The following is a transcript of Episode 77 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 Daniel Hartman, and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage project. Major support for For Heaven’s Sake comes from the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation. Our theme for today is Israel’s settlers. In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, myself, and Elana Stein-Hain, head of the Beit Midrash of Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and senior fellow, discuss a current issue central to Israel and the Jewish world. And then Elana explores with us how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue. Let’s begin.
Israel’s settlers. Who are they? What defines them? In recent weeks on this podcast, we’ve discussed some of the various tribes of Israel, as we call the different ideological camps. We’ve covered the Charedim, the ultra-Orthodox, the religious Zionists, and also dimensions of liberal Israel. Today we’re going to discuss possibly the most controversial of all tribes, maybe even the most ideological, what we call Israel settlers, a group of Israelis who live in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. They are the focus of our discussion because in recent weeks and months they have been playing a dominant role in the press and in Israeli and international discourse.
Following the recent murder of four Israelis in a terrorist attack on the settlement of Eili, hundreds of settlers descended on Palestinian villages, setting fire to dozens of homes, beating and shooting innocent Palestinians. A month prior, they instigated a pogrom in Huwara, an issue we discussed on this podcast at length. They are merging as the major critics of the security leadership. And some are the most vocal supporters of judicial reform, and they serve as the base who populate the pro-reform demonstrations. Our title for this podcast is Israeli Settlers, and not the settler movement or the settlers.
While the ideological core of Israel settlers are religious Zionists, not all of those who live in Judea and Samaria are the settlers that we’re discussing today. The more than half a million Israelis who today live in what are called settlements come from across the spectrum of Israeli society, ranging from the ultra-Orthodox in the large settlements of Beitar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit, actually the two largest settlements in Judea and Samaria.
Now this group have little interest in nationalist ideology, and parallel to them or at their side there are also religious Zionists, traditional, secular Jews who inhabit the settlements of Ariel, Maale Adumim, and parts of the Ezion block. Many of them live in the territories for financial reasons, the ability to live in bigger, cheaper houses than one would find on the other side of the Green Line, or, and also because of the proximity of many of the settlements to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Now, in today’s podcast, we want to concentrate on the large ideological group who have settled in Judea and Samaria as an expression and manifestation of their religious and nationalist beliefs and commitments, and who are increasingly representing some of the more radical nationalist and ultra-nationalist factions in Israel. They are the power base of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, and it is from within their midst that those Israelis who are terrorizing Palestinian towns come. Who among those who reside in Judea and Samaria fall within our settler that we’re discussing today? Some do, some do not.
What we’re going to try to do is to avoid characterizations and generalizations. What we want to do is we want to be free to talk about a particular ideological movement, a particular ideological move, which is becoming more mainstream and very significant in Israeli society without necessarily associating or telling someone, this is who you are. And as a result, we want to be free to talk about the depth of the movements without necessarily making sociological claims as to who belongs and who does not belong.
So what is the core ideology of these Israeli settlers? What is their vision for Israel’s future? What, if anything, holds them together? What is the relationship between the hard-right religious Zionist settler core and the less ideologically committed religious and secular Israelis, with whom they share many of the same towns and settlements? How representative are those young people who are setting fire to homes in Palestinian villages? And how should liberal Israelis relate to this settler group?
Yossi, Elana, it’s wonderful to be with the two of you again.
Elana: This time in person. And Yossi is in Poland.
Donniel: Go figure.
Elana: Go figure. Strange bird, Yossi. Strange bird.
Yossi: Yeah, yeah, I came to Poland to study democracy in action and how we can apply the Polish model to Israel.
Donniel: Oh, thank you so much. Such sacrifice.
Actually, you know, just spend, even though we started and it’s a heavy topic and I want to get to it, just maybe spend one minute on what you are actually doing in Poland, because I think most people in the world don’t have a clue.
Yossi: So I try to come every year in late June to the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, which is an extraordinary event. You have musicians, artists, lecturers coming from around the Jewish world for five intensive days where the old Jewish quarter in Krakow, Kazimierz, becomes once again a living center of Jewish culture.
And the genius of the festival is that it doesn’t do nostalgia. It’s not about the old klezmer music. It’s not about the shtetl. It’s about celebrating an hour away from Auschwitz and contemporary Jewish culture and achievements. And I love it. I love being able to come to Poland and not going to Auschwitz. And for me, it’s an act of healing. And I think that’s why so many people come here, so many Jewish artists, writers, musicians are drawn to this festival because it’s so counterintuitive.
