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After the War: Why Palestine Would Be a Lawless and Militarized State

Teenage hostages before Oct. 7 and after their capture by Hamas to Gaza. Photo: Screenshot from Israeli government X/Twitter account

Once again, disparate voices are urging a “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. For the most part, these urgings are either manipulative or naive, but the danger they pose for Israel is existential: Palestine would not coexist with the sovereign State of Israel, but would plan to replace Israel.

In essence, the two-state plan advocates that an Arab state of Palestine be constructed upon the ruins of Israel.

It is a position that openly displays criminal intent or mens rea toward Israel. It is unambiguously a one-state solution. It is a “final solution.”

Other legal and practical difficulties are associated with Palestinian statehood. A core difficulty would lie in deliberate Palestinian disregard of all pertinent jurisprudential standards. Even if an expanding number of existing states argue for an “official” recognition of “Palestine,” these approvals would not be legally binding. According to the Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934) — aka the governing “Montevideo” treaty on statehood — specific criteria must be met by nascent or aspiring states. For the case at hand, the case of “Palestine,” these standards do not include recognition.

In principle, declarations of support for Palestinian self-determination might not be unreasonable if the Palestinian side were sincerely committed to a two-state solution. But while Fatah and Hamas are very much at odds, they agree on one fundamental point, which is the long-ritualized mantra that Israel’s existence represents an intolerable abomination to Dar al-Islam (the world of Islam) and can never be anything more than “Occupied Palestine.”

The countries in world politics that seek a two-state solution are effectively urging the creation of an irredentist terror state. This advocacy position — one oriented towards Israel’s violent replacement by a protracted criminal insurgency ––originally stemmed from a diplomatic framework known as the Road Map for Implementation of a Permanent Solution for Two States in the Israel-Palestinian Dispute. Together with a Palestinian refusal to reject the “Phased Plan” (Cairo) of June 1974 and an associated no-compromise jihad to “liberate” all of “Occupied Palestine” in increments, the Road Map exposed an overlooked danger to Israel: Those well-intentioned states favoring statehood were misled by overly optimistic or flagrantly contrived hopes for Palestinian “demilitarization.”

On June 14, 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to accept a Palestinian state, but made any such agreement contingent on Palestinian “demilitarization.” He said: “In any peace agreement, the territory under Palestinian control must be disarmed, with solid security guarantees for Israel.”

What Netanyahu failed to note was that there can be no “solid security guarantees for Israel.” A new state of Palestine could 1) easily evade any pre-independence promises made to Israel with impunity; or 2) fatally undermine such promises lawfully. Understandably, following the October 7, 2023 barbarisms, Netanyahu (restored to the premiership) no longer has any faith in Palestinian “security guarantees.”

Furthermore, as a fully sovereign state, Palestine might not be bound by pre-independence agreements even if the compacts were to include UN and/or US reassurances to the contrary. This argument applies even though unrestricted Palestinian claims of statehood could never satisfy the amply codified expectations of authoritative international law. It would be the likely Palestinian argument even though Palestine would have garnered no legal entitlement to any rights of treaty termination.

There would be additional legal problems. Because authentic treaties can be binding only upon states, any agreement between a non-state Palestinian authority and the sovereign State of Israel can have little tangible effectiveness. But what if the government of Palestine were willing to adhere to “peremptory” (fundamental) legal expectations for states — that is, to consider itself bound by its pre-state, non-treaty agreements?

Even in such relatively favorable circumstances, the government of Palestine could retain ample legal pretext to identify grounds for lawful treaty termination.  It could, for example, withdraw from the agreement because of what it would regard as a “material breach.” This would be an alleged violation by Israel that credibly undermined the object and/or purpose of the agreement.

Other Palestinian manipulation options could arise. To wit, Palestine could point towards what international law calls a “fundamental change of circumstances” (rebus sic stantibus). If a Palestinian state were to declare itself vulnerable to previously unforeseen dangers, perhaps from forces of other Arab armies, it could lawfully end its previously binding commitment to remain demilitarized.

