Archive for Halakha

Moment Magazine: Why Jews Can’t Criticize Sharia Law

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2012 by loonwatch

Interesting article by Marshall Breger:

Why Jews Can’t Criticize Sharia Law

by Marshall Breger (Momentmag)

Similarities between Judaism and Islam are easy to see. Both are monotheistic religions for whom the Lord is One. Both are religions based on revelation. In both, law is central, and personal and social existence is governed by a divinely ordained legal system.

There are also many obvious parallels between Judaism’s legal system, known as halacha, and the Islamic legal order of sharia. Both purport to instruct us in how to attend to every aspect of one’s life: one’s getting up and one’s going out, one’s sexual practice and one’s business practices. For some adherents of each, religious law also dictates political life, such as for whom to vote.
Despite this kinship, there are those in the Jewish community who would condemn Islam and sharia, arguing that, unlike Judaism, Islam is not worthy of the protections of American law.

David Yerushalmi, author of a model law banning sharia, argues that sharia differs from halacha because of its different “threat matrix.” Sharia, he tells us, requires faithful Muslims to impose Islamic law on the world “violently,” and its adherents should be charged with sedition against the United States. Rabbi Jon Hausman, a self-styled “warrior rabbi” from Massachusetts, tells us that in Judaism, unlike Islam, the law of the state is the law (in Aramaic, dina d’malchuta dina) so you don’t have to worry about such religious “imperialism.”

These commentators’ understanding of both sharia and halacha is markedly defective.

1. As Hausman surely knows, the reach of dina d’malchuta dina is debated among rabbinic commentators. Some limit the application of the Jewish legal system to property issues, others extend it to apply to all secular law that does not violate Jewish law. In any case, Hausman’s suggestion that halacha is a personal legal system—not relevant to civic life and politics—neglects both Jewish history and halacha itself. In Baghdad during the Middle Ages and in Poland during the time of the Council of the Four Lands, from the 16th to the 18th centuries, for instance, Jewish communities had their own courts, and Jewish law was enforced by secular authorities. And even today, thousands of Jews in both the United States and Israel look to rabbinic courts and halacha to resolve all manner of civil disputes.

While clearly some Muslims do view sharia as a hegemonic political force, the vast majority of Muslims, especially those living in the West, view sharia no differently from the way Jews view the halachic system: as an overarching guide to ordering one’s life. Muslim jurists have always drawn on sharia to mandate that fellow Muslims obey the laws of the land in matters that sharia does not prohibit. In numerous instances (see Koran 5:11), Muslims are told to “honor their contracts” and so to honor the “social contract” represented by the law of the land. The Fiqh Council of North America, the leading interpreter of Islamic law in the United States, ruled as recently as September 2011 that “there is no inherent conflict between the normative values of Islam and the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

2. Daniel Pipes recounts in a 2009 article an incident in England when the Indian Muslim owner of an old age home near Manchester proposed to switch to serving only halal food in the facility. After residents complained, the owner retracted the policy. To Pipes, the owner’s desire to remove pork from the menu, even though apparently not implemented, is proof that Islam wishes to impose itself on all around it. But is this drive for “imperium” the only explanation?

Indeed, Jewish law would have great sympathy for the position taken by the Indian entrepreneur. Though there are gray areas, Jewish law generally holds that one cannot benefit (or profit) from the sale of mixed milk and meat products. The legal compendium the Shulhan Aruch forbids Jews from selling non-kosher products on a regular basis (Yoreh De’ah 117.1). And anyone who has read Daphne Barak-Erez’s 2007 monograph Outlawed Pigs: Law, Religion, and Culture in Israel will appreciate the difficulties of commerce in pork products (or “white meat” as it is politely called) in Israel.

3. Critics of Islam make much of the Shiite legal doctrine of taqquia and the related concept of kitman, which allow one to dissemble or evade by misdirection in order to save a life or community from imminent destruction (see Koran 16:106). For these critics, the takeaway is that Muslims lie when it is in their interest, so we cannot trust their promises or make treaties with them.
But numerous Koranic references tell the believer to “mix not the truth with falsehood nor conceal the truth when you know what it is” (2:42). And further, “Conceal not [the truth]; for whomever conceals it is burdened with sin” (2:283).

Again, we must look to Jewish law analogues. Even the Chofetz Chaim, the rabbinic scholar most associated with truth-telling, allows “white lies” when they will produce social and interpersonal peace. (No threat of imminent destruction is required.) Maimonides allows one to lie about one’s religion to save one’s own life. And does anyone remember the Marranos?

My point is not to analyze the nuances of halacha, let alone sharia, but rather to underscore the inconsistency of attacking Islam for activities that Jewish law and practice would also permit, or even require.

