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BEHAR 5773 - No Scotch For Me Today

BEHAR 5773

No Scotch For Me Today

A stationmaster rings up the rectory in the Scottish town of Dumbartonshire. The minister answers the phone.

Stationmaster: “There’s a box for you here, minister.”

Minister: “Yes, John, that’s all right. It’s a few hymn books from Princes Street in Edinburgh.”

Stationmaster: “Ay, weel ye’d better hurry up, yer hymn books are leakin” [probably from a bottle of Scotch in the box].

As you may well know I am a Scotch drinker. But this Shabbos I think I’ll drink something else and let me tell you why as I share with you a unique Yahrtzeit this past week and a passage from today’s Torah reading.

A report by the Church of Scotland, published this week, denies any special privilege for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. The church, which in recent years has jettisoned its once philo-Semitic character, opened a wide rift with the Jewish community with the report. Among other controversial statements, the report argues that, “Christians should not be supporting any claims by Jews, or any other people, to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to possess particular territory.”

I have read the report. It’s part and parcel of the old Christian triumphalism. It rejects the idea that the Bible supports the right of the Scots to Scotland…excuse me, Jews to Israel—they don’t make clear Gd’s role in Scotland.

Local Jewish leaders are up in arms and fear that if the church adopts the document at its annual general assembly later this month, it may be become official church policy. The report is titled, “The Promised Land,” and concludes that Christians should reject the idea that Jews have an exclusive claim to the Land of Israel. It also opposes using the Bible to “settle contemporary conflicts over land.”

Ephraim Borowski, Scottish Council of Jewish Communities director told the London Jewish Chronicle: “On behalf of the Jewish community of Scotland, we call upon the Church to withdraw it from the forthcoming general assembly. If the Church cannot build bridges, can it at least refrain from burning them?”

The Jewish Board of Deputies vice-president Jonathan Arkush said: The document…appears to have been produced with no consultation with the Scottish or national Jewish community. It is littered with misrepresentations of Jewish history, values and beliefs as well as basic factual errors.

It is an ignorant and tendentious document masquerading as a theological statement. The Church has done a deep disservice to itself by producing a document without any regard to the trust, respect and dialogue on which interfaith relations should be based.

Let me share with you a few passages from thereport:

There has been a widespread assumption by many Christians as well as many Jewish people that the Bible supports an essentially Jewish State of Israel. This raises an increasing number of difficulties and current Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians have sharpened this questioning…The desire of many in the State of Israel to acquire the land of Palestine for the Jewish people is wrong. The fact that the land is currently being taken by settlement expansion, the separation barrier, house clearance, theft and force makes it doubly wrong to seek biblical sanction for this.The document urged the Church not only to back the BDS—boycott, divestment and sanctions—movement but also to lobby the British government to pressure Israel to deny the presence of Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Ed Kessler, founder director of the Woolf Institute which studies interfaith relations, told the Chronicle that the report demonstrates: It is easier for Christians to condemn anti-Semitism as a misunderstanding of Christian teaching than to come to terms with the re-establishment of the Jewish State…The document fails to take seriously the concerns of both sides but has a partisan agenda—the promotion of Palestinian rights.

Yes, we know that today anti-Semitism too often masquerades as anti-Zionism and is all too real. And we are forced to face the reality of this in the week that was the 100th anniversary of the death of Mary Phagan who died on April 26, 1913, followed by the arrest of Leo Frank. The sham trial and lynching of Leo Frank—all because he was a Jew—was a shock to an American Jewish community that had hoped it would be different in America—that they weren’t out to kill the Jews.

We have made progress over the last 100 years. Overt anti-Semitism is no longer politically correct. It has just morphed into condemning Israel. That something like this can come from a large Christian church establishment today is mind boggling—especially in light of all the progress we thought we have made in Jewish-Christian relations over the past century.

Let me ready you just a few more passages from the report:

Do any of the Hebrew Bible accounts really sanction future occupation of the land and the driving out of the people already there? For example, the occupation of the land by Jewish immigration in recent times and the violence used to deprive some 750,000 Palestinian people from their homes at the time the State of Israel was established in 1948.

The truth is Israel did not deport 750,000 Arabs in 1948. Most left on their own with the promise by their leaders that they would return triumphant. And what about the fact that after the War of Independence in 1948 until the early 1970s, 800,000–1,000,000 Jews were forced to leave their homes in Arab countries? By the Yom Kippur War of 1973, most of the Jewish communities throughout the Arab World, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, that had existed for more than a 1,000 years, were practically non-existent.

Another passage from the report:

The new “place” where Gd is found is wherever people gather in the name of Jesus. If Jesus is indeed the Yes to all Gd’s promises the promise to Abraham about land is fulfilled through the impact of Jesus, not by restoration of land to the Jewish people. Jesus gave a new direction and message for the people of Gd, one which did not feature a special area of land for them…No part of the New Testament gives any support to a political State of Israel beyond that to any other state.

And still one final passage:

How can Christians support the violation of human rights in the name of alleged divinely conferred exclusive rights to a specific area of land?—Such as establishing the Church of Scotland as the official church? Woops sorry they’re talking about Israel. Besides, if there is any violation of human rights, it is upon the Palestinians who again and again terrorize the Jewish people.

To say that the Bible does not give the Jews a claim to the Land of Israel flies in the face of the text of the Bible. Today’s Torah portion, in discussing the 50th Jubilee Year (Lev. 25: 13, 23) tells us: Bishnat haYoveyl hazot tashuvu ish el achuzato, “In this Jubilee Year each of you shall return to his ancestral land”…v’haaretz lo timacheyr litzmitut ki li haaretz, “the land shall not be sold in perpetuity to anyone else, for the land is Mine.”

Why was Gd so insistent that every Jewish family not lose their ancestral inheritance? It was so that every Jew would know that he has a stake in the land promised to him by Gd—that the Land of Israel is his land! If Gd says, tz’mitut, “in perpetuity,” that means forever and ever and Gd’s word cannot be changed. Gd doesn’t change His mind. 

Now we no longer know which parcels of land belong to any specific Jew. Those records were destroyed thousands of years ago. But we do know that here the Torah says that the Land of Israel is Gd’s land given to the Jewish people forever! 

And so on this Shabbos in the week of Mary Phagan’s 100th Yahrtzeit, the week the Church of Scotland showed that there are still significant parts of the Christian world that hasn’t changed in their anti-Semitism except to change it to the more sophisticated form of anti-Zionsim…on this Shabbos I won’t make a l’chaim with Scotch. Jack Daniels here I come. Amen!

                                                Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis


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