Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Kill Men, Women and Children (and Cattle)

Moment Magazine has a feature called "Ask the Rabbis" where they ask a question to a number of rabbis from different denominations of Judaism. This month's question was "How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?"

After presenting answers from various frum and non-frum rabbis, Moment gives us the answer from a Chabad rabbi:

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.

This answer comes to us courtesy of Rabbi Manis Friedman. If the name sounds familiar to you, it might be because I twice discussed his opinion that babies conceived through artificial methods are spiritually defective. Well, it seems that Rabbi Friedman has brought another unpopular opinion to the public eye. But unlike his opinions on babies that might be spiritually defective, this one has much broader implications.

The Torah has an interesting problem that it must overcome: it is, at it's core, a static written document that must remain relevant to all Jews in all places at all times despite changes in values and morals around the world. It's easy to say that in the time that the Torah was given, total war was the standard. It was often either kill or be killed -- and for any group that was fighting a war in the Bronze Age, those were the rules you had to follow if you wanted to survive. The rape of the vanquished female population, and the sale into slavery of women and children was to be expected. Applying modern-day war ethics (is "war ethics" an oxymoron?) during that time period could easily be the cause of your army being destroyed. But yet, if these things were to happen today, we'd be appalled. Ethics in war have evolved beyond the need for total genocide. Indeed, one of the main distinctions between what we view as legitimate war and terror is the willingness to target civilian noncombatants. Don't we repeatedly trumpet Israel's moral superiority by making the point that while Hamas, Hezbollah, et al are willing to target anyone to accomplish their goals, Israel only targets terrorists as much as is humanly possible?

But you can't have it both ways. You can't say "it's immoral for Hamas to blow up babies in pizza shops" while at the same time saying that the Jews in Israel should "Kill men, women and children (and cattle)." Rabbi Friedman can say that total war is the "moral" way and "Jewish way" to fight a war against the Arabs. And, it's even possible that he's right -- I'm not going to rule out that there are times and circumstances when total war might be called for (although I'm very hard pressed to come up with any in the modern world). But when you resort to using the tactics of your enemy that you have condemned as being immoral, you lose all right to then say that you are a "light unto the nations."

The Wolf

Note: To follow some of the Chabad reaction to Rabbi Friedman's words, click here and here.

21 comments:

micha said...

I don't know Rabbi Friedman, but it isn't so simple if he's arguing that it's better to kill 100 of their civilians than to be cautious and let them think we're soft and thereby letting us kill 1,000 of ours. It is just possible he's arguing that when it comes to Hamas, Hebollah, Islamic Jihad or Iran, things didn't progress much beyond Bronze Era morality, and applying modern methods expecting modern responses out of them will just lead to more deaths. And our people's deaths.

It is not the same as Hamas is doing to us, because as the old line goes: If the Palestinians would stop fighting, there would be no war; if the Israelis would stop fighting, there would be no Israel.

I'm not saying he's right; and proudly declaring the notion without the power and burden of acting on it -- like one is anything but lamenting the need to send "the work of My hands drowning in the sea" -- is certainly not right. But obviously and blatantly wrong in principle? Is it any different than Dresden, Hiroshima or Nagasaki? It's the kind of question that makes me happy I'm not a general.

-micha

David said...

Great, it's nice to see that some Jews learned very well what the Nazis had to teach us.

There is a dramatic difference between collateral damage and intentionally targeting civilians. If Friedman doesn't believe in western morality, then he should probably go to some country besides Israel, which, like it or not, was founded on very western ideas (and which adheres to very western ideals). Perhaps Saudi Arabia or Iran would be more in tune with his thinking.

Holy Hyrax said...

>Rabbi Friedman can say that total war is the "moral" way and "Jewish way" to fight a war against the Arabs. And, it's even possible that he's right

Nu, so isen't that what he is saying? I understand his comment in the context of war, no different than dropping the bomb on hiroshima.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"But yet, if these things were to happen today, we'd be appalled. Ethics in war have evolved beyond the need for total genocide. Indeed, one of the main distinctions between what we view as legitimate war and terror is the willingness to target civilian noncombatants."

If we take the standard halachic position that non-Jews performing abortions on demand is murder, then we have western (progressive, liberal) society approving of the killing of MILLIONS of innocent civilian children.

Wolf, If you let modern society pass moral judgment on the Torah, then maybe you should let the Torah pass moral judgment on modern society too.

Bob Miller said...

We ought to recognize the hazards of rabbis opining on such current issues in public based on their own logic/interpretation with no authoritative Psak Halacha to back it up. They should know when the klal benefits from their silence.

micha said...