There is another method by which a treaty-like arrangement obligating a new Palestinian state to accept demilitarization could quickly and legally be invalidated. The grounds that may be invoked under domestic law to invalidate contracts can also be applied under international law to treaties and treaty-like agreements. This means that a new state of Palestine could point to alleged errors of fact or duress as permissible grounds for terminating the agreement.

Any treaty or treaty-like agreement is void if, at the time it was entered into, it conflicts with a “peremptory” rule of general international law — a jus cogens rule accepted and recognized by the international community of states as one from which no derogation is permitted. Because the right of all sovereign states to maintain military forces essential to self-defense is certainly such a rule, Palestine, depending upon its particular form of constitutive authority, could arguably be within its right to abrogate any arrangement that had “forced” its demilitarization.

Thomas Jefferson wrote about obligation and international law. While affirming that “Compacts between nation and nation are obligatory upon them by the same moral law which obliges individuals to observe their compacts…,” he also acknowledged that “There are circumstances which sometimes excuse the nonperformance of contracts between man and man; so are there also between nation and nation.” Specifically, Jefferson said that if performance of contractual obligation becomes “self-destructive” to a party, “…the law of self-preservation overrules the law of obligation to others.”

Historically, demilitarization has been a legal remedy applicable to “zones,” not to whole states.  This could offer a new state of Palestine yet another legal ground upon which to evade compliance with its pre-independence commitments to demilitarization. It could simply be alleged that these commitments are inconsistent with traditional or Westphalian bases of authoritative international law, rudiments found in treaties and conventions, international custom, and the “general principles of law recognized by civilized nations.” These commitments, the argument would stipulate, would not be legally binding.

In making its strategic and legal choices, Israel should draw no comfort from any purportedly legal promise of Palestinian demilitarization. If the government of a new state of Palestine should choose to invite foreign armies and/or terrorists onto its territory (possibly after the original government authority is displaced or overthrown by even more militantly Islamic, anti-Israel forces), it could do so without practical difficulties and without violating international law.

Prevailing plans for Palestinian statehood are still built upon the moribund Oslo Accords, ill-founded agreements that were undermined and destroyed by persistently egregious violations by the Arab side. The basic problem with the Oslo Accords that underpinned those violations should now be apparent. On the Arab side, Oslo-mandated expectations were never anything more than a cost-effective step toward the dismantling of Israel. On the Israeli side, these expectations were taken, more or less, as a promising way to avert Palestinian terrorism and prevent catastrophic Arab state aggressions.

This asymmetry in expectations, never acknowledged by the UN, enhanced Arab power while it weakened and degraded Israel.  Even now, genocidal Palestinian calls to “slaughter the Jews” (more recently phrased as calls for “Palestine from the river to the sea”) have failed to dampen international enthusiasm for a new criminal state. Much of the “international community” hopes to midwife the birth of such a state while refusing to acknowledge that state’s openly declared genocidal intentions.

What does this mean for any alleged Palestinian demilitarization “remedy” and for Israeli security? Above all, it signals that Israel should make rapid and far-reaching changes in the manner by which it conceptualizes the policy continuum of cooperation and conflict. Israel must desist in wishful thinking and recognize the zero-sum calculations of its enemies. After the Gaza War, this means acknowledging the force-multiplying calculations of Hamas and Iran.

Understood more specifically in terms of international law and world order, this could also mean an Israeli willingness to accept the peremptory right and obligation of “anticipatory self-defense.”

The Arab world and Iran still have only a “one-state solution” in mind for the Middle East. It is a “solution” that incrementally eliminates Israel altogether. Corroboratively, “official” maps of “Palestine” show an already extant Arab state in all of the West Bank (Judea/Samaria), all of Gaza, and all of Israel.

These maps exclude references to any indigenous Jewish population and include the holy sites of only Christians and Muslims. An official cartographer, Khalil Takauji, was commissioned by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to design and locate a Palestinian Capitol Building. This was drawn by Takauji on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, directly on top of an ancient Jewish cemetery.

