On Topic Links
Talmudic Sage for the Masses
Burying Our Own History and Heritage
Wistrich on ‘the Left, the Jews and Israel'
Israeli Scholar Completes Mission To 'Fix' Bible
WAGING A MORAL WAR
Jerusalem Post August 24, 2012
'When you draw near to a city to wage war against it, you shall call out to it for peace' (Deut. 20:10)
‘When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by wielding an axe against them; for thou mayest eat of them, but thou shalt not cut them down; for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee.’
(Shoftim; Deuteronomy 20:19)
Despite the bad press we constantly receive at the hands of the media, I do not believe there is an army in the history of world warfare which operates with the degree of ethical sensitivity that is followed by the Israel Defense Forces. We never target civilians despite the fact that our enemy targets only Jewish civilians. We have always subscribed to a policy known as “purity of arms,” the foundation for which harks back to the Bible, and particularly to this week’s portion of Shoftim.
Both Maimonides and Nahmanides maintain that this principle of initially requesting peace before waging war – and for Maimonides that includes the enemies’ willingness to accept the seven Noahide laws of morality, most notably “Thou shalt not murder” (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 6:1; Nahmanides ad loc.) – applies even when waging a battle in self-defense, even when warring against Amalek or the seven indigenous inhabitants of the Land of Canaan.
But then, as we read further, the picture seems to get a bit complex, even murky. The Bible continues to prescribe that if the enemy refuses to make peace, then “from those of the cities which the Lord your God has given you as an inheritance, you shall not leave any living being alive; you must utterly destroy them” (Deuteronomy 20:16, 17).
This would seem to include innocent women and children. How are we to understand our compassionate Bible, which teaches that every human being is created in the Divine image and is therefore inviolate, sanctioning the destruction of innocent residents?
To compound our question, only two verses after the command to “utterly destroy” appears the following curious and exquisitely sensitive Divine charge (Deut.20:19): “When you lay siege to a city… to wage war against it and capture it, you may not destroy a fruit tree to lift an axe against it; after all, it is from it that you eat; so you may not destroy it because the human being [derives his sustenance from] the tree of the field” (or alternatively rendered – is the tree of the field a human being who is capable of escaping a siege?).
Can it be that our Torah cares more about a fruit tree than about innocent human beings? Furthermore, the very next chapter and the conclusion of our Torah portion records the law of a broken- necked heifer (egla arufa). If a murdered corpse is found in the field between two Israelite cities with the assailant unknown, the elders of the nearest city must break the neck of a heifer for an atonement sacrifice, declaring: “Our hands have not shed this blood and our eyes have not witnessed [the crime]; forgive Your nation Israel” (Deut. 21:1-9).
Clearly as a postscript to the laws of obligatory and voluntary war found in our portion, the Bible is attempting to caution the Israelites not to become callous at the loss of life, even the loss of one innocent human being. Indeed, the elders of the city must take responsibility and make atonement for this unsolved murder, proclaiming their innocence but at the same time admitting their moral complicity in a crime which might have been prevented had they taken proper precautions and exhibited great vigilance in providing protection and adequate welfare services. Once again, if the Torah is so sensitive to the loss of an individual life, how can our Sacred Law command that we destroy women and children? First of all, one might argue that a fruit tree, which gives human beings nutrition, the wherewithal to live, is of greater benefit than an individual born into an environment that preaches death to all who reject jihadic fundamentalism or who do not pass the test of Aryan elitism. Such individuals are sub-apples, because they are out to destroy free society.
Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin – dean of Yeshivat Volozhin at the end of the 19th century – in his masterful commentary on the Bible known as Ha’emek Davar, provides the beginning of a second answer. He insists that when the Bible ordains that we “utterly destroy” even the women and children, this is limited “to those who gather against us in battle; those who remain at home are not to be destroyed by us” (Ha’emek Davar, Deut. 7:1, 2). It is almost as though he took into account our war against the Palestinians, who send young women and children into the thick of the battle as decoys, cover-ups and suicidal homicide bombers. We are trained to be compassionate, even in the midst of warfare; nevertheless, “those who rise up to murder innocents, even if they themselves are children, must be killed” if humanity is to survive and good is to triumph over evil.
Indeed, war stinks, but for the sake of a free humanity we sometimes have no choice than to destroy evil in order that good may prevail. Michael Walzer, in his classic Just and Unjust Wars, maintains that a soldier’s life is not worth more than an innocent victim’s life. But if the “innocent victim” has “bought into” the evil of the enemy, or if the enemy is a terrorist purposely waging war from the thick of residential areas because they know our ethical standards, we dare not allow them to gain the edge and enable evil to triumph.
Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Hamas, walks the streets of Gaza not with powerful bodyguards but with five small children, knowing that Israel would not risk harming them. Yes, we must try as much as possible to wage a moral war; but never to the point of allowing immorality to triumph. Our Sages correctly teach: “Those who are compassionate to the cruel will end up being cruel to the compassionate!” (Top)
Jerusalem Post, August 29, 2012
One of the conundrums associated with the enduring nature of global anti-Semitism which has soared exponentially in recent years is why, having made such disproportionate contributions towards all levels of civilization and left major imprints on science, ethics, medicine, culture and the arts, we Jews continue to act as a magnet for such virulent hatred. Equally bizarre is the failure of formerly oppressed groups and nations to reciprocate or even acknowledge the extraordinary Jewish contributions in support of their struggles towards overcoming persecution, discrimination, abuse of human rights and achieving independence.
This is typified by the fact that whereas there is no American group comparable to the Jews who sacrificed so much to help African-Americans to overcome racial discrimination and their struggle for civil rights, ironically, today they are amongst the foremost US racial or ethnic groups promoting anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism.
The recent loathsome outburst by the African-American writer Alice Walker, who sought to prohibit her novel – relating to racism – from being translated into Hebrew, typifies this.…[As does] the current South African government, which is today bitterly anti-Israeli despite the fact that individual South African Jews were at the vanguard of the struggle against apartheid, many having been forced to leave the country during the apartheid regime.
Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose anti-Israeli outbursts have now morphed into vulgar populist anti-Jewish diatribes, conceded that “in our struggle against apartheid, the greatest supporters were the Jewish people….They almost instinctively had to be on the side of the disenfranchised, of the voiceless ones.”
But in the same breath he paved the way for his government’s recent anti- Israeli initiatives by calling for divestment from Israel which “has oppressed more than the apartheid ideologues could ever dream about in South Africa” and descends into primitive anti-Semitism referring to Jews as “a peculiar people” who “once oppressed and killed” are now “empowered”, and “refuse to listen and disobey God.”
Similar attitudes prevail amongst a number of Third World leaders. I will never forget a meeting in New Delhi in 1981 with the late Indian president, Indira Gandhi, in which she erupted in a frenzied anti-Israeli outburst laced with rage against “international Jewish power”– which she claimed was responsible for having turned the US against India.…
History records the numerous misguided Jewish idealists in Europe and the United States who, in the 1930s, abandoned Judaism and Zionism and devoted their lives towards promoting and even worshipping the false messianic cause of communism.…Yet these same Jewish communists who, out of a misplaced exclusive commitment to universalism, devoted their lives to fanatically serving an evil totalitarian system, subsequently themselves became victims of the anti- Semitic purges and bogus trials initiated by Stalin in the late 1930s, the murder of the Jewish writers in 1948, which culminated with the infamous 1952 Moscow Doctors’ plot.
These initiatives, unquestionably motivated by feral anti-Semitism, would probably have resulted in massive deportations of Jews to the Gulag were it not for Stalin’s timely demise in 1953. There are Jews today who still maintain that the universalist tradition in Judaism obliges us to set aside our own “parochial” Jewish interests and in order to concentrate exclusively on making the world a better place by combating injustice.
Yet in reality, the alleged tension between the Jewish role in maintaining itself as a particularistic nation and promoting universalistic ethical values is often exaggerated and not mutually exclusive. Abraham did not smash the idols and Moses did not struggle for his people’s freedom in order to create a cult. They served the Jewish people but were also providing messages of universal significance to humanity.
An example of the fusion between both concepts is reflected in the oft quoted sentence from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), “If I am not for myself who will be for me?” But it is balanced by the following sentence, “And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” There is thus every justification for us to take pride in the actions of Jews who contributed towards tikkun olam – repairing a fractured world – and making it a better place for mankind.
That many oppressed groups struggling for freedom, on whose behalf we fought frequently at considerable personal cost, subsequently turned against us, must not deter us from our universalistic obligations towards humanity and ongoing commitment to promote justice and human rights.
When viewing the world in today’s troubled times, we, the Jewish people who have overcome powerlessness and miraculously regained nationhood, are obliged to recognize that our overriding priority must be to safeguard ourselves against those seeking to destroy us. In times of peril, it is both rational and incumbent to focus on our families and our own people before attempting to reform the world. By prioritizing the particularistic goals of defending and securing the well-being of the Jewish State and the Jewish people against those still seeking to fulfill Hitler’s objectives, we are ensuring that Jews will survive. One of the by-products of this will enable us to continue as in the past to contribute towards tikkun olam. (Top)
The Jerusalem Post August 30, 2012
In this season of taking stock, of counting our blessings and regretting our faults, we recognize with profound appreciation that we live at a time when the Jewish communities of the world are free.