These broadside attacks on sharia are reminiscent of Jewish polemical literature after the rise of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries designed to show Judaism as superior. Later scholars such as the Meiri, though, moved on from polemics to classify Islam as a monotheistic religion close to Judaism. While there are certainly fundamentalist interpretations of Islam that we rightfully find dangerous and deplorable, it is time that Jews in America go beyond “gotcha” polemics and stop treating sharia and Islam as illegitimate expressions of man’s search for the divine.

Marshall Breger is a professor of law at Catholic University.

Creeping Halakha in Brooklyn? Women Told to Sit in the Back of the Bus

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2011 by loonwatch

If this were Muslims you could be sure that there would be a boycott of this bus line, as well as cries about Creeping Sharia’ and the threat of Islamization.

Women ride in back on sex-segregated Brooklyn bus line

(New York World)

On the morning of October 12, Melissa Franchy boarded the B110 bus in Brooklyn and sat down near the front. For a few minutes she was left in silence, although the other passengers gave her a noticeably wide berth. But as the bus began to fill up, the men told her that she had to get up. Move to the back, they insisted.

They were Orthodox Jews with full beards, sidecurls and long black coats, who told her that she was riding a “private bus” and a “Jewish bus.” When she asked why she had to move, a man scolded her.

“If God makes a rule, you don’t ask ‘Why make the rule?’” he told Franchy, who rode the bus at the invitation of a New York World reporter. She then moved to the back where the other women were sitting. The driver did not intervene in the incident.

The B110 bus travels between Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn. It is open to the public, and has a route number and tall blue bus stop signs like any other city bus. But the B110 operates according to its own distinct rules. The bus line is run by a private company and serves the Hasidic communities of the two neighborhoods. To avoid physical contact between members of opposite sexes that is prohibited by Hasidic tradition, men sit in the front of the bus and women sit in the back.

The arrangement that the B110 operates under can only be described as unorthodox. It operates as a franchise, in which a private company, Private Transportation Corporation, pays the city for the right to provide a public service. Passengers pay their $2.50 fare not by MetroCard, but in dollar bills and coins. The city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee defines a franchise on its website as “the right to occupy or to use the City’s inalienable property, such as streets or parks, for a public service, e.g., transportation.”

The agreement goes back to at least 1973, and last year the franchise paid the city $22,814 to operate the route, according to the New York City Department of Transportation. According to the news site Vos Iz Neias?, which serves the Orthodox Jewish community in New York City and elsewhere, the bus company has a board of consulting rabbis, which decreed that male passengers should ride in the front of the bus and female passengers in the back.

City, state and federal law all proscribe discrimination based on gender in public accommodations. “Discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations in New York City is against the law,” said Betsy Herzog, a spokeswoman for the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which investigates and prosecutes alleged violations of anti-discrimination law.

The Department of Transportation, which issues the franchise, confirms that it understands the B110 to be subject to anti-discrimination laws. “This is a private company, but it is a public service,” said Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the DOT. “The company has to comply with all applicable laws.”

Following the New York World’s inquiry, Solomonow said DOT would contact Private Transportation Corporation. “We are reaching out to the company about this alleged incident to ask for its response, with the expectation that it will take steps to prevent the occurrence of incidents of this nature,” he said.

The B110 bus shares stops with MTA busesMelissa Franchy/Special to the New York World

Herzog said the Human Rights Commission would not investigate the B110 unless someone filed a complaint. But its website states that “anyone who provides goods and services to the general public is considered a public accommodation” and that it illegal for public accommodations to “set different terms for obtaining those goods or services” to different groups.

Ross Sandler, a professor at New York Law School and editor of the CityLaw newsletter, said that anti-discrimination laws apply to bus franchises, but that religious groups are sometimes granted exceptions. “Do all these laws apply? Yes, they apply to buses that are franchises,” Sandler said. “The question is whether there is an exception for this particular bus line.”

The Transportation Department said that the B110 had not been granted any exceptions to anti-discrimination laws.

Calls to the offices of Private Transportation Corporation also went unreturned. We tried calling the home of Jacob Marmurstein, the company’s president, but were told he was unavailable.

The New York World will be keeping a close eye on the practices aboard the B110 bus and the city’s response – and we will let you know when we hear more.

On The Expropriation of Jewish Law by Religious Zionism and What if they were Muslim?

Posted in Feature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2011 by loonwatch

We have received some backlash regarding Danios‘ series on “Jewish Law,” (Halakha)–not merely from the usual crowd of Islamophobes, but from some fans who think the articles are inflammatory.

The main criticisms regarding the articles have been that we #1: supposedly use the “same method as the Islamophobes” and thus are “stooping to their level;” #2: that we are “bashing” Judaism;  #3: this is not good for interfaith dialogue; and #4: the individuals we are citing as sources are “self-hating Jews” or “illegitimate.”

I disagree with this criticism for the following reasons:

The method of the Islamophobes is to: selectively quote/misquote, lie, essentialize, hate, foment bigotry, and push forward zany conspiracies in a process of dehumanization and otherization. We do none of the above.  We haven’t since the start of the site and we never will.

