Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Take Your Olive Branch and Shavuot! - Part 5

Today is Day 14,283 of the Maintenance of the Immoral (and Illegal) West Bank Settlements and almost the 40th anniversary of the start of the immoral (and illegal) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Rabbi Akiva said, “ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ Lev. 19:18 - is the major principle of the Torah.”

Take Your Olive Branch and Shavuot
Olive Trees and Olive Harvesting
Immorality of the GOI according to the Teachings of Judaism

So let’s review

Olive trees are very significant culturally and economically for Palestinians. Jewish Israeli settlers (JIS) attack Palestinians, uproot olive trees and fence off Palestinian olive tree groves. IDF soldiers and Israeli civilian authorities, in general, support the actions of the JIS, protect them while arresting Palestinians and bring few criminal charges against the JIS. The Supreme Court of Israel severely criticized the lax approach displayed by the police and security personnel in their law enforcement work against violent settlers, and ruled that the closure of territory to Palestinians, to protect them from settlers, is akin to granting a prize for violence. …In addition, Palestinian farmers in the West Bank now face over 500 physical obstacles and closures including the separation wall that is being constructed by the GOI which restrict their movement and often prevented them from accessing their trees.

As I said in the last post, isn’t this enough to conclude that what is being done to the Palestinians is simply wrong and unjust? In the last post I considered how these actions violated international human and civil rights laws. In this post I will look at how they violate the core values of Judaism at the moment when many Jewish people are about to begin to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot.


When I want to learn about stuff Jewish, I go to www.socialaction.com and www.myjewishlearning.com and I encourage you to do so also. Here is the lead article about Shavuot from socialaction.com.

Shavuot: The Little Jewish Holiday Worth Celebrating by COREY PODELL

"Shavuot, the little holiday that could, is one of the most meaningful as far as social justice is concerned, though probably one of the least celebrated. Shavuot is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah but nonetheless commemorates one of our most important moments, as a people, when we were handed the Ten Commandments by God at Mt. Sinai (Ed. Note. – in rabbinic tradition we also received the other written and oral laws of the Torah). These Commandments have guided us through centuries of persecution, triumph, and struggle as a community, and they still guide us today. … Shavuot is also the day on which the Bikkurim (first fruits from the seven species for which Israel is praised) were brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. These species are: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Does anyone doubt that a feast is in the making? … Shavuot also gives us an opportunity to recommit ourselves to tikkun olam, repairing the world. Any time we, as Jews, indulge in a special meal, we must think of and remember those that do not have that luxury, who are poor and hungry. Because Shavuot is connected to the harvest and to the land, historically Rabbis would save a portion of the harvest for the poor. The Book of Ruth, typically read during this holiday, emphasizes the importance of reaching out to strangers and fulfilling the communal obligation to the needy. Jews partake in this action by donating food to pantries, inviting those in need to their family or community meal, and by performing small but significant actions such as drinking or serving fair trade coffee. Even little actions can contribute to tikkun olam.

"Shavuot celebrates the fruits and grains that come from the earth, and we are reminded that the earth that has sustained us for centuries is fragile and changing. It makes our bond to the earth that much deeper. We are also reminded on Shavuot that, with harmful pesticides and herbicides, we as Jews need to make more earth-conscious decisions, not just on this holiday but throughout the year.

"Pirkei Avot, another popular piece read on this holiday, states, (Hillel) “If I am not for myself who will be for me? And if I am only for myself alone, then what am I? And if not now, when?” (Avot 1:18) Because there is a counting of days leading up to Shavuot, there are seven weeks to focus on studying and learning and on getting involved in noteworthy projects that lead up to the sixth day of Sivan itself. Some progressive communities focus on different social justice topics for each of the weeks, for example, … “Social Action Role Models,” Corey Podell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. When she isn’t writing, you can find her reading, attending live music shows and walking her dog Sophie.


Shavuot is also connected to the season of the grain harvest in Israel. In ancient times, the grain harvest lasted seven weeks and was a season of gladness. It began with the harvesting of the barley during Passover and ended with the harvesting of the wheat at Shavuot. Shavuot was thus the concluding festival of the grain harvest, just as the eighth day of Sukkot (Tabernacles) was the concluding festival of the fruit harvest. Shavuot was also the first day on which individuals could bring the Bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple in Jerusalem The Bikkurim were brought from the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (Deut. 8:8). Jewish farmers would tie a ribbon around the first ripening fruits from each of these species in their fields. At the time of harvest, the fruits identified by the ribbon would be cut and placed into baskets woven of gold and silver….placed on oxen whose horns were gilded and laced with garlands of flowers, and who were led in a grand procession to Jerusalem. As the farmer and his entourage passed through cities and towns, they would be accompanied by music and parades.