When I speak to student groups about one of the great dramas of my lifetime – the exodus of the Jews of Russia and how, to use Natan Sharansky’s words, “housewives and students” defeated the powerful Soviet Union, I might as well be telling them a Hanukka story. They don’t know who Sharansky is, and the term “Prisoner of Zion” has little meaning. That’s not a criticism. What moulded our lives doesn’t have to mould theirs.
In more recent times, we have directed our efforts to finding and freeing individual Jews, mostly soldiers of the IDF who are missing in action: Ron Arad, Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz, Guy Hever, Zachary Baumel. I wonder if I am the only one who, for so many years, included Gilad ben Aviva (Schalit) in the entreaties of my daily prayers? And who sees that he occasionally still finds his way in, before I remind myself that he was freed last October?
Where does Yehonatan ben Malka fit in our private and community prayers? He’s not incarcerated in an underground cell in Gaza or in a Communist prison. Yehonatan ben Malka is an Israeli citizen whose exact location we know. Prisoner number 09185016. Butner Federal Correction Complex in Granville County, North Carolina. Jonathan Pollard….
Grave errors had been made in America towards the Jewish people. Although I felt unhampered by my Jewish identity to attend any university, a generation earlier talented Jews faced admission quotas and certain branches of the armed forces were known to be difficult for Jews to enter. The US, with its wide-open spaces and supposed immigrant culture, didn’t take on an organized rescue policy for Jewish victims of Nazi Germany until 1944. Think of the 937 passengers on the ship called the St. Louis, refugees from Germany, sailing so close to Florida that they could see the lights of Miami, being turned back to the Nazis in May 1939.
Public opposition to immigration, xenophobia and anti-Semitism kept immigration restrictions rigid even after World War II. In addition to the moral greatness of saving the Jewish people, imagine what America would be like today if the country had taken in the Jews of Europe. Take even the simplest parameter: Nobel Prize winners. Thirty-seven percent of American winners are Jews – and that is without the Six Million.…
Jonathan Pollard was born in Texas in August 1954, and grew up in Indiana. While working as an American civilian in intelligence in Washington, Pollard saw classified material that contained information about maintaining Israel’s security. I don’t care that he was paid – Mossad agents get salaries, too, for taking on dangerous work.
You can spend hours reading the details of his case online and the strong opinions it has generated. Here’s the short of it: Pollard’s illegal activities for Israel were detected. He sought asylum in the Israeli Embassy in Washington but was rejected. To avoid an embarrassing trial, Pollard was persuaded to agree to a plea bargain that would also guarantee that he wasn’t given a maximum sentence. He expressed profound regret for his actions. The prosecutor complied with the plea agreement and asked for “only a substantial number of years in prison.” Nonetheless, Judge Aubrey Robinson, Jr. imposed a life sentence after hearing a “damage assessment memorandum” from the defense secretary.
That was in 1987. Unless he receives a presidential pardon, Pollard’s possible parole won’t come until November 21, 2015. No one has ever revealed what documents Pollard gave Israel in 11 deliveries of confidential files about the Middle East. Was the information critical in convincing Israel to knock out the nuclear plant in Osirak, Iraq? If so, his perspicuity saved not only Jewish lives but American lives, too.
WHY, THEN, is he still in jail?
Among those who opposed Pollard’s release was his former boss, the late US Navy Rear Adm. Sumner Shapiro, who served as director of the Office of Naval Intelligence from 1978 to 1982. Said Shapiro: “We work so hard to establish ourselves and to get where we are, and to have somebody screw it up… and then to have Jewish organizations line up behind this guy and try to make him out a hero of the Jewish people, it bothers the hell out of me.” Pollard’s incarceration, then, isn’t only about spying. To a Jew who rose to the rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy, he should be punished for threatening the hard-won proof that he was as loyal an American as his neighbors.
After shameful denials, Israel admitted that Pollard was working for us and declared him an Israeli citizen. His release is often mentioned in connection with prisoner swaps and peace deals, to sweeten an otherwise hard-to swallow deal. Former US deputy defense secretary Lawrence Korb said “the severity of Pollard’s sentence is a result of an almost visceral dislike of Israel and the special place it occupies” in American foreign policy.” Do any of us doubt that US Vice President Joe Biden’s vituperation against Pollard had less do with the spy’s deeds than his anger towards the State of Israel?
