put it, this isn’t, it’s not the 1950s anymore.

Donniel Hartman:

Clarify for our audience. Israel is able to borrow money on the free market for cheaper than it costs them to borrow money with Israel bonds. And that’s why to this very day, they limit the amounts so that it won’t — they’re limiting the damage basically.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

And yet the decision was made to continue Israel bonds because it helps nurture a sense of pro-Israel activism among American Jews, among diaspora Jews. Now, one can argue the rationale for maintaining a program that we don’t necessarily need, but which makes Jews feel good. I’m sure it’s good for Israel. There’s a Yiddish expression, “better than a slap in the face.”

Donniel Hartman:

Oh, that’s a high standard. It’s paying 5% for something that you could get for 2% or something. Yeah. Okay.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

But then, you know, the question really about the Iron Dome is putting it in the wider context of both our relationship with America and our relationship with American Jewry.

Donniel Hartman:

So let’s — Yossi, could I, for just one second, let’s divide those two. Let’s start with our relationship with America and then let’s go to American Jewry. And the analogy of bonds was a great one. So what happens to an American when we create this relationship? What does it do? And is it healthy for Israel or not? Or is it healthy for Americans? Does it make us different than the way America treats Germany, England, all its other allies in the world?

Yossi Klein Halevi:

Well, I think that the reaction that we’re seeing in America, certainly from progressives should lead us to ask the kinds of questions that you raised at the beginning of the program. But here’s what worries me about taking this too far. There’s something in me that is saying, you know, we’re always, we, the Jewish people, we’re always so introspective, we’re always raising questions. We just had one of the great victories in Congress at a moment when bipartisanship is really up for grabs. And here’s this tremendous reaffirmation of bipartisanship. And is there’s something in us that can take yes for an answer? And is there an expression of ingratitude simply by raising these questions? So I’m putting that on the table, Donniel, because it’s part of the mix of, I think, how we need, how we need to react.

Donniel Hartman:

I hear you. I hear you. But I don’t mean any sense of ingratitude. I think the fact that it was voted for is remarkable and is a testimony of a deep connection and a sense of a relationship. There’s a relationship that it implies that’s very, very beautiful. And that’s true, but I feel that we’re setting ourselves up, Yossi. See, you know my politics..

Yossi Klein Halevi:

You know my politics and I actually agree with you. I think we are setting ourselves up, but look at how you just framed it. You framed it by, first of all, expressing gratitude. By saying, “isn’t this a beautiful relationship?” And we really can trust America

Donniel Hartman:

Just for the record: I only said that because you inspired me. Because you embarrassed me. I was on my high horse. I’m learning from you. So I did that exactly because you’re right. Because who am I? Like shut up, Donniel? Look what just happened. This is beautiful. Say something nice. So I corrected myself, but I did it because of you. And then I have to be Donniel again a little bit. And you know, I love the fact. I think it’s very, very valuable when countries are dependent on each other. And precisely when you’re dependent, there’s a relationship in which not just money is passed, but ideas, criticisms, advice. And I’m frightened of an Israel, which is isolated, completely self-sufficient. And when countries become self-sufficient, they also become morally mediocre. So I’m not bothered by criticism. But I think that there’s a healthy conversation between countries and an unhealthy conversation.

Donniel Hartman:

I think serious criticism of Israel’s policies, if someone believes in them believes that it’s warranted, are great and Israel has to learn how to live with them. But when it is a parent-child intervention, it’s not a criticism. It’s taking ownership. There’s a difference. It’s not two adults talking and saying, I want to share with you what I feel. What do you think? The power imbalance, which is created as a result of these gifts, creates an expectation in which if I gave you the money, then I have power to tell you what I think, not because of the content of my argument, but because of the power imbalance between us. And that’s when the relationship is going to go south, there’s an entitlement. When it comes to Israel, then we turn around and say, why don’t you treat me like you treat everybody else. Like, what do you mean? We have a parent-child– I’m treating you like the child you asked me to. And I think Israel, even though we could have gotten the billion dollars, we have to ask ourselves, do I want that relationship? I want a relationship, a friendship with America. I want a relationship. I don’t want this child-parent dependency. I don’t think it’s going to be good for Israel.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

