The Waterway at Israel’s Supreme Court (line and circle)
You are righteous…and Your laws are straight. (Psalms 119:137)
[God] leads me in the circles of justice. (Psalms 23:3)
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof — Justice, justice shall you pursue. (Deuteronomy 16:20)
This morning Chaim and I toured the Knesset and the Israeli Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is actually my favorite building in all of Israel and I was anxious to bring Chaim there to “show it off,” since it was built in 1992 after his last visit to Israel. Paul Goldberger, a leading figure in architecture criticism, wrote in the New York Times (August 13, 1995) that the Israeli Supreme Court is “Israel’s finest public building…a remarkable and exhilarating balance between the concerns of daily life and the symbolism of the ages.”
What makes it so remarkable is the blend of the modern with the ancient, and the symbolic touches throughout. Lines in the architecture are used to represent law, and circles are used to represent justice; unhewn Jerusalem stone on one wall is juxtaposed with plain white plastered walls on the other; the design of each courtroom entrance symbolizes the “gates of the city” where courts in biblical times took place. There are 5 different courtrooms, each a gem in and of itself, in which skylights let in natural light. According to the visitor’s guide, the use of mirrors against one of the natural stone walls creates “the illusion that the building’s foundation extends deep into the earth… [suggesting] that the roots of law and justice are also deep.” Most impressive to me (and what I best remembered from my previous visit) is the little waterway in the Courtyard of Arches (pictured above) which was inspired by Psalms 85:12, “Truth will spring up from the earth and justice will be reflected from the heavens.” The stone quarried from the earth and the water reflecting the sky represent the biblical symbols of truth and justice.
Except for the grand State Hall (nicknamed Chagall Hall), the Knesset building (home to Israel’s parliament) is not as impressive a building as is the Supreme Court; the art, not the architecture, is where the symbolism lies there. Since the Knesset is currently not in session in preparation for the upcoming elections in 9-days’ time (in which all 120 seats are up for grabs, as opposed to the staggered elections we have in the U.S.), we only ran into one MK/member of Knesset) in the hallways there. Ironically, that member is the disgraced (and some might say racist and anti-democratic) Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Lieberman just resigned in December from his position as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister because of ethics charges (fraud and breach of trust) against him. Nonetheless, as founder and leader of Beiteinu, he is running again in this upcoming election as MK. (Lieberman is a client of the right-wing American political consultant Arthur Finkelstein, who has made “liberal” a dirty word in American politics.)
It is only a partial exaggeration to say that it took all my strength to keep Chaim from verbally accosting Avigdor Lieberman in the halls of the Knesset. 😉 Chaim despairs a bit about democracy in Israel; I, on the other hand, while recognizing the problems in the Knesset and electoral politics in Israel, believe that Israel’s Supreme Court is strong and just. A case in point is the recent unanimous Supreme Court vote to allow Hanin Zoabi, an Arab legislator, to run again for Knesset, despite the fact that she took part in a flotilla that tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip (an act that some considered treason).
The Chagall tapestries representing Jewish history past, present, and future hang in the Knesset’s State Hall. I am not posting a photo of the tapestries (I’ll send photos with commentary if you ask), but rather a photo of Chagall at work on the sketches and one of Golda Meir with Chagall when the tapestries were first hung in 1969. Chagall apparently leaned over to her and said in Yiddish, “Do you like it, Golda?” It looks like she did! (These photos were part of a rotating exhibit of photographs in the Knesset by the official Knesset photographer David Rubinger.)
The Knesset Building on the Hill
On January 8, in the posting entitled Axis Mundi, I shared a Talmudic story about the two brothers who loved each other so much that the spot where their generosity came to light became the location of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Part II of that story, an Israeli joke (black humor), is as follows:
There were two brothers, one was single and one was married. The single brother said to himself, “My brother has a wife and family, and I have nothing. We should not be sharing equally in the harvest of our farm — I deserve more.” So he took from his brother’s pile of grain and added it to his own. His brother likewise thought to himself, “I have a family to support; my single brother shouldn’t be getting a full share from our farm. I deserve more.” So he took from his brother’s pile of grain and added it to his own. Night after night their selfishness fed on itself, and each was convinced of the rightness of his cause. The night that they ran into each other on the top of the hill, hauling grain from his brother’s pile onto his own was also – as in ancient times – cause for the creation of a new structure in the Land of Israel. That place is called the Knesset.
Tzedek, not Tzedakah
As we left our touring of Knesset and the Supreme Court, Chaim and I came upon a little 2-tent city and many handmade protest signs outside of the Ministry of the Interior. The current Minister of the Interior comes from the right-wing religious party, Shas, which claims to be for the poor but has not done much, if anything, to improve conditions for them. (In one of those political ironies, like that of an Elliot Spitzer or a Mark Sanford recreating themselves in the eyes of some of the public, the last Minister of the Interior, Aryeh Deri, also from Shas, was imprisoned for bribery in 2000, was voted the 58th greatest Israeli of all time in a poll in 2005 by the Israeli news website Ynet, and is running again in the upcoming election! What is it with public officials and integrity and with a public that so quickly forgets?)
Some of the posters we saw were specifically anti-Shas. One stated “If you vote for Shas, I will enter unemployment.” The guard told us that the tenters are from Eilat, protesting the closing of a factory and some other businesses there. This sign above reads, “We want tzedek/justice, not tzedakah/charity. We are fighting for parnassah/livelihood.”
Perhaps yesterday’s photo of the anti-Bibi poster “Bibi is only for the rich” has now been contextualized a bit.
The economic situation is quite severe for many Israelis. Though a much larger tent city exists in Tel Aviv, the issue of public housing in Israel is barely on the radar screen in this upcoming election. This despite the shocking story about 6 months ago about a man named Moshe Silman who immolated himself in a desperate act induced by fear of becoming homeless. The issue of “bullets or butter” is a real issue in Israel where security and defense is a primary concern. (Of course, it is a real issue in the U.S., as well, and was highlighted recently in the fiscal cliff debates.)
There are 40,000 people on waitlists for public housing in Israel and many more who are not deemed eligible or whose housing is severely inadequate. According to Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel, “We will not accept…a society that does not recognize its responsibility to take care of her citizens.” Rabbis for Human Rights North America, its sister organization, likewise highlights issues of economic justice in the U.S. One current campaign concerns slavery-free tomatoes. (For more information, go to http://www.rhr-na.org/issuescampaigns/slavery-a-human-trafficking/take-action/199-tomato-rabbis.html) Do you know where your tomatoes are coming from?
By the way for those of you in the Berkshires, Northampton area, or Boston, Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel will be speaking in Somerville on the afternoon of January 17, in Bennington VT in the evening of January 17, and in Northampton after kiddush on January 18. He also has some time for private meetings in NY on January 15 and 16th and in Boston on January 17th and 18th (email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him I sent you! Chaim and I will be seeing him again on the 25th after he returns to Israel.)
Let justice roll down like a river, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream! (Amos 5:24)