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September 29, 2011

Rosh Hashanah: Will God forgive?

At the start of the Jewish New Year I have some questions for Britain's Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks. They are for him in particular because of what he said in a recorded message of preparation for the New Year, but they are also questions that could and should be asked of rabbis everywhere.

First here’s the complete text (quite short) of what Lord Sacks said and can be seen to be saying on YouTube.

“That’s the sound of selichot (the choral-like prayer that opened his lordship’s presentation). Of saying sorry. The special prayers we say at this time of the year as we come close to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish new year and the day of atonement. And there’s something so powerful about the ability to say sorry.

“Out there in secular society we live in a non penitential culture. When was the last time you heard a politician say, ‘I’m sorry’. Or a rabbi say, ‘I got it wrong’. Or a pundit say, ‘I made a mistake’.

“Yet we’re always getting things wrong. That’s what it is to be human. So to be able to say, I’m sorry, I was wrong, forgive me, is important. It’s a moment of honesty in a lifetime of keeping up appearances; of trying to look infallible. And I can say sorry to God because I know he forgives me. I know that because that’s the kind of God he is. That’s why he gave us Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. So try saying sorry to God. It might just help you, as it has helped me, to say sorry to the people I’ve hurt. Saying sorry is the superglue of interpersonal life. It mends relationships that would otherwise be broken beyond repair.  You won’t be sorry that you said, ‘I’m sorry, Shanah toya’.

“Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is a kind of clarion call, a summons to the Ten Days of Penitence which culminate in the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is the supreme moment of Jewish time, a day of fasting and prayer, introspection and self-judgement. At no other time are we so sharply conscious of standing before God, of being known.”

If this goy (me) completely understands the message, the Chief Rabbi is calling on British Jews (and by obvious implication all others) to say sorry to the people they have hurt as well as God. And if that is so I have three questions.

1. Do the people who have been hurt by Jews in Zionism’s name include the Palestinians?

2. If the answer is “No”, why not?

3. If the answer is “Yes”, why is that most Jews can’t say sorry to the Palestinians for the terrible wrongs done to them in Zionism’s name? (The terrible wrongs only begin with the first phase of Zionism’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine).

As I was turning over in my gentile mind possible answers to the last question,  I recalled a very revealing story Golda Meir told me in our last conversation shortly before she died.

It was about what happened early on the first morning (day two) of the Yom Kippur war when Sadat’s forces were consolidating their hold on the Suez Canal which they had crossed in a surprise attack. Prime Minister Meir convened a kitchen cabinet meeting in her small and very modest Tel Aviv home. Defense Minister Dayan proposed that the IDF should “surrender” its remaining frontline positions on the canal to save lives and withdraw 25 kilometers. To me Golda said: “I told Moshe there was no such word as surrender in our language, then I rushed to that little room there, the toilet, and vomited.” (The full version of that story, and many others, is in my book, Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews).

Is it the case that there’s no such word as sorry in Zionism’s vocabulary?

As I understand it the real problem is that saying sorry to the Palestinians requires all Jews, not only Israeli Jews, to acknowledge the wrong done to the Palestinians in Zionism’s name. And that in turn would require all Jews, not only Israeli Jews, to play their necessary part in righting the wrong done to the Palestinians.

Perhaps more to the point is that saying sorry to the Palestinians would raise the Mother and Father of all questions about the legitimacy and criminality of Zionism’s colonial-like enterprise.

I’ll address my last question for the moment directly to Lord Sacks.

Chief Rabbi, do you really believe that God will forgive the Jews if they don’t say sorry to the Palestinians and then play their necessary part in righting the wrong done?

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M. Elmasry

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