Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Nezikin, damages

The inhabitants of the State of Israel can be rough, rude, tough. They are basically nice, gentle, mild and ready to help. The statement is a bit abrupt. It depends what segments are considered to be so "cute" with some famous sabra coarseness. The youths can be very kind, “yeled melech” - we are a “child is a king here" sort, but then show some help to many people of all ages.
Everywhere we go in the streets, buses, taxis, trains disabled people work in all possible fields of activities and they are normally protected by the law. Their rights and possibilities to be granted and enjoy a wide range of social and medical as well as "entertaining activities" could and should be developed. But handicapped people, who are disabled since their early age, or as a consequence of a genetic problem, are also accompanied by the great number of injured individuals who were shot and hardly survived with limited capacities. Others must be very strong to get to the level required by their bosses.

Basically, Israel does respect those who were hurt by life. Endogamy and seemingly poor renewal of blood created a danger for some pious communities, who, on the other hand, show real caring love to their babies and grownups.

There are also the mentally disabled who seem to frighten an increasing part of the Israeli society at the present. This appeared in a recent survey realized by the Ministry of Social Affairs. “Pachadim – fears, irrational panics” that also can technically depict the hypochondriac anxieties of the elderly. They are progressively knitted within our brains, along with the frightening events of our lives.

“Mishley – the Book of Proverbs” alerts us about the dangers to be in frequent with strange people, thus considered as “forbidden”: “This will save you from the forbidden woman (= ishah zarah; the one who is strange and alien) / “menachriyah amariyah hechalikah = from the alien woman whose talk is smooth” (Prov. 2:16). “Estrangement” to usual and common sense is a first step toward some kind of alteration that may drift us from others.
It is very peculiar how suspicious we became and careless in other ways. Decades ago, we were taught in a very simple way: films, ads showed us how to take care if we find something on the floor. Take a stone, throw it on the object from afar; if it does not explode, it can eventually be yours. At the present, children are overprotected and would leave their rucksacks on the side. But if we see faces or people dressed in what is not usual for our usual group, we would be more suspicious and shelter ourselves from them.

Two reactions are then intriguing. Either to mock a group and run away, which is more than common among the teens and not very courageous, or to avoid glances. When the “war situation“ started seven years ago, it was even funny to see Jewish Israelis packed together at the bottom of the buses, some ghetto-like reaction to reach the farthest point. In 2001, there was a curious trend in Jerusalem. It appeared immediately after the first terror attacks happened in the city. Increasing numbers of Arab women started to visit the center of the town and the big stores while the other inhabitants would keep aside or dubiously consider what to do, even the police at that time.
“Zar” comes from root “zarar = to smash, be smashed, scattered, rotten” as in Talmud Niddah35b, Hullin 12,3; useless ovulation of a woman or an “egg that fell from the nest and is rotten (Sanhedrin 82b). The appealing aspect of the word is that it corresponds, to some extent, with what happens with “goy – geviyah (corpse)”. Either it is oddly used by the Jews to speak of non-Jews. Or, in Biblical language it both refers to “goy qadosh – holy people” (Ex. 19:6), i.e. the “reinvigorated corpses or bodies” who are called to sanctify God or the “simple goyei haaretz – nations (Gentiles of the earth)”.

In the Talmud, “zar” often refers to the simple children of Israel, the non-priests (Yoma 42a). On the one hand, despise that can turn to be royal and sublime! Or it may cause a sort of competition, as between the Jews and the Christians: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a chosen nation (Gr. “ethnos”)” wrote the Apostle Peter-Kaipha (1 Peter 2:9); the Byzantine Liturgy of Saint Basil that strongly influenced the Fourth Order of the Latin Mass includes the reference as a replacement of the Jews, ignoring the commandment of fulfillment and unity, oneness in God given by Jesus. How fascinating is it that those who should be considered as chosen by God seem alien to some and crazy to the others. Unity is not shown. It is mocked.
Why should people replace others in God’s likeness? Because it is evidently easier to exclude and remove all kinds of inmates rather than integrating and assimilating them. Thus, it is more convenient to regard our diversity as a symphony (Gr. sun – with, phone – voice) and not only as splits. As Paul of Tarsus said: “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). These words are close to the saying of Hillel read this week in the Jewish communities. It climaxes with this famous quotation: “Seeing a skull floating on the surface of the water, he (Hillel) said: Even if they have drowned you because you drowned others, those who drowned you will themselves be drowned” (Pirkey Avot 2:6-8). In Hebrew, a skull is not only the content of our brains, eyes, face and vertebrae. It is on a move, revolving, turning here and there, like “megilgul hazeh legilgul acher = from one to another identity “transmigration, movement” (Prayer before going to sleep).

