Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Lion, the Jackals, and the United Nations


Here is an article that was published in yesterday's Jerusalem Post. But first, some great news! In the previous post, I wrote about the need for a new weekly centrist Orthodox magazine that would feature women rather than criminals. One person wrote to me and said that he has the know-how and experience to make it happen, but not the resources. Another person wrote to me and said that he has the resources to make it happen, but not the know-how or experience. Voilà! I made the shidduch, and let's see what happens!

The Lion, the Jackals, and the United Nations

The recent spectacular events at the United Nations with Nikki Haley and the State of Israel were not just a political drama. At another level, there has been a wildlife drama playing out.

In 1755, Voltaire attacked the authenticity of Scripture, referring to the account of Samson capturing three hundred foxes, tying them to fire-brands and setting them to the crops of the Philistines. Voltaire mocked the story, noting that it is impossible to find three hundred foxes at any one time. Foxes are solitary creatures; if one finds a fox, there will not be another anywhere nearby.

But Voltaire was making a fundamental mistake. The creatures that Samson captured were not foxes. The Hebrew word shu’al does not refer to the fox. Instead, it refers to an animal in the same family: the jackal. Whereas foxes are solitary animals, jackals band together in large groups. The reason for the mistranslation was that Biblical scholarship had moved away from the Land of Israel and into Europe, where there were no jackals and people were unfamiliar with them. The animals of the Bible are the animals of the Land of Israel. Translators and readers of the Bible always interpret its animal life in terms of the animals with which they are familiar; but if they are living in the United States or Europe, then the animals with which they are familiar are not necessarily going to be the right animals. It was not foxes that Samson captured, but rather a pack of jackals.

In 1981, the Democratic Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, a former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote an article entitled “Joining the Jackals,” in which he sharply criticized the Carter Administration for supporting an anti-Israel resolution in the UN. The title was borrowed from an earlier Washington Post editorial of the same title, which described the UN as a pack of jackals that shamelessly hounds Israel. Moynihan observed that the Carter Administration’s downfall was brought about by a failed approach to the UN, which was in denial of the innate hostility of the UN towards both the United States and Israel, and which failed to stand up for true moral standards.

Three thousand years ago, Jerusalem became the capital of the Jewish nation of Israel, where it housed the Temple (though the Palestinians and UNESCO continue to deny this simple historical fact). Throughout the exile and dispersion, the Jewish people prayed for the rebuilding of this city, which finally happened with the modern State of Israel. The emblem of the city of Jerusalem is the lion, which appears in last week’s Torah portion as the symbol of the tribe of Judah. Judah was the tribe from which the kings of Israel arose, and was therefore symbolized by the lion, king of beasts. The kings of Israel reigned from the capital city of Jerusalem, which the prophet Isaiah called Ariel, “lion of God.”

When the United States—first Congress in 1995, and then President Trump and Nikki Haley last week—acknowledged Jerusalem as being the capital of Israel, they took on the lion’s cause. And, when they stood against the condemnations of the world, they took on the lion’s courage. Proverbs 30:30 declares that “The lion is the mightiest of animals, and does not turn away before anyone.” The original Hebrew of this verse, velo yashuv mipnei kol, can perhaps more accurately be translated as saying that the lion does not turn away even before everyone. It is not just any individual animal of which the lion is unafraid; it is not even afraid of masses of animals together. Not even a huge pack of jackals. The United States has adopted the lion’s cause, and, like the lion, it has stood unafraid of the jackals.

The Mishnah (Avot 4:15) states, in its common translation, “Be a tail to lions and not a head to foxes.” Yet as with Samson, the animals being mentioned here are not foxes, but rather jackals. Be a tail to lions, and not a head to jackals—it is better to attach oneself to greater entities, even as an insignificant follower, then to be in a leadership position with lowly entities. Guatemala, in stating that it will follow America’s lead and move its embassy to Jerusalem, has recognized this, and several other countries are poised to follow suit. Let us hope that other nations will recognize the wisdom and morality in following the leadership of the lion rather than joining the jackals.

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin is the founder and director of The Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh, www.BiblicalNaturalHistory.org

17 comments:

  1. If "shual" is a jackal what is a "tan"?

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    1. It's another name for a jackal. (The lion has six names!)

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  2. please could you list your evidence that the shu'al is jackal besides, samson

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    1. See The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom for extensive discussion.

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  3. Just to play devil's advocate, since I can't question Rabbi Slifkin's zoological knowledge: But it says that Rabbi Meir composed parables involving שועלים (Sanhedrin 38b), one of them showing how the שועל outsmarted a wolf. Is the name שועל properly translated "jackal" there as well? People attribute craftiness and smarts to the fox, not to jackals.
    --Yehudah P.

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    1. "People attribute craftiness and smarts to the fox, not to jackals."

      Because people don't know jackals!

      However, it might refer to a fox there. As I explain in my encyclopedia, shual is actually a generic term that covers both species.

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    2. If it refers to both then is "The Hebrew word shu’al does not refer to the fox" a typo? Should it read "The Hebrew word shu’al does not here refer to the fox..."?

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    3. Are foxes and jackals the same min?

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  4. I am available as a columnist - if this project gets off the ground. :)

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  5. Asher from LakewoodJanuary 2, 2018 at 6:35 PM

    But the new periodical will certainly need a rabbinical board, as all Jewish newspapers have had through the generations! Who will be on it? We must have Daas Torah...

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  6. Im afraid that this new periodical won't take off. There was once an article in Tradition that analyzed the phenomenon that all popular jewish childrens books, music, magazines etc. came from the chareidi world. the explanation was simple - chareidim refuse to parake in the entertainment/culture of the secular world and so there was a demand for a "kosher" alternative. Unfortunately, most modern orthodox people have no problem getting there news from Time magazine, let there kids read john grisham, and listen to the latest pop music. that is why there is little demand for a jewish alternative.
    josh kahan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are those in between. I have no issue with Time etc., however we don't regularly buy anything like that. We regularly buy both Ami and Jewish Action, both of which I quite like. I am not crying out for anything else, but if something new came out in the area of Jewish Action with something for the kids and it was decent quality then likely we would move from Ami.

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  7. I love how you made the double entendre, “Joining the Jackals,” segue from one paragraph to the next.

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  8. When is the next volume of the Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom coming out?

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    1. And what subject will it cover - reptiles, birds, insects, etc?

      (For those who haven't gotten it yet - you should. You will learn a lot, and your kids will enjoy the many beautiful photographs.)

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  9. Ancient Roman historians
    connected Jews with the Land of Israel
    :


    https://shilohmusings.blogspot.com/2017/02/guest-post-josephus-vs-muslim-liars.html

    ReplyDelete

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