On September 1, 1993, Yasser Arafat clearly affirmed that the Oslo Accords would be an intrinsic part of the PLO’s 1974 Phased Plan for Israel’s destruction:  “The agreement will be a basis for an independent Palestinian State, in accordance with the Palestinian National Council Resolution issued in 1974. This PNC Resolution calls for “the establishment of a national authority on any part of Palestinian soil from which Israel withdraws or is liberated.”  On May 29, 1994, Rashid Abu Shbak, then a senior PA security official, remarked ominously: “The light which has shone over Gaza and Jericho will also reach the Negev and the Galilee.”

Since these declarations, nothing has changed in Palestinian definitions of Israel and “Palestine.” This is true for the current leadership of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. It should make no difference to Israel whether one terror group or the other is in power.

In a sermon presented on PA Television on December 12, 2014, and in the presence of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Mahmoud al-Habbash, the Supreme Sharia Judge and Abbas’s advisor on Religious and Islamic Affairs, said: All of this land will return to us, all our occupied land, all our rights in Palestine –  our state, our peoples’ heritage, our ancestors’ legacy — all of it will return to us, even if it takes time.”

Earlier, on October 22, 2014, Al-Habbash reaffirmed that any acceptance of Israel’s physical existence is forever forbidden under Islamic law: “The entire land of Palestine (i.e., territory that includes all of Israel) is waqf (an inalienable religious endowment under Islamic law) and is a blessed land. It is prohibited to sell, bestow ownership, or facilitate the occupation of even a millimeter of it.”

But back to basics. A presumptively sovereign Palestinian state could lawfully abrogate its pre-independence commitments to demilitarize. The Palestinian Authority has been guilty of multiple material breaches of Oslo and of “grave breaches” of the law of war. Both the PA and Hamas remain unwilling to rescind their genocidal calls for Israel’s annihilation.

When he accepted the idea of a Palestinian state that had formally agreed to its own demilitarization, Benjamin Netanyahu believed he had taken a reasonable step towards reconciliation. But the Palestinian leadership and their allies in Iran will never accept or even consider any Israel-proposed idea of “limited” Palestinian statehood, particularly a state that would lack the core prerogatives of national self-defense. Whether Jerusalem likes it or not, this means that if Israel ever accepts a Palestinian state, it will be accepting an intransigent enemy endowed with all the normally unhindered military rights of sovereignty.

This does not mean Israel will have no choice but to surrender to a future “Palestine,” but that Jerusalem should fashion its post-Gaza War security policies with fact-based expectations. Among other things, this means Israel’s leaders will need to assess the existential threat of Palestinian statehood as part of a larger strategic whole; that is, in tandem with the rapidly expanding perils of catastrophic conventional or unconventional war. More precisely, this means a comprehensive analytic focus on plausible synergies between Hamas/Iranian aggressions and Israel’s problematic nuclear doctrine. To do anything else would be to seek justification for the immutably discredited promises of Palestinian “demilitarization.“

International law is not a suicide pact. Rather than pass from one untenable position to another, Israel must understand that a two-state solution can quickly become a final solution. Israel has no moral or legal obligation to carve an irredentist enemy state out of its own still-living body.

Louis René Beres, Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue, is the author of many books and articles dealing with nuclear strategy and nuclear war, including Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (University of Chicago Press, 1980) and Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (D.C. Heath/Lexington, 1986). His twelfth book, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy, was published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2016. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

The post After the War: Why Palestine Would Be a Lawless and Militarized State first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Biden Ends Faltering Reelection Campaign, Backs Harris as Nominee

Former Vice President Joe Biden talks with Senator Kamala Harris after the conclusion of the 2020 Democratic US presidential debate in Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Mike Blake.

U.S. President Joe Biden dropped his faltering reelection bid on Sunday, amid intensifying opposition within his own Democratic Party, and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris to replace him as the party’s candidate against Republican Donald Trump.