And I’ll just give you one example. Last night was the culminating event of the festival. It was a six-hour concert in one of the main squares in Krakow. Thousands and thousands of Poles, non-Jews obviously, coming and dancing to Israeli music, the best Israeli bands. And there was something exhilarating about this. I’m thinking, how many places in the world can you have this kind of a public celebration of Israeli culture in 2023 with minimal security?
And so Poland is a very complicated place. You know, on the one hand, we all know what the problems are, but there’s also this. And so I’d love to come here and feel this is what the world actually should be like. For five days I’m able to suspend all of the angst and just be in the world as it should be.
Donniel: So how do you feel angst-free, Yossi? I’m trying to figure out what’s an angst-free, Yossi look like.
Yossi: Well, let’s not get too carried away. H
Elana: That’s why he called into the podcast. He was feeling a little too angst-free.
Donniel Too angst-free. So in order to ruin your time.
Yossi: Angst, angst-free for me means that I’m able to sleep every other night.
Donniel: Anyway, mazel tov.
Let’s come to this heavy topic, this complicated topic. If you had to define the essential defining ideological core of this group that we’re talking about, this far-right religious Zionist settler movement, who are part of the whole settler movement in Judea and Samaria. This group, who are shifting both Israel’s ethos, what Jews do, what Jews don’t do, our politics. What’s their ideological core, as you understand it?
Yossi: So I would point to two issues. The first is that in this core, you will find the remnant of messianic longing that once characterized the mainstream settlement movement in its early years. It’s still very much alive on the hilltops among what we call the hilltop youth. You’ll find it in downtown Hebron, the ideology is very much a sense of imminent messianic anticipation along with in some way the opposite sensibility, which is, this is less ideological than I would say an emotional inclination, which is that what you’ll find in this core is a contradictory relationship to power.
On the one hand, celebrating the restoration of Jewish power. On the other hand, living as if this reclamation of power is tenuous and that in some ways we’re still victims. And with every terror attack, it reopens that deep wound that this community is carrying, I think, in a very conscious way. We’re all carrying it. I think all Jews carry it. But this community in some ways flaunts the wound. It’s central to its understanding of Jewish identity and how Jews should respond to threat. When there’s a terrorist attack, it’s not just a terrorist attack. it’s reopening thousands of years of humiliation and abuse.
And so, and here I would actually tie it to an ideological principle, which is for this community, asserting Jewish pride and strength in their, what I would say, very convoluted way. Nevertheless, it’s a religious imperative to assert the dignity and strength of the Jewish people. Because in some ways what you’re doing when you’re asserting Jewish power is you are reflecting the glory of God as being manifest in the Jewish people in the state of Israel.
Donniel: They’re doing a tikkun for every terrorist attack.
Yossi: Absolutely, absolutely.
Donniel: That’s the way. Now
Yossi: And Donniel, it’s a religious imperative.
Donniel: It’s a religious imperative, and that’s why some people violated the Shabbat in order to do so, which was
Yossi: That’s terrific.
Donniel: They drove in cars to go to a Palestinian village.
Yossi: I hadn’t made that connection, but I think that’s a terrific insight. That is exactly right, that it’s because
Donniel: Because of the religious dimension to it. Now, I think, you know, there is no doubt that amongst Israeli citizens, those who suffer the most from Palestinian terror are those who live in Judea and Samaria. Now, we could be callous and say, you made that choice. Some did. Some were born there. Almost everybody who was there came at the support and the encouragement of the Israeli government.
Now part of what happens is that there was also an ethos that you’re settling the land for the sake of Israel’s security. There’s a very interesting ambivalence or dual language within this settler movement. Some of it is profoundly ideological and some saying we are doing this to enhance our security. So here it is, we are at the vanguard of fighting for Israel’s security and we are the greatest victims. There is a crisis of identity, I could understand, because we were we’re going to solve that problem. We’re supposed to be the ones who solve that.