Let’s play it out. If I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is there are times there are situations where we will need to ask America and if there is a psychological price to pay, if we find ourselves in a parent-child relationship, there are certain weapons systems, for example, that we really need, that we can’t pay for ourselves, and so we’re going to have to swallow that. But when it’s a situation where we really can absorb the cost, when we’re asking America to support us with a weapon system, that not only we can take care of ourselves, but also is a system that’s purely defensive. And that’s not a measure of your real friendship. The measure of real friendship for Israel is: are you prepared to support us as a strong, independent army, not in a defensive posture. And it’s so interesting Donniel, if you think of the connection here, because not only is it a parent and child relationship, but the weapon system itself places us in a role where we absorb the attacks and now we can’t defend ourselves adequately. For Israel to defend itself adequately means to have weapons systems where we can defeat the enemy, not just absorb rocket attacks. And I think there’s a correlation there.

Donniel Hartman:

It’s a very interesting correlation. It’s a subtle one. And I hear you. This just didn’t sit well. Between two sovereign countries and it both reflects, as you said, the best aspect of our relationship, but also is indicative of something that’s not healthy that I think we have to think about in the future. But let’s go to the Jews for a second. Does Israel want this relationship? Is this the type of relationship that Israelis and American Jews want to have with each other? What’s good about it, Yossi? You know, go to your Israel bond story. What’s positive about it? And what’s what maybe is not positive about?

Yossi Klein Halevi:

Well, what’s positive is that we’re giving American Jews the opportunity to turn an emotional attachment into a mitzvah, into a tangible act. And there is a whole set of pro-Israel mitzvot that have developed over the years. One is pilgrimage to Israel. That’s probably the most elemental of the pro-Israel mitzvot. Supporting Israel in Congress is another elemental mitzvah. And I certainly want to encourage American Jews to continue with these mitzvot, but maybe after 70 years, it’s time to rethink the ways in which these mitzvot play out and to think, and really to borrow from the iEngage lexicon to think of reciprocal mitzvot. What are the mitzvot that Israelis are responsible, or, you know, our relationship with American Jews. In other words, maybe this is an opportunity to ask ourselves what needs to be refined or updated in the system of mitzvot? And really, you know, a beautiful and organic system of mitzvot developed over the decades. Intuitively American Jews created this network of mitzvot. And I understand the Israeli argument in the nineties that said, don’t tamper with this. It’s something that’s so precious. It makes Jews feel good. It’s good for Israel in some fashion. Why, why tamper with success? And yet maybe this is really a moment when we need to not just celebrate this system of mitzvot, but ask how do we refine it? How do we update it?

Donniel Hartman:

I love that analogy and the use of this language of mitzvot. I’m finding it personally, very, very helpful. The question that I ask and you noticed I tried very hard not to use the word “but” because it’s not a counter. And I think this language of mitzvot is very helpful. A mitzvah fulfills you. And when you have a full system of mitzvot, you think that that’s enough. You don’t look beyond. And the notion that you could always add new mitzvot is not true. Part of the problem is that this type of relationship never forced, as you said, Israelis, to ask, “what do I owe American Jews or North American Jews?” And North American Jews would say, of course not, because now this is security. This has to be the unconditional gift. This is the unconditional. The relationship is unconditional. I’m dying, you’re living in the golden medina.

Donniel Hartman:

You got to help the — you know, that story. And even though Israelis don’t believe it in their relationship with North American Jews, this is the story of the mitzvahs they’ve created, and they let themselves off the hook. But I think there’s another part to it too. I think that there’s a whole new system of mitzvot that North American Jews have to think about. That support for Israel is not, and cannot be exhausted by financial contributions and by support in Congress. Because at the end of the day, there’s a part of American Jewry’s aspirations which don’t have room at the table. And here it is, your job is what do the Israeli government want stand up and say amen. Are you going to say hineni? You know, who’s not going to say hineni. And I think that maybe is the reason why they had the good weapons, because at this moment, who’s not going to say hineni.

