Join our email list

Sheikh Jarrah: Analysis of a Tragedy

The following is a transcript of Episode 43 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors. 

Donniel: Hi, my name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Today is Friday, February 18th, 2022. And this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage Project. Our theme for today is Sheikh Jarrah, round two. In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem and myself discuss a 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. As you all know, Sheikh Jarrah is again in the news. Threatening to incite tensions between Israel and Palestinian society. At issue today is not the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes as in Sheikh Jarrah One back in May, but the transformation of Sheikh Jarrah into the focal point for the conflict over Jerusalem and Jewish sovereignty, inciting violence on both sides. One of the recurring tragedies of the Israeli Palestinian conflict is that it is constantly susceptible to the most radical forces shaping the discourse.

Now we have Kahanist Knesset member, Itamar Ben Gvir, and Hamas serving as the representatives and protectors of Jewish and Palestinian rights, respectively. Where this will go is not hard to predict. Why does Sheikh Jarrah, Sheikh Jarrah itself, it’s distinct from so many other things that are going on, hold such power?

What it is about Sheikh Jarrah that evokes such emotions on all sides? Five minutes away from Sheikh Jarrah, we can find the mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhood of French hill where Yossi Klein Halevi lives. Why is it possible that Jews and Arabs could live there, together as neighbors, but not in Sheikh Jarrah?

Is it about the location? The circumstances, the people involved, is Sheikh Jarrah going to define our future? This is our theme for today. Sheikh Jarrah round two. Yossi. It’s wonderful to be with you again. 

Yossi: Great to be with you Donniel.

Donniel: So now we get to compare, you’re literally, I know you don’t say this in Israel, but you are literally a stone’s throw away. It has, it has too many other meanings here, but you’re literally a stone’s throw away from Sheikh Jarrah. 

Yossi: Sheikh Jarrah is the route that I drive on to get from my home to the Hartman Institute. That’s my Hartman route.

Donniel: This is the first time I hear that. I don’t want you to go on that route anymore. 

Yossi: Yeah, I may, I may change. I may need to change route then the coming days, but,

Donniel: Yossi, I’m sending a taxi you know what I mean? This like a, um, well,

Let’s try to figure this out because you know, it feels, you know, I know we always feel everything is Deja vu it’s like, we’re, we’re stuck at the same place. So, but this is feeling, there’s something going on here. There’s this Sheikh Jarrah, it has a metaphysical, quality to it. How do you understand, when you’re seeing this second round?

Yossi: Yeah. 

Donniel: Could you frame this for us and for our audience? 

Yossi: Well, I think you’re right. That it’s become much larger than the thing itself. It’s become a metaphor for the conflict, for people on both sides. And tou know, if you unpack the arguments that are being made on both sides, the metaphor intensifies, because on the Israeli side, if anything, Sheikh Jarrah proves how deeply rooted we are in Jerusalem. 

What are we talking about here? We’re talking about, homes from which Jews were expelled in the 1948 war, which means it wasn’t only Palestinians who were expelled, but wherever Arab armies or militias were victorious, Jews were expelled. And, uh, I have a neighbor, a Jew from Saloniki, who grew up in Sheikh Jarrah, this is his ancestral home. And so the argument that the other side tries to make that this proves that were colonialists, were interlopers, actually the opposite argument can be made.

And you have Israeli court, which has offered, within the constraints of the legal issues that it’s dealing with. It’s made a very reasonable offer to the Palestinian, residents, which is pay symbolic rent. You actually are not the owners of these homes, pay symbolic rent and the court will ensure that you and your children will be able to stay in these homes in perpetuity. Now, the Palestinian Authority, according to reports, is, uh, offering financial incentives to Palestinian families to turn the offer down, which they have. And to turn this into a tremendous Palestinian, uh, propaganda victory. 