Do you remember there was also, there’s a whole debate amongst a number of settlements. Should you put fences around or not? We are the new power, et cetera. So there is a complexity. Anybody who has to drive on Route 60. These are, anybody who, add all of Samaria. If you have to ride on Route 60, you are taking your life in your hands, and it doesn’t make sense that Israel as a country hasn’t responded to your needs. So their desire to set a new balance of power against this evil is one motivating factor. I want to point to another.
It’s interesting, you said Messianism, you didn’t speak about the holiness of the land.
Yossi: Mm-hmm. Right.
Donniel: Now, neither Yossi Klein Halevi, when he wrote Like Dreamers, nor anybody who would speak about the settlers 10, 15 years ago, would leave out the land.
Donniel: Let’s just sit here for a second. Let’s ingest this for a moment, because this is not an accident, because the whole essence wasn’t a messianic, the essence of the settler movement was to settle in the land and in so doing, to bring a completeness to Jewish reality, which would then bring the Messiah. It’s when the Jewish people are living in the land that God will return to history. And so the settlement was the vehicle for ushering in a messianic era. But you left it out.
And I don’t think it was a mistake, because much of the settler movement after 2005 and the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza dropped the centrality of land from their public narrative. Because Israeli society, the majority of which wanted to get out of Gaza, basically said, the safety of my children, my children serving in Gaza, is more important than the holiness of the land.
So the holiness of the land argument basically lost Israeli society. And, the settler movement started to speak much more about issues of security. And that brings to what you’re speaking about. I am, when I am being violent, I am reclaiming Israel’s right to be the prevalent power here.
But there’s one other dimension that I think has now taken over this settler movement that we’re talking about, and that is ultranationalism. The religious Zionist community’s hope, or at least at the founding of the movement, was that they were going to present a new model of nationalism. Rav Kook, Rav Amiel, Rav Uziel all speak of the fact that our nationalism is going to be different than everybody else’s nationalism. Everybody else’s nationalism is going to be a nationalism which serves themselves. And it is only Jewish nationalism, by bringing our religion, by bringing our mission to serve the world to Jewish nationalism, we were going to develop the only nationalism which is for the sake of the world.
But Yishai Leibovitch warned us decades ago. He had a major debate with my father on this. He said, when you bring religion into politics, religion is not going to redeem the political. It’s going to become the maidservant of the world.
Yossi: It’ll be co-opted.
Donniel: It’ll be co-opted. And what you see here is there is a religious nationalism in which Jewish rights count for everything. Jewish rights are the only ones that are significant. That’s why you have a couple of politicians getting up and saying, no, no, no, when a Jew kills a Palestinian, it’s not terrorism. Oh, you have to understand.
Now, if you would try in Israeli society to say, listen, you know, terrorism against Jews is the byproduct of an occupation and of the political reality that this and the hopelessness with which they… the minute you try to give any context, how dare you? It’s terrorism is terrorism is terrorism.
But you have to understand this group, you have to see what they’re experiencing, and all of a sudden, this is a feature of this ultranationalism. Ultranationalism creates clear categories of insiders and outsiders. And the Jews are the insiders. They personify, and that’s really what Ben-Gvir and Smotrich’s revolution is. And that’s why when Smotrich gets up and says, there is no Palestinian people, the only one who was a Palestinian was my grandfather. These are—that’s the only one.
Yossi: Or his grandmizer.
Donniel: This is the whole— This is the essence. I think this settler group are the personification, not of messianism anymore even though that’s there. And it’s not even religion or land. These, this is, we are the masters of the land, the masters of the space. This is the ultra-nationalist ideology.
Yossi: So I think, Donniel, there are multiple layers here which don’t fit well together. And this part of the settlement movement is very much unaware of the contradictions that it’s carrying. And I’ll give you one example. Every so often, I’ll be stunned to hear one of the spokespeople for this camp saying, why are we Jews expected to behave better than the rest of the world? And these are of course the same people, the very same people who will affirm and insist on the chosenness of the Jewish people. But it’s a very kind of selective chosenness. It’s a chosenness without responsibility. It’s a chosenness only really of privilege.
There’s another layer here that I was thinking about when you were speaking about the displacement of the land from the ideological focus of this group. And you’re right that certainly the settlement movement in all of its factions has shifted to speaking about security rather than the holiness of the land.
But for this core that we’re talking about, there’s another move that’s happened since the withdrawal from Gaza. And there are several stages to this. The first immediate goal, the urgent goal, is to prevent another Gush Katif, another unilateral withdrawal from settlements in Judea and Samaria. That’s, everything that’s happening now is being driven to some extent by this backlash against the Gaza withdrawal in 2005 and the need to forestall another withdrawal.