Danios’ disclaimer, Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is the Problem, more than sufficiently articulates the clear distinction we are making.  Judaism itself is not the problem.  Even the texts and scriptural sources are not necessarily the problem.  Rather, it is extremist minds reading and interpreting the texts that are the problem.

We are meeting the challenge put forth by Islamophobes, encapsulated by Robert Spencer, who claim Islam has a special and unique providence over religiously inspired and sanctioned violence against innocents; Spencer writes in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

These articles are a follow up to the previous series covering violence in the Bible.  That series received far less criticism than this present one, most likely because it was seen to take Christianity to task more than Judaism.  The added sensitivity to the Jewish community is understandable, considering the long history of violence, oppression, and hate Jews have had to face over the centuries.

We maintain such a sensitivity to Jewish history and struggle and do not intend this series to be employed as a blunt instrument that is used to bash one’s religious opponents over the head; in fact it can’t be!

Instead, the point is to instill a sense of religious humility in all of us.  Or, put in another more colloquial way, “don’t act like your s*** don’t stink.”

As Danios wrote:

I will be applying the same standards our opponents apply to the Islamic tradition to the Jewish one, to show that Judaism is equally vulnerable to such criticisms.  It is hoped that this exercise will encourage people of Judeo-Christian background to be more hesitant in vilifying and targeting Islam.  This is purely an exercise in thought, a what if scenario (what if we applied the same standards to your religion as you do onto others?) designed to be the antidote to religious and cultural arrogance.

By clarifying that this constitutes an “exercise in thought” one should know that I am not saying Judaism is XYZ because of ABC, but rather simply that if you insist on arguing that Islam is XYZ due to ABC then–based on your own logic–Judaism and Christianity are also XYZ because they too have ABC.  This is a what if? and an if-then argument.

These articles on Jewish law are just a more in-depth variation of the longstanding series, “What if they were Muslim?”. When one is confronted with the fact that one’s own belief system is equally prone and open to bellicose interpretations and that those interpretations do exist and have real world implications, it will give one pause. It will make one re-examine his or her own triumphalist attitude and should redirect his or her efforts positively.  At least, this is the goal.

Previously you may have put people of _____ religion down, but now upon reflection you realize, “I can’t because I stand condemned by the same logic.”

Our biggest regret here is that some really good-hearted folk might be offended, as Danios wrote:

Naturally, “bystanders” will be caught in the crossfire.  Good-hearted, fellow Jews may be offended by such an article series that takes such a critical look at Jewish law.  This is why I explained my absolute reluctance to go down this path in my opening disclaimer.  But, the constant barrage of Islamophobic polemics, encouraged by Israeli activists, convinces me that this is something unavoidable.  Thus it is so, that with a grudging heart, I proceed forth.

Some may be taken aback by the extensiveness of these pieces, but when tackling such an issue it is important to be both thorough and comprehensive. Would our readers expect anything less of LoonWatch and Danios,  known for their in-depth rebuttals?

In regards to interfaith dialogue it must be pointed out that what passes as “interfaith” at times is a superficial cliched kumbaya-hand-holding that covers up or ignores serious challenges. At some point, if we are true to ourselves the hard questions about bigotry, hate, and violence that proliferate through the various religions of the world must come up.

This is the difficult part of “interfaith dialogue” that has yet to be seriously grappled with: how do we deal with belligerent interpretations, how do we manage them, reconcile them while remaining in fidelity and authenticity with tradition; how do such interpretations stack up to ethics; is a complete reconstruction of religious thought necessary, etc.

All of this said, I would like to add that most readers and commenters understand the import and logic behind our articles.  Best-selling author Lesley Hazleton, one of our favorite Anti-Loons and a prolific writer on theology, tweeted:

Congrats to Danios @Loonwatchers: great thinking on hot-button topics of #Zionism, #Islamism, #antisemitism bit.ly/mTeecA

Gefilte, another one of our Jewish writers proffered this view when we solicited him for a comment about the series:

I periodically contribute to loonwatch. Like many Jews, it bothers me that extremists in the name of my religion have declared war not on terrorism but on mainstream Muslims. Loonwatch asked me if I was disturbed by the series on how Jewish law has been expropriated by Zionists to justify killing, torture, and collective punishment. I have to say, it’s a complicated question. In general, I don’t like anybody taking potshots at anyone else’s religion. After all, that’s primarily what loonwatch does every day.

But, to answer your question, I have to issue my own disclaimer. I don’t claim to speak for most Jews on this. None of us do, and I think that’s the most distressing thing about Zionism and the state of Israel, which pretends to speak in our name. You know the old joke: ask two Jews a question, get three (or more) opinions. We do tend to have an independent streak.

