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  • Reverend James Squire

A Billboard About Jews


Coming north on Route 95, I spotted a billboard which said “Non-Religious Jews Speak Up.”

The problem with the billboard is that most travelers on Route 95 are not going to know what that billboard means. Jews are a rare occurrence as their designation as “Jewish” is both a religion and a cultural identification at the same time. Some Jews are religious meaning that they subscribe to attending synagogue as well as practicing various occasions such as Yom Kippur. A good many will have a celebration of their heritage at a Friday night dinner known as Shabbat. Non- religious Jews do not subscribe to such things as named above, but they identify as Jewish.


There are three major denominations in Judaism; Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. The Reform group is more liberal in their ethics and the Orthodox the most conservative in their ethical decision making. Depending on your denomination you will have a different perspective on the war with Hamas.


I once heard the Chief Rabbi of America speak about something that always travels with a Jewish person and that something is “survival.” He spoke against intermarriage of Jews with non-Jews as that will decrease the total of people who are born Jewish. One receives one’s Jewish designation through the mother. I have done a large number of interfaith weddings because of the diversity in our school population. The Jewish members of our school and I have had close relationships as well as other Christian groups because I spend more time with them than a rabbi or other clergyperson.


So, what does this have to do with the Israel and Hamas War? Two items in today’s news speak to the tension between Jews and Palestinians.


The first item was the protest of Chef Solomonov’s restaurant, Goldie, because Solomonov’s heritage rests in Israel yet he is an advocate for Philadelphia. His brother, David, was killed by a sniper. This occurred just before he was to be released from the Israeli Army. When this occurred, Solomonov turned his life around after drug addiction and decided to be an ambassador for Israeli food.  The chef is a financial supporter of the Israeli Army. He is a celebrated chef today winning many awards including the James Beard Award for the Best Chef.


We invited Chef Solomonov to speak in Chapel at EA to give a lecture named after a former student, Maura Murphy, who died suddenly of a heart issue between her junior and senior years at Georgetown. He focused on what he had to overcome with a resilient spirit to become a world-famous chef.  I had an opportunity to talk with him and found him to be a very impressive person who rose from a baker to a celebrity chef. He was a role model for our students to never give up.


There was a protest outside of his restaurant by people supporting the Palestinian cause. I think that is a dangerous form of antisemitism. We call that a “slippery slope” in ethics where the actions focused on him and his restaurant may possibly have a violent ramification.


The second item was about Bernie Sanders’ statement that Israel should not be given any more money without terms attached to defend Gaza citizens. “Being nice” hasn’t worked in stopping what many have called a genocide. The right-wing response in the Israeli government does not meet the standards of the “Just War Clause.” We have seen a key element of that ethical mandate being violated. The war must be conducted in a conventional fashion which means that citizens shouldn’t be killed and that “their means does not justify the ends.” The international community has communicated to Israel that they must stop this approach. I agree with Sanders and the international community.


Part of the problem is that Israel has ignored international pressure when it came to sanctioning Israel for placing settlements in the midst of the Palestinian people. 15,000 Palestinians have been killed to date. Israel indicates that they have sent maps of where the people can go to be safe. They did this online. The Palestinian infrastructure has been destroyed. People don’t have online service. The places that have been earmarked as safe are not safe.


At the very least a cease fire should be required.


What makes this decision of cease fire versus the present increase in Israel’s attacks is ethical systems can be used both for and against this decision.


The Jewish Ethic found in the Law of the Pursuer makes clear that Jews have a right to self- defense, but it must be done with moderation, something clearly missing in the present return to an increase in Israel’s attack on Gaza. The ethic is also this life affirming.


The Christian and secular view would be summarized by the ends justifies the means as well as the phrases “wrong but necessary” and “the lesser of two evils.”


Natural Law would advocate not interrupting the continuum of life with a focus on property. Property here would be focused on Palestine having an independent state. Property is sacred in this ethic whether it is a person’s body as their primary property or the physical land on which they stand.


Whatever the decision, Netanyahu, must go back to trial and removed for his crimes before the October 7thdate as well as his failure to keep the Jewish people safe. There is now an indication that this plan of Hamas was known for a long term perhaps even a year earlier.


What would have happened if Israel had been warned and acted on that knowledge. This is an example of the teleological suspension of the ethical where an earlier decision A would change the outcome of what occurred on October 7th which would result in a better outcome B.


The problem with ethics is that life is a two-edged sword, decisions can be made both for and against certain issues. My decision would be found in the question, “What’s the most life affirming in this complex problem.” I certainly would not support the current strategy of killing 15,000 men, women, and children. If the war continues, we will see a widening of the conflict to include other countries in that region. The Unitarian principle would support the greatest good for the greatest number of my group. The ethical question is, ”What group should play the biggest role in this decision, the Jews,  the Palestinians, or the whole Middle East and the international neutral groups such as the United Nations, etc.?” The identified group will determine future outcomes.


My vote would be for an international body to determine the future deliberations of the Israel and Hamas War. I think that this approach is the best for all for we would identify the greatest good for the greatest number of the citizens of the world.

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