Nothing ever came to replace the bringing of first fruits to the Temple. Shavuot begged for ritual enhancement and this is the need increasingly met by the custom of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the practice of spending the first night of Shavuot awake in the study of Torah culminating in the reading of the Ten Commandments given at Sinai

A few of the Ten Commandments: Exodus 20:12-14

"12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not murder. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
14 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
Shavuot is also celebrated as the time when God gave Moses not only the Ten Commandments but the Torah, both the written and the oral laws Here is a relevant law from the Torah Deuteronomy 20:19 When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by wielding an axe against them; for thou mayest eat of them, but thou shalt not cut them down, for Is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee? (Hertz footnote – “is the tree of the field man” means because they are vital to man (Ibn Ezra. The Rabbis deduce from this a prohibition of the wanton destruction of anything useful to man.”


Where else would I go for authoritative writings about Judaism and the Book of Ruth than wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Ruth

"The book of Ruth is about an ordinary family who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Elimelech moves his two sons and wife Naomi from Bethlehem to Moab during a time of famine. Their two sons marry Moabite women Orpah and Ruth (friend in Hebrew). The men of the family die, leaving their three widows. Naomi resolves to return to her homeland and urges her two daughters-in-law to return to their Moabite families. Orpah listens to Naomi’s urgings, but Ruth pledges her undying devotion to her mother-in-law (Ruth 1:16-17). Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem during the time of the barley harvest. In order to provide food for the two women, Ruth receives permission to glean in the fields of Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman. Naomi sends Ruth to ask protection from Boaz, who is a close relative. Boaz is attracted to Ruth, but informs her that there is a closer kinsman who has the first right to redeem the estate of Elimelech. Boaz meets with the closer kinsman ..(who).. waived his right to Elimelech’s property. Boaz follows through on a plan to grant security (redemption) to the two women. Boaz marries Ruth and their child, Obed, is “born to Naomi” (Ruth 4:17). The genealogy that concludes the book of Ruth climaxes with the wonderful disclosure that Ruth of Moab is the great-grandmother of King David.

"Two major theological themes are redemption (the verb redeem means to ‘buy back’ or ‘redeem’ but fundamentally its meaning is ‘to protect’) and hesed (loving kindness). Redemption was both a rich social and religious concept in Israel’s daily life. Socially the Israelites were aware of their responsibility to one another to protect the weak and unprotected. Redemption secures the life of the people as a community, not just as individuals. The Israelites understanding of redemption is woven into their understanding of Yahweh. God stands by the oppressed and needy. He extends his love and mercy offering a new freedom and hope. God has a deep concern for the welfare of his people, materially, emotionally and spiritually. … Along with the redemption theme – hesed – rises to the top as another important concept. Hesed sometimes translated as loving kindness also implies loyalty. The theme of hesed is woven throughout Ruth beginning at 1:8 with Naomi blessing her two daughters-in-law as she urges them to return to their Moabite families. She says, “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” Both Ruth and Boaz demonstrate hesed to their family members throughout the story. These are not acts of kindness with an expectation of measure for measure. Rather, they are acts of hesed that go beyond measure and demonstrate that hesed can require a person to go beyond the requirements of the law and choose the unexpected. However, the importance of the law is evident within the book of Ruth and the story reflects a need to stay within its boundaries. Boaz in going beyond measure in acquiring the property (demonstrating hesed) redeeming not only the land but both Naomi and Ruth as well. The two widows now have a secure and protected future. God is concerned for the ordinary family, faithful in the good times and the bad; He is also the Gentiles’ God; He accomplishes more than we could ever hope or imagine demonstrated through the hesed acts of ordinary people.”

It is time to pause after learning about the history, customs and traditions of Shavuot. When I return, I will attempt to connect this with the difficulties of the Palestinian farmer/owner of olive trees.

Deuteronomy 16:20 – “Justice, justice shall you pursue that you may live and inherit the land which God gave you” and the footnote in the 1980 Hertz Edition “(T)here is international justice, which demands respect for the personality of every national group, and proclaims that no people can of right be robbed of its national life or territory, its language or spiritual heritage.

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