The second goal is to prevent the Palestinian state, which was always there in the settlement movement. It’s become more acute since the withdrawal from Gaza. The third is to shift us toward annexation, which Smotrich has put at the top of this government’s agenda.
And the fourth, which one will hear, I would have said in the past, only on the far fringes, even of this core, hard-right religious Zionist community, or the hard-right part of the religious Zionism, today I would say is becoming more mainstream in this core, even though, and even though it’s still quiet. But that is the ultimate goal is the expulsion of the Palestinians.
And when I see hundreds of settlers burning Palestinian homes, going from one village to the next, that is the beginning of the practical implementation of transfer. That’s what transfer is going to look like if it shifts to becoming, God forbid, government policy. And I think this is a goal of part of this core and a growing part of this core.
Donniel: I want to come back in a moment to this, to the issue of the mainstreaming of some of these ideologies. But beforehand, I want, Elana, both yourself personally, relationships, how do you, when we talk about this group. What are you thinking about?
Elana: Well, obviously my first instinct is to say, okay, these people, but not those people.
Donniel: I said it already.
Elana: I know, I know.
Donniel: I took it away.
Elana: I still, I need to say it again. These people and not those people. And my instinct is also always to find the people from within given camps who are pushing against. But I gotta tell you two things. First of all, when I was a kid, it was like Baruch Goldstein, he was the only guy we could point to. He was the only guy, he was the only Jewish terrorist we could point to. That was it, we were like, oh, we’re amazing!
And now I’m like, well, it’s been how many months since Huwara? Meaning, that’s actually terrifying. It’s terrifying, and I say that as somebody who, I don’t understand the trauma that everybody’s going through. It’s terrifying. We can’t have Jewish terrorists. That is not a thing that we can have. That is the first thing I want to say.
The second thing that I want to say is, you know, we’re talking about this bright line, Jews and others, but my favorite book of Tanakh, my favorite book in the Bible, Proverbs, Mishlei, the whole thing starts off saying, if people are willing to kill someone else, they’re gonna be willing to kill you at some point. So I am not, especially when we start hearing the criticism of the IDF from within those camps, who’s a real Jew and who’s not a real Jew, it’s not my line, but the difference between nationalism and ultranationalism is that ultranationalism is also looking for enemies inside. So those are the two things that I’m really sitting with right now.
Donniel: I wanna expand on that a little bit. See, when the extreme settler movement was focusing on messianism and the holiness of the land, by definition, they were at the periphery of Zionism. Because they were speaking in terms that most Zionists and Israeli Jews just didn’t share. Like there was something almost, you could, it was laudatory, oh yes, there. They really care about the land, just like the early secular Zionists did. And there were dimensions of that, but they were really a group unto themselves.
Now that this conversation shifts to security, to revenge, to us, them, Yossi, it’s not by accident that you’re frightened, because their public persona fits much more deeply into the public, into a public consciousness. It becomes, for many Israelis, a matter of degree. That was the genius of Ben-Gvir.
Yossi: That’s right.
Donniel: The genius of Ben-Gvir is that people didn’t say, you are something different. If he walked around, listen, I’m a messianist and I’m believing, you know, I believe that the end of days is about to come if we just start one more settlement on one more hill, like people would look at him and say, okay.
You know, this is an ideological group that you couldn’t control, so you allowed them to exist, but you knew they weren’t an integral part. The shift into nationalist, power, revenge. These are all categories that are part of Israeli discourse, part of living in the Middle East, part of a conflict that’s been going on, part of so much fear and complexity and memory and all of the above. And so your fear that this is going to be mainstreamed, I’m not talking about whether the expulsion, I, that degree I’m not as frightened of, but it is, listen, the mainstreaming of denial of rights. Because you’re not part of my nation. You’re not one of us. And that language fits.
And so this is, I believe, one of the secrets to the power of this movement right now is that they have, that their ideology, maybe the old ideology is still there, but the public face of that ideology has shifted. And it’s now a matter of degree. And in fact, look, they’re sitting, they sit very, very comfortably with at least a third of the Likud party.