So that’s one argument in the Sheikh Jarrah metaphor. The other argument is the sheer ugliness that we’re seeing playing out. And the ugliness is deeper than seeing Ben Gvir and far right-wingers, supported by the Likud, by the way, which is something we’ve haven’t seen in the past, Likud Knesset members showing up to Sheikh Jarrah. Uh, the ugliness is deeper. It points to a dual system of justice that we have come to internalize. Palestinians who’ve lost their homes in the 1948 war can’t reclaim their properties for the most part. And yet, Jews who lost their homes can reclaim them. So, on, different levels, this conflict really is a convergence of historical arguments, moral arguments, and you mentioned that I live five minutes away from here and my anger about what’s playing out is seeing the extremists on all sides converging on my neighborhood and turning it into a battleground and that’s


Donniel: You know Yossi when I hear you. You know I love you. And I love listening to you. And I learn so much when I listened to you. And as I’m listening to you, I’m getting sadder and sadder, because your analysis is an analysis of a tragedy. 

Yossi: Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Donniel: You know I, for me, everybody, you know, my politics. I’m a two stater. I want a two state, I feel that justice requires that Palestinians have a two state. It’s all of the above. I don’t want to get into that now, but hearing your analysis, there’s these two truths.

There’s these two stories. And I hear your first one and I wish I could shake the Palestinian Authority and say, okay, you know, just, yeah, we don’t want, I don’t want to move people from their homes. A symbolic rent, could really, could we, is this, is this really what we need to fight for?

And the second side, like Jews really, we spoke about this. Are we really willing, with our commitment for justice, willing to have a discriminatory policy about reclaiming, possessions from before 48? That’s, it’s like, both sides, it’s almost like, come on. And you know, what makes me depressed Yossi is that we could go to war for this.

Is that really, this, it’s almost as if people are happy. Here it is. We have, I’m going to be able to sacrifice now, people, for my narrative for my story. And I think, you know, maybe let’s just, how do you re, do you feel that the pres – 

Yossi: Oh, absolutely. And you know, Donniel, to compound the tragedy here. I think a lot about the Israeli judge, who’s trying to do the right thing, but is legally constrained by an understandable law. How can the state of Israel, the Jewish state, have a law that allows the Jordanian confiscation of Jewish owned property from 1948 to remain on the books.

That’s the issue that an Israeli judge is dealing with and he can’t pass a law in the Knesset, that’s, it’s, he is dealing with the law. And if you think about the offer that is made, it’s reasonable. I’m almost tempted to say it’s fair, though. I really don’t think the language of fairness applies to Sheikh Jarrah.

Donniel: Applies here. 

Yossi: No No, And so it is a tragedy and look, I can’t support this. I can’t support turning our right in principle. And of course we have a theoretical right to reclaim property that we lost in 48, but I can’t get behind that movement because I don’t want Palestinians to be reclaiming their lost property from 1948, God forbid!

It’ll destroy this country. We can’t allow that. And so what are we gaining, Donniel? What are we possibly gaining here? By transferring a few symbolic homes and, it’s not even to the descendants of those families, it’s to a right wing organization, whose purpose is to quote Judaize Jerusalem.

Now, look, I live in French Hill. 

Donniel: Can I ask you a question?

Yossi: Yes. 

Donniel: Can I ask you a question? Um, I want to throw something out. I didn’t think about this. This is, you know, it, this is, as you were talking, you know, the thing that bothers me the most is every time Israel fails to recognize that justice has to apply to all sites, as long as it doesn’t undermine the survival of the state of Israel.

That’s where, you know, here you go, justice, you’re going to pursue, but we live in an imperfect world. I’m there. You know? If you want to have this law, then do a similar thing. Jews who are living in in pre 48 Palestinian property should say, you know what, I’ll pay a symbolic rent. I’ll pay that symbol. Like how much would we lose? And this goes to a much deeper issue that our narratives are constantly mutually exclusive. Like why can’t the Zionist narrative recognize that, of course there were Palestinians here and you know what, great. Let me make restitution. Anybody living in Palestinian proper, you’re going to get the same symbolic even use the same value proposition, X percentage return and rent. Like how, do we need to?

