Der Tora zu Ehren!
Ein Brief und eine Stimme von T’ruah (Rabbiner für Menschenrechte in den USA) gegen Tötungen unter Berufung auf die Tora
You may have heard that this week, Rabbi Dov Lior, one of the most prominent rabbis of the Israeli settler movement, issued a halakhic (legal) statement that attempts to use Torah to justify killing civilians and even destroying all of Gaza.
This is a dangerous perversion of our tradition and a provocation to individuals who might rely on such a ruling to pursue vigilantism against Palestinian or Muslim neighbors.
I'm pleased to share with you the response that T'ruah issued yesterday, in which we make clear that Jewish law does not justify the killing of innocents (below). In this time of war, pain, and suffering, the 1800 rabbis of T'ruah's network are committed even more than ever to being the moral rabbinic voices we need. Thank you to board member Rabbi Aryeh Cohen for drafting this statement on behalf of T'ruah.
We move into Shabbat with the possibility of a ceasefire before us. We pray that this may be a Shabbat Shalom, on which we see a cessation of the brutal rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, and an end to the deaths of Palestinians, and of Israeli soldiers and civilians.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Executive Director T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
For the honor of Torah: A rabbinic response to Rabbi Dov Lior
As rabbis and cantors charged with the sacred task of "making Torah great and glorifying it," we are disturbed by the recent opinion issued by Rabbi Dov Lior, in which he distorts Jewish law in order to permit harming noncombatants in war. He permits cutting off supplies and electricity to Gaza, and shelling the entire area, and adds, “It would even be permissible for the Defense Minister to order the destruction of all of Gaza so that the South would not continue to suffer and to prevent the injury of our people who have been suffering so long from the enemies who surround them. All kinds of talk of humanism and consideration are nothing when contrasted with saving our brothers in the South and in all of our land and returning quiet to our land.”
There is no basis in halakhah for this kind of blanket permission to order the murder of innocents. Lior cites the “precedent” of Shimon and Levi who slaughter all of the Shechemites for the sin of one person. Aside from the fact that most of the Sages of all the generations were bothered by the actions of Shimon and Levi and therefore claimed that the Shechemites sinned in one way or another (see e.g. Mishneh Torah, Melachim 9:14), the midrash says explicitly: “Our father Jacob did not want his sons to commit this act [of slaughter]” (Genesis Rabbah 80:10). Nachamanides writes that: “Jacob was enraged at Shimon and Levi when they killed the people of the city because they committed an evil act (hamas), for they had not sinned at all…” (Nachmanides commentary Genesis 34:5). And in the end Jacob curses the two brothers (Genesis 49:7).
Even in the case of the ir hanidachat, defined by the Torah as a city that has given itself over entirely to idol worship, the prevalent legal tradition rejects the possibility that the entire city should be wiped out without proper legal processes (see, for example, Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah chapter 4). The Talmud even declare that such a place as an Ir hanidachat has never existed and never will exist (Sanhedrin 71a). There is no such place in Jewish law in which collective punishment, without regard for guilt or innocence, would be justified.
As Rav Chaim Hirschensohn wrote in another context: “The words of Torah, ‘its ways are the ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peaceful.’ There is no law nor ritual in the Torah which would contradict the ways of civilization, nor would Torah ever obligate us to do something which opposed the intellect and reason.”
It is plain to all who have eyes in their heads that the Torah which demands that the nation sue for peace before going to war, that demands that even under siege, a city be given a way of escape, this Torah does not command the murder of innocents.
Rabbi Lior has indulged in uncovering Torah which is not in accord with the tradition (מגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה) (see Sanhedrin 99a), or with the traditional morality of the Jewish people, per the statement that "Anyone who shows compassion to humanity is known to be from the seed of Abraham" (Talmud Tractate Beitza 32b). As fellow rabbis, we ask him to renounce his statement immediately, lest it lead to even more tragic vigilantism, bloodshed, and dehumanization of our neighbors.