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    Religion & the demonstrators

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post on 2 October, 2020.

    Demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s residence. Credit: Nettadi CC BY-SA 4.0

    Writing on the day after Yom Kippur, I have a wry smile about how Israel has let itself be torn apart by two camps: the pray-ers and the protesters.

    The pray-ers, who gathered in mostly outdoor groups to mark Yom Kippur, say that Israel without the right to pray is not Jewish.

    The protesters, who mostly gather at nighttime outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street, say that Israel without the right to demonstrate is not Jewish.

    They each think they are the more authentic Jewish group, one saying that Jewishness is people-centered, and the other that it is religion-centered.

    The fact is that they are probably both right. I suspect that Yom Kippur saw the borders between them break down.

    Some kippah-wearing religious people who suspect that others have dethroned God and distorted Jewish identity were actually seen at the Balfour Street gatherings, though presumably there are no statistics.

    The protesters who loudly clamoured that demonstrations were part of Jewish democracy, are partly advocates of a secular view that supposedly says that man can manage without God and the Bible, but they include some (again we don’t have statistics) who made their way on Yom Kippur to their local minyan.

    The fact is that religion and demonstrations have long gone together.

    Even the Bible reports demonstrations, including confrontations with God, not just with prophets and politicians.

    During my years in Sydney, I once did a series of radio programs for the Australia Broadcasting Commission under the title of “Confrontations with God”. I also addressed a conference of Australian naval chaplains on the same subject and left them bemusing whether a faith community has any right to shout at its God.

    The fact is that in the Jewish Bible, God and the prophets are insistent on the glory of the people.

    The fact is that our history constantly stresses Jewish peoplehood.

    The fact is that Moses is nobody without the Children of Israel.

    The fact is that the prayer book (especially the Psalms) not only has its private, personal prayers, but it is also full of national history and hope.

    The fact is that the people of Israel have every right to say, or not say, “We will do and we will hearken.”

    So why should it surprise us that demonstrators are often believers and pray-ers? That demonstrating does not rule out spirituality?

    Why do at least a section of the demonstrators sometimes – maybe regularly – pray? Daily and on Yom Kippur?

    Golda Meir answered when she was asked why she went to synagogue in Moscow, “I went to synagogue to be with my people.”

    Some Jews say, “This is what my parents did.” Others say, “I would feel bad if I didn’t keep Yom Kippur.” There are those who give the occasion a more personal tinge, who say, “I am not always certain that I have made the right choices in life, but Yom Kippur helps me to think it through.”

    Someone who prays on Yom Kippur (even an erstwhile demonstrator) may be a firm believer, sure that there is a God, certain that the world is in Divine hands (though anxious for God to step in and save His creation from destruction by COVID-19 or other menaces).

    That is why the Yom Kippur liturgy acclaims God and appeals to Him to show clemency to human beings when they have failed to meet their potential.

    Those who come to pray tell you sometimes (rather paradoxically) that they are atheists. Why do they put in an appearance and even say “Amen” when the believers are at prayer on Yom Kippur?

    The explanation given by Rav Kook is that they are really minds in search. They’re looking for truth, and they are thus rather more agnostic than atheistic.

    There are critics who say Rav Kook is dreaming and the people who claim to be atheists are not looking for an intellectual and spiritual position but have found one (without God) and are adamant ideological unbelievers.

    Franz Rosenzweig, who found Judaism in a Yom Kippur minyan, makes it clear that the day has a magic, and even if one cannot express that magic in words, the experience of Yom Kippur can turn a person into a quiet individual.

    Yom Kippur in its own way is a demonstration – a demonstration that we belong to the Children of Israel, and the Children of Israel belong to God. Those who come to pray find themselves saying to God Hineni, “Here I am,” and to the people of Israel, Shema Yisrael HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

    The pray-ers are really demonstrators; the demonstrators are really pray-ers.

    Yom Kippur this year was not just a demonstration for God but an attempt to recruit God to support a demonstration against Israel’s current political leadership.

    In the Torah the people shouted against Moses and Aaron, but God told them that their leaders were His choice and the rancorous words hurled at the leaders were also accusations against God.

    In today’s climate, Israeli political leaders probably don’t claim Divine authority but sometimes vox populi, the voice of the people, ought to be heeded.

    #coronavirus #corona #covid-19 #covid19 #pandemic

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