Page 27 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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ticular government of Israel, but rather with the Jewish State
and its citizens as they confront the meaning of their existence.
Buffeted by unending wars and terrorism, having to kill in or­
der to live, Israelis — in Nissenson’s view — attempt to respond
to the question, “Is it possible to create a humane civilization
without (God)?”
Biblical theology and mythic themes vie with physical violence
as Israel attempts to confront its contemporary mission. For
example, “The Well” is a powerful tale describing the eternal
conflict between Jews and Arabs by retelling the biblical story
of Isaac and Ishmael. Now as then, water plays a crucial role.
In the biblical account, God provides water to save Ishmael and
Hagar while promising to make of Ishmael a nation (Gen.
21:15-19). Set in contemporary Israel, the tale revolves around
the relationship between Grossman, an Israeli, and Ali, an Arab
Bedouin. They are in fact doubles; both have been born in
Israel, love the land, speak the other’s language, physically re­
semble each other, and spent time together as shepherds.
Grossman’s kibbutz votes to share its water with Sheik Ahmed’s
Bedouins whose well has run dry. Nevertheless, Ahmed who
is Ali’s father, taxes all his followers for the precious water.
Grossman discusses the situation with Ali who informs him that
“Its the law. The tribe must always pay the sheik for the right
to draw water from the well.” Ahmed, as Sheik, has the right
to tax them “just as it was his father’s before him, and before
that, long before . . . ” At the story’s end, Grossman knocks Ali
down because the Bedouin calls him “A dog of a Jew.” The
tale highlights the biblical roots of the Arab Israeli conflict,
underscoring the fact that the wells from which each side draws
are equally deep.
The complexity of Israel’s redemptive mission is portrayed
in “Forcing the End,” and “In the Reign of Peace.” The former
underscores the ineradicable tension between divine and human
understandings of redemption. “Forcing the End” is a re-telling
of the tale of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. The story compels
readers to enquire what is meant by redemption, and how it
may be appropriately achieved. Rabbi Jacobi, a man of exem­
plary piety, requests permission to leave the besieged city of
Jerusalem in order to open an academy at Yavneh. Although
his request is denied, like his predecessor of antiquity, Rabbi