FKM, I understood the post differently than you did. You wrote, "Wolf, If you let modern society pass moral judgment on the Torah, then maybe you should let the Torah pass moral judgment on modern society too."

I, OTOH, saw him saying that halakhah calls for genocidal war when our enemies are at more primitive levels of moral development. When dealing with bands of Bronze Era warrior tribes, laws like that of Amaleiq are necessary. 3,000 years later, our enemies don't need such massive response in order to insure our safety.

BTW, most posqim do NOT consider abortion to be murder. Prohibited yes, but murder? In order to support the notion, R' Chaim Brisker (of the minority who hold the underlying issur is retzichah) had to create a new concept, something that is retzichah yet not carry a penalty of possible capital punishment. The size of this chiddush is why this position is in the minority.

To really blow your mind, I can construct a strong halachic argument for voting "pro-choice". After all, no US law would match the halakhah in every case. This means that any "pro-live" legislation is bound to at time risk the mother's health or sanity to an extent we would consider saqanas nefashos and thus halakhah allow abortion. That one in a thousand case is piquach nefesh, which outweighs not stopping the 999 cases of hashchases zera.

-micha

rabbifink said...

This is just wrong.

The very Torah upon which he bases his opinion states that Hashem will redeem us and He will take care of our enemies.

Our job until that time is to act civilly and respect our neighbors.

We have absolutely no right to fight them "the Jewish way" (of the Torah) until we are commanded to do so.

Mikeinmidwood said...

The only time the torah ever says to kill out every one, and not just the ones fighting, is against amalek. This rabbi must think that every arab is from amalek, and we dont have an obligation to kill amalek right now.

rabbifink said...

I clicked the link to see some of the Chabad reaction.

Oh boy.

They are crazier than Friedman himself! They think this will bring Moshiach?!?!

If you haven't checked it out yourself already do so now, i think you will be very unpleasantly surprised.

Pesky Settler said...

Sorry, but 'the Torah' didn't 'say' anything. GOD directly told various people throughout TaNaCh who needed to be annihilated.

So until we have prophets once more, who are we to decide who needs to be slaughtered down to the cattle.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"I, OTOH, saw him saying that halakhah calls for genocidal war when our enemies are at more primitive levels of moral development. When dealing with bands of Bronze Era warrior tribes, laws like that of Amaleiq are necessary. 3,000 years later, our enemies don't need such massive response in order to insure our safety."

You think Wolf was arguing that the Torah itself has a built-in adjustment for changing times?

I didn't see that from these lines:
"The Torah has an interesting problem that it must overcome: it is, at it's core, a static written document that must remain relevant to all Jews in all places at all times despite changes in values and morals around the world. It's easy to say that in the time that the Torah was given, total war was the standard."

Given Wolf's track record on these kinds of issues,
http://wolfishmusings.blogspot.com/2009/04/unchanging-torah-and-its-changes.html
I think I'm reading him better.
(Wolf, feel free to chime in and settle the matter.)

"BTW, most posqim do NOT consider abortion to be murder. Prohibited yes, but murder?"

I'm afraid you overlooked the fact that I specifically referred to NON-Jews performing abortions.
If I'm not mistaken, it's a Noachide injunction with the death penalty. (abortions fall under a broader definition of murder than the Jewish one! a fascinating topic in itself.)

micha said...

True FKM, I was thinking more about dan lekaf zekhus than the actual words under discussion.

WRT abortion by a non-Jew meriting the death penalty -- violation of any of the 7 mitzvos would merit the death penalty (Sanhedrin 57a). Although eidus and hasra'ah are even less likely with non-Jews, so it's really a hashkafic point rather than a practical one. Especially since they're supposed to set up their own courts and penal system.

It's more likely senif retzichah than retzichah mamash. (Kind of like saying it's a toladah of one of the 7 mitzvos rather than the parallel of an "av melakhah".) For the simple reason that if it were retzichah for non-Jews, how would you explain it not being retzichah for us? After all, we're not discussing the Jewishness of the velad being aborted but of the abortionist. Benei Noach who require an abortion to save the life of the mother are told to seek a Jewish doctor. If a velad is defined as "alive" for one wouldn't it be "alive" WRT Jewish doctors as well?

In either case, this was way off topic. I just have a problem with this tendency in the frum world to assume that our values are necessarily the more like the more conservative among the westerners. Truth is, rov poseqim DON'T assume abortion is murder; despite what their followers assume.

-micha

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"Although eidus and hasra'ah are even less likely with non-Jews, so it's really a hashkafic point rather than a practical one. Especially since they're supposed to set up their own courts and penal system."