Donniel Hartman:

It’s the good weapons to say hineni for. But I think American Jews at the end of the day, a support and a relationship to Israel is going to have to find deeper meaning then supporting the nebach dying Israel. It’s just not, it’s not real enough. And this Iron Dome is a perfect example. We didn’t even need it. So it doesn’t mean we don’t need aid and we don’t need support. That we do. And I love your language of mitzvot, but the more we do this the more we exhaust the relationship. We’re going to need to ask, as we do an iEngage, what does a long-term relationship mean? There are certain basic needs that we’re dealing with, but I think we’re entering into an era where the issue is not basic needs, where the issue is meaning, identity. And the more we revert back to this other relationship, the less time and space we allow to the other.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

I don’t want to leave our listeners with the impression that Israel doesn’t need the Iron Dome. I think we desperately do, but the point that I so much appreciate you’re making here is that we can really provide that for ourselves. There are systems that we can’t provide for ourselves and we will need support from America. And that support will not be as overwhelming and as unconditional as it was for the Iron Dome, which is an easy pass. And I’m ready to take us to that next step where maybe we won’t have an overwhelming vote in Congress in support of what we need, but it’ll really be what we need. And coming from the place of gratitude. Thank you. Really deep gratitude to America, to American Jewry and say, well, maybe it’s time now to update and rethink.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

Thank you, Yossi. Let’s take a short break. And then Elana Stein Hain will join us.

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Donniel Hartman:

Hi, Elana, how are you?

Elana Stein Hain:

I am fascinated by this conversation. I just want to say that as an American Jew, I just breathed this sigh of relief at this 420 to 9 that actually in some ways, of course, has to do with Israel, and in other ways, just has to do with the safety of American Jewries. I live in a country where the government wants to support the Jewish state. What does that mean for me as an American who saw Jews getting attacked on the streets during the Hamas-Israel war, who saw terrible coverage of the war that was starkly one-sided against Israel, and who sees this really intense, progressive discourse that is just mounting against Israel. I am fascinated just to hear both of you, because I wouldn’t have ever thought about it that way, as what does this mean about our sovereignty? I wouldn’t have thought of it as this is a handout that we don’t need. I’m saying to you, I need this symbolic win in a big way because it’s saying “I am safe here.” So I’m utterly fascinated. And I’m also, I want to say kind of amazed that the two of you are willing to like, somewhat challenge the paradigm, because I think that’s considered very controversial and destabilizing. It’s just, the whole thing is fascinating.

Donniel Hartman:

Your response is already fascinating to me because it’s another side that I didn’t even think about. So thank you for that, even before we go on, but could I just, as an Israeli, did it rain during your sukkos?

Elana Stein Hain:

So there was one day of rain, but it was not during a Yom Tov, which was big. That was really big. And it was, I don’t know. It’s very special.

Donniel Hartman:

Where do you put a sukkah in Manhattan?

Elana Stein Hain:

So in Manhattan, you know what we do, we put a sukkah in the suburban friends and family’s homes, and we just go there. We just Exodus, or as we will, you know, as we’re doing today, you’ll go to the pizza store for lunch that has the sukkah, right? So whichever restaurant has the sukkah or whichever synagogue has the sukkah.

Donniel Hartman:

You can’t just put a sukkah on the sidewalk.

Elana Stein Hain:

You can’t just — no.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

Elana, you have to understand that this is the closest that I’ve ever heard Donniel urging someone to come on aliyah. He says the argument for aliyah is that it rains during sukkah in the diaspora. And you can’t put a sukkah anywhere you want, unlike here, where you could put a sukkah just about everywhere, except in the prime minister’s front yard, everywhere else.

Elana Stein Hain:

I think I heard that subtext. You know what, I agree with you, I’m not gonna lie.

Donniel Hartman:

In the spirit of the joyful holiday, I really appreciate the joy that you mentioned. And I respect it. And I thank you for adding it, but now on this whole issue of gifts, what take do you have and what sources could you bring?

Elana Stein Hain:

Here’s what I want to do. I want to take that word reciprocal that Yossi said, and I want to frame two different types of, I guess you could say gifts, right? You’ve got the gift that’s charity, and you’ve got the gift that is expected, anticipated reciprocity. And let’s give, the difference between them is very simple. The scroll of Esther, I know it’s the wrong holiday, but the scroll of Esther Megillat Esther chapter 9, verse 22, very simple, right? What did we say that, how are we going to observe the days of Purim? We’re going to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking as an occasion for sending gifts to one another and presents to the poor, right? What’s the difference between sending gifts to one another, mishloach manot ish l’reyehu and presents to the poor, matanot l’evyonim?

