PARSHAT VAYETZE

GENOCIDE

“Jacob also saw that Laban’s manner toward him was not as it had been in the past.”  (Genesis 31:2)

            Jacob’s enemy through most of this portion is his uncle and father-in-law Laban.  He gives him the wrong wife, changes his wages, and cheats him out of hard-earned money (see the story in the portion of the speckled and spotted sheep and goats.)  Jacob and his family flee from Laban, with Rachel stealing her father’s gods.  Many scholars say it was proof that she could someday inherit from her father.

            Laban is clearly greedy regarding money.  But the Rabbis saw him as a much more vicious enemy of Jacob and his progeny.  The Passover Haggadah begins the telling of the story of the Israelites in Egypt with the following passage: “Go and learn what Laban the Aramean sought to do to Jacob our father.  Pharaoh only declared the death sentence against the male children.  Laban sought to uproot the entire people.  As it is written, ‘An Aramean tried to kill my father.’”  In other words, Laban sought to commit genocide.

            I often speak of the chutzpah of the Rabbis.  In the Passover Haggadah they retranslated a verse.  The original verse reads, “My father was a wandering Aramean” (Deuteronomy 26:5).  This was the passage of the ritual of the first fruits, recited in Jerusalem by the owner of those fruits.  “My father was a wandering Aramean” became, with the Rabbis tendency for hyperbole, “An Aramean tried to kill my father.”    To the Rabbis, Laban sought to destroy Jacob and his entire family.

            Of course, the Rabbis interpretation is a stretch.  However selfish Laban was, at no point does he seek to kill his son-in-law, daughters, and grandchildren.  But the Rabbis were reacting to the enemies of the people Israel, who practice genocide.  Sadly, during the Holocaust, the people Israel were the victims of the largest genocide in history.  The Nazis killed 6 million Jews and millions of non-Jews.  There have been other victims of genocide including the Armenians at the hands of Turkey and the Tutsis at the hands of the Hutus in Rwanda.

            We must make clear what “genocide” means.  It is an attempt to exterminate an entire national, religious, or cultural group.  Genocide is the appropriate word to use for the October 7 attack by Hamas in Israel.  Their goal was to kill every Israeli they could find.  And they succeeded in raping, torturing, and murdering over 1200 men, women, children, babies, and the elderly.  They captured over 200 more hostages.   Genocide is the goal of Hamas and their supporters throughout the world.  And it is not just Hamas.  When pro-Palestinian demonstrators shout, “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free,” they are calling for destroying 7 million Jews living in Israel.   It is a call for genocide.

            Hamas has made it clear that their goal is genocide of Israeli Jews, if not all Jews throughout the world.  But in our topsy-turvy world, Israel is being accused of genocide.  People can disagree about the proper Israeli response to the vicious attack in October.  Personally, I believe Israel has no choice.  Hamas must be destroyed.  But if Israel was seeking genocide against Palestinians, they would not have dropped leaflets telling Gazans to flee certain neighborhoods.  They would not have slowly gone building to building seeking to save as many civilian lives as possible.  They would not have sent in portable incubators to save Gazan babies.

            The accusation that Israel is committing genocide is outrageous.  Yet that is what we are hearing, not simply from pro-Palestinian demonstrators but from many Jews including some rabbis.  The Sun Sentinel, our local newspaper, recently published an opinion piece by two activists of the Jewish Voice for Peace.  The article was a vicious attack on Israel, written by Jews, that included the following line: “[We are] calling on Israel to halt its genocidal assault on Palestinians living in Gaza.”  To use the term “genocide” for Israel’s response to the Hamas attack is outrageous. 

            When words are overused, they lose their meaning.  The meaning of genocide is an attempt to destroy an entire people.  The Jewish people have been the victims of genocide.  The Jewish people will never be the perpetrators of genocide.