Of course this is a hashkafic discussion! (But Not that they really need two eidim and hasra'ah. They don't.) And hashkaficly, we should be very well aware that modern western liberal society is committing capital offenses against millions of innocent civilian children.

I'm not calling for a rally or anything, but it should pain us deeply and motivate us to reduce the influence this immoral society has on our sense of right and wrong.
(And regarding this post, it doesn't exactly sound like they have the moral high ground to tell us how we should deal with sworn enemies acc. to the Torah.)

"it's more likely senif retzichah than retzichah mamash. (Kind of like saying it's a toladah of one of the 7 mitzvos rather than the parallel of an "av melakhah".) For the simple reason that if it were retzichah for non-Jews, how would you explain it not being retzichah for us?"

I'm sorry for being blunt, but your making all this up out of ignorance of the sugya in Sanhedrin 57b that directly addresses this issue:

אשכח רבי יעקב בר אחא דהוה כתיב בספר אגדתא דבי רב בן נח נהרג בדיין אחד ובעד אחד שלא בהתראה מפי איש ולא מפי אשה ואפילו קרוב משום רבי ישמעאל אמרו אף על העוברין מנהני מילי אמר רב יהודה דאמר קרא +בראשית ט'+ אך את דמכם לנפשתיכם אדרש אפילו בדיין אחד +בראשית ט'+ מיד כל חיה אפילו שלא בהתראה +בראשית ט'+ אדרשנו ומיד האדם אפילו בעד אחד +בראשית ט'+ מיד איש ולא מיד אשה אחיו אפילו קרוב משום רבי ישמעאל אמרו אף על העוברין מאי טעמיה דרבי ישמעאל דכתיב +בראשית ט'+ שפך דם האדם באדם דמו ישפך איזהו אדם שהוא באדם הוי אומר זה עובר שבמעי אמו

So the whole mekor for murder by non-Jews is completely different than by Jews. For them its defined by the word אדם -- but for us, it is defined by the word נפש. A fetus is an אדם but has insufficient נפש.
So abortion is what the Torah defined as MURDER for non-Jews but not as MURDER for Jews.

I'm not sure if this distinction can make any sense within a secular conception (no pun intended) of universal morality. But maybe we --as Jews--should question why it should have to.

micha said...

Um... where do you see that R' Yishma'el holds it's retzichah? Rather, he says the onesh is death. But then, that's the onesh for any of the 7 mitzvos. I was arguing it's one of the 66 I-don't-know-what-they're-called-so-I-said-"tolados". The "MURDER" is your deduction, as you're assuming that the derashah of "dam ha'adam ba'adam" is identifying dam with murder. Could be a description of chavalah.

After all, to say otherwise is not a problem of universal morality, it's a problem of 2 blatt later (59a, also Chullin 33a), "ליכא מידעם דלישראל שרי ולעכו"ם אסור". And the sole exception acknowledged and explained by the gemara there was yefas to'ar. See Tosafos ad loc, RMF who turns Tosafos's "mutar" into "isn't punished", and the Beis Shelomo who resolves the problem by proving that R' Yishma'el was keneged the Chakhamim, and thus not assumed two blatt later. (Which is what I said earlier.)

R' Aharon Lichtenstein in his professional testimony to the Israeli secular courts presented three possible bases for the issur of abortion: serach retzichah, chabalah, and a lack of hatzalas nefashos. Retzichah without a modifier wasn't on his list. I should point out that RAL concluded by noting he was giving a survey of positions and refrained from stating which one was his own. RMF's chiddush that requires rewriting Tosafos in order to support the concept of abotion as retzichah that is punishable for non-Jews but just as assur (albeit not punishable in court) for Jews didn't enter his radar.

Which is why I'm correcting your portrayal of this shitah as though it were the only one.

-micha

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"The "MURDER" is your deduction, as you're assuming that the derashah of "dam ha'adam ba'adam" is identifying dam with murder. Could be a description of chavalah."

It is clearly under the issur of "שפיכת דמים" for b'nei Noach. That is what the pasuk in the Chumash is explicitly talking about. שפיכת דמים is typically a term meaning murder. This is not an assumption of mine. How can you deny this?

AFAIK, there is no specialאיסור חבלה for bnei Noach--only שפיכת דמים. So the burden of proof is on you to show that abortion is חבלה and not standard שפיחת דמים.

And as I said earlier, all the references you are making to RMF and RAL seem to be how abortion relates to JEWS. This is totally besides the point.
ליכא מידעם דלישראל שרי ולעכו"ם אסור"
Is not enough to explain why it is שפיחת דמים for non-Jews but simply assur for Jews (could be its under חבלה for Jews)

I will look up the Beis Shlomo if you will tell me who he is and where to look.

micha said...

