Praying With Sinners

Before Kol Nidre this evening, congregants will recite three times: "By authority of the Heavenly Court and by the authority of this earthly court - with divine consent and with the consent of this congregation - we hereby declare that it is permitted to pray with those who have sinned."

This saying always seemed too sweeping and decisive; always in danger of someone misusing it to enlarge the loophole - not only to pray, and not only on Yom Kippur. Now now this fear has been realized.

Gidi Weitz's Pulitzer-deserving expose, published in Haaretz last week, sheds a searing light on the important people's ties with the more important people, whose eyes roll skyward like dice in games of chance. Not only on this holy day but every day of the year, for the heaven and the earth is theirs. God is a dealer, they are the gamblers and we are merely the dice and cards for them to play with. With them, those good, warm Jews, we will be praying tonight in the casino/synagogue.

We will pray with great purposefulness with the underworld bosses, whose deep involvement in the gas business was also exposed this week. Even before one small barrel has been produced, before the great royalty-heist has been uncovered, they're already raking in the chips.

The earthly court in the don's mansion was the first to gain the spoils. Great treasures still await them - them and not us - at the bottom of the sea. Underworld figures have already earned their seal of legitimacy as honest brokers for our business leaders.

And we'll be praying with all the advocates and defenders, who rose as one to restore falsehood's honor and shake the shameful taint of turpitude off it. And the liar himself will turn into a cantor and have the privilege of opening the Ark and taking out the Torah scrolls. Never, it seems, has such a broad national consensus been achieved. Military leaders and intellectuals alike are urging the court not to decry a not-so-white lie, which was calculated and planned.

Are they asking for his sake, or for themselves?

The day after tomorrow, on Sunday, we'll continue praying for peace-upon-us-all in the church of the Geneva Initiative, which will host a former prime minister who strived for peace through two wars. He is still considered innocent, despite the skeletons in his closet.

The reality of life in Israel has been moving in recent years on two parallel tracks. And yet the tracks meet. The charges-and-convictions track and the back-slapping-barbecuing-bonhomie-around-the-camp-fire track, which even a conviction cannot shake.

We must not let peace - even that - replace patriotism as the last refuge of a suspect. It cannot be used like cotton-wool wrapping a damaged citron that has lost all flavor and aroma. The poet was right when she refused to accept redemption money from a leper. Even peace does not justify all means, or all people, or purify all sins.

Peace will be achieved, if ever, only with clean hands, guaranteeing a clean mind. Peace from false motives is tainted. It won't be established because it will not be credible and if it is established, it won't last.

Next week is Sukkot. Every sukkah is supposedly a "shelter of peace." Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, Joseph and Moses, Aharon and David will arrive, peek inside, see all the who's-who under the same thatch and decide to skip out this year. They too have been forced to pray with the offenders, but they have no intention of spending time with them.