As we know, Israel has been instructed to shut up, trust her betters, and hope for the best regarding Iran and her pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
From my vantage point here in Israel, this is not a theoretical matter. It is practical and it is personal: our lives, our kids, our homes, our future. Our very existence as a country, in fact. Nothing is ever certain here, but right now, it feels even less certain than usual.
In view of all this, I've been reflecting 0n a part of the conversation Damian and I had with Ricochet member and Jewish settler Evan Pokroy on the International Edition podcast some months ago. I asked Evan whether he feels he is under God's protection out there, on the other side of the Green Line, with rioting, rock-throwing Palestinians a few meters down the road.
He answered that there are separate Jewish ideas of divine protection: that of the individual and that of the nation. He said that in his view, it's hard to look at the whole course of Jewish history and be anything other than optimistic about the long-term fate of the Jewish nation. But on the individual level, things are a little different. The individual's relationship with God is not, if I understood Evan correctly, meant to function as Kevlar body armor. It is not appropriate to expect anyone else -- even God -- to swoop in and save you at the eleventh hour. Defending your life is your job, not somebody else's.
This premise tempts me down some interesting byways, but let's leave them aside for the moment. Let's talk about the big question: whether or not the individual should feel personally protected by God.
Adam Kirsch, who reads a page of Talmud a day together with Jews around the world and writes about it for Tablet Magazine, happens to have a piece up right now about mezuzot, which are the little prayer scrolls Jews put up on the doorposts of their houses. As it turns out, the piece directly addresses this question.
Kirsch relates a story told in the Gemara (the commentary on the core Talmudic text, or Mishna) about a Roman official punishing a Jew for inspecting mezuzot. How can that have taken place? Those on the path to performing a mitzvah (a good deed commanded by God) are supposed to be impervious to harm, according to Rabbi Elazar. So where was God when that Roman punished that Jew?
When questions like this arise, we see, as Kirsch puts it, "the Talmud's essential pragmatism":
“Where danger is permanent it is different,” the rabbis say. In a place where Jews are persecuted, they can’t expect God to miraculously intervene to protect them; they have to take reasonable precautions. I am repeatedly struck by the way the Talmud allows this sort of realism to co-exist with an implicit belief in God’s providence. Rabbinic Judaism is designed for life in this world, not for a messianic future, or for martyrdom.
Israelis are under threat, both collectively and individually. I'm willing to agree that the long-term prospects are probably good, and I trust that Israel is taking reasonable precautions for the short-term challenge.
But I sure hope God is looking out for my kids.