Elana Stein Hain:

Well, the difference is whether any reciprocity is assumed, right? If you’re sending gifts to each other, there’s a relationship. There’s an assumption. I’m going to send you. You’re going to send me. It’s not just transactional though, right? It’s not just when I sell you something and you give me money, or you giving me money and I give you something, there’s something of a relationship-building versus giving to the poor where I don’t expect them to give me anything back. And I think that to an extent, part of this whole conversation about sovereignty and is this dignified, and what are you expecting in return turns to a degree and Michael Oren’s piece as well, turns to a degree on the distinction between these two, because when you think about something that is a gift, right? In Jewish thought, and in just biblical literature and rabbinic literature, what comes to mind for gifts are things like Proverbs chapter 15, verse 27, 1 “who spurns gifts will live a long time.”

Elana Stein Hain:

“Soneh matanot yichyeh.” Better to spurn the gift because it’s really a bribe and they’re going to — there’s strings attached. And they’re going to make you do what they want you to do, right.? Or another one from Proverbs, and you know how much, I think Proverbs has everything in it, Chapter 22, Verse 7, “the rich rule the poor and the borrower is a slave to the lender,” right? Like who do you want to enslave yourself to? Right? There’s something about the free gift that’s not free. And you really, but there’s a whole different frame, right? The frame of reciprocity, I think has two levels. And I want to talk about both of those levels, because I think it’s really, really relevant here, both in the sense that Michael Oren discusses of you’re literally getting something for your money. And it was interesting, Donniel, that you said, I don’t know, who’s getting more aid from whom given the region that Israel lives in and the kind of intelligence exchange and things like that.

Elana Stein Hain:

Right? But it’s also about building relationships, right? So the term in Hebrew that the rabbis use is gemilut hasadim setting, which we usually define as kindness, which sounds like you’re doing someone a favor. Is that actually what gemilut hasadim means. Ligmol means that you’re going to give in a reciprocal way. You expect something in return. So I want to share one line from a Tosefta, which is from tractate Avodah Zara, Chapter 3 Tosefta 14, that discusses the difference between giving a free gift to someone who you don’t know, or who’s passing from one place to another, but says the Tosefta, if this person is your neighbor or your friend, even giving them a free gift is fine because it’s like your selling something to that person. What does it mean that when you give the free gift, it’s like you’re selling something to that person?

Elana Stein Hain:

The expectation is it’s not necessarily what they’re going to do with that money, right? It’s not conditioning aid, right? It’s, you know you’re going to get something back. It’s the same as selling them something they’re going to pay you. You’re going to pay them, but it’s less transactional. It’s more building a kind of relationship. And I think when I look at this aid conversation, whether by the way, it’s usual military aid, or it’s this kind of, well, we don’t even need this. I just asked myself, which is it more of? Is it more of the kind of, here’s a free gift? And we all know that there are strings attached and those strings are about hierarchy. And I’m going to tell you what to do. I lend you this money and that this is what you’re going to do with it. I gave you this bribe and therefore you have to do this, or is it more about reciprocity?

Elana Stein Hain:

Our relationship is such that I’m –Israel’s not just a passer-by on the American scene. America’s not just a passer-by on the Israeli scene, but actually we are neighbors. We are friends and as neighbors and friends, it means when I give you something it’s because I know I get something in return because I know that our relationship will continue and will grow. And that, to me, it’s a very different discourse, right? And I think it partakes in both. Like I understand the worry about the free handout. You know, I’ll end my little repartee here with this that it’s a funny thing that the Mishnah in tractate Peah, which some people will say every morning when they recite their blessings over the Torah describes this gemilut hasadim, this reciprocity in two different ways because it recognized that even reciprocity sometimes to get a little, I don’t know, right?

Elana Stein Hain:

So the Mishna in Peah Chapter 1 Mishna 1 says, “these are the things that have no definite quantity, meaning you can do as much or as little of them as you want: the corners of the field that you leave for the poor, the first fruits that you’re going to give to the priests, appearing at the temple on the three pilgrimage festivals and gemilut hasadim, and also the study of Torah.” So what’s the grouping and I’ll leave Torah study out for a minute. The grouping is basically you give charity to the poor. You give charity to the priest essentially, and you’re going to do all sorts of charity, quote, unquote. And then it follows up with, and here are the things that a person enjoys the fruits of in this world while the principle remains for them in the world to come, meaning you’re going to get a lot out of it in this world.

