The question of — “Who is a good Jew and who is a bad Jew?” — goes beyond just being a good or bad person. For members of the Central Rabbinical Congress, protesting on Park Avenue in NYC several weeks ago, it starts with living the Torah.

The Hasidic Jews in the photo (later joined by thousands more) were protesting RFR, a New York based Jewish-owned company — that plans to build a hotel over an ancient cemetery in Jaffa, Israel.

They also had strong words for Zionists, who they believe are acting against the Torah in their pursuit of a Jewish State, and acting in ways that invite anti-Semitism. Their view is that ‘true Jews’ do not support Israel being a Jewish State — because to do so is to seek the creation of a utopia, without the Messiah, which is contrary to Judaism.

“Zionism was a movement of conquest, colonisation and settlement in the service of a just and righteous but also self-indulgent national cause. An enterprise of national liberation and human emancipation that was forced to use the tools of colonial penetration, it was a schizophrenic movement, which suffered from an irreconcilable incongruity between its liberating message and the offensive practices it used to advance it. The cultivation of a righteous self-image and the ethos of the few against the many, the heroic David facing the brutal, bestial Arab Goliath, was one way Zionism pretended to reconcile its contradictions.” Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israel-Arab Tragedy (Oxford University Press, 2006)

“You shall not withhold yourself…You, imprisoned in the shells in which society, state, church, school, economy, public opinion, and your own pride have stuck you, indirect one among indirect ones, break through your shells, become direct; man, have contact with men.” Martin Buber, in “What Is to Be Done?” 1919

“In all our work of settlement and industrial development in Palestine, a guiding principle must be to seek and win the goodwill of Arabs. The Arab movement has for us two aspects—the Arabs in Palestine and the Arabs in countries which are neighbors of Palestine. We must be on the best terms with the Arabs in Palestine, because that is the condition of a healthy society of our own and of good relations with the Arab world outside Palestine. If the Arabs were to be mere hewers of wood and drawers of water, a kind of inferior element in the country, then the whole of our economic and social organism would run the danger of being poisoned. We must labour to raise them to our level, and to assist them to progress as we progress.” Chaim Weizmann, 1920

If being a good person is a function of living God’s commandments — and Jewish tradition and modern ways of living (including Zionism) are at times in opposition to God’s commandments, then one can see how it is possible to be a bad person but still considered a good Jew, or a good person and a bad Jew. The struggle for a Jew (or anyone) to be a good person, to be freed-up and fulfilled as friends of God, children of God — includes many renunciations.

“You make void the commandment of God by your traditions.” Mark 7:9

The best hope for Jewish renewal, wholeness, and peace rests in the New Covenant, with human hearts as the arc of that Covenant. “No longer do I call you servants, because a servant does not know what the master does. But I have called you friends.” John 15:15

“On the day of Pentecost, Peter was the first to speak to the gathered Israelites and to others who had traveled various distances. He reminded them of the wrong committed by those who had nailed Christ to the Cross, and then he confirmed the Resurrection. He exhorted the people to conversion and to baptism. Thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ could have confidence in Peter, He could lean on him–on him and all the other apostles–even on Paul, who still persecuted Christians and hated the name Jesus.” John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (Knopf, 1994)

ChagallExodus1“Reveal Thyself to us today, as Thou didst reveal Thyself to our Fathers. Open our hearts to the understanding of Thy Word. May we behold wondrous things out of Thy Law.” The Standard Machsor, (Bloch, 1925)

Photograph (top): Stephen Wise

Artwork: Marc Chagall