Yossi: I don’t want to go there.

Donniel: Do we need to say, I know, but you’ve gotten there. You say you don’t want to go there, but you’ve gone there.

Yossi: As a state we’re going there, but I don’t want us to be in a position where tens of thousands of Israeli families are going to have to pay what you call symbolic rent to their former Palestinian owners. That’s a disaster. 

Donniel: Listen I have no problem. I don’t know. You know, Yossi, as I’m thinking about it. And, you know, um, one of the things about this podcast is that we think about things, but we don’t necessarily, you know, as I always say, I’m not claiming that I’m right, but I’m just thinking now. 

I’m, I’m I feel younger than in the past, because as you and I talk, we evolve. I’m wondering, you know, it’s not a financial disaster. What would it mean if, for Israel. to say yes, this is mine. But you were here too. You know what, I’m gonna put that in brackets. And, it’s not about the right of return and it’s not about undermining the existence of the state of Israel, but it’s, at what point are you willing to claim that the other person has a true narrative?

That’s one of the questions that there’s a narrative that somehow you can’t just discount and you know, when you don’t discount it, Yossi, when it is so important to you. And I heard you talking. You know, we were here. How could I, as an Israeli undermine a Jewish claim, we were refugees, but Arabs are our citizens too! 

Yossi: Here’s so, so, here’s, how I navigate that, and where, I would say, you know what? Yes, we were there in those specific houses. As a people, I don’t need to be back in those specific houses. I am back in Jerusalem. I’m the sovereign in the city. There are hundreds of thousands of Jews living in east Jerusalem. My family is one of them. And why do we have to reclaim every last house? There’s something in us. It’s an expression of a deep insecurity. I don’t need those houses. I don’t need those houses. 

Donniel: You’re right, so the judge. But what happens is, I’m with you Yossi. 

Yossi: And you know what makes me really angry at the settlers and Sheikh Jarrah is that they lead to the kind of conversation that we’re having now, maybe we should reopen the ownership. Of tens of thousands of properties in Israel proper, and they are leading to a crisis in the foundational, identity of the state and yes, and Donniel, it is a right of return issue. It leads there and anything that opens the way to right of return, I, count me out. 

Donniel: One of the conceptual differences between you and I, is that, and you might be more correct than I am, I’m not claiming to be correct. And I’m just claiming this is where I don’t think this way. I don’t worry about, you know, what’s known in Orthodox circles as, Don’t do this and this or this, because it might lead to mixed dancing things. 

You know, where this, what, what will be, will be, will be. I don’t live, I, part of my comfort at being a Zionist and it was successful, Israel, is I, I don’t have the same concern or fear factor of future consequences that you have, but it could be that I’m deluding myself.

But I want to add to this another part, because you mentioned something beforehand that what was actually fascinating this time in this round is how mainstream Likud figures are showing up in Sheikh Jarrah. This is not merely a Kahanist agenda. This is now mainstream. Now I want to explain that too. And I want to put forth a thought and ask you what you think about it? You see, Sheikh Jarrah because it’s in Jerusalem is something that given another Israeli narrative, not the narrative of, that an Israeli court cannot turn its back on Jewish refugees in Israel. But we have narratives about Jerusalem that Jerusalem shall remain the undivided capital of the Jewish people for now in all eternity.

I was once lecturing to a group of Israeli high school students from all over the country. And I decided to do a little poll and I said to them, what’s the most important value in Judaism? So one of the first had I raised their head, I said, what is the most important value in Judaism? And the answer was, Jerusalem shall be the undivided capital of the Jewish people for all and all eternity. They didn’t say idolatry, they didn’t say Shabbos, they didn’t say justice, just like this, this, it was, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry 

Yossi: Look, it was, it was Menachem Begin’s grandson. That’s what they didn’t tell you.

