The story out of Israel last week was the arrest of two Rabbis from a religious settlement on the West Bank who had written a book in which they made a Halachic ruling, a ruling of Jewish Law, that it is permitted to kill a non-Jew. It was not permitted to perform random acts of murder but, according to the article in Israel’s newspaper, Haaretz, “According to Shapira, (one of the rabbis arrested) it is permissible to kill a non-Jew who threatens Israel even if the person is classified as a Righteous Gentile. His book says that any gentile who supports war against Israel can also be killed.” This is the “Torah” they published in their book.
These two rabbis, teachers at the “Od Yosef Hai yeshiva, have a long history of inciting Jews to kill Arabs. One was recently arrested as part of an investigation into the burning of a Mosque in a nearby village. The Rabbis of the Od Yosef Hai yeshiva have long been in favor of scrapping the government of Israel and replacing it with a religious monarchy. In fact, two other rabbis were also ordered to appear before the police who are investigating this case and they refused to appear saying that they do not accept the jurisdiction of the police in this matter as Haaretz reported, “In a written statement that aired on Channel 2 …, (Rabbis) Lior and Yosef wrote: “The investigation is contrary to the laws of the Torah – therefore we will not take part in it.”
Let me first make one thing crystal clear. It is forbidden for a Jew to kill anyone, Jew or non-Jew at any time or for any reason. The only exception is if someone, Jew or non-Jew were to physically attack you, you can defend yourself and stop the attack and if the attacker should die from your defense, you are not guilty of murder.
I have not read Rabbi Shapira’s book, but I am reasonably sure that he is ruling that this kind of self defense can be expanded to include all who speak in a disparaging voice against Israel. And I am also reasonably sure that he does not extend that permission to kill Jews who speak against Israel. Rabbis who hold positions such as these often make a distinction between Jews and non-Jews.
We learned in last week’s parsha that when waging war, one can kill the male population of a city that you are at war with. One cannot kill women and children, or even cut down the trees that surround the city. If the city surrenders without a battle, then nobody in the city can be killed when they surrender. Shoftim then goes on to say however, that the Canaanites who are living in the land must be exterminated; men, women and children lest they ensnare Israel with their worship of false gods. We who live in the shadow of the Holocaust, where we the Jews, were victims of such a campaign of extermination, have a hard time seeing our ancestors waging a similar war of extermination against others. The later books of the Bible record that this extermination was never really performed and the issue of Israel being enticed into the paganism of the Canaanites was an ongoing problem until the Philistines arrived on the scene and became a much greater threat to the people of Israel.
So where does this murderous hatred of non-Jews come from? If Jewish law is clear that a human being cannot be killed without a trial and a conviction, why are there so many Jews who think that these rules only apply to Jews, and that all of Jewish Law, from business law to murder, does not apply if the victim is not a member of our faith? Why do we have this ever present hatred of Christians and Muslims that seems to go against the lessons of the Book of Genesis and against most of Rabbinic Law? Clearly one God created us all. Clearly we are all brothers, descended from the first human being, Adam. In parshat Noach, we learn that there are some laws of basic decency that are incumbent upon both Jews and non-Jews. One of these so called, “seven commandments of Noah” teach that it is forbidden to murder anyone, and that there must be fair and impartial judges in a community. Only God is permitted to shed human blood.
Much of the hatred that Jews have to non-Jews comes from centuries of oppression by the majority religions in Europe and the Middle East. Christianity and Islam were both very hard on the Jews who lived among them. In Europe, sometimes we were promised protection but when we were attacked, the protection never came. Sometimes we were victims of political systems looking for a scapegoat to divert attention from the depravity and injustice of the current administration. Sometimes religious leaders incited hatred for Jews to establish Christian leadership credentials or to promote obedience from the members of the church. Islamic countries were not often better. At first Jews were accepted as a brother religion of monotheism and not included in Islam’s hatred of all that was pagan. But as time went by, Jews were persecuted and killed over their refusal to adopt the Islamic faith. A golden age of Judaism in Islamic countries was all too soon followed by a time of persecution and expulsion that devastated the Jewish communities of the Middle East.