Religiously I’ll freely admit to being a “cafeteria Jew.” I don’t believe that anybody’s scripture (mine, yours, or the other guy’s) came directly from G-d, but I do believe they were inspired by that piece of our humanity that constantly seeks G-d. For me, the supernatural aspects of ancient religions should be updated. And I also find that rational thought augments faith. Even though evolution can be understood as a scientific principle, how amazing it is! Spinoza and Einstein had similar views too.

It’s not necessary to believe that Moses literally received the Torah on Sinai, or that Jesus was miraculously conceived by G-d, or that Allah whispered the exact words in the Qu’ran to Mohammad. It seems to me that G-d speaks to everyone, and sometimes particularly sensitive men and women hear his resonances better than others. We’ve called such people prophets.

Since the 19th century scholars have demonstrated that the Torah was pieced together from two different versions of an orally-transmitted Jewish law, liberally laced with history, stories, and legal claims by both Southern and Northern Kingdoms to the land of Israel. In with all this were moral stories. The “cafeteria Jew” in me gravitates to the moral lessons and the rich literature in the book. But, to be honest, the genocide, murder, duplicity, and some of the kinky sex in there seems more an artifact of human hands and less of divine inspiration.

It seems to me that Danios has merely pointed out that the Torah, like the Qu’ran, contains some passages that (were it a movie) should have some advanced R if not X rating. The Torah, like the Qu’ran and the New Testament, was written long before Amnesty International, the UN, or the Red Cross were founded, or multiculturalism was ever conceived. What did anyone do with those *other* people back then? Genocide, mass expulsions and slavery is the answer. No wonder the Tea Party loves the Old Testament so much. Some of them even want to bring back stoning. As Danios points out, zealots can find anything they want in the Torah, just as zealots can find anything they want in the Qu’ran.

So, to *finally* answer your question, am I offended? No, not really. These are essentially the same observations I’ve made over the years, and they merely raise the same questions that Hebrew school teachers occasionally have to scramble to answer. So, if the purpose is didactic, as opposed to hateful, what’s there to object to? Islamophobes make similar deconstructions of Islam, usually with less fidelity to its texts, but there the intent is to show how evil Muslims are. Or that their religion is inherently evil too. In your case, I think you make a clear and repeated distinction between our religion and the ding-dongs who have expropriated it.

I appreciate the disclaimer you’ve attached to each installment: “Why Religious Zionism, not Judaism, is the Problem.”

Gefilte goes on to suggest we mention that we are doing this series to show “how easy it is for fundamentalists to hijack ANY religion.” A fair point I’d say!

I’m not going to discuss the criticism regarding sources cited such as Norman Finkelstein, something that has been covered well enough by Danios. While this series may seem polarizing to some, it was necessary and consistent with what we are doing. “Keeping an eye on the Islamophobes” also means dissecting their arguments and ideas to reveal them for the frauds they are.

I wish every story we did was one about mutual understanding between faiths, good deeds done in unison, selflessness across religious divides, togetherness and harmony, but alas even though those are our favorite stories they are not the only reality.

******************

Lastly, upon revisiting the articles we will add an asterisk to every title next to the words “Jewish Law*” so as to make clearer that we are not essentializing Jewish Law or saying that it is defined solely by those who have expropriated it to justify violence toward the innocent.

Jewish Law*: One Israeli Soldier Worth More Than 1,000 Palestinians

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2011 by loonwatch

Please make sure to read my disclaimer Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem wherein I clarify that “Jewish law” here is not meant to be understood in a blanket way.  Certainly, there exist alternative, more compassionate understandings of Halakha.  I understand that many readers are deeply uncomfortable with characterizing “Jewish law” in such a sweeping manner as we have done in this “thought exercise”–but that’s the point of the article series: if you refuse to generalize Halakha, then why do you do it to Sharia?

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #4 TERRORISM!

Israel recently agreed to release over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 1 captive Israeli soldier.  The soldier’s name is Gilad Shalit: he is neither a high-ranking military official or anyone of national importance.  Then, why did Israel agree to ransom him with over a thousand men?  Why is he worth so much?

CNN ran with the headline “Shalit swap based on ‘ultimate value of human life,’ rabbis say”:

“Judaism places ultimate value on human life. Therefore in the Jewish tradition, in Jewish law, redeeming captives trumps just about everything else,” said Ascherman, of Rabbis for Human Rights. “It takes priority over anything else you can possibly do.”

So, it is just that Israelis value life so much?  Are they just that superbly moral?  I have seen such discussion on the internet and in the media, with pro-Israeli apologists comparing this “ultimate value of human life” with the “culture of death” that Palestinians (and Arabs/Muslims) supposedly have.

Yet, the CNN article is misleading, as it implies that Judaism* values human life, when in fact Jewish law* places the ultimate value on Jewish life only.   The mitzvah (religious obligation) to redeem prisoners is limited to fellow Jews.  It does not apply to Gentiles.  Had the prisoner been Christian or Muslim (ha!), Israel would never have made such a trade.