Nonetheless, more than a quarter century after Pollard was jailed, many voices across the political spectrum agree that his punishment was excessive. Left-wing Congressman Barney Frank is in rare agreement with rightwing former House speaker Newt Gingrich on this one. Former CIA director James Woolsey says Pollard’s punishment is excessive. Even former defence secretary Caspar Weinberger admitted that “the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance.”
As we enter 5773 – an election year in the US – Jews of every political orientation should be able to agree that the time to release Pollard and make their views known is now. Synagogue members of every orientation should include him in public declarations. To quote accused spy Sharansky, who now heads the Jewish Agency: “The time has come to vigorously and loudly demand his freedom.”
From one Prisoner of Zion to another. (Top)
Weekly Standard, July 16, 2012
"Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us,” we are told. So we take this occasion to praise three admirable individuals who died in the past two weeks. Each of them was extraordinary in his or her own right, but each of them also exemplified the virtues of a remarkable generation.
Anna Schwartz, who died June 21 at age 96, was an economist who helped overturn the understanding of the causes of the Great Depression. Writing with her coauthor, Milton Friedman, she showed that government—in this case, the Federal Reserve—helped turn a business-cycle recession into a full-blown depression. More generally, her rigorous scholarship and careful analysis over the years exposed wishful policy-making and put facile punditry to shame—and bolstered the empirical case for limited government, free markets, and the rule of law.
Yitzhak Shamir, who died June 30 also at age 96, immigrated to Palestine in 1935. After first serving in the Zionist military organization, the Irgun Zvai Leumi, he led the militant Lohamei Herut Israel—Fighters for the Freedom of Israel—in the 1940s in the fight for Israel’s independence. His means were not always respectable, and he did what he judged necessary—though no more. Founders cannot always be fastidious, and statesmanship involves moral dilemmas. Shamir resolved those dilemmas in favor of the safety and well-being of the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Then, as foreign minister and prime minister 40 years later, he resisted pressure for concessions by Israel for the sake of a fanciful peace process—while opening wide the doors of Israel to massive immigration from Russia and elsewhere, immigration that has, as he foresaw, immensely strengthened the nation he served so selflessly and resolutely.
Joseph Cropsey, who died July 1 at age 92, was a professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago and an early student and associate of the philosopher Leo Strauss. Convinced that Strauss had rediscovered the great tradition of political philosophy and reopened the possibility of seriously encountering the great thinkers of the past, he devoted himself to teaching alongside and working on behalf of Strauss, notably organizing the important volume of essays that he co-edited with him, History of Political Philosophy. He also compiled his own lasting and distinguished body of scholarship on subjects ranging from Plato to Adam Smith.
Schwartz, Shamir, and Cropsey were by all accounts very impressive human beings: loving spouses and fine parents, good and loyal friends, dedicated and responsible colleagues, individuals of humane disposition and, as it happens, dry wit.
But what is most striking about all three of them is a certain intellectual, moral, and political toughness. They faced challenge and tragedy. They set out against strong currents, joined in the beginning by only a few colleagues, opposed in their various enterprises by large and powerful establishments and a complacent and dominant conventional wisdom. They resolutely faced the odds against them, they were disciplined and intelligent in pursuing their causes, they fought, they persevered, and, to a considerable degree, they prevailed—against all the powers that stood in their way, against all the temptations to go along and get along.
They were strong leaders. But they were strong enough to be willing to follow those they deemed worth following, men of the first rank whom they admired and thought had gotten it right. Joe Cropsey—a considerable scholar and thinker—was willing to serve as a junior partner to his teacher, Leo Strauss. Yitzhak Shamir—a forceful fighter and leader—was proud to serve as a lieutenant to his captains, Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin. Anna Schwartz—who had a more subtle understanding of the relationship of politics to economics than many of her colleagues—was happy to cede the spotlight to them.
What a group! What representatives of a departing generation! One looks up in admiration at their austere courage, their flinty strength, their determination to think seriously about the right path and then set out on it and stick to it—without any expectation of immediate reward or easy gratification.
Their lives remind us of the difference between success, however lauded, and true human achievement, and of the difference between mediocrity, however brilliant, and lasting distinction. And their lives remind us of the moral and intellectual conditions of freedom.(Top)
Jerusalem Post, August 08,2012
Talmudic Sage for the Masses
Jerusalem Post, August 13, 2012
Burying Our Own History and Heritage
Associated Press, August 8, 2012
Israeli Scholar Completes Mission To 'Fix' Bible
Jeruslaem Post, August 9, 2012
Wistrich on “the Left, the Jews and Israel”