Biden, 81, in a post on X, said he will remain in his role as president and commander-in-chief until his term ends in January 2025 and will address the nation this week. He has not been seen in public since testing positive for COVID-19 last week and isolating at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

“While it has been my intention to seek reelection, I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as President for the remainder of my term,” Biden wrote.

Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison said the American people will hear from the party on next steps and the path forward for the nomination process soon. It was the first time in more than a half-century that an incumbent U.S. president gave up his party’s nomination.

Biden‘s campaign had been on the ropes since a halting June 27 debate against former President Trump, 78, in which the incumbent at times struggled to finish his thoughts.

Opposition from within his party gained steam over the past week with 36 congressional Democrats – more than one in eight – publicly calling on him to end his campaign.

Lawmakers said they feared he could cost them not only the White House but also the chance to control either chamber of Congress next year, which would leave Democrats with no meaningful grasp on power in Washington.

That stood in sharp contrast to what played out in the Republican Party last week, when members united around Trump and his running mate U.S. Senator J.D. Vance, 39.

Harris, 59, would become the first Black woman to run at the top of a major-party ticket in the country’s history.

Trump told CNN on Sunday that he believed Harris would be easier to defeat.

Biden had a last-minute change of heart, said a source familiar with the matter. The president told allies that as of Saturday night he planned to stay in the race before changing his mind on Sunday afternoon.

“Last night the message was proceed with everything, full speed ahead,” the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “At around 1:45 p.m. today: the president told his senior team that he had changed his mind.”

Biden announced his decision on social media within minutes.

It was unclear whether other senior Democrats would challenge Harris for the party’s nomination – she was widely seen as the pick for many party officials – or whether the party itself would choose to open the field for nominations.

Public opinion polling shows that Harris performs no worse than Biden against Trump.

In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, Harris and Trump were tied with 44% support each in a July 15-16 Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted immediately after the July 13 assassination attempt on Trump. Trump led Biden 43% to 41% in that same poll, though the 2 percentage point difference was not meaningful considering the poll’s 3-point margin of error.

REPUBLICANS QUESTION BIDEN CAPACITY TO STAY IN POWER

Congressional Republicans argued that Biden should resign the office immediately, which would turn the White House over to Harris and put House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, next in line in succession.

“If he’s incapable of running for president, how is he capable of governing right now? I mean, there is five months left in this administration. It’s a real concern, and it’s a danger to the country,” Johnson told CNN on Sunday before Biden‘s announcement.

Johnson in a separate interview on ABC signaled that Republicans would likely try to mount legal challenges to Democrats’ move to replace Biden on the ballot.

Biden‘s announcement follows a wave of public and private pressure from Democratic lawmakers and party officials to quit the race after his shockingly poor debate.

His troubles took the public spotlight away from Trump’s performance, in which he made a string of false statements, and trained it instead on questions surrounding Biden‘s fitness for another four-year term.

His gaffes at a NATO summit – invoking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name when he meant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and calling Harris “Vice President Trump” -further stoked anxieties.

FIRST SINCE LBJ

Biden‘s historic move – the first sitting president to give up his party’s nomination for reelection since President Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War in March 1968 – leaves his replacement with less than four months to wage a campaign.

If Harris emerges as the nominee, the move would represent an unprecedented gamble by the Democratic Party: its first Black and Asian American woman to run for the White House in a country that has elected one Black president and never a woman president in more than two centuries.

Biden was the oldest U.S. president ever elected when he beat Trump in 2020. During that campaign, Biden described himself as a bridge to the next generation of Democratic leaders. Some interpreted that to mean he would serve one term, a transitional figure who beat Trump and brought his party back to power.

But he set his sights on a second term in the belief that he was the only Democrat who could beat Trump again amid questions about Harris’s experience and popularity. In recent times, though, his advanced age began to show through more. His gait became stilted and his childhood stutter occasionally returned.

His team had hoped a strong performance at the June 27 debate would ease concerns over his age. It did the opposite: a Reuters/Ipsos poll after the debate showed that about 40% of Democrats thought he should quit the race.

