Friday, August 27, 2010

"A Grim Teaching" - And We Complain About Sharia?

From Jewish Ideas Daily - A disturbing essay from Jewish Ideas Daily about a particularly malignant, hateful strain of halachic thought - thankfully far, far from the mainstream - that dehumanizes non-Jews and renders moot all of the discussion about the supposed violent tendencies of Islamic Sharia law. Fortunately it is not normative, but it gives us pause as we hear the uninformed critiques of Islam's dark side. Israel is right now facing the prospect of whether to deport children of foreign workers, so this issue of how to treat the Other is on the top of people's minds there. See today's Jerusalem Post Editorial: Foreign children, flawed comparisons.

A Grim Teaching (Read our daily feature at

Every first-year law student knows that hard cases make bad law. In Israel, a particularly hard case lies in the ongoing controversy around an inflammatory Hebrew-language volume of Jewish religious law (halakhah) that offers justifications for violent treatment of non-Jews in general and of Israel's foes in particular. The debate has highlighted longstanding divisions within Israeli society; now that the courts and the police have gotten into the act, it has also highlighted the difficulties of drawing meaningful lines between free speech and incitement.

The volume in question, Torat Hamelekh ("The King's Torah"), was published last fall. Its authors, Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur, teach at a yeshiva in a settlement in Samaria known for its hard-line ideology and its tense relations with both local Arabs and Israeli authorities. Like all treatises of Jewish law, their book buttresses its arguments with citations of Talmudic texts and the interpretations and decisions of later rabbinic authorities.

The subject is the rules governing violent conflicts—i.e., wars—with non-Jews. Some of the legal conclusions drawn by the authors are simply outrageous; others treat the grimmest choices that have to be made in wartime as matters of affirmative religious obligation. Among their conclusions are these: "In any situation where a Gentile's presence endangers Jewish life, one may kill him—even if he is a righteous Gentile and not at all responsible for the situation in question." "There is reason to attack children if it is clear that they will grow up to assail us, and in that situation they may be directly targeted." And: "Every citizen of our kingdom who opposes us and who encourages [our enemies'] fighters or expresses satisfaction with their deeds is considered an assailant and may be killed. Similarly, one who weakens our kingdom, by speech and the like, is also considered an assailant."

In other words, one need not distinguish in wartime between hostile and friendly non-combatants; one may freely kill children suspected of one day becoming enemies; and one may kill Israeli Arabs who voice sympathy with Israel's enemies, and for that matter domestic Israeli critics as well. The book does not explicitly mention Arabs or Palestinians. Rather, it uses throughout the seemingly neutral but deeply laden term "Gentiles," with all its connotations of second-class citizens and second-class souls.

Continue reading "A Grim Teaching."

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