There is a deeply racial underpinning here: according to Jewish law*, Jews and Jewish life are always considered superior to Gentiles and Gentile life.  Prof. Israel Shahak, an Israeli human rights activist, documented the background for this racist religious dogma in his book Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel.  For example, he quotes Rabbi Abraham Kook, largely considered “the ultimate father figure” of Religious Zionism, who stated that “the difference between a Jewish soul and the souls of non-Jews…is greater and deeper than the difference between a human soul and the souls of cattle.”

Admittedly, such beliefs are not unfamiliar to Radical and Ultra-Conservative Muslims, who argue that “the worst Muslim is better than the best non-Muslim.”  Similar statements can be heard from fundamentalist Christians.  Yet, Religious Zionists take this bigoted idea much further, using it to justify the killing of civilians: to save one Jewish life, killing any number of Gentiles is acceptable.  Not only can one exchange 1,000 Gentile prisoners for 1 Jewish prisoner, but one can also kill 1,000 Gentiles to save 1 Jewish prisoner (or as revenge and deterrence in the case of a Jewish soldier who was killed).

Rabbi Michael J. Broyde asks rhetorically on p.4 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition (a book written under the auspices of the world’s leading Orthodox Jewish minds):

If the government can rescue a soldier only by killing a dozen innocent infants in the enemy camp, may it do that?

Broyde argues in the affirmative, noting that “enemy civilians” are “less sacred than one’s own soldiers.”  Even if it were otherwise, Broyde argues, Jewish law* allows for a “presumptive hora’at sha’ah (temporary edict/suspension of law) that would permit such[.]”  He goes on to say:

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, for example, permits the sacrifice of oneself as a form of hora’at sha’ah [temporary edict/suspension of law] that is allowed by Jewish law to save the community.  While the voluntary act of heroic self-sacrifice and the killing of an unwilling victim are not parallel, I think that one who would permit a Jewish soldier to kill himself to save the community, would permit the killing of “less innocent” enemy soldiers or even civilians in such situations as well.  In grave times of national war, every battle and every encounter raises to such a level, I suspect.

In “every battle and every encounter,” it is permitted to kill “even civilians.”

Broyde raises a very odd argument, rhetorically asking:

If a government can choose as a matter of policy to engage in retaliatory military action that risks the lives of its own soldiers and civilians in a time of war, does it not follow that it may do so with enemy soldiers and civilians as well?

Rabbi Norman Lamm asks on p.238:

To use the Talmudic phraseology, is the blood of Israeli soldiers any less red than that of enemy Arab civilians?

The bottom line is that the Jewish military can kill enemy civilians to “save its soldiers.”  Prof. David Shatz writes on p.xix of the introduction to War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

It would be morally acceptable, and perhaps even required, to cause civilian deaths in order to save your own combatants.

How many civilian deaths?  Certainly, “killing a dozen innocent infants in the enemy camp” to save 1 Jewish soldier is not unreasonable.  The 1-to-1,000 ratio is also acceptable.  Mordechai Eliyahu, the late Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, bellowed:

Even when we seek revenge, it is important to make one thing clear – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

He went on to say:

The Talmud states that if gentiles rob Israel of silver they will pay it back in gold, and all that is taken will be paid back in folds, but in cases like these there is nothing to pay back, since as I said – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

The Sephardi Chief Rabbi called for carpet bombing the Palestinians instead of “risk[ing] the lives of Jews.”  The Jerusalem Post reported in an article entitled “Eliyahu advocates carpet bombing Gaza: Says there is no moral prohibition against killing civilians to save Jews“:

The former chief rabbi also said it was forbidden to risk the lives of Jews in Sderot or the lives of IDF soldiers for fear of injuring or killing Palestinian noncombatants living in Gaza.

Similarly did Rabbi Yaakov Perin famously state that “one million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”

One of Israel’s justifications for the 2006 Lebanon War, which killed over a thousand Lebanese (mostly civilians), was to recover two IDF soldiers.  Does it seem reasonable to kill over a thousand people to recapture two soldiers?

During the conflict in Gaza, Rabbi Yehuda Henkin, former Rabbi of the Beit She’an Valley in Northern Israel, opined that “the Halacha (Jewish law) countenances the killing of non-combatants in times of war,” and that “there is no excuse for endangering our own citizens or soldiers to protect the lives of civilians on the other side.”  This is an argument for Israel relying on carpet bombing against a civilian population instead of sending in ground troops to fight in “hand-to-hand combat.”

Far from being the views of some radical, fringe element in Israel, these are the mainstream beliefs of Religious Zionism.  These attitudes are reflected in Israeli society as a whole, with “more than 70 per cent support for bombing Gaza–but just 20 per cent support for a ground invasion.”  It is no surprise then that indiscriminate killing–accepted by international law as “equally” criminal compared to targeting civilians–is thus the norm of Israeli war policy.