Donors began to revolt and supporters of Harris began to coalesce around her. Top Democrats, including former House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime ally, told Biden he cannot win the election.

Biden‘s departure sets up a stark new contrast, between the Democrats’ presumptive new nominee, Harris, a former prosecutor, and Trump who is two decades her senior and faces two outstanding criminal prosecutions related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election result. He is due to be sentenced in New York in September on a conviction for trying to cover up a hush-money payment to a porn star.

BIDEN STRUGGLED BEFORE DEBATE

Earlier this year, facing little opposition, Biden easily won the Democratic primary race to pick its presidential candidate, despite voter concerns about his age and health.

His staunch support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza eroded support among some in his own party, particularly young, progressive Democrats and voters of color, who make up an essential part of the Democratic base.

Many Black voters say Biden has not done enough for them, and enthusiasm among Democrats overall for a second Biden term had been low. Even before the debate with Trump, Biden was trailing the Republican in some national polls and in the battleground states he would have needed to win to prevail on Nov. 5.

Harris was tasked with reaching out to those voters in recent months.

During the primary race, Biden accumulated more than 3,600 delegates to the Democratic National Convention to be held in Chicago in August. That was almost double the 1,976 needed to win the party’s nomination.

Unless the Democratic Party changes the rules, delegates pledged to Biden would enter the convention “uncommitted,” leaving them to vote on his successor.

Democrats also have a system of “superdelegates,” unpledged senior party officials and elected leaders whose support is limited on the first ballot but who could play a decisive role in subsequent rounds.

Biden beat Trump in 2020 by winning in the key battleground states, including tight races in Pennsylvania and Georgia. At a national level, he bested Trump by more than 7 million votes, capturing 51.3% of the popular vote to Trump’s 46.8%.

The post Biden Ends Faltering Reelection Campaign, Backs Harris as Nominee first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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An ‘Abject, Squalid, Shameless’ Debate at the Oxford Union

Oxford University students in formal academic dress, c. 2006. Photo: Flickr/James

JNS.orgIn an era dominated by social media and defined by short attention spans, it’s striking that longer, more involved debates hosted by elite institutions still matter.

The Oxford Union—a debating society created at Oxford University in the 1820s, immodestly billing itself as “the most prestigious debating society in the world”—is one of those institutions. During its forthcoming Michaelmas term, which covers the winter months, the Union is planning a debate on the motion: “This house recognizes that Israel is an apartheid state responsible for genocide.”

One of the proposed speakers at the debate is my good friend Prof. Gerald Steinberg, who teaches in the politics department at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. In 2002, Steinberg founded the Israeli watchdog NGO Monitor, which has since played an invaluable role in analyzing and exposing the role of non-governmental organizations in the war against Israel on the propaganda and legal fronts. The Oxford Union rightly assessed that Steinberg would be an ideal speaker to defend Israel’s reputation and duly sent him an invite.

An invitation to speak at the Oxford Union is commonly regarded in academic and media circles as a great honor and an affirmation of one’s expertise in a particular subject area.

Indeed, the invitation to Steinberg was dripping with the kind of self-importance that makes Oxford and Cambridge Universities the continual butt of dismissive jokes among the acerbically humorous, class-obsessed British. It ran through a list of speakers to have graced its hall over the past two centuries, including three U.S. presidents, the late Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama and the radical African-American advocate Malcolm X.

For good measure, the invitation highlighted two debates from the past century to entice Steinberg. One was from 1933, the year Hitler came to power and the Union shamefully voted in favor of the motion: “This House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” The other was from 1962—five years before Israel unified Jerusalem and conquered Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War—when the Union debated the contention that the “creation of the State of Israel is one of the mistakes of the century.”

