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not in our name – and not in the name of Torah

This is a cross post by bananabrain of The Spittoon

usually, when responses to the latest act of settler militancy are announced, they tend to fall into four different categories:

1. standard “deplore and condemn” statements from the peace camp, from leftie organisations like peace now, b’tzelem, adalah, rabbis for human rights and so on.
2. standard “you see what we have to deal with, this just makes peace more difficult” statements from the palestinian authority and allied bodies
3. standard “vowing revenge on the zionists” rhetoric from the likes of hamas and its fellow travelers.
4. anodyne PR-speak from the military authorities making excuses for why they weren’t able to prevent the incident or prosecute the people involved

what is usually absent is the voice of religious traditionalism – except, unfortunately when it is supporting the obscene “price tag” policy that is bringing the settlement enterprise into further disrepute.

it’s therefore encouraging to see the voice of mainstream modern orthodoxy being raised in a productive way, particularly here in our own dear jewish chronic, where a scion of the united synagogue rabbinate, now a figure of growing authority in the modern orthodox establishment in israel, speaks out against the disgusting attacks on mosques that have been the latest desecration of the Divine Name. r. gideon sylvester is known to me personally as a man of the highest moral and religious principles and a committed a-list educator; it was another sad loss to anglo-jewry when he joined the continuing brain drain of our best and brightest, leaving his pulpit in hertfordshire for a new life in israel. happily, he has not faded from the uk scene, writing regularly in the jc and invariably giving a clear statement of the sort of moral leadership we all ought to be able to expect from a modern orthodox rabbi and zionist.

some moral leadership

more of this, please

r. sylvester gives a quick insight into precisely why the actions of the mosque-desecrators are so despicable – not only are they an affront to moral sense and jewish history, but they are in complete contradiction of some of the strongest principles of halakhah (jewish religious law), the system that the most extreme settlers claim to be serving. let us be absolutely clear about this: the provisions in the Torah that are often cited as justification for harassment and persecution of arabs clearly do not apply to the muslim and christian inhabitants of the west bank; they only ever applied to the immoral and idolatrous “seven nations” of canaan, the canaanites, girgashites, hivites, hittites, amorites, jebusites and perizzites, the “seven nations greater and mightier than you” of deuteronomy 7:1. these nations no longer exist. they have not existed, officially according to halakhah, since “sennacherib mixed up the nations” (tosefta kiddushin 5:6) – this is the source of the position cited by r. sylvester taken by rabbis halevy, herzog and sacks. therefore it is, halakhically, impossible to spot, say a girgashite any more. as i have said on numerous occasions, i certainly wouldn’t be able to identify one even if he danced naked on top of a harpsichord singing “girgashites are here again”.

quite apart from this, such activity flies in the face of the even stronger Torah imprecation to “love the stranger, for you were strangers in egypt” – this is repeated no less than three times in the Torah: exodus 22:21, leviticus 19:33 and deuteronomy 23:7. nobody is saying that jews – or even settlers – have no right of self-defence. this, however is simply an act designed to provoke, inflame and exacerbate tensions that are already at breaking point. this is a political act, not a religious one – any suggestion that it has any kind of religious sanction must therefore be resisted in the strongest possible terms. anyone who acts in such a way is a desecrator of the Divine Name and an apostate, not a zealot. they are setting up the land as an idol – building an “asherah pole” next to their altar (deuteronomy 16:21) – and ignoring, with astounding accuracy, the even more explicit words of the Torah – juxtaposed *just one verse before*:

“justice, justice shall you pursue, so that you may live and possess the land that HaShem your G!D Gives you.”

in other words, you have been Warned.

significantly, r. sylvester highlights the participation of rabbis aharon lichtensteinand shlomo riskin, both of whom are major figures in modern orthodoxy in israel, which can often be overlooked in favour of the more theatrical and controversial ultra-orthodox “Torah sages”. like another regular participant in demonstrations of religious solidarity with arab victims of jewish extremist activity and a particularly prominent proponent of dialogue, peace and harmonious co-existence, r. menahem froman, both are also inhabitants of important west bank settlements, r. lichtenstein in alon shvut and r. riskin in efrat. both settlements are, i believe likely to be retained by israel in the event of a peace agreement, unlike r. froman’s settlement of tekoa and the militant strongholds from which settler violence emanates. i’m not aware of these two public and highly regarded figures taking such a public position in this way before – their efforts have been quieter, more background – and it is good to see them taking a civilised stand so publicly. we need more of this – and quickly. it cannot happen soon enough and it cannot be widespread enough. it is time for religious jews to take a stand and say “not in our name – and not in the name of the Torah”.