Who is the real mother?

“And the king said, “Divide the living child in two and give half to the one, and half to the other.” (1Kings 3:5)

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Time and again, we can find solutions, or at least the glimmer of a solution to current problems, in ancient Jewish wisdom. In the biblical story that depicts each of two women claiming the same baby as hers, the women approach King Solomon for a decision. To the horror of the real mother, the king suggests dividing the baby in half, one-half for each of them. Of course, the real mother cannot accept this solution; she realizes that the baby will die in the process of “fairness.” Heartbroken, she would prefer that her baby be given to the false mother; at least he will live. Thus the king is able to identify the real mother.

Of course, this is not an exact analogy of the situation in Israel with both Israelis and Palestinians claiming that the biblical Promised Land is theirs, and that each is the true indigenous people of the land. However, if both sides keep fighting over it, as they have done well before before the modern State of Israel was established in 1948, the baby will indeed die.

Who is the real mother?

For centuries, despite – or perhaps because of –their success in the face of great difficulties, most Jews (living in “exile” from the Promised Land after the conquering Romans destroyed the Second Temple and plowed Jerusalem under with oxen) have traditionally been scapegoats when things go wrong in foreign lands. In the sway of the Spanish Inquisition, Europe cast them out, and Jews scattered to other parts of the world.  Lucky, hard-working Jewish immigrants found a second home in the U.S., the goldene medina. There were always a few Jews living in the then “Palestine” in cities other than Jerusalem. But until Israel was re-established as a modern state, the Jews of the world truly had nowhere to call their own. Nowhere to go in the face of hatred directed at them – and to immigrants in general — by right wing extremists in repetitive cycles. Now at last they have Israel once again, their ancestral home.

In a recent Beit Kulam class, one of my students (Israeli by birth, now an American citizen), offered an enlightening comment. Both Palestinians and Israelis have nowhere else to go. It’s true: The Palestinians also have nowhere to go. Arab governments in their region, for various reasons, don’t want to take them in. Their Arab “brothers” don’t want to be swamped by an aggressive people who tend to political trouble-making and who will quickly become a majority in their land. There are plenty of Palestinians in Jordan now, but the Jordanian king doesn’t want any more. It’s Israel’s problem. So there are two peoples who, when push comes to shove, have nowhere to go. Except Israel.

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Two people who claim to be indigenous to the land.

The region was ruled for centuries by the Ottoman Empire, who were largely absentee landlords, and sadly, the land deteriorated under Ottoman rule. Later, before all of Palestine (so named by the Romans) became a British protectorate after World War I ended, the territory was called Transjordan, a Jordanian protectorate.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab countries have continued to reject the Jewish state, and insist the land is rightfully theirs. The term “Palestine” originally referred to all the people living there. Then in the 1960s, their leader, Yasser Arafat, narrowed the definition of “Palestinian” to the Arabs living there. These Arab Palestinians considered themselves a people indigenous to Israel, even though the Arab Invasion of the Middle East did not occur until 700 BCE.  And they also claimed Jerusalem should be theirs, even though the Muslim prophet, Mohammed, was never there. Rather, he saw Jerusalem in a DREAM.

While Muslims face Mecca, not Jerusalem, in their prayers, Jews have turned toward Jerusalem, toward the East, in their prayers for two thousand years. They have wandered from land to land for centuries, always reciting in their liturgy, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Always they have vowed “If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning”( Psalm 137:5). Jerusalem is incised in the collective memory of the Jewish people.

Jerusalem is often represented in the Bible and in Jewish liturgy as a woman. Metaphorically, there’s a continuing love affair between the Israelites and Jerusalem. However, politically today, she is  more like a woman that two men desire. Can she embrace them both? Or do the contenders choose to cut her in half, as King Solomon suggested in his judgment about the baby, even though she may die? Should one party relinquish his claim in order that she will continue to bloom, offering succor to them both? It looks like neither will have her in entirety. If both

parties are truly indigenous, they will have to share her. When two people have no place to go, and there is only one land where they believe they rightfully belong, they need to share. In Hebrew, Jerusalem is plural: Yerushalayim.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.