The story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible is just a few sentences in length, but it has long captured the imaginations of all sorts of people. Artists have pictured its physical heights, while biblical scholars and theologians have sought to decipher the story’s meaning.
A new book by Rabbi Shai Held, “The Heart of the Torah,” took an interesting approach to the story. Held questioned the essence of the “sin” of the architects and builders of the Tower of Babel. If the punishment for their actions was that the people of Babel were scattered around the Earth, each speaking a different language, it would imply that the crux of the offence was the group’s cohesiveness. Too much unity was a seemingly bad thing, at odds with today’s view of unity as a worthy goal.
Held responded to his own observation by advancing the notion that the problem of the people building the Tower was not their unity, but their uniformity. It was not a problem that everyone was working to accomplish something together, but that the societal structure created a monolithic mass in which people were indistinguishable from each other. Such a state is unnatural, and could only be accomplished with an authoritarian ruler. It was that totalitarian regime that was the core of the sin and what needed to be broken, not the cohesiveness of a multitude of people. Hence the “punishment” to create more unique individuals with their own language and direction who could not be controlled by a single ruler.
Unity of Purpose
A good example of a group of different people uniting in a common purpose can be found in sports.
A professional basketball team typically includes players with a variety of different skills: one player may be a good outside shooter; another a solid rebounder; a third good at dribbling and passing; etc. The players likely do not have a uniform set of skills, but have a unity of purpose of winning a game.
As part of the effort to win, the players support each other. They pass each other the ball. They set screens and picks to provide an open shot. They encourage and cheer their teammates on, whether they are playing well, or need encouragement to perform better.
That is unity, and the mark of a successful team dynamic.
Conversely, a bad teammate is one that throws the ball to opposing team. That never shows up for practice. That tells the referee that one of their teammates committed a foul. Allowing such a player onto the court hurts the entire team.
A good teammate tells a fellow teammate when he is in the paint for too long; a bad teammate tells the referee that his teammate should be called with a 3-second violation. A strong team witnesses teammates pulling each other up; a weak team has teammates shouting each other down.
In short, a team with unity uses active and passive means to help the team win. A flawed team has teammates yelling at each other and calling for outside forces to punish their own team.
With such orientation, it is useful to explore unity and uniformity in the pro-Zionist tent.
The Pro-Israel Tent
The pro-Israel camp has been attempting to figure out how wide to extend its community tent. There are many opinions surrounding Israel, whether about land, politics or religion. There is certainly no fear of uniformity. But what about unity? When do the myriad opinions become intolerable for a joint effort?
As in the sports example above, the pro-Israel tent should allow people with different voices, but not those that seek to use external pressure to harm the Jewish State. Outside forces might be financial, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel, and using the United Nations or United States to pass anti-Israel resolutions and laws.
There are a number of groups that claim to be pro-Israel that precisely take these actions:
- Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is an advocate for BDS of Israel and lobbies governments, churches and schools to support BDS. It seeks to use financial pressure to force Israel to capitulate to a variety of demands ranging from giving up Judea and Samaria, to removing the limited blockade of Gaza. It has also proudly hosted events for convicted terrorists. The group’s leader, Rebecca Vilkomerson has stated clearly “our charge is to change U.S. policy [about Israel].”
- J Street pushed the Obama Administration to declare the Jewish towns in Judea & Samaria (the “settlements”) as illegal and to allow a United Nations resolution to pass in December 2016. That action has set in motion a massive action campaign against businesses in Judea & Samaria.
- New Israel Fund (NIF) supports a variety of groups that seek to end Israel as a Jewish State. NIF supports Adalah which seeks to replace the Jewish State with a bi-national state in which Jews would be a minority. NIF funds groups and movies that tour the world that demonize Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces.
All of these groups are bad actors. They go to international fora to condemn Israel and suggest punitive actions against the Jewish State. They do not seek to advance Israel by engaging with the country directly with concerns, but through external force.
Rabbi Held described the dangers of uniformity in his review of the Tower of Babel. “If everyone says the same words and thinks the same thoughts, then a society emerges in which there is no room for individual tastes, thoughts and aspirations, or for individual projects and creativity.” Uniformity is a problem, but not unity. Unity without uniformity combines the talents of each individual in a common purpose and enhances the participants as well as the end-result. However, a lack of uniformity together with a lack of unity is simply chaos. There is nothing that binds the people or mission together other than a flimsy veneer that will ultimately dissolve.
The Jewish State and pro-Israel groups will never have uniformity of opinions, but it should have unity of purpose. Those groups that want to be part of the Pro-Israel and Pro-Zionist movement should adhere to the basic principle of not going to external fora to harm Israelis or the government of Israel. While these groups may self-identify as pro-Israel, they cannot be welcomed into the pro-Israel community.
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