Surely, a dozen or a thousand Palestinian infants (who will grow up to be terrorists anyways) are not worth the life of one brave Israeli soldier.

*  *  *  *  *

This racist line of thinking reaches its logical conclusion by encouraging the slaughter of civilians to “protect” Jewish soldiers.  A Jewish soldier’s life is so much more precious than the lives of enemy civilians that this trade-off is acceptable.  On pp.65-67 of Jewish History, Jewish Religion, Prof. Israeli Shahak documents a Q&A between an Israeli soldier and Rabbi Shim’on Weiser (a conversation originally published in the yearbook of one of Israel’s prestigious religious institutions, Midrashiyyat No’am).  In it, the soldier asks the rabbi:

[Am I] permitted to put myself in danger by allowing a woman to stay alive? For there have been cases when women threw hand grenades.

Rabbi Weiser responds by saying:

The rule “Whoever comes to kill you, kill him first” applies to a Jew…[but] it only applies to him if there is [actual] ground to fear that he is coming to kill you.  But a Gentile [non-Jew] during wartime is usually presumed so, except when it is quite clear that he has no evil intent.

In other words, Jews are considered innocent by default, whereas Arabs are guilty until proven innocent.  If there is any doubt as to the innocence of the Arab civilian, such a person should be killed just to be on the safe side.  The Israeli soldier responds by restating the Rabbi’s position:

As for [your] letter [to me], I have understood it as follows:

In wartime I am not merely permitted, but enjoined to kill every Arab man and woman I chance upon, if there is a reason to fear that they help in the war against us, directly or indirectly.

In the current climate, there is such a high level of paranoia in Israeli society that almost every Palestinian is seen as a threat, constituting “a reason to fear.”

*  *  *  *  *

Similar arguments are raised by many of Israel’s ardent defenders to justify killing civilians.  Former IDF soldier and full-time Israeli propagandist Cori Chascione of Jewcy opines:

Individual [Israeli] soldiers are not permitted to risk their own lives in order to avoid collateral damage or to save civilians…a soldier’s life comes before a civilian in enemy territory

Ted Belman of Israpundit.com writes:

As a numbers game, is it moral to cause one of your own to be killed to avoid killing ten of them? What about one hundred of them. In the last few days we killed 100 of them and lost 2 of ours. To my mind that is moral.

How similar is this rhetorical questioning; we saw it in the sober, serious, and scholarly book written by the leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries of the world (see above).

With views such as these emanating from mainstream Orthodox Judaism, it is only natural that others would take this paranoid worldview even further, such as Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira who declared that it would be licit to kill [Palestinian] children if there was a fear that they would “grow up to become enemies of the Jewish people.”

*  *  *  *  *

As I have repeated over and over again, I am not trying to categorize all of Judaism, all interpretations of Jewish law, or all Jews as one way or another.  I am simply establishing that extremist views such as these exist in no short supply.  So why this overwhelming focus on Islam, Islamic law, and Muslims?

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #4: TERRORISM!

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #3 Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (II)

Israeli professor and human rights activist Israel Shahak wrote in the preface of his book Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (co-authored with Norton Mezvinsky):

Virtually identified with Arab terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism is anathema throughout the non-Muslim world.  Virtually identified with ignorance, superstition, intolerance and racism, Christian fundamentalism is anathema to the cultural and intellectual elite in the United States.  The recent significant increase in its number of adherents, combined with its widening political influence, nevertheless, make Christian fundamentalism a real threat to democracy in the United States.  Although possessing all the important social scientific properties of Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism is practically unknown outside of Israel and certain sections of a few other places.  When its existence is acknowledged, its significance is minimized or limited to arcane religious practices and quaint middle European dress, most often by those same non-Israeli elite commentators who see so uncompromisingly the evils inherent in Jewish fundamentalism’s Islamic and/or Christian cousins.

As students of contemporary society and as Jews, one Israeli, one American, with personal commitments and attachments to the Middle East, we cannot help seeing Jewish fundamentalism in Israel as a major obstacle to peace in the region.  Nor can we help being dismayed by the dismissal of the perniciousness of Jewish fundamentalism to peace and its victims by those who are otherwise knowledgeable and astute and so quick to point out the violence inherent in other fundamentalist approaches to existence.

Pro-Israeli apologists are certainly “quick to point out the violence inherent in” Radical Islam while simultaneously dismissing “the perniciousness of Jewish fundamentalism to peace.”  MEMRI is one such group: this Israeli propaganda machine churns out cherry-picked translations from Arabic texts, in an attempt to magnify the threat of Radical Islam.  Meanwhile, these same sorts of pro-Israeli elements levy the charge of “Self-Hating Jew” and “Anti-Semitism” against all who would point out similar radicalism in the Israeli/Jewish community.  Prof. Shahak was himself the victim of such slurs (and now I have been accused of this as well).

