Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Religious Right

Last month, Moment Magazine published a shocking opinion. (Well, perhaps only shocking for those who do not follow Israel/Palestine issues closely.) It asked ten Rabbis: "How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors." (The question itself belies a semi-racist attitude in my opinion, as it assumes that all Jews are living in Israel and it lumps together Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, Saudis, etc with the Palestinians in Israel proper and the West Bank and Gaza. What they wanted to ask was "How Should Israeli Jews Treat the Palestinians ." or more specifically "How Should Israeli Jews Treat Palestinians in the Occupied Territories")

The "shocking" opinion was from the representative of Chabad:

I don’t believe in western morality, i.e. don’t kill civilians or children, don’t destroy holy sites, don’t fight during holiday seasons, don’t bomb cemeteries, don’t shoot until they shoot first because it is immoral.

The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle).

The first Israeli prime minister who declares that he will follow the Old Testament will finally bring peace to the Middle East. First, the Arabs will stop using children as shields. Second, they will stop taking hostages knowing that we will not be intimidated. Third, with their holy sites destroyed, they will stop believing that G-d is on their side. Result: no civilian casualties, no children in the line of fire, no false sense of righteousness, in fact, no war.

Zero tolerance for stone throwing, for rockets, for kidnapping will mean that the state has achieved sovereignty. Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations who suffer defeat because of a disastrous morality of human invention.
Rabbi Manis Friedman
Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies
St. Paul, MN

We should all thank Moment for shining light on what is common currency in many Jewish schools, yeshivot and synagogues both in Israel and the Diaspora.

This month, Moment has published an intelligent response from Gershom Gorenberg, author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, and himself an Orthodox Jew. It reads, in part:
Friedman’s comments fit a context. Chabad has taken a conspicuous role on the religious right in Israel, and Chabad rabbis Shalom Dov Wolpo and Yitzhak Ginsburg are among the right’s most extreme spokesmen. Last year Wolpo suggested that then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should be hung for his peace contacts with the Palestinians. Ginsburg wrote an infamous defense of Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Muslims at the Tomb of the Patriarchs on Purim, 1994. That said, the dynamics of fundamentalism, including denigrating the value of Arabs’ lives, extends far beyond Chabad on the religious right in Israel and among its supporters elsewhere in the Jewish world.

Fundamentalism, ... is a modern creation. Historically, debate over the truth is basic to Judaism. Religious texts are ambiguous and contradictory; they evade a single authoritative reading. Rabbinic tradition rejects reading the Biblical text without the chorus of arguing interpreters who came afterward. Interpretations necessarily stress one part of the text and read others in its light.

If there is a common denominator in rabbinic ethics, it’s that God created human beings in the divine image, from one set of parents, and that all human life is therefore sacred. The strongest single statement that the Torah makes about the attitude one should take toward one’s enemy is what Jacob says of his brother and foe (for all enemies are also brothers or sisters): “To see your face is like seeing the face of God.”

... Friedman reminded us that before rushing to condemn the fundamentalist distortions of other religions, we should see that our own is not immune. Unintentionally, he reminds us that we must defend the soul of Judaism.

"Defend the soul of Judaism." Yes indeed! Unfortunately, I see the rot as more extensive than just Jewish nationalist fundamentalists. While they directly represent no more than 10% of the Jewish people, (and even in Israel no more than 15%) their indirect influence has spread much wider, both in the religious and secular Jewish communities. Instead of kowtowing to their faux authenticity ( Rabbi Freidman - see his smiling face above - is one of Chabad's most successful and respected "outreach" workers,) the rest of the Jewish community should be confronting racist, xenophobic, and anti-humanistic tendencies at every opportunity.


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