Yossi: So look, if I put together what you’ve just said with what you, Elana, said earlier, the truly terrifying change here is what’s happening, first of all, in the wider settlement community. And I think, you know, you started off, Donniel, by making a very important point, which is that settlers aren’t other to us, to any of us in Israel. They’re part of Israeli society. And yet, some things happened here, where the extremist wing of the settlement movement, which truly was fringe until recently, is much less fringe today.
And Elana, you know, what really terrifies me is the silence. on the part of the mainstream settlement movement and of religious Zionism generally, except for a very few rabbis, the usual suspects, who condemn the violence on moral terms.
Donniel: Pinchas Wallerstein, who was the head of the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria, came out with a very, very courageous, very, very detailed interview. But you’re right.
Yossi: Well that’s great, that’s great, but you know,
Donniel: There was a lot of silence.
Yossi: He’s also the old guard and he’s, you know, when you look at the new generation of leaders,
Donniel: He’s retired.
Yossi: He’s retired.
Elana: You know what I do, Yossi? I try to join. On social media, I try to join right-wing religious Zionist groups that are against a Ben-Gvir ideology, and they’re constantly posting. So I’m seeing it at a rate that probably the general public may not be seeing it, but there definitely are voices, but not enough. Not enough.
Yossi: And that’s what scares me. And I always insisted, as you began, Elana, on the clear distinction between the hilltop youth and the rest of the settlement movement, let alone religious Zionism. And when Smotrich appropriated the name religious Zionism for his far-right party, I felt violated, even though I don’t, it’s not my tribe. I’m not part of the religious Zionist community, but in some sense, the religious Zionist community has been part of me. And I don’t feel that way anymore. And I no longer feel that Smotrich has appropriated a name that doesn’t belong to him. The religious Zionist community by and large, by its silence, by default, has allowed the extremists to appropriate this magnificent part of the Zionist movement. And that causes me sleepless nights.
Donniel: Let’s try to analyze this for a moment, because we want our audience to try to understand a deeper part of Israeli society. Now we know, I believe, that the religious Zionist movement won in Efrat. I think huge. Now all of us,
Yossi: You mean the religious Zionist party of Smotrich.
Donniel: Of Smotrich. Won in Efrat. Now we know Efrat is a neighborhood of southern Jerusalem. Modern orthodoxy is alive and well in Efrat. And it’s been proven over years. So part of the issue is, and again, I’m not speaking about Efrat per se, but huge segments of the religious Zionist community voted because he appropriated the word, and for a lot of other reasons.
And now we’re relatively silent in light of what’s happening, in light of the attacks against Palestinian villages and civilians, as well as really extreme attacks against the military establishment. These are things that would have always been outside of the consensus, but I would argue they’re connected to what we said beforehand.
When the people who attack the military or even attack Palestinians because of some messianic The average religious Zionist would have got up and said, no, that’s not part of me. But they are speaking a language that has been integrated into Israeli Zionist discourse. In other words, now, we really have an issue here. We have a real issue. It’s, they’re presented as a degree, and then someone says, okay, where am I gonna stand? I’m also frightened. Oh, I also understand them. you know, the yes-but phenomena. Yes, I know I condemn them, but, and one of my favorite buts is when people say but, they don’t say it’s immoral, they say, oh, it’s hurting the settlement movement.
Yossi: That’s right. That’s right.
Donniel: Or it’s hurting us internationally.
Yossi: Exactly, exactly.
Donniel: The line, this moral discourse, part of what has happened is that, some of the discourse in Israel, there are certain segments of Israel who are heightened now, on issues of civil liberties and human rights, heightened consciousness, and there are other groups who, their primary consciousness now is the right of the Jewish people, our country, nationalism. And when nationalism doesn’t feel the strength or the call of this human rights issue, and they don’t have to be exclusive, then we move from nationalism to ultranationalism.
Yossi: Donniel, look,
Donniel: Yossi, I want to give you one last, and then I want to turn to Elana.
Yossi: Look at what’s happened here. There was a time when if I was looking for a moral voice within Judaism, I would naturally turn to the religious Zionist community and see what are some of their more interesting rabbis saying. Today, I can count on half a hand the rabbis that I would seek moral guidance from in that community. And in terms of the mainstream of religious Zionism, it’s one of the last places I would look for today for moral authority. And that, to me, is a spiritual tragedy.