We are constantly barraged by screeds warning us how inherently violent Sharia is–and how Islam supposedly compels its adherents to commit acts of terrorism–yet few would be comfortable with holding Judaism to the same standard we do Islam.  Certainly, Halakha (Jewish law)–as understood by Orthodox Judaism in Israel (the only form of Judaism recognized by the Jewish state)–permits targeting and killing civilians, collective punishment, and ethnic cleansing.  It also permits terrorism against civilian populations.  Rabbi Michael J. Broyde writes on pp.23-24 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

Air warfare greatly expands the “kill zone” of combat and (at least in our current state of technology) tends to inevitably result in the death of civilians.  The tactical aims of air warfare appear to be fourfold: [1] to destroy specific enemy military targets, [2] to destroy the economic base of the enemy’s war-making capacity, [3] to randomly terrorize civilian populations, and [4] to retaliate for other atrocities by the enemy to one’s own home base and thus deter such conduct in the future by the enemy.

The first of these goals…is permissible…The same would appear would be true about the second…It would appear that the third goal is not legitimate absent the designation of “Compulsory” or “Obligatory” war.  The final goal…could perhaps provide some sort of justification for certain types of conduct in combat that would otherwise be prohibited.

In a future article, I will explain the different types of wars as understood in the Jewish tradition: for now, however, the reader ought to know that on p.14 Broyde quotes Maimonides that “a war to deliver Israel from an enemy who has attacked them” would constitute a Compulsory/Obligatory war.  This is nearly a unanimous opinion.  Prof. Arye Edrei writes in Divine Spirit and Physical Power:

[The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo] Goren[,] stated frequently in his writings that the contemporary wars of Israel meet the criterion of obligatory wars because their goal is to save Israel from the hands of an oppressor, and he categorized the Peace for Galilee War [1982 Lebanon War] as such a war.

Therefore, it is permitted under Halakha for Israel to “randomly terrorize [Arab] civilian populations.”  Notice also that the fourth “tactical aim,” permitted under Jewish law, also fits under terrorism: “to retaliate for other atrocities by the enemy to one’s own home base and thus deter such conduct in the future by the enemy.”  This is manifested in Israel’s policy of “massive retaliation,” which is a euphemism for state terrorism: the goal is to inflict so many Palestinian civilian casualties that it would serve as a deterrent to future terrorist attacks.

Professor Herbert Leventer of Yeshiva University legitimizes “terror bombing,” writing on p.75 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

If, in an emergency, you engage in the occasional assassination, terror (rather than mere strategic) bombing, killing of civilian shields–you do no wrong, and have no reason even to feel regret.

Adam Aptowitzer of B’nai Brith opined:

Terror is a tool, terror is a means to an end … When Israel uses terror to … destroy a home and convince people to be terrified of what the possible consequences are, I’d say that’s acceptable use to terrify someone.

The truth is that terror is an option to be used by states in order to prevent deaths of their own citizens and others. Acts that take place in Gaza and [the] West Bank, you might want to classify them as terrorists sponsored by the state. But when that is being done to prevent deaths, are we going to say that is wrong

(Note: To give credit where credit is due, I first came across this quote in Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah.)

Throughout its short history, Israel has terrorized the Palestinian population.  From 1948 when “the Hagana and other Jewish paramilitaries were terrorizing Palestinian civilians” (quote taken from p.56 of Prof. Sean F. McMahon’s The Discourse of Palestinian-Israeli Relations) to the recent 2008-2009 Israeli war on Gaza–described by the United Nations as an operation “designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population”–state terrorism has been used by the Israelis very consistently.  (In the future, I will write a more detailed article documenting the systematic terrorism conducted by the state of Israel.)

Today, nearly half of Israeli Jews (46%) support “price tag” terrorism against Palestinians.  Price tag terrorism refers to “acts carried out against Palestinians in revenge of government actions harming the settler enterprise.”  These are characterized as “pogroms meted out by fanatical settlers against defenseless Palestinians,” and involves violence against civilians.  Price tag terror is conducted by “Israeli soldiers and settlers” who”rampag[e] through” Palestinian villages, meting out “retributive violence.”

These terror attacks include blowing up cars, vandalizing homes, beatings, and stabbings.  Just a few hours prior to writing this article, an article was published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Palestinian cars were set aflame.  [Editor’s Note: This article was written a few weeks before it was published.  A few days before the article was published, however, a mosque in Northern Israel was burned down by Jewish extremists.] Mosques are a favorite target for “price tag terror,” which have been burned down.  All of this goes on “under the watch of the army and with the encouragement of state-funded religious nationalist rabbis.”  Not only do nearly half of Israeli Jews support price tag terrorism but “most traditional, national-religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews believe these actions are justified (55%, 70% and 71%, respectively).”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a terrorist himself, declared that “neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.” (hat tip: NassirH)

*  *  *  *  *

In addition to specifically allowing “terror bombings” that target civilians, Jewish law permits “indiscriminate violence” against civilians during milhemet mitzvah (Obligatory war), which all of Israel’s current wars are considered.  As Mordechai Eliyahu, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, stated, “[there is] absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians.”