Donniel: I see. I wish I wish, but it was it was just, this is the way they were raised at this. If you deny Jerusalem, it’s like, you know, you’re cut off my right hand. “Im eshkachech Yerushalayim,” If I forget you. So it’s, it has nothing to do with reality, it’s all slogans. And part of our narratives, and part of our challenge is to ask ourselves, where are our narratives slogans, and where are they substantive to either our core identity or our core security? 

Now once something is your core identity or your security. I understand why you’re committed to something, I can, now, sometimes, that Jerusalem is central to the Jewish people. Absolutely. That Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel for, eternity, absolutely.

What is this undivided? So I’ll get, I’m not getting into the two state issue, but just as a concept, it’s there, it’s just this transcendent ideology. And part of what happens is that Sheikh Jarrah is not, at least in the current manifestation, not an act of extremists, the minute it is done in Jerusalem.

And when it’s done in Jerusalem, Then everybody has to stand up and say amen. And here we have the real consequence of Ben Gvir being a part of the coalition. When Ben Gvir was out of the coalition, you know, you don’t represent anything. Whatever you do is outside. But now that you’re part of the coalition, you are now the protector of Jerusalem.

Now the question is, are you willing to allow for the lack of Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem, are you going to allow for people to be unprotected? Aren’t you going to stand up for Jewish pride, Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem? You know, here. So it almost Sheikh Jarrah now is becoming Jerusalem and it activates loyalty demands, which frankly are insane. 

Yossi: Look, the question of an undivided Jerusalem really has two elements. There’s the ideological and there’s the pragmatic and the ideological aspect really for me, has very little resonance. If the only thing standing between Israel and peace, was, uh, re dividing Jerusalem, I would do it. But given the reality, I believe that to redivide Jerusalem in any time in the foreseeable future would lead God forbid to the unraveling of the city. And so for me, 

Donniel: Yossi Yossi, let me, let me come in. 

Yossi: Wait. 

Donniel: I’m going to cut you off here because it’s so much not what I was talking about. What happened? I said it and I’m activating your fuse. Your Jerusalem fuse. I’m not getting into whether Jerusalem should be divided. We don’t even have a peace process on the table.

I’m talking this mythic concept, which then gets embedded in everything that we’re doing. So I have to now show my sovereignty in Sheikh Jarrah. I’m talking about the mythic dimension of it. I’m not suggesting now a real conversation between and I, whether Jerusalem should be divided or not divided.

That’s just, it’s so far from our reality right now. 

Yossi: But here’s the, I’m raising, I’m raising. 

Donniel: Okay. Okay. Give me a but. 

Yossi: I’m raising this because there’s an irony here. And the irony is that those who are most militantly affirming the unification of Jerusalem are the same people who are most endangering it. And you had mentioned French hill. Now look at what’s happening in French hill.

Five minutes away from Sheilh Jarrah. We’ve had, in the last few years, dozens of Arab Israeli families moving into what was an all Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem and which according to the UN and according to Amnesty international is a settlement. We’re all occupiers here. We’re all settlers living in east Jerusalem.

And now suddenly I have dozens of Arab Israeli neighbors who have moved into French hill because it’s a normative Israeli neighborhood. And that’s the victory of United Jerusalem, the normalcy of French hill, as opposed to Sheikh Jarrah, which would turn Jerusalem into a constant battle ground.

Donniel: So why can you do it?

Yossi: That’s the flaw of the settlers. 

Donniel: The flaw. So now, so first of all, thank you. because now I’m able to say that one of my closest friends is a settler, so it’s changed. I, I hope, you know, if someone says I’m an antisemite, I says, you, you can’t be antisemite, one of my closest friends is a settler.