Donniel: Let’s take a break for a couple of minutes and then Elana is going to uplift our spirit with a Torah perspective on our discussion.
Elana, you shared your angst. Does your Torah teaching magnify that angst?
Elana: First of all, let’s just say, is it like this weird homeostasis that when Yossi has no angst, that’s when I’m supposed to have all my angst? Like, is this like, Donniel, where, like, you gotta take some of this angst from both of us and hold it.
Donniel: I am, I am, what I love is that for some reason, I’m the voice of moderation.
Elana: And look at that. How did it happen?
Donniel: I have no idea. But I’m loving it. Now that I’m almost 65, I think that might suit me.
Elana: That sounds good.
Yossi: Elana, ask Donniel off mic how he sleeps at night.
Donniel: Sleep? I don’t know what you’re talking about. You get every other night, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Elana: Well, so what I’m hearing from this conversation is there has to be a real conversation about trauma in Israel. I’m sorry, you’re talking about people who have experienced terror and violence, their children, their neighbor, their this, their that, and we’re talking about all of Israel in that. That’s not just in settlements.
Donniel: And including Palestinians who live in Judea and Samaria, the same trauma, by my friend.
Elana: Trauma. Trauma, trauma. All of us.
Yossi: All of us, the whole crazy country.
Elana: Does it shock you that at a certain point, people basically say, I can’t stay coloring within the lines anymore? It doesn’t work. It’s not leading anywhere. And it’s a psychological, there’s a little bit of a psychological break that is to be expected, meaning I just think it has to be put out there in order to be able to say, how do we deal with it?
And the Torah that I want to bring today, I can’t not talk Torah about the trauma of experiencing violence that leads to the trauma of perpetrating violence against others. And so I’m going to go with,it’s a classic, it’s Genesis 34, we don’t have to go anywhere past the first book of the Bible, where sadly, Dinah, daughter of Jacob, is captured by Shechem, the son of Chamor. She’s captured by a prince, she’s raped. They wanna arrange a marriage. And Jacob, it’s not clear what he’s ready to do. And basically, you know, spoiler, two of Jacob’s sons go and murder the whole town.
And I’m interested in kind of a close read of what happens here, because at the beginning of the story, Genesis 34, seven, you have the sons of Jacob, and it doesn’t differentiate which sons. The sons of Jacob come from the field and they hear Shechem’s father, Chamor, trying to make a deal with Jacob that we’re gonna marry, no, he’s gonna marry Dinah, he loves Dinah, right?
And it says they were distressed, “vayitatzvu,” they were distressed. And they were angry because an outrage had happened in Israel for somebody to sleep with the daughter of Jacob. And this is not supposed to be done. Meaning they were rightfully distressed, they were rightfully angry, they were responding to an outrage. And remarkably, that’s, it seems like all of Jacob’s sons.
But when you go a few verses later, what you find is only two of them actually went out and massacred this whole town. Only two, not the rest of them. We find in 34:25, and it was on the third day, because they had told all the people in the city to be circumcised, and it was on the third day, the men of the city, when all of these people were in tremendous pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simon and Levi, the brothers of Dinah, each of them took their sword, they went to the city, and they killed all of the men.
And then, by the way, they plundered, and they took captives. This was not a little extraction. We’re gonna get Dinah out of there, and that’s what we’re gonna do. This was not a, we’re gonna punish Shechem and his father, Chamor. It was, everybody here is gonna pay for the outrage and the sadness and the anger because it is an outrage. And we’re gonna take their stuff. Meaning it’s not enough. We’re gonna take their women. We’re gonna take their children.
I always wonder what Dina, what would she have wanted to happen here? We don’t know. Right? It’s left out. But the words that Yaakov, that Jacob says to his sons when they return from him, from this plunder, his two sons, to me, they ring out, that’s all you need. You don’t need fancy creative interpretations. It’s just these words in Genesis 34:30.
And Jacob said to Simon and Levi, he says the words, achartem oti. Achartem oti. People say, you’ve troubled me. Let me tell you what achartem oti means. When you have dirt or dregs at the bottom of a liquid and you mix it up so that water that was clear becomes water that is totally convoluted, that’s achartem oti. You’ve made it turbid. You’ve made it, you’ve taken what was always underneath and you’ve now made it the mainstay, the dirt, the ugliness. Of course we have that, but that’s not what our water’s supposed to look like.
