(RNS) — They say that President Trump is about to announce that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Some will say that it is an early Hanukkah gift for the Jewish people.
I don’t want to be an ingrate, but when it comes to Hanukkah gifts, I’ll take the Amazon gift card, anytime.
There is no question in my mind, and in the mind of any Jew: Yes, of course, Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. The Jewish state, the Jewish nation, the Jewish people have never had another capital.
Is there any other city, in history, that has had such a central role in any people’s imagination, on its soul?
If you have an iPhone, try this:
- Go into utilities
- Go into clock
- Go into world clock
- Hit the + in the upper right hand corner
- Go down the list of cities, and look for Jerusalem.
Every other city in the world is attached to a country. Jerusalem stands alone.
Oh, yes: There is one other city that has no country. That would be Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, the island home of the Republic of China — which has an officially ambiguous status.
Jerusalem is the capital of my soul. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…” (Psalm 137): no chance of that.
Not after a year of living there, and some 45 trips there in the last 40 years. Jerusalem is where I feel most intellectually and spiritually stimulated. It is also the place where I feel most joyfully frustrated, and even exhausted.
Andre Neher writes:
We have stubbornly refused over the centuries to substitute another place for our focus. Christians have another Jerusalem in Rome and in the heavens; Moslems have Mecca and Medina; agnostic consciousness builds other Jerusalems in Paris and New York. I have never been a Wandering Jew; I have always been a pilgrim towards Jerusalem.
This is all religiously true, historically true, intellectually true and spiritually true.
But that doesn’t mean that it is diplomatically true. It does not mean that it is automatically helpful for the United States to declare Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital.
Because some things might be more important than declaring Jerusalem’s status.
Like, for example, human life.
The Israeli public intellectual Micah Goodman writes about this in his latest book, “Milcod 67” — “Catch 67” in English.
He admits that there is a tension in the way the Jewish tradition thinks about the land of Israel.
On the one hand, the medieval sage Nachmanides taught that it is a mitzvah to settle the land of Israel.
But his words might be trumped (no pun intended) by those of the great Maimonides, who taught that you must not endanger your life by performing a mitzvah.
Pikuach nefesh, saving a life, overrides even the observance of Shabbat. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shabbat, 2:3)
Because the purpose of the mitzvot is to live by them — and not to die by them.
Micah Goodman suggests: If there must be a choice between Jewish life and Jewish land, life takes precedence. (Goodman, “Milcod 67,” Page 102)
Therefore, if life takes precedence over land, then certainly life takes precedence over the declared status of a city. And even over the geographical location of an embassy.
How does human life figure into this equation? Palestinians view this diplomatic move as provocative.
The Palestinian street might explode into violence. Israeli men, women and children could become the collateral damage of Trump’s pugilistic pronouncement.
Let us be clear.
A declaration of Jerusalem’s status is not what Israel needs.
It’s what evangelical Christians want.
Christian evangelicals love the Jewish land.
But, Jewish lives?
I once had this conversation with a leader of Christians United for Israel. He is a good man. He deeply loves Israel. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that Israel simply cannot give up any land for peace.
I asked him about his children, and their plans. He proudly told me about his son, who was University of Georgia-bound.
“Good for him,” I said.
“Now, let me tell you about Yossie.
“Yossie isn’t going to college next year. He’s going into the Israel Defense Forces. He will be serving guard duty at a checkpoint, between Israel and the occupied territories. He will see a Palestinian woman with a very large belly. In a split second, he will have to make a judgment call: Is she pregnant, or is she carrying a bomb beneath her dress?
“So, tell me. What life or death decisions is your son going to be making at the University of Georgia?”
He understood, suddenly, that American hard-liners, whether Jewish or Christian, treat Israel as their football team. They sit in the bleachers of America, cheering Israel on from a safe distance. “Hit ’em again — harder, harder!”
But Israel isn’t a football team. There are real lives at stake, and those lives are more important than any posturing that might win political points.
I will continue to love Jerusalem and to find the presence of God there.
But to make bombastic, politically driven statements?
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
That is what I am doing.
Now, today — more than ever.