Um, but, uh, but so thank you for playing that role for me, Yossi

But, uh, but let’s actually talk about this for a second. Because it’s possible by you, five minutes away. So why couldn’t Jews live in Sheikh Jarrah, just the way, let me put on the other hat for a moment. Forget sovereignty. Forget, here it is. We don’t believe that there should be places in Jerusalem that Jews can’t live, just like I don’t believe, I will fight any Jewish neighborhood who says that an Arab can’t move in. So why is it so acceptable by you? Are we being duplicitous when it comes to Sheikh Jarrah or is there something more complicated or different on the table?

Yossi: There is something different, and that is that a Jew, cannot move into Sheikh Jarrah without having a whole security apparatus, guards, and the police, the army, everyone has to be involved in protecting these families because it’s a provocation, because the purpose of moving it to Sheikh Jarrah is ideological.

And if you’re really going to normalize United Jerusalem, it can’t be with flag-waving. That’s the mistake that the kids make on Jerusalem day when they have the flag March in the Muslim quarter in the old city. We’re there, we’re here, we’re in Jerusalem, you don’t have to wave giant Israeli flags at people who are in their living rooms. It’s the declarative, the, this is what I was saying about the aggressive ideological proclamation yes. Jerusalem will always be the Capitol and we’re going to prove it by intruding everywhere, no matter the cost.

Donniel: But wouldn’t Ben Gvir say the only reason why I need the police is because the neighbors are going to attack me. Don’t, I’m not attacking anybody. 

Yossi: Yes. And, 

Donniel: So here it is. You’re accusing me for our violence?

Yossi: Can Arab families move into Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem? What would happen? 

Donniel: That’s okay. So, what would happen? Gotcha. So, what you’re saying. 

Yossi: In other words, yes, what I’m saying is that this city works by essentially two models of neighborhoods. There’s one model, which is homogeneous, and one has to respect the cultural integrity of certain neighborhoods. And there are other neighborhoods that are mixed and I’m very happy to live in a mixed neighborhood, but I also respect the rights of Jews and Arabs to live in their own neighborhoods without the intrusion, if they don’t want people from the other community to, uh, to move in and challenge integrity of the neighborhood. 

Donniel: I think there’s one other point that I think we have to add here and both you and I, and I think this challenges both of us, and especially as we’re moving on as the decades go on, we recognize that given the proximity between Jews and Arabs in Israel and the lack of space and our multiple narratives, that we can’t create exclusive Jewish and exclusive Palestinian places, especially within sovereign Israel. We can’t.The consequences of that would be too devastating. And I know you and I, we support the Supreme court. , because many Jewish neighborhoods said, I don’t want an Arab to move in. Afula, there was this whole thing. No, you can’t move into my neighborhood. And in a certain sense, Ben Gvir is playing on that same concept. Here it is. You’re claiming, they’re almost making this into a human rights issue.

And I want to add one twist to the equation. If someone wants to move into the neighborhood and be part of a neighborhood, Ya’aleh V’yavo, come. When you want to come into a neighborhood to take over a neighborhood when you’re coming into a neighborhood to claim, not that I want to be your neighbor, but I want to be in many ways, the sovereign here over the neighborhood, don’t be surprised when the response is violence and then, the lesson of Sheikh Jarrah, is that the issue is not the problem of whether a Jew could live in an Arab neighborhood. The question is whether when we move into the neighborhood, let’s just almost go back to your first opening. I’m trying to bring about the victory of my narrative. Am I moving into a neighborhood, or am I trying to win my claim? When that happens, then what you’re doing is you’re bringing into the neighborhood, a political debate, which is going to always be violent. 

Yossi: Mhm. Yes. 

Donniel: Can we also be neighbors? Can we be neighbors? Cause I don’t think in Sheikh Jarrah, they want to be a neighbor. What they want to do is they want to declare that with my force I could bring the victory of my narrative and by the way, a similar thing could happen with Arabs, depending, you want to be a neighbor, Jews and Arabs have to be able to be safe neighbors with each other. It’s not where you move. It’s who’s moving and what narrative they’re coming with when they’re moving. Last word, Yossi, before we go to the next thing. 