Elana Stein Hain:

You’re going to get a lot of byproducts out of doing these things in this world, but in the world to come, you’ll get your real reward. And here they are “honoring your father and mother performing righteous deeds.” That’s the gemilut hasadim in Hebrew, which is not only what it means “and making peace between people and their friends.” And of course, the study of Torah is in there and is equal to them all. But again, bracketing the study of Torah, what’s this list? This list is honoring your parents. It’s an ongoing relationship, a reciprocal relationship, which I know you can describe as hierarchical. And who do you want to be? Your parent. I heard it. I heard it, but there’s still an ongoing relationship or bringing peace between people. It’s what we’re talking about is building the relationship and money is part of building relationships.

Elana Stein Hain:

So you can think of it as they’re pulling the strings, you can think of it as there’s a mutual interest, but I think there’s actually a gestalt that’s part of how you build friendship is by giving each other things. Now, how much does Israel give America that’s talked about in public? I think that’s also a PR question of is that conversation, public? What America gets out of, what it spends on Israel, but that’s what I want to put on the table. Those different frames. Because I’m hearing it in what you’re talking about. And if it’s not either, or we know it’s both.

Donniel Hartman:

First of all, I want to thank you for also reminding you know, what the word gemilut hasadim actually means because I’m so used to acts of kindness when that’s really not what the term means. The term is a much richer term and the “ligmol l’mishehu” means to repay so you’re returning. But I think it points to the issue that we have here. Gemilut hasadim – the other side, doesn’t ask for it. It’s in the context of relationship, we give each other things. It’s an expression of love and of closeness. And I think that’s the idea of Purim that if you want to build a society, you don’t just take care of the needy. That’s critical. You have to make sure that everybody has. A part of what a society needs is you need that type of I would call it overflowing. There’s an overflow that comes from that sense of closeness. And so you’re right that on the one hand, and this is what you and Yossi have both said, and I’ve learned from it, that we have to see this 420 as an overflow of love and friendship, which is beautiful. The only thing that bothers me a little bit is we asked.

Elana Stein Hain:

So can I ask you two questions about that?

Donniel Hartman:

Yeah.

Elana Stein Hain:

The first is don’t you think it’s, in some ways, a win for Congress to have been asked and to answer the call vis-a-vis American Jews?

Donniel Hartman:

Oh, absolutely.

Elana Stein Hain:

So I’m wondering if the ask is a “oh nebach Israel, we need your help” or it’s, “here’s a strategy because we see what’s happening in the public square on how American Jews are feeling about Israel, about themselves in America?” I don’t see it as much as asking for a handout as much as a kind of strategic moment. So that’s the first question I have. And then the second question I have is if you can’t ask your friends for a symbolic gesture, who can you ask?

Donniel Hartman:

But you’re absolutely right. That asking doesn’t really mean ask. I think I find that very compelling. I always call myself Israeli and American, and I really feel that I’m both, but when I hear you Elana, I realize, and that’s why it’s so good that we’re doing this together, I’m not. There’s certain things that you’re feeling when you’re in America, that I’m just deaf to. And you added Yossi and I, you know, we speak a lot to American Jews, but you’re constantly reminding us that there’s a difference between speaking to and hearing from, and it was a real important addition. So I thank you for that. Yossi, as always if, if you’ll say something that I agree with, I’d like to give you the last word.

Yossi Klein Halevi:

Yeah. I actually feel like I’ve said my peace. I, what’s your takeaway and this conversation.

Donniel Hartman:

I was very moved by Elana’s statement that “leave me be quiet for a minute. This was really important to me.” I think the idea and the distinction between tzedekah and gemilut hasadim is really, really important. And I think your call to take a yes and, and to be grateful and really to be grateful for the American conversation, but then your point that this is what haunts me, the good arms and the bad arms. I think that’s an indication that reaffirms the fear that I had of what’s going on here and is that where we want to be? And so it’s a good moment. It’s a wonderful moment that yes, you know, all the naysayers and all the partisan, you know, the world is coming to an end. It’s not coming to an end. I think that’s really important, but I would like us to think more carefully about what we do in the future.

Donniel Hartman:

And so Yossi and Elana always it’s a pleasure being with you and learning from you. For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute that was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Tali Cohen. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website typically a week after the episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us shalomhartman.org. We want to know what you think about the show. You can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show. You can also write to us at, [email protected] Subscribe to our show in the Apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, audible, and everywhere else podcasts are available. See you in two weeks and thank you so much for listening. Yossi and Elana, thank you.