TWO PEOPLE GRASPING A CLOAK – Shnayim Ochazin B’Tallis

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Date: Wednesday, February 09 2011

Shnayim ochazin b’talis – two people grasping a cloak. So begins the first Mishnah inBava Metzia. It’s probably one of the first pieces of Talmud a child learns in elementary school. I couldn’t have been more than nine years old when my father first taught me this Mishnah.
The simple logic of the ruling appeals to a child’s mind. Two people come before a beis dingrasping a cloak, each one saying, “I found it” – each one saying, “It’s all mine.” Each one must swear he does not own less than half and “yachloku” – the cloak is divided between them. If the cloak loses value by being divided, it is sold and the proceeds of the sale are divided between the two litigants.
Two nations, Israel and the Palestinians, are grasping at a narrow strip of land. Each nation claims, “It is all mine.” The quartet – the UN, the EU, Russia and the U.S. – rules, “Let them divide the land. Let them create a two-state solution. A Jewish state side by side with a Palestinian state.” The simple logic of the ruling appeals to disinterested parties and world opinion.
The Mishnah continues: If one party says “it is all mine” and the other claims “half is mine” – we both found it together, it should be divided, we should be partners in peace – the obstinate first party gets three quarters, while the submissive second party gets one quarter.
In other words, if one party is agreeable to negotiations and the other does not even recognize the first party’s right to exist, there is no way the first party will walk away with even half. The moment we demonstrate willingness to negotiate, we have automatically weakened our bargaining position.
Here’s a simple question: What exactly is meant by a “Jewish state”? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state as a precondition to negotiation, and the chief negotiator for the PA, Saeb Erekat, immediately rejected the demand. But what exactly is a Jewish state?

Does it mean:


(a)     A state constitution adhering to halacha, including Shabbat, kashrut, shemittah, etc.

(b)     Razing the mosques on the Temple Mount and building a Third Temple

(c)     Expulsion – or revoking citizenship – of all non-Jews

(d)     None of the above


If you said (d), you’re in agreement with most Israelis. Barring divine intervention, I do not believe a majority of Israelis feel a Jewish state implies any of the above. Israel is a democracy with freedom of religion, and has no plans to change that. So if the peace process goes through, Israel will allow Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bedouins and others to remain and worship freely.
Now, a second simple question: Would a Palestinian state have the same obligation? In a Palestinian state, would there be synagogues? Would there be Jews? Could we daven at Me’arat HaMachpelah if the “settlers” were expelled? It’s a ridiculous, naïve question. Would there be a Young Israel of Jenin? A Yeshiva of Nablus? A Bais Yaakov of Ramallah? A Palestinian state will mean one thing: Judenrein. Sharia law. Just like Saudi Arabia: No Jews allowed.
If you’re not convinced, consider this: Why are Jewish settlements considered an obstacle to the peace process? Couldn’t we have a democratic Palestinian state with freedom of religion, a state in which Jews could choose to reside? Again, it’s a ridiculous, naïve question, but the answer is obvious. The tacit implication of a Palestinian state is a Judenrein State.
I’ll give you a better example: when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, what was the first thing the Palestinians did? Answer: they destroyed the synagogues.

Did anyone in the West protest? Of course not. Most of us know, deep down inside, that the Arab countries have the same national aspirations as Nazi Germany: “They say, come, let us wipe them out as a nation, and let the name of Israel be remembered no more” (Psalms 83:4). Freedom of religion and interfaith tolerance are beliefs confined to the U.S. and other developed nations (though there are signs of backsliding in much of Europe). Muslim nations don’t have religious tolerance, nor do they want it. Unfortunately, we have become so accustomed to this double standard that we are no longer aware of it.


Moral Relativism

American liberalism has an agenda: to sway public opinion toward moral relativism, a philosophy promoted in our nation’s universities and renamed “pragmatism.” Pragmatism postulates that there is no such thing as “right” or “wrong.” There are no moral truths, since human nature is constantly changing, and what is “normal” is defined by the society and time in which we live.
Pragmatists tend to deride or reject such concepts as patriotism, since it encourages exclusivity, and tradition, as it discourages flexibility. Pragmatism carried to its logical extreme has a problem coming to grips with the notion that Islamic terrorism (Jihad) ought to be denounced or condemned; suicide bombers are merely asserting their rights to an alternative cultural practice. “Honor killings” (in which a brother or father slits the throat of a sister or daughter who has brought shame upon the family by talking to a man or being a rape victim) are commonplace occurrences in Arab countries – they are not “wrong” because we have no right to impose our values on other people’s culture.
In his essay “Truth Vs. Moral Relativism,” Thomas Lindaman writes that “Flexibility and pragmatism are the hallmarks of a society that no longer believes in itself, because it has lost touch with the traditions that brought the society into being and enabled it to survive against outside aggressors. They are the hallmarks of societies in political decline.”
Traditional Judaism obviously rejects moral relativism. Our Covenant at Sinai is our acceptance of a divinely ordained moral code. But our concept of right and wrong harkens back to an earlier tradition that is more basic and universal: Adam and Eve’s partaking of the Tree of Knowledge forever imbued mankind with the axiomatic, and eternal, values of good and evil.
The fallacy of moral relativism is that it is self-contradictory: If pragmatists encourage tolerance for other societies and cultural values, the obvious implication is that tolerance is better than intolerance. Correct? One cannot espouse a value system and deny its logical outcome. Well, then, how can pragmatists advocate equal acceptance of all societies and beliefs, if American society is tolerant and Muslim societies are intolerant? The whole premise falls flat on its face.
A Palestinian state also implies a semipermeable border. Palestinians would be allowed to enter Israel for employment and medical care, and humanitarian aid would be allowed to flow from Israel to Palestine. An Israeli entering Palestine for any other purpose would be viewed as a casus belli – a justification for war.
So the quartet’s plan is an autocratic, repressive, 100 percent Islamic Palestinian state alongside a free, democratic Jewish state (or, to avoid offending Palestinians, a free democratic, secular Israel).
I never cease to be amazed at the presumptuousness of U.S. presidents who, desperate to create a “legacy,” send forth their special envoys with a smug attitude of “OK, forget about the wars, forget about the blood, just be nice and give it back.”
The current president and his envoy, the lady in the pantsuit, are the latest examples of this phenomenon. They and the other members of the quartet present their two-state solution to a gullible and disinterested public, who are led to believe it will lead to happiness and satisfaction on both sides and bring lasting stability to the region.