Yossi: It’s really interesting because a few years ago, when Arab Israeli families began moving into French hill, there were rumors spreading among the Jewish residents that this is an organized effort and there’s Saudi money behind it. I didn’t know what to think. And I had, you know, I had deep ambivalence. What if it’s true? 

It turned out to be a complete invention because there is no massive attempt to take over. And, uh, if anything, we have more ultra Orthodox families moving into French hill than Arab families. And so French hill really passed the test of neighborliness that you’re laying out and I think that that’s a really useful distinction.

Donniel: Let’s take a short break and then Elana will join us. 

Hi, Elana. Nice to see you. How are you feeling? Did you get back from, uh, Disneyland yet? 

Elana: I have to say, um, our new Disneyland is that my sister had her first child this week. So thank God we are all on cloud nine. 

Yossi: Mazal tov!

Donniel: Mazal tov.

Elana: So that’s where we’re at, regardless of what’s going on in Sheikh Jarrah. 

Donniel: Okay, so welcome into our world, Elana. You and your post Corona family. Um, so we’ll leave all that aside. You know, how do you, how can our tradition help us to think about this?

Elana: Uh, you know, first of all, I actually just want to say something quickly about, your last comment Donniel and Yossi, your response about the Saudi money and things like that. You know, I was thinking to myself, you know, little Ruby bridges, desegregating a school being brought into a white school with a lot of guards, right? Like people would tell the story that there she was coming in and trying to take over. Right. But really what she was trying to do, she was just trying to live as a neighbor. I mean, she just wants to live as a neighbor and 

Donniel: She wanted an education. She wanted access to the school. 

Elana: Right. Meaning and I, yeah. 

So I think there is something to, places where people are explicit, I’m here because I want to take over, and places where people make that story up about them because it helps them not let them in. So just, you know, in association. 

What I wanted to think about is truth, because there’s, there’s just truth all over this, there’s truth claims all over. Right. And in Judaism we care a lot about truth, right? We say, you know, God’s seal is truth. Chotem Moshe al hakadosh baruch hu, Emet. Right, or there’s this beautiful line in the Talmud, in Shabbat, on, I think it’s page 10, actually it’s 10A, 10B. Where is it, 10A, it says any judge who judges a true judgment, but it adds this strange phrase, like emphatically, like to its truth: a’amito, brings the divine presence to reside among the Jewish people and becomes a partner to God. 

So we care so much about truth and the truth claims here and Yossi really started with it, right? The truth claims of, well, no, no, no. We, we did have people who were here in 48 and were run out of town and that’s what happened. Right. And the truth claims on the Palestinian side of we were resettled here, and this is where we’ve been because we were resettled here.

But sometimes truth can be destructive. Right. The word emet, the word truth in Judaism actually is related to the word emuna, which is like to be reliable, to be trustworthy, something you can depend on. And like these truth claims, these are not things that you want to depend on. So I want to bring, you know, what I think is a very helling midrash where the truth claims that really lie at the core of our narratives, sometimes they have to be negotiated a little bit.

And it’s, the aftermath, this is in Exodus Raba 43-4, and we’ll put it in the show notes as always, but the aftermath of the golden calf. And you know, there’s so many ways that the rabbis described Moses trying to say to God, come on, forgive them, forgive them.

I, I know that they literally have undermined the basis of this relationship, but please forgive them. And one of those versions goes like this: Rabbi Berechya said in the name of Rabbi Chelbo in the name of Rabbi Yitzchak, Moses released God from God’s vow. How so? When Israel made the golden calf, Moses tried to convince God to forgive the people.

And God said, I can’t forgive them because I’ve made an oath that anyone who worships pagan deities will be destroyed. And I can’t renege on my own, you know, I’m thinking about like Purim coming up in a month, and it sounds a little bit like where, you know, Esther and Mordecai say to Achashverosh, you know, could you renege on that letter that you said that people can destroy the Jews?