Despite his impressive credentials, Steinberg is a modest man who can be relied upon to do the right thing. He sent the Union a response that ripped the premises of their proposed debate to shreds. Addressing the reference in the invitation letter to the infamous 1933 debate as an example of the Union’s “tradition of confronting the boldest questions of our time,” he observed: “That tradition is also described as exploiting the Oxford Union as a platform for crude political propaganda. The histories of this event highlight the fact that the debate took place shortly after Hitler became the German leader and the Nazis launched the actions and laws targeting the Jewish population. Winston Churchill described the Union’s behavior in 1933 as an ‘abject, squalid, shameless avowal. … It is a very disquieting and disgusting symptom.’”

Churchill’s condemnation applies no less to the topic on which Steinberg was invited to debate.

“The gratuitous labels of ‘apartheid’ and ‘genocide’ add to this edifice, and some might conclude that the leaders and members of the Oxford Union seek to repeat and reinforce the travesties of 1933 and 1962,” he wrote.

Steinberg then dealt with the frankly libelous claims of “apartheid” and “genocide” against Israel, highlighting the historical context and moral significance of both these terms.

Regarding “apartheid,” Steinberg correctly reminded the debate organizers that this term originally appeared in relation to Israel as a result of intensive Soviet propaganda efforts during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to strip the Jewish state of its legitimacy, with Moscow lobbing words like “Nazi” and “racist” into the brew as well.

On the invocation of genocide, Steinberg noted that this term—applicable to the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians during World War I, the Holocaust of six million Jews during World War II and more recent events of mass killing and systemic abuse in Cambodia, Rwanda and Myanmar/Burma—was now being distorted to “delegitimize responses to military aggression, asymmetric warfare and atrocities directed at civilian populations, such as committed by Hamas and its allies.”

Part of the problem here is that while the team at the Oxford Union is gushingly proud of the debate topics covered during that institution’s long existence, they appear to be less familiar with the underlying substance.

Had they examined the examples of genocide cited above, they might have noticed a common pattern: In every case, regimes targeted minorities simply based on their identity. In Pol Pot’s Cambodia, even wearing glasses marked one out as a candidate for death, because a pair of specs was seen as evidence of a bourgeois education. These regimes then used killing methods like mass executions and concentration camps to eliminate those they targeted.

Both before and during the killings, the victim groups were dehumanized in regime propaganda. The Nazis depicted Jews as “rats” and the Hutu killing mobs in Rwanda referred to Tutsis as “cockroaches.” Victim groups were at best poorly armed, at worst utterly defenseless, in the face of their killers.

Similarly, those who invoke the word “apartheid” in the context of Israel have little idea of what that system involved or the discredited racist ideology it was based upon. For most of the 20th century in South Africa, the Black population that comprises 90% of the country was subjected to humiliating restrictions in every aspect of their lives, along with the denial of suffrage.

While South African apartheid was unique, there are some ironic parallels visible in the Middle East—but not in Israel. In Syria and Bahrain, to take just two examples, unelected, heavily armed minorities engage in brutal rule over the majorities, as was the case in South Africa. In Qatar, less than 10% of the population are full citizens. Everyone else, including the vast reservoir of migrant labor toiling in conditions of slavery, is seen as a lesser being, deemed unfit to even enter the gleaming shopping malls and hotels built with their own sweat. In Iran, women and religious minorities suffer from discrimination rooted in the Islamic Republic’s interpretation of the Quran and other religious texts.

All of this is ignored because it contradicts the dogma that Israel lies at the root of all the conflicts in the Middle East and, in increasing numbers of fevered minds, the world. The Oxford Union is no less guilty of sacralizing this dogma than is some idiot on Instagram posting an Israeli flag juxtaposed with a Nazi swastika.

As Steinberg suggested at the end of his reply, if the Oxford Union is really serious about upholding its tradition of bold debates that pull no punches, it should consider the motion: “This house recognizes that its own history of Jew-hatred in different forms is fundamentally immoral and offers its apologies.”

The post An ‘Abject, Squalid, Shameless’ Debate at the Oxford Union first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Home or Synagogue?

