Monday, September 22, 2008

Rabbis for Jewish Rights

Let’s get one thing straight. Judaism isn’t a religion, nor should its rabbis be viewed as priests or ministers. We are a people, with a cultural identity and value system, part of which has a religious component. If we take our text seriously one could even say that Judaism is about culture, language and borders. It isn’t faith based, but “deed”oriented. Rabbis shouldn’t present themselves as though they were Jewish ministers and priests turning the other cheek and spreading love to the world.

Rabbis were intended to be teachers, and based upon our mesorah one who had achieved the degree of Jewish knowledge and wisdom qualified for Semicha. The degree of semicha conferred on a talmid chacham assumed that apart from mastering the required knowledge base, one was also in complete and total identification with his people. Thus being a rabbi carries with it an awesome responsibility. It is more than appearing rabbinic. It is more than giving a good sermon or appearing to be politically correct.

Being a serious rabbi is about being a teacher and leader among his people. It means that you have to be able to competently read a sacred text, understand its context and be able to derive from it a lesson on how we need to conduct our lives under certain circumstances. It requires a rabbi to be a leader even when it may not be necessarily popular – even when it isn’t politically or socially correct. There are many rabbis who fit this description, but after reading Rabbi Forman’s article “Rabbis for Human Rights – the 20th Anniversary” (Jerusalem Post, August 29, 2008) he clearly isn’t one of them.

It is abundantly clear to me today that Arabs and Jews cannot live together in the same country. Jews see their manifest destiny as living in Israel with Jerusalem as its capital, and so do the Arabs. They, as us are intractable. They aren’t willing to compromise, but for some unexplainable reason the Rabbis for Human Rights are willing to compromise with the fate of the Jewish People. They preach human rights and good will towards those who wish us harm, basing it on our sacred text.

Rabbi David Forman quotes cherry picked texts to further his argument but ignores other texts as well as our history which flies in the face of everything he stands for. Yes, we ought to be an or lagoyim, a “light unto the nations”, but that doesn’t mean by inflicting pain and injury upon ourselves. Israel is a “light unto the nations”, spreading science, health, technology to the world, not to mention the abundant Jewish scholarship in our rabbinical seminaries and universities. And we are a sterling example regarding ethical behavior on the battlefield, whether it is to protect enemy civilians at the expense of our own soldiers or providing medical help to those wishing to harm us. Israel has set a moral example to the rest of the world long ago; we will trade hundreds of terrorists in exchange for returning home one chayal, dead or alive.

In view of this I was alarmed at the fact that Rabbi Forman wrote:
“In a country where Judaism is often associated with intolerant and uncompromising beliefs and actions, RHR teaches an alternative understanding of the Jewish tradition, one that emphasizes Judaism’s humanistic and universal side.”
Rabbi Forman has the idea that Judaism believes in turning the other cheek. He believes that human rights abuse is incompatible with the Jewish tradition of moral responsibility and sensitivity and the biblical concern for “the stranger in your midst The strangers that the bible is referring to are a small minority of neighbors that shouldn’t be taken advantage of, nor should they be abused; but ought to be treated with respect. But that is a far cry from what has happened in Israel. These Arabs aren’t a “stranger in our midst”; they consider us the stranger, and are intent on driving us off the land. ”. In my tradition haba l’horgecha hashkem v’hargehu, (if someone is intent on killing you, rise up and kill him first) trumps everything.

Furthermore, our prophets that he quotes so conveniently, he misunderstands. Micah and Isaiah were concerned with social injustice committed by Israelites against their own. When referring to the “stranger in their midst” they are referring to benign neighbors. Understanding him contextually he wouldn’t have preached turning the other cheek, certainly not under circumstances where our neighbors are our enemies and wish us not only harm but extinction. They do not wish to live side by side; they wish to take over the entire land that we call Israel and reduce us to the sand under their sandals. And they would achieve this if left to the yefeh nefesh and Rabbis for Human Rights.