And he said, it’s already like, it went out with my seal. This is what has to happen. But instead of leaving it like that, Moses then says, but Sovereign of the Universe, didn’t you give us a strategy called nullifying vows? I know you can’t nullify your own vow, but I can nullify it for you. And so Moses sits down as the elder at God stands before Moses, like someone would come before, you know, an elder or a judge and asks, can I notify my vow please? And that’s the way the description works.

Now, you know, what is this midrash saying? What is this homily telling us? It’s saying even truth that is right. That is real. That like if it was a perfect world and everybody could get what was true. Sure. But is it reliable? Is it destructive?

And if it’s destructive, you actually have to negotiate around that. Now I will say, I do think that the judge asking for some symbolic amount of money from the residents was an attempt to like, try to. But I don’t think ultimately it works. And I would also say that on the Palestinian side, there’s also a question of like, is there some sort of compromise, it’s, everyone’s holding to their truths and I think there’s a destructiveness there.

And so I actually, I want to go back to that first line that I opened with here. One of the first sources where the Gemara in Shabbat, the Talmud in Shabbat says that if a judge judges, truth to its truthiness, right? The Hebrew, emet la’amito, they bring the divine presence and it’s, it’s pretty remarkable in the 16th century, someone who I’ve quoted here before rabbi Joshua Faulk Katz, he says, well, let me tell you what that extra word la’amito is, to its truthiness.

He says, it means someone has to judge based on the place and the time in a manner that makes the judgment it’s most reliable. And this means that you can’t always judge by the letter of the law. Sometimes you have to judge within the letter of the law and not give everybody the rights that are coming to them based on the time and the issue.

And if you don’t do this, then even if it’s a true judgment, it’s not, la’amito, it’s not its truest. And that’s what you see on both sides here. To be honest, now, of course there’s a power differential, and also I’m on the Israeli side so I’m going to critique my side. And say, well, you’re in charge. Don’t do this.Why are you doing this? 

But you just, you can’t have people running around saying truth, you know, I won, and holding a flag in the middle of a destroyed city. Like it just doesn’t, that’s not a win. That’s what we call a Pyrrhic victory. It’s really a Pyrrhic victory.

Donniel: You know, as you’re talking, is that I, again, like the case with Yossi, I it’s sad because it’s so self-evident, do we want to die on this altar of truth? Like how many people are going to have to suffer? And part of what the Ben Gvirs and the Hamas is of history, is they hold on to this truth you know, our tradition calls them kanaim, you know, they’re the zealots, the zealots who can’t compromise and they bring us all down because you know, when they use the argument of truth, we don’t know how to counter them. Cause they’re speaking truth. So a small group of zealots could shape the discourse for everybody, unless we don’t have another counter version of what you call emet la’amito. You know, our commitment is not to truth, but it’s to truth in its truthiness or another language that the tradition uses, and I think we might’ve spoken about this a couple of months ago, but if I don’t remember, our audience, doesn’t remember. You, Elana, will, you know, it’s like.  

There’s that, uh, famous Rabbinic saying in Tosefta tractate Yevamot, where it says, love truth and peace. Don’t love truth. Maybe what we need to do is to start developing narratives, not merely about truth and peacefulness, but actually undermining the sanctity of truth, and creating a more Elana-like sinergy, in which our value is truth and peace. I don’t, don’t talk to me about truth, talk to me about truth and peace. You know, I think truth and peace might be more sellable than truth and truthiness. 

Elana: You think so?

Donniel: But it, but like the same idea in others, how do we have to, our job, I was just speaking to a group of rabbis in Israel. Like one of the jobs of rabbis, your job, Yossi, you’re not a rabbi, but you’re a writer. So it’s all of our jobs.

We have to tell stories. Our job is not to rule, our job is to tell the story. And how do we tell a story in which truth by itself, it’s just not a value anymore because when it is the Ben Gvirs and Hamas, we look at them and, somehow we feel less authentic, less committed, less Zionist, and then they become the great ideologues.

