28. חבר [Haver] – Kol Yisrael Haverim – We are all Friends.

The word חבר [Haver] means a member of a group, a comrade or a friend. The verb לחבר  [LeHaber] means to attach things together. The noun form of this root is therefore used to indicate the people we are attached to. A member of Parliament is a חבר כנסת [Haver Knesset]. A study partner is a חברותא [Havruta].

I am surprised that the word Haver comes so high on our frequency list. It’s not uncommon, but I doubt that it’s amongst the 30 most used words in the language. Its high rating betrays the history of this frequency table, which was composed in the early days of the state using literature from pre-state times. Here we see the communist leanings of Israeli society at the time. I imagine that the word “comrade” was much more frequently used then than it is today.

In Rabbinic Hebrew, Haver took on an additional meaning. Jewish society was fragmented between many sects and religious orders. The early rabbis, known as the Pharisees, were very strict in their adherence to laws of ritual purity. Anyone who is part of their club was known as a Haver. People on the outside were known עם הארץ [Am Ha’aretz]. There were many rules and regulations to limit the social contact between the Haver and the Am HaAretz. This was because Amay HaAretz were not be trusted in matters of ritual purity and could end up defiling the food and utensils of the Haverim.

One of my favourite suggiot in the Talmud deals with this. There was a problem with offerings brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. If an Am HaAretz brought an offering, it might not be ritually pure and could defile the Temple. But if the temple was not open to everyone it would undermine the unity of the Jewish people. The Rabbis declared that all people would be trusted regarding the offerings that they brought to the temple. The Temple needed to be open to all.

The subsequent discussion in the Talmud and the halachic literature tries to understand how the Rabbis could have permitted this. Many theories were put forward. But my favourite explanation is that of the Bach – Rabbi Joel Sirkis [17th Century Krakow]. He says that indeed, the offerings the Am HaAretz were probably impure and should have been forbidden. But the consideration of the Unity of the Jewish people overrides that. The Rabbis permitted the forbidden, in order to keep the Jewish people together. In the eyes of the early rabbis, Kol Yisrael Haverim.

The word Haver once again became famous at the funeral of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. Bill Clinton famously concluded his moving eulogy to Rabin with the words – Shalom Haver. The murder of Rabin was the tragic result of Jewish infighting. The word ‘Haver’ is a reminder or how important it is that we stay together. Kol Yisrael Haverim

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

 

Shevat 5778

 

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