"Kol Yisrael arevim zeh b'zeh," it is stated in the Babylonian Talmud: The entire Jewish people is responsible, one for the other. This powerful dictum has been an important source of unity for hundreds of years, as Jewish communities around the world have worked to maintain internal cohesion in the face of hatred and systematic oppression.
But Jewish cohesion has been sorely tested of late, and no more so than over the past few weeks as Jewish extremists in the West Bank have further ratcheted up their battle against the State of Israel in an effort to hold onto their "House of Contention" outpost in Hebron.
(For those who haven't been following the issue in the newspapers, please click here for a summary of recent developments, with links to relevant articles.)
Of course, the story of the Hebron evacuation, although drawing the most media attention, is only part of the greater drama being played out between the settlers and the Israeli government. Vowing to "never again" allow the evacuation of settlements as happened in Gaza in 2005, Jewish extremists have devised and in recent months have been implementing a plan of violent resistance (entitled "Price Tag") to government authority.
Their plan is painfully simple: To intimidate the Israeli government by carrying out premeditated rampages and enflaming the West Bank in response to any move against a settler outpost. The "price" that these settlers have exacted has included not only violence against Palestinians and destruction of their property, but also - irony of ironies - attacks on the same Israeli security forces who are in the West Bank to protect the settlers!
As we've painfully watched this struggle between Jewish messianism and political Zionism come to a head this past year, difficult questions have surfaced:
• What level of collective responsibility, what kind of collective concern should we feel for people who seem to be in open rebellion to the State of Israel?
• How are we to count among us those Jews who brazenly call Israel's Supreme Court, "racist and anti-Jewish"?
• If Haaretz newspaper is right in calling these extremists, "Jewish terrorists", should they still be regarded differently from terrorists emerging from any other national or religious grouping?
The lawyer defending the "House of Contention" settlers (none other than Danny Ayalon, Israel's former ambassador to the United States) has employed the "Klal Yisrael" argument in making an emotional pitch for his clients: "The settlers are part and parcel of us," he proclaimed, "and we must not tear them away from the nation."
Perhaps Ayalon is right. Every reasonable effort should be made to convince the extremists to renounce violence, respect Israel's democratic institutions and abide by the law. Because if they don't, it will not be "we" who are tearing them away from the nation, but they themselves who might be doing so by their own hand.