Modern times have brought about many changes in the world. The Catholic church pronounced almost 50 years ago that Jews should not be persecuted, that Judaism was a sister religion and that anti-Semitism was a sin. Virtually all Christian denominations forbid discrimination and persecution because of one’s faith, including Judaism, and while the evangelical denominations would still like nothing more then to convert Jews to Christianity, many of them stand together with us in supporting Israel. Believe it or not, there are a vast majority of Muslims around the world who do not hate Jews at all and do not preach the destruction of Israel. For example, do you know which country has the largest Muslim population in the world? That’s right, Indonesia. A nation that does not regularly preach the destruction of Israel. In fact there are quite a few states with large Muslim populations that actually have diplomatic relations with Israel, including Egypt and Jordan.
The problem with Rabbi Shapira and others who make their pronouncements against non-Jews is that they are the purveyors of what has become a nasty kind of bigotry. That it is okay today to do to “them” what “they” once used to do to us. Now that we have our own state, and an army to back us up, we don’t have to fear non-Jews anymore. We can add back into the Aleynu prayer the passage that Christian authorities banned because it offended Christians. It still offends Christians, and we have lived without the verse for hundreds of years but for some who are still angry over that one act of censorship, for them it is time we rubbed back in their face that they don’t run our lives anymore.
It would all be rather silly if it were not for Rabbi Shapria and the Rabbis of Od Yosef Hai who agree with his Halachic opinion as explained in his book. Non-Jews do not have civil rights in the eyes of these Rabbis. Non-Jews do not deserve due process of the law, mercy or understanding. We can burn their houses of worship like they used to burn ours. We can kill them at will because they used to kill us for no good reason. It does not matter to the Rabbis of Od Yosef Hai if the criticism of a non-Jew against Israel is valid or not, no matter if the Gentile has good motives or bad: in the minds of these rabbis, the only good Goy is a dead Goy.
This is such a gross distortion of Judaism that I am almost unable to call these men Rabbis. They cloak the same vile hatred that was once used against us in the guise of Jewish Law. There is no such law. There is no such permission in Judaism to burn a mosque, to cheat a Christian or to kill any non-Jew who might speak out against Israel. Rabbis who teach this kind of discrimination not only endanger the entire Jewish People with their Hillul HaShem but they drive more and more Jews away from the faith of their fathers because of teachers like these who preach a religion of bigotry and hatred. Such a religion is not Judaism and I will oppose all who teach otherwise.
And let me turn for a moment to the other discrimination against Moslems that is happening in this country. Somebody wrote to me this week amazed that President Obama and New York Mayor Bloomberg, were so out of touch with the majority of Americans that they supported building a mosque at “ground zero”. First of all, the mosque is blocks away from “ground zero”. But more to the point, it really doesn’t matter if our president and the mayor of New York were out of touch with 100% of all Americans. The law is clear. The government of this country has no right to tell the followers of any religion where they can or cannot build a house of worship. There must be compliance with all proper zoning rules, but the first amendment of the constitution gives all religions the freedom to worship without government interference. That includes Muslims in New York. If today we say they have no right to build their mosque in one place, it will only be a matter of time when someone will be opposed to Jews building a synagogue near someplace else. This site is not even within sight of “ground zero”. Let us not get involved in this kind of nasty discrimination.
There are many kinds of people in the world. Some of them I understand and some live the kinds of lives that make no sense to me. Sometimes people do kind things that make me proud to be a human being. Sometimes they do things that so horrify me that I want to make sure that they do not corrupt all of society. But civil rights are just that, civil rights. Every person, whether I agree with them or not, is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We are all entitled to a court system that is fair and unbiased. We are all entitled to free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from want. We are all entitled to make an honest living, have equal pay for equal work and equal benefits of society. If Israel wants to call herself a democratic country, then those who advocate the murder of others, even if the speakers are rabbis, they deserve to be arrested and tried by a court for criminal incitement. Those who insist on discriminating against others will soon find that others will feel free to discriminate against them. If bigotry is a sin, then it is a sin for everyone, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.
Before any of us take a stand on matters of discrimination, let us always first consider how we would feel if we were the ones being discriminated against. There are still plenty of ethical issues to discuss, but let us not deny civil rights to any human being. Not too long ago, Nazis considered Jews to be vermin, and used a potent insecticide to exterminate six million of our people. Let us make sure that we are never accused of doing the same to someone else.
May God bless us with compassion and understanding for all people all over the world and may our lives be filled with acts of kindness and care for Jews and non-Jews alike as we say…
AMEN AND SHABBAT SHALOM.