The Fox, the Skeptic, and the Politics
Viral Pictures and Political Escapism
I’m being bombarded with the picture of the fox at the Kotel on Tisha B’Av, with people seeing it as inspirational and saying “Rabbi Akiva was correct!”
Here’s the picture:
My immediate reaction was to be skeptical. It looked like a painting rather than a photo (and I have seen similar paintings of the famous scene with Rabbi Akiva). And foxes wouldn’t visit a place like the Kotel - there are always people there. And there’s a pile of rubble in the picture, which doesn’t exist at the Kotel. Most fundamentally, whenever someone posts a picture that seems too good to be true, I have learned to be skeptical that it is actually true - and I’m usually correct.
Upon further research, however, I discovered that the picture is indeed genuine! But while it’s fascinating to see a Talmudic scene re-created, it does not carry the significance that some people think it has.
(There is no reason to get sidetracked about whether a shu’al is a fox. As I explain in The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom, the primary reference of the word shu’al in Tanach is to jackals, but it is a generic term that can certainly also include foxes.)
Yes, the picture is real. It was taken by Barak Blumenthal in August 2019. Here is another picture taken a moment later, of the same fox:
And, yes, the picture was taken at the Western Wall, albeit not the section commonly referred to as the Kotel, but rather a different section (apparently Robinson’s Arch). The date that it was taken is not clear. But it’s irrelevant.
Foxes live in Israel. Lots of them. I’ve been woken up at night by them outside my house, which enabled me to answer the famous question of what does the fox say. There’s certainly plenty of them living in derelict areas around Jerusalem, just like everywhere else. And this includes the areas near the Kotel. There’s nothing unusual or unexpected about seeing them. They are probably there every night!
More to the point, Rabbi Akiva was not making a prophesy, he was making an observation. He was noting that Jerusalem had been utterly destroyed, just as the prophets predicted. He took inspiration from this that the prophets would also be correct about it being rebuilt.
But how on earth is it inspirational to just see the fox? I’m truly sorry for being a downer, but there’s nothing inspirational about seeing that Jerusalem was, indeed, destroyed. We can draw inspiration from the fact that we are back, and that the prophets were correct, and Jerusalem has been rebuilt. But this isn’t necessarily the Final Redemption. If we do take the prophets and history seriously (which is surely the goal of Tisha B’Av, rather than to be inspired), we have to acknowledge that we could just lose it all over again.
And ironically, it could be for much the same reasons as we lost the last one. I don’t want to write a lot about the elephant in the room, but I can’t avoid it entirely.
It’s crucial to understand both perspectives. From the perspective of the Right, the judicial reforms are about taking back control of the country from the secular Leftist elites and being able to run it according to what the majority wants, which are right-wing, religious values. But from the perspective of the Center and Left, the country is being taken over by a lethal combination of criminals seeking to avoid legal consequences, right-wing messianic religious zealots, and ultra-Orthodox freeloaders.
In my opinion, both perspectives have a lot of validity. But even if you disagree, it’s undeniable that both are passionately held by millions of people. And if each side is focused on attaining all of their objectives, we will all lose.
Currently, the Right is winning. This means that the majority of tech companies are investigating transferring out of Israel, a significant percentage of the population will simply leave, the country will rapidly get even more extreme right-wing/religious, and the international political fallout will be enormous. The economy will crash, the political alliances will dissolve, and the State will fall prey to its enemies, who are already cackling with glee at what is happening. Israel will end up, just as in the Second Temple Era, falling victim to those who insist on confrontation and are certain that they have God on their side.
But if the Left and Center insist on total submission, and if they get into power and decide to reverse all of the changes, we will be back to where we started. A situation which is intolerable for half the population and an intense competition for absolute victory, which ends up being pyhrric.
The obvious and only solution is for both sides to find some sort of compromise. And for that, it’s the people in the center that need to be zealous about their cause. We need Radical Centrism.
The alternative is that foxes will eventually also be roaming over the ruins of the Supreme Court, the Great Synagogue, and the Mir Yeshivah.
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