FKM: I think I've been less clear -- down to the point of saying something wrong -- than I could have been.

Here's the issue. The same fetus if aborted by a non-Jewish doctor would violate the 7 laws but if aborted by a Jewish doctor might not be. For example, if the pregnancy poses a sufficient risk to life, limb or sanity, a rabbi would tell an observant Noachide to seek a Jewish doctor. This minimizes how much halakhah one is pushing aside (dechuyah) for the sake of piquach nefesh.

Now it can't be that the fetus is a human being or not based on who the doctor performing the abortion is. The concept "right to life", where this all began, can't depend on considering the baby a living human being. If so, it would be reflected in the halakhah for a Jewish doctor.

My error was in continuing to use the word "retzichah" as a stand in for "the fetus is a living human being" even after we got further in the conversation. So, what I said was false, but what I meant to say is not. Violating retzichah when there is no living person whose life is being ended is what I called "senif retzichah", although I now think "avaq retzichah" would fit better. A tolodah of the actual concept of murder, prohibited as part of the same mitzvah as murder, but not itself murder.

I therefore concluded that if the life of the mother were at risk in a way recognized by halakhah as being a matir but not by some future US law, that would be actual killing and thus be a higher priority than millions of abortions in other scenarios. I can see an argument, therefore, for not voting for any such US law, as we need to save that one hypothetical mother. (And we can take it for granted that the future legal list of cases where abortion is permitted wouldn't match halakhah's.)

-micha

micha said...

As for the Beis Shlomo, all I know is that the Bar Ilan CD knows him.

-micha

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"Now it can't be that the fetus is a human being or not based on who the doctor performing the abortion is. The concept "right to life", where this all began, can't depend on considering the baby a living human being. If so, it would be reflected in the halakhah for a Jewish doctor."

This confusion is precisely why grafting slogans and concepts of the western world like "the right to..." onto halachic categories is wrong. It assumes that the concept has some inherent validity and the Torah will address it on the concept's terms.

The concept "right to life" is not where a Torah discussion about abortion should begin.
A Torah discussion about abortion should begin by identifying the spectrum of prohibitions or directives of the Torah that are possibly invoked by such an action.

It is clear from the gemara in Sanhedrin posted above that the act of abortion by a Non-Jew is שפיכת דמים. In English, that is murder and it is a morally reprehensible act. I still haven't heard you concede tothis very straightforward observation.
Western Society which condones such actions on demand, is an immoral society.
(Please don't talk to me about public policy now. It's completely irrelevant to the issue.)

It is not clear what the prohibition on abortion is, if done by a Jew. This aspect was a total distraction brought up by you. I just commented that it doesn't make it any less immoral as murder for Non Jews to perform abortions just because Jews have a much weaker prohibition for the same action. Halacha defines the moral severity of each crime by each perpetrator.
Killing an אדם is murder for Non-Jews, and something less for Jews.
Killing a whole נפש is murder for Jews.
The definition of "life" in biological terms for establishing "the right to life" has no meaning in a Torah discussion anymore than microscopic bugs on vegetables have any meaning in a Torah discussion.
Even though the Torah is quite abhorrent of the notion of a Jew consuming bugs, and microscopic bugs are scientifically still bugs, THESE REAL BUGS are still irrelevant to the Torah.

(FYI I saw the Meshech Chochma to the beginning to Parshas Kisisah seems to say it is also murder for a Jew to perform it, but it is only חייב מיתה בידי שמים.)

micha said...

RKM, you're not going far enough in abandoning the American rhetoric.

If killing a fetus isn't murder for Jews, then a fetus isn't a living person. Which means that despite abortion falling under the mitzvah lebenei noach of retzichah, it isn't actually murder with all the connotations of the English word.

And piquach nefesh for a mother is thus the higher concern than saving the non-quite-life of a fetus.

-micha

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

I guess you're saying if I say we should avoid defining "a living person" in this discussion, then I should also avoid invoking the English word "murder" which assumes there is a living person involved.

Objection sustained.

I realize now that the term שפיכת דמים is also invoked for killing
sacrificial animals without bringing their blood on the מזבח. See Vayikra 17:4 and the Ramban's commentary there.

Nice chatting with you.

micha said...

Thank you FKM for phrasing my point more clearly than I did.

But then there is step two -- if the fetus is not a living being, then the one in a thousand case where a "right to life" law would risk the mother's life and halakhah wouldn't is a piquach nefesh that actually outweighs the other 999 abortions.

Or at least, it's a plausible argument.

-micha