And then he continues with some practical concerns. You’ve made trouble for me to make me odious in the eyes of those who live here, the Canaanites, the Perezzites. And by the way, I don’t even have enough soldiers if they decide to go against me, I’m going to be totally destroyed, right? But to me, this is an achartem oti moment. Of course we have that sediment. All human beings have that sediment. And when you experience trauma, that sediment, it’s in danger of coming up. But don’t do it. You can’t do it. Because then we become something that we’re not.
And can I tell you the craziest part of all this? The most upsetting part to me? So, you know, when I prepare for this, I get to learn Torah, it’s great. I see what different commentaries write. You know what I came across as I was looking for this? I came across a Dvar Torah that was written 16 years ago by an Israeli rabbi saying, well, actually, Jacob maybe said they shouldn’t have done it, but the brothers get the last word because the brothers say, oh, they turned our sister into a harlot. We had to do this and the Torah stops there. So really the brothers were right and Jacob was wrong. And my heart sank, it just, it sank.
So yeah, I’ll go back and I’ll tell you, no, look at Genesis 49 and the blessing that Jacob gives his son, Simon and Levi. He basically says to them, you guys are the worst. You don’t know how to do anything by the law. I’m going to scatter you because when you actually get networked and you’re able to work in your silo, it’s not good for anybody. But he’s like, no, I can answer that for you too.
And it’s just, your heart sinks, because it’s like you’re saying the sediment is there. It’s really, really there. And the question is whether we’re willing to stop ourselves, and I mean ourselves, I don’t mean them, I mean ourselves from actually changing the whole chemical makeup of what’s here, just because there’s an outrage. Because there is an outrage all the time.
Donniel: Did you use the term dredgeify? I wanna create a word dredgeified.
Elana: I think, you can create the word, but I don’t want us to ever dredgeify. Like a word that’s never used. But yes.
Donniel: But that notion, you’ve dredgified us. And I think part of what we’ve all been trying to talk about today is there is a deep ideological group who are amongst the settlers of the West Bank or Judea and Samaria, who are defining a certain notion of Zionism, of Judaism, of Jewish nationalism. which is dredging our conversation. And part of the challenge is, even though it is still a small percentage, its ideology is not an unrecognizable one. It’s on a spectrum.
And as we’ve seen in the last number of weeks, the, inadequate condemnation, the silence, the willingness to go and to even go beyond the villages, to the military, it’s just, something is happening. And this group is not a fringe. It’s not something that we could say, ah, every society has. Something is happening and to our audience, I would say, watch this group. Watch them. They’re not as sui generis. They have family resemblance to a lot of things that a lot of people are talking about. And we have to beware. Yossi, last word before we conclude.
Yossi: At the risk of dredging, I just want to say how much I enjoyed this conversation, that not only did we explore really interesting and complicated ideas, but we’ve also contributed to the emerging new vocabulary and creating new words. So I think we’re off to a good start.
Donniel: One of the things about making aliyah when you’re 13 is your English is okay, but not great. Your Hebrew is okay and not great. So what you need is to make up new words. Cause Elana, when she was teaching, had some words that I never heard about.
Elana: I had to look it up also. There was a translation that used it and I was like, yes, that makes all the sense.
Donniel: That makes all the sense. But you can look it up. I still don’t know what it means.
Elana: I just told you.
Donniel: So what you have to do, is you have to be creative. And so,
Yossi: So I appreciate that, but in my case, making Aliyah when I was 29 created a whole different set of linguistic problems.
Elana: Oh gosh.
Donniel: We’ll leave that for another time. My friends, thank you. Our job today was to raise a flag, a red flag, and to point really a spotlight at something without at the same time including in that group those who don’t belong there. How do we put a spotlight on a danger without demonizing a whole community which doesn’t deserve it? It’s incumbent upon all of us to pay careful attention.
For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman with support from Michal Taylor. It was edited by Gareth Hobbs at Silver Sound NYC. Our production manager is M. Louis Gordon. Maytal Friedman is our vice president of communications and creative. And our music was provided by Socalled.
Major funding for For Heaven’s Sake is provided by the Diane and Guilford Glaser Foundation of Los Angeles. because of our shared commitment to strengthen the connection between Jews in North America and Israel. 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 shalomhartman.org.
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