A 1539 representation of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

JNS.orgHow ironic that some of our most famous synagogue prayers should have come from the mouth of one of our mortal enemies. In Balak, this week’s parsha, the heathen prophet Balaam attempts to put a lethal curse on the Israelites, only to be frustrated by God. Every time he tried to curse us out of his vile mouth came the most beautiful blessings and praises of Israel. Perhaps none are more famous than “Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenotecha Yisrael“—“How good are your tents, O Jacob; your dwellings, O Israel.”

In his commentary, Rashi shares two interpretations of this verse. In the first, he says that Balaam was referring to the Jewish homes and the modesty the people demonstrated in their town planning. The doorways were designed so they did not face each other and thus protected the privacy and modesty of family life. In his second interpretation, Rashi explains that tents and dwellings also refer to our Sanctuaries and Temples of old—namely Shilo and Jerusalem.

In the Torah, a sequence is important and instructive. That Rashi first mentions the Jewish home and only afterward the Temple tells us something: First comes the Jewish home, and then the synagogue.

What are our priorities? What is primary and what is secondary?

Far be it from me to diminish the importance of my own profession as a congregational rabbi in a synagogue, but the truth must be told and I’ve said this in my own shul many times over the years:

We cannot depend on the synagogue for Jewish continuity. Neither can we rely on our Jewish day schools, for that matter.

Too many parents today have abdicated their role as educators to the school and the shul.

Our teachers’ biggest complaint is that parents do not support their educational endeavors. All too often there is a dichotomy, even a conflict, between the home and the school. Parents and teachers are frequently at loggerheads and our children are getting mixed messages. When the teacher encourages a student to engage in a Jewish practice, he may hear his parents telling him to ignore it because they are not comfortable with that practice.

Some parents have gone to shocking and disgraceful lengths, even criticizing and condemning the teacher to their children. I once heard of a boy who told his teacher point blank, “My father said you are a total jerk!” Actually, it was much worse, but I can’t repeat it here!

Kids may well forget what their teacher or rabbi said, but it is far more likely for them to remember what their mother and father taught them.

“In our house, we don’t do that.” “In our family, we do it this way.” Parental messages leave far more lasting impressions on children. A child’s own house and his own family traditions tend to count for much more than a school or synagogue routine.

The rabbi or teacher may teach or preach about Shabbat or Kashrut, but if parents tell their children that it isn’t that important, it is unlikely the child will buck family tradition.

Of course, parents should never be dismissive of what teachers tell their children at school or what the rabbi tells them in shul. But the reality is that the home and family value system will be far more important in raising the next generation than the shul or school.

Just consider how much of Jewish life is observed at home and how much is practiced in shul.

In shul we pray with a minyan, perhaps we attend a shiur or adult education. We may be called upon to assist with communal welfare or volunteer to visit the sick, etc.

But at home, we keep Shabbat weekly and the Yom Tov festivals throughout the year. We keep kosher, put up mezuzahs, practice hospitality by inviting guests, work at our shalom bayit to keep the peace in the home and much more.

Not only does charity start at home, but Judaism starts at home too!

I was at a rabbinic conference some years ago when one of the rabbis asked the eminent guest speaker, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, about the solution to the contemporary problem of “kids at risk”—children of religious parents who go off the path and leave their religious lifestyle. Rav Kamenetsky gave a two-word answer that sent a shudder through the audience: “Shalom bayit!”

The sad reality is that when parents are not ad idem between themselves, it rubs off on the children and they look elsewhere for role models.

I don’t know who coined the phrase, but it is entirely accurate to say, “The home is the factory of the Jewish nation!”

Once upon a time, the Jewish home was the envy of the non-Jewish world. I remember back in the 1970s and 1980s, several young women who were winners of Miss South Africa beauty pageants converted to Judaism. Interestingly, when interviewed by the press and asked why, they each gave the same answer: They shared their experiences with their Jewish friends and particularly the Friday night dinners and quality family time spent around the Shabbat table as something they truly appreciated and wished for themselves.

Let us restore the Jewish home to its primacy and we will safeguard Jewish continuity.

The post Home or Synagogue? first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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