The liberal media reinforce this oversimplified pipe dream, presenting Israel and the Palestinians as shnayim ochazin b’talis, two plaintiffs with identical claims.


Our Partners in Peace

There are, of course, very serious problems with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Peace negotiations are only possible between two morally equivalent sides.

Let’s remember with whom we are dealing. We are not negotiating with a civilized, sovereign nation. These are terrorist organizations that have merely been changing their name over the years.
Black September, Fatah, PLO, Hizbullah, Hamas, PA – it’s all the same thing. They murder innocent people, they celebrate when they kill Jewish children, they never keep their promises, they do not recognize a Jewish state and the Jews’ right to a homeland. They could change their name to “Peace Loving Flower Children” but they would still be the same murderers.
Several months ago, like so many other people around the world, I sat glued to the TV, watching the drama of the trapped miners in Chile, a nation that united in an effort to save their countrymen, their brothers, their national heroes. Their president stood at the entrance of the mine, embracing the rescued workers one by one. The people cheered, they sang their national anthem, they wept with relief as each of the miners emerged.
I could not help but recall Israel united in an effort to rescue its soldiers, its national heroes, from Hizbullah and Hamas. On July 16, 2008, two coffins containing the remains of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were exchanged for five living Hizbullah “militants” including the notorious killer Samir Kuntar.
Kuntar had murdered, among others, a four-year-old girl by bashing her head against a rock. In Lebanon he was hailed as a national hero, and President Assad of Syria presented him with the country’s highest medal. Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were young soldiers, killed in action. Until that moment the Israeli public, including the Goldwasser and Regev families, did not know if the two would be returned alive or dead. There was no communication, no notification, no humane treatment under the Geneva Convention for the treatment of prisoners of war.
A third IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit, is presumed alive in Gaza, where he has been held since June 2006 by Hamas. The UN, the papal nuncio to Israel, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev,PA President Mahmoud Abbas and numerous human rights organizations have called for his release. Despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer to free 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, there are no plans for his release. There has been no contact from him since 2009. Hamas has refused the International Committee of the Red Cross’s request to visit Shalit, on the grounds it would give away its hiding place. These are all clear violations of international law.

Look at our partners in peace. Look at what we give them, and what they give us in return.


Remember the Victims of Arab Terror

Part of being a Jew is having a long national memory. Not an easy task in the age of information overload, when news is delivered in ten-second sound bites. The average American has forgotten most of the events of 2009 and 2008, so how can we be expected to remember events of the 1970s and 1980s? Many of us weren’t even born then.
In October 1995, in a spectacular show of courage and independence, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani expelled PA Chairman Yasir Arafat from a concert for world leaders at Lincoln Center. When the Clinton administration protested this “embarrassing breach of international diplomacy,” the mayor called Arafat a murderer and terrorist, and said he was not impressed by the fact that Arafat had twice been invited to the White House to sign Middle East peace accords, or that he shared the Nobel Peace Prize.
“I would not invite Yasir Arafat to anything, anywhere, any time, any place. I don’t forget,” said Mr. Giuliani.
What the mayor didn’t forget – indeed, what none of us should ever forget – is Arafat’s implication in the 1985 murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound American Jew aboard the hijacked Achille Lauro cruise ship who was shot and whose body was then thrown overboard.
“He has never been held to answer for the murders that he was implicated in,” said the mayor. “When we’re having a party and a celebration, I would rather not have someone who has been implicated in the murders of Americans there.”
Most of us can’t remember where we were, or what we were doing, on March 11, 1978, but any student of history should remember the Coastal Road massacre, in which the PLO faction Fatah (our partners in peace) hijacked a bus, killing 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children, and wounding 71.
The first victim of the massacre was Gail Rubin, an American woman who was walking on the beach, photographing birds. The terrorists’ boats landed on the beach near Tel Aviv, where they encountered Rubin, questioned her, and then shot her to death.
Gail Rubin was a month shy of her 40th birthday. Today she would be 72. She was single and an only child. She left no children of her own; only her photographs. Think about that. Remember Gail Rubin and Leon Klinghoffer when the lady in the pantsuit stands over us, wagging her finger like some schoolmarm pulling apart two unruly boys in a playground brawl. “OK, boys, you’ve had your fun, now shake hands and give it back.”
Remember Gail Rubin and Leon Klinghoffer, along with all the other thousands of victims of Arab terror.
This is no case of shnayim ochazin. This is not a case for “yachloku.” Not a chance. Look at the first Rashi in Bava Metzia: this ruling is only germane when both are grasping the cloak, as they have equal claims. If, however, the cloak is in the hands of one party, the second party has no claim to the cloak.
There is an uncanny link between this Rashi, the first Rashi in Bava Metzia, and the first Rashi in Bereishis, Genesis. There will come a time, Rashi said prophetically, when the nations of the world will accuse Israel of stealing the land. But the land is ours. Hashem granted the Land of Israel to the Nation of Israel, and no one can take it away from us.

Ariel Fischer, M.D., is a hematologist-oncologist from Rockland County, New York.