Professor Hillel Weiss
Photo: Eli Mandelbaum

A curse is just a curse

Professor who cursed IDF officer deserves contempt, but he is no criminal

Primitive tribes still live in the heart of the African jungle, in the depths of the forests of Papua New Guinea, and in dark corners of the Caribbean. They believe in the power of a witch doctor's curse, strange shaman ceremonies, sticking pins in dolls, and voodoo rituals to sentence the cursed to a torturous death. We, the people of the modern world, ridicule such silly practices.


But is that indeed the case? Those who witnessed the public outcry following the curses uttered by Professor Hillel Weiss at the Hebron brigade commander cannot be sure of this.


Weiss is an uncouth man, yet the reactions to his words deviated from normal proportions. He did in fact wish Colonel Fox that his wife be widowed and his children be orphaned. So what? In Yiddish, a language that has safeguarded the humor, intelligence and sobriety of the Jewish people for more than a thousand years, they say "so he said."


Years ago while I was in kindergarten I often cursed – or used the curse "I wish you were dead." The kindergarten teacher would reprimand the cursing child and sometimes stand him in the corner for a few minutes, and the matter was done with.


Here, the Israeli police force found it appropriate to launch a criminal investigation against the badmouthing professor, who is suspicious of "offending a civil servant," may the all merciful protect us. It's that same police force that has allowed Hebron settlers to run wild for years, irritate local residents, ignore the uprooting of olive trees and other such things. But to curse a colonel? No sir, that's unforgivable.


Judaism has a long and magnificent tradition of curses, which starts with Bilam's failed attempt to curse the sons of Israel. The Ki Tavo Torah portion in the fifth book of the Pentateuch, which will be recited at synagogues in two weeks time, threatens those who disobey God's word with terrible curses. The Prophet Elisha cursed children who laughed at his baldness, and it cost them dearly.


Power of words

Yet is seems that the outcry that came in the wake of Weiss' curses stems from something very Israeli: The belief in "verbal violence" – a concept that is based on an internal contradiction, because violence is physical by definition.


The origins of this belief may lie in the value that is attributed to the spoken word in Israel. We are warned in the Book of Proverbs 18:21a that "Death and life are in the power of the tongue," and we all remember the ridiculous Pulsa Denura rituals.


But do we conduct our lives according to the Book of Proverbs? Do the majority of us believe in the ability of teachers and rabbis of sorts to dictate to the Lord how to run the world?


It is very unfortunate to once again discover that uncouthness has become a trait that characterizes part of the religious public's leadership. Not long ago Shas Knesset member Yitzhak Cohen lashed out at a senior government official, a son of a Holocaust survivor: "You are worse than the Germans" - he ended up getting slapped in the face.


Weiss cursed the officer in a similar manner. And we have yet to forget the myriad of curses Rabbi Ovadia Yosef used to unleash upon Shulamit Aloni and Yossi Sarid, although as far as I know no harm has yet been inflicted on them.


It seems that the rabbi's curses, similar to witch doctors in Africa, only affect those who believe in them.


Hillel Weiss deserves the public's scorn and contempt as well as the admonition of the Bar Ilan University whose name he tainted (although the populist threats made by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai regarding the university should be condemned,) but Weiss is not a criminal, and there is no point in wasting police and State prosecution time and resources on him.


Let's all wish Colonel Fox's mother, his wife and children a long life, and proceed to get on with ours. There are far more important matters to attend to.


פרסום ראשון: 08.12.07, 23:03
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