Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
This week’s column is about the mess, or misunderstanding, that Rabbi Manis Friedman has gotten himself into with his answer to Moment’s feature, “Ask The Rabbis,” in the current May/June issue. It’s a forum in which Moment asks the same question to rabbis from across the spectrum, “to illuminate the diversity within Jewish thinking and create a cross-denominational discussion that leads to deeper understanding.” Rabbis submit written answers. Rabbi Friedman said that Moment is allowing him a chance to better explain himself in the July/August issue.
The May/June question was: “How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?”
Manis Friedman and Yitz Greenberg represented the two side of the Orthodox coin. Here’s the answer from Manis, contrasted with Yitz:
Rabbi Manis Friedman: “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 Yitz Greenberg: “Some traditional Jews (including the late Meir Kahane) point to Maimonides urging that Arabs be treated like the conquered Canaanites and repressed with a strong hand. I appeal to Maimonides’ view that even though it is legally permitted to hold slaves, the hallmark of a Jew is kindness.
Israeli Arabs’ equal rights are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and Basic Laws. Although in practice there is not full equality, Israel is working on this. Constant terrorism requires security actions that make life difficult for Palestinians. But there’s no choice. Israel has resisted giving in to legitimate anger and has acted better toward the Arabs than any other power in the world would have under these circumstances.
In Gaza, Israel has shown remarkable restraint. Although individual lapses have occurred, the IDF has minimized civilian casualties. Civilians were urged to move out before army attacks, but Hamas fighters embedded themselves amidst civilians. (Hamas also hoped for accidents where their people would be killed — to hand them propaganda ‘victories.’)
One factor in Israel’s ability to stay ethical is the constant review and criticism of its policies worldwide. However, rabbinic critique should be responsible. One-sided criticism is a sin; it constitutes collaboration with the shocking worldwide attempt to delegitimize Israel and justify its destruction.
We should validate firmness and self-defense combined with self-control while remaining open to peace and preserving the dignity of the other.”