And as we know, from the case of Moshe that, you know, if we didn’t redeem God from God’s truth, we would have all been destroyed. So what journey do we wanna go on?

Elana: I, I would frame it even more strongly as what if reliability and context and peace are part of truth. Meaning it’s not truth or, it’s that’s what I think Faulk is trying to say. He’s trying to say there is no truth without a recognition of what the impact is in context.

Donniel: Yeah. I just feel that the zealots will win when we do that. I could see it, you know, right now Palestinian society is hopeless. And they’re being pulled by the truth of Hamas and right now in a way that we’ve never seen, and this is when Yossi, all the leaders of the Likud are all showing up and following the pied Piper Ben Gvir. I think we need to develop counter values, counter stories that inspire people. Again, I don’t know. But I, 

Elana: No, it’s interesting, 

Donniel: You’re so right. It’s, to understand the truth by itself is destructive. So what’s the story we tell is a big deal, Elana. 

Elana: Yeah. It’s, it’s making me think, just one last word that, you know, in American discourse, truth is also serving that kind of polarizing, you know, speaking truth to power, it’s actually much more about taking a stand than it is necessarily about navigating and negotiating something together. So I think you’re onto something there.

It’s interesting to think, yeah. 

Donniel: And then by the way, you’re never a neighbor. Of course, you’re not a neighbor because you know who your significant other is, it’s not other human beings, your significant other is your truth and your narrative. And then beware world, beware world. 

Elana: Right. Right. 

Donniel: Yossi, you have a last thought before we conclude?

Yossi: Yeah, I’ve been sitting here listening to the two of you and looking out the window and thinking about French hill and Sheikh Jarrah. And I think the question, really Donniel is, um, what is the vision of United Jerusalem. And for the foreseeable future, we will be living in United Jerusalem. And there are two models for United Jerusalem.

There is the model of absolute truth and zealotry, which is being played out on the streets of Sheikh Jarrah. And there’s a much less dramatic, but far more to my mind, profound and humane model of French hill, which doesn’t make the news. Nobody comments about it. The fact that, uh, Jews and Arabs greet each other in the morning in the parking lot, and we greet each other on each other’s holidays and it’s not a love fest.

And we all know that what we say behind closed doors, uh, is not what we say to each other in the parking lot. But there’s a habit of decency that’s developing here. And, these are the two models. Which is the United Jerusalem that we want? That represents who we really are?

That’s the question of Sheikh Jarrah versus French hill.

Donniel: You know, we can go back to, that famous saying, you know, Tzion bamishpat tipadeh, Zion will be redeemed through justice. Maybe there’s a difference between justice and the singular truth. Maybe justice is made up of truthful, truthiness, or the Elana. 

Elana: Definitely. 

Donniel: It’s a more complicated category because truth will not lead to the, it’ll just burn us. 

Yossi: Tzedek, you know Donniel, Tzedek tzedek tirdof. Why does it repeat justice, justice, you shall pursue, twice? You know, my reading for that in the context of our conflict is there are multiple ways of looking at justice here and we have to somehow United Jerusalem has to accommodate these conflicting visions of justice.

Donniel: Yossi, when the author and writer becomes the rabbi at the end. That’s the perfect place. That’s the perfect place to end.  

Yossi: I promise you, I will not do that often.

Donniel: Why, it was beautiful? 

Elana: What do you mean, there’s Torah flowing in your veins, Yossi. Beautiful  

Donniel: Elana and Yossi. It’s a pleasure, pleasure to be with you and to learn and to unpack, you know, these are, it’s tough, it’s there’s a lot out there.

For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute, it was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by M. Louis Gordon and transcripts of our show are now available on our website typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit us online at

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 a [email protected]. Subscribe to our show in the apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, audible, and everywhere else that podcasts are available. See you in two weeks and thank you very much for this Elana and Yossi. 

Thank you.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

More on
Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics