Jews vs. Jews: The Unkindest Cut—by Cathy Harris

Jews vs. Jews: The Unkindest Cut
Cathy Harris
July 25th 2014

This article is a mishmash: A personal tale, a diatribe on the culture of incivility and a political reflection. I worry constantly – if Jews can’t respect each other, how can we sit down and break bread with Palestinians? How can we, Jews in the USA and in Israel, open our minds to new and visionary possibilities? How can we work to end war? If we can’t respect each other, if we spew meaningless phrases like “self-hating Jew” and “racist bigot”, we can’t. We just can’t.

My story starts with someone else’s story. A Jewish friend sent me an article entitled, “Why We’re Moving Our Family into a War Zone” [1] and asked me to share it with my friends. The article is a brave and passionate love song to Israel. We see this couple’s joy in their religion and devotion to Zionism as they plan to relocate their four children to Israel for a year despite the escalating conflict in Gaza.

The authors state that they are going as “proudly Zionist, Orthodox Jews” to support Israeli Jews “under rocket fire…and show Hamas and other murderous terrorist groups” that they cannot be frightened away. They also want to instill in their children “Zionist values of self-reliance, ethical conduct, and Jewish nationhood” and show them “all that the Jewish people have achieved…warts and all.” But where are the warts? They are never mentioned.

And so it goes.

A huge opportunity missed. Bringing these children face-to-face with issues of conflict, sorrow and loss, fear and outrage as felt by all the peoples of this contested land. How I wish they had paused to mention the terrified residents of Gaza who crouch as bombs explode and children and other innocents cry out to G-d and still die. I wish they had used these words: Arabs, Palestinians, the Occupied Territories, and the West Bank. There is one single reference to Gaza that mourns the deaths of two Jewish Americans. But the peoples of this land are all pawns – Jewish and Moslem and Christian, Israeli and Palestinian.

Every mother falls down and wishes to die if her child is killed. But, in this article, some children are invisible. The views expressed in this article are certainly not “wrong.” The views expressed are, well, admirable. But there is something missing. I have a nagging feeling that won’t go away. So I “respond all” to my friend’s note – the recipients include an Orthodox Rabbi.

I write [2]

“I just have to respond. This article is so self-righteous in tone that it disturbs me. It speaks of Israel and Jews and rockets. But it ignores dead children on a beach, exploding bombs on children and babies and women and the way that Israelis currently treat those living in the West Bank and Gaza. Where not everyone is a suicide bomber or a scheming criminal. Until such self-proclaimed Zionist Jews start seeing the whole picture, inclusive of the rights of everyone who lives in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, the solution will remain way out of sight.”

OK, so maybe I should have just picked up the phone and talked to my friend. Maybe I shouldn’t have copied in someone I don’t know. But I didn’t expect this mocking response from the Rabbi:

“You have earned the Chassid shoteh degree with honors.”  

OK, so, according to Talmud, a “chassid shoteh” is “‘pious fool’…as one who sees a woman drowning in the river and refrains from saving her because — it’s forbidden to look at a woman! (Sotah 21b).” [3] And I assume that the Rabbi wasn’t saying that I am too pious but that I’m an idiot, someone too stupid to see that, in espousing my views, I bring about great sin.

And so it goes.

Anger and dismissal are too much in evidence these days when Jews “discuss” the struggle for Israel’s soul and survival as a democracy among despots. We American Jews have forgotten the importance of civility, of respectful, honest discourse. We are all Jews. We all love Israel and wish to exemplify our Jewish code of ethics. This should not be a battle but a conversation; not an opportunity to argue our point but to learn something new. To understand the back story.

And so, after reading the Rabbi’s short, pithy comment, I wrote back [4]:

“Dear Rabbi, The history of violence and destruction between Israel and the Palestinians is tragic. All of my friends, Jewish and other, want peace but don’t agree on how to achieve it. None of us would say or even think to say, ‘I’m right – and you’re a destructive idiot.’  But now you have! I am astonished to witness a respected Rabbi exhibiting such behavior. I’m sure you know that personal insults have never changed someone’s mind.  In choosing not to open up a respectful dialogue and voicing your opinion, you have neatly encapsulated why I feel such despair about achieving peace in the Middle East.”

I’m still waiting for a response.


  1., July 23, 2014, written by Michael M. Rosen and Debra S. Rappaport Rosen
  1. Personal email correspondence, July 24th 2014
  1., Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
  1. Personal email correspondence, July 24th 2014