Rabbis for Human Rights Newsletter: Be a part of the struggle for Human Rights and Social Justice

Participants with sings that read "A Jewish Voice Against Annexation". Click here for more pictures

Participants with signs that read “A Jewish Voice Against Annexation”. Click here for more pictures

This week:

Rabbis for Human Rights and Oz VeShalom Hold Public Protest Vigil and Prayer for Peace: A Religious Jewish Voice Against Annexation. At the Vigil Rabbis for Human Rights Releases Rabbinic Letter Against the Annexation with 140 Signatures of Israeli Rabbis from a Variety of Denominations.

Human Rights Note: Today, 26 June is the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. With our colleagues in the Local and Global Human Rights Community we Call on World Leaders, Including our Own to Denounce the Use of Torture and Ill Treatment and to Provide Relief for its Victims and to end Impunity for Perpetrators.

Newly inducted Member of the Board of RHR, Rabbi Benjamin Mintz writes this Week’s D’Var Torah in which he talks about how a person or a society that commits human rights abuses cannot be considered ‘pure’ according to the biblical understanding of the concept. This Torah portion comes at an apt time as more and more Jews from Israel and all over the world are protesting, imploring and demanding that the Israeli Government scrap its annexation plans!

Rabbis For Human Rights & Oz VeShalom Say NO to Annexation: Vigil for peace and human rights and against Annexation!

Yesterday’s demonstration was organized by the mainly Orthodox/religious peace group, Oz VeShalom. The Rally, well attended and in Jerusalem’s central Zion Square (the same place where, in October 1995, Benjamin Netanyahu led a large protest excoriating Yitzchak Rabin for his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians, just a month before the assassination), was led by rabbis, men and women, from the Jewish denominational spectrum.

The vigil was covered by the Jerusalem Post and others such as local journalist Ittay Flescher who interviewed RHR’s Chairperson and uploaded clips from the event with English Subtitles.

Holding Signs that declared: “A Jewish Voice Against Annexation” the protesters/worshipers sounded a clear and moral voice in favor of peace, in favor of human rights and against one sided violations of international law and standards. Pictures from the event can be viewed here.

At the Rally RHR BOD member, Rabbi Noa Mazor announced the release of a Rabbinic Letter Against the Occupation. She Read the letter aloud, which, earlier that day, had been sent to the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Defense. The Letter can be read here.

DVAR TORAH: Parashat “Hukkat” – On the Impurities of Human Rights Abuse Rabbi Benjamin Mintz*

“The ritually clean person shall sprinkle on the unclean person on the third day and on the seventh day, and he shall cleanse him on the seventh day, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and he shall become ritually clean in the evening.” (Numbers, 19, 19)

The red heifer (“Parah Aduma”) is the pearl in the crown of the Jewish laws of impurity and purity. In any case, theoretically this is so. It is difficult to define Judaism today as a religion in which the concerns of ritual purity are integrated everywhere. Since the destruction of the temple the impurity of the dead is our state and there is no escape from it. And beyond that there is no practical reason to remove it.

Nevertheless parashat Hukkat still exists in the Torah. It is even read twice every year – this coming week on the first Shabbat of the month of Tammuz, and part of it devoted to the red heifer – on the Shabbat after the festival of Purim – “Shabbat Parah”. And so I feel that it is important to this Torah teaching and not to the incident of the waters of conflict or to the death of Miriam, the prophetess.

Because it is indeed the case that the matter of the red heifer is the most mysterious of all. It is exactly this matter that the midrash links to Solomon, the king – the wisest of men – in the book of Ecclesiastes that is seen as his book “All this I tested with wisdom; I said, “I will become wise,” but it was far from me.” (Ecclesiastes, 7, 23) That is to say, the reasoning for this law is unclear, or, in the words of midrash rabah “Hukka” ( law without reason) even for the wisest of men. There is no explanation “The Holy Blessed One said to Moses – to you I reveal the reason for the red heifer but to others – it is a law without reason, a “Hukka” (Bamidbar Rabah, 19,6). Only Moses knew and no one else can possibly understand this matter.

Today it is possible to think similarly when it comes to human rights. Few have really delved into the depths of the philosophies of Smith, Milton and Locke. But, nevertheless, for all of us in “advanced”, liberal society it is quite obvious that a regime or individual that does not respect human rights is impure.

If we try to examine the practical details of the purification ceremony for release from the impurity of the dead, we can see that first of all there is a repetition of the ritual sprinkling of water on the third and on the seventh day. Another intriguing thing is the fact the one who conducts this purification becomes impure, himself/herself, until evening. Other interesting aspects can be found in Maimonides’ Mishne Torah – the ritual of the bringing up of the water from the Shiloh spring by the children and the concern about the danger of “kever hatehom” impurity from a deeply buried, unknown grave) (Mishne Torah, the Book of Purification, the laws of the Red Heifer, chapter 2, halacha 7).

So, too, we can understand the ritual process of purification the impurity of human rights abuses, which must be carried out repeatedly.

We should definitely be concerned about the impurity of unknown, buried abuses (kever hatehom) – the abuse of the most important right of all – the right to life of every human creature, the ultimate abuse being that of genocide that opens up a bottomless pit in any society in which it occurs. The children are our emissaries –human rights education must start early in elementary school, if not in kindergarten. [See the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training]

And one more thing: Those who deal with the purification of society so that it will protect and uphold the rights of human beings may often be considered “impure”. After all who wants to be seen in the company of these crazy people who demonstrate everywhere about “nonsense”? However we should remember that the state of purity awaits us too in the evening. That is encouraging…

(Translated by Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann)

*Rabbi Benjamin Minitz is a newly elected member or RHR’s Board of Directors. He is the rabbi of “Kehilat Shirat HaYam Carmel”, in Haifa, and works in the Center for Russian-speakers and conversion of the Israeli Reform Movement. He is also an officiant of life-cycle ceremonies and a lecturer. A native of Ukraine, immigrated to Israel when he was 15. He was ordained as a rabbi by HUC. He serves the Israeli public and the Jews of the Diaspora in Hebrew, English and Russian. He was a student representative on RHR’s BOD while a student a member of the executive board of RHR and the organizing committee of Limmud FSU in Israel. He is married to Dr. Elna Minitz and they are the parents of Hadar, Joseph, and Levi Moshe. They live in Kfar Saba.

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RHR Newsletter – 26/6/2020