Hillel is right. We cannot touch the integrity of a skull because death will haunt, in various ways, those who want to kill the soul and cannot (which is one of the most important aspects of Hanukkah’s victory in the rededication of the Temple and the miracle of the light). It is thus the profound meaning of the Golgotha as the place of Calvary or of the Skull in the Gospel.
There is a significant link between the way a society respects, pays attention, takes care and monitors its handicapped or disabled. This is, in general, true for the respect due to any creature and being. Thirty years ago, when disabled were taken by car to the Western Wall, they could open up the wheelchair that was in the trunk and get by themselves to the Kotel; it was amazing. Curiously, the same could happen in Germany and the Netherlands to get to a supermarket. At the present, we see everywhere this kind of personal motorcycles with access to more and more places. We have a lot of soldiers who were wounded.

It is correct that many mentally sick are visible in Israeli society, maybe more openly present in caring arms of more pious Jewish families. It may be the consequence of recurrent war situations, rampant poverty and lack of medical assistance in different segments of the population; anyway, disabled are basically not rejected or hidden as in some other continents.
There is also a spiritual context which is naturally supportive. Walking along the administrative center of Jerusalem and other cities, we can meet with heavily handicapped secretaries, executives and some groups of people of all age, joyfully rushing in their wheelchairs.

I saw once in the North, at a hospital, a whole village of deaf Arabs. At that time, they were given hearing aids that had been carefully stored in their rooms. The Kupat Cholim/Medical care center obliged them to check the devices but they said: we don’t need them because we are all deaf and understand each other perfectly. Other individuals would stay from time to time in hospitals, but the mentally sick are not systematically removed from the society.
God really trusts in the humans. Usually we would think of the opposite and attest that humans hardly can trust in God. No, God entrusted His creation with defects that can profoundly interrogate or cause the despair of so many people. It is therefore very important never to despise any soul, human attitude. In the genocides that developed over the twentieth century, killings aimed at extirpating any mark of God’s image and likeness. Thus, the disabled and mentally sick were either to be murdered or to endure inhuman experiences as if they were toys for sadists.

It may happen that our Israeli society is going through the terrible times of wasting money and lacking care and “love to the neighbor, other.” There is a slide-down that may physically effect the sick. We approach a borderline as Shoah survivors can hardly get the money they are due to receive. They are the ones who that suffered the ignominious reality of death camps, pogroms, assassinations. For decades, we have lived on German money that creates a special connection between the survivors and the State. There is much of a spiritual act of mutual recognition from Germany and Israel and vice versa that we must acknowledge.
The way the disabled are treated questions along the same line, and even more as regards the mentally sick. It is easy to insult somebody whom one considers as alien and runaway. This is not the attitude of faith. Silence, disdain and haughtiness would exert a sort of impulsive censure.

There are two Hebrew words for “disability = mum and nachut”. “Mum = something, anything but as compared to “klum = nothing” (Nedarim 66b). It also means “repulsive” in the Talmud as referring to mamzer/bastard (Kiddushin 3, 64). But “Never reproach the mum (handicap, defect) of your neighbor with a defect that you have in common”(Bava Metziah59b). Nachah/nachi means “to be lessened, reduced”. It paves the way to some perception of alterability that can develop into foreign and estranged suspicions.
The problem with disabilities and handicaps is that they challenge individuals and society by requiring a lot of care, patience, hope without any certitude of healing, over time. Thus they test the faithful about their real commitment with the absence of any response to suffering. My daughter is now 23 years old and was born with no real diagnosis of a muscular and cerebral disease. She went to the gates of death and came back totally death-proof, which is psychological “rule.” My wife and I have spent 20 years helping her to socialize and to be in contact, often educated by others because they had a different experience of her. It took 10 years to know the defect and the disease. It took 10 more years for the social and medical institutions, as well as the families, to understand how she could live in an adequate environment. It will take 10 more years – and will not be applicable to her generation – to replace the defective cells and genes and repair, correct. Then, it is quite probable that some 10 additional years will slowly allow eradicating the syndrome.

The disabled people allow a society to measure its stand and never lie or use pious words about suffering, value of each life. With much prudence and respect, every soul embodies Hillel’s words to the faithful read this week: “Do not set yourself apart from the community; do not be sure of yourself till the day of your death. Do not judge your fellow man till you have been in his position…” (Pirkey Avot 2:5).

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