According to international law, there is no difference between intentionally targeting civilians and indiscriminately killing them.  Dr. Norman Finkelstein writes in the preface to Beyond Chutzpah:

One often hears that Hamas’s deliberate targeting of civilians cannot be compared to Israel’s “unintended” killing of them.  However human rights organizations report that Israel’s use of live ammunition is “indiscriminate” (HRW) and “on many occasions… deliberately targeted” civilians (Amnesty International), and accordingly conclude that the purported distinction between Hamas and Israeli violence “makes no difference” (B’Tselem). If Hamas were to declare after blowing up a crowded civilian bus that it had only meant to kill a military officer in the vehicle and not the other passengers, it would rightly be ridiculed. Yet how different is it when Israel drops a one-ton bomb on a densely populated Gaza neighborhood in order to liquidate a Hamas military commander and then declares that the fourteen civilian deaths were unintentional? In his authoritative study on the laws of war, Israeli legal scholar Yoram Dinstein observes:

…From the standpoint of LOIAC [Law of International Armed Conflict], there is no genuine difference between a premeditated attack against civilians (or civilian objects) and a reckless disregard of the principle of distinction: they are equally forbidden.

Even if, for argument’s sake, we assume that Israel’s attacks on civilians are unintentional and accordingly that the worst it can be accused of is “reckless disregard of the principle of distinction,” it is still the rankest hypocrisy to require of Hamas that it cease violent attacks yet not put a comparable requirement on Israel to cease what is “equally forbidden.”

I would argue, however, that a case could be made that Israel’s indiscriminate use of violence against civilian populations is actually worse, because far more civilians die in such attacks than from Hamas’s terrorist bombings.  To put it simply: a terrorist attack against a civilian bus limits the death and destruction to one bus, whereas “drop[ping] a one ton bomb on a densely populated neighborhood” results in the death and destruction of many buses in that neighborhood.

Yet, Israel’s defenders seek to justify and normalize indiscriminate violence against civilian populations.  Ted Belman, editor of Israpundit.com, argues:

Israel is free to employ ALL munitions, tactics, equipment and personnel in her arsenal to defend herself against the outlaw Hamas terrorist organization. Short of the intentional targeting and murder of truly uninvolved and innocent civilians, Israel can (and should) operate as freely as she desires to protect her territorial sovereignty and the lives of her citizens.

What could be clearer.

What could be clearer, indeed.  Belman argues that there is a “non-existent duty to avoid killing enemy civilians.”  So long as Israel does not “intentionally kill civilians,” it can use indiscriminate violence to kill as many civilians as it needs, “even in disproportionate numbers” on the order of “100 of them…[to] 2 of ours.”  Belman says: “To my mind that is moral.”  This is Israeli and Zionist morality.

The actual ratio is very similar: during the Gaza conflict, conservative estimates from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have it that 1,387 Palestinians were killed (of which at least 773 did not take part in the hostilities at all), whereas only 9 Israelis were killed (of which only 3 were civilians).  This is a ratio of more than 250 to 1.  Three civilians were killed by deadly Qassam and Grad rockets, and in response 773 civilians–who took no part in hostilities at all–were slaughtered.  This, according to the mind of Ted Belman, is “moral.”

To conclude, Jewish law permits–and Israel routinely commits–acts of violence specifically targeting civilians, which is in addition to the licence granted to wreak indiscriminate violence against civilian populations.  Why is it then that all we ever talk about all day long is how Islamic law is this and that?  Why do we constantly hear serious pundits pontificating about “what’s wrong with Islam” and how Islam needs to go through a reformation, and yet we never hear a peep out of anyone about Jewish law?  Why the skewed discourse?  What gives?

The Top Five Ways “Jewish Law” Justifies Killing Civilians; #3: Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (II)

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #3 Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (I)

On the previous page, we saw how Halakha obligates Jewish armies to “leave one side open” when they attack a Gentile city; this is to allow civilians the opportunity to flee the city.  The corollary to this is that any civilians who don’t flee are automatically considered “combatants” and “human shields” who can be licitly targeted and killed.  Not only has this concept been used by Israel to promote the ethnic cleansing of Palestine but it is also used to absolve Israel of any blame for indiscriminate violence against civilian populations.

For example, during the Gaza War in 2008-2009, Israel supposedly dropped “hundreds of thousands of leaflets” and used “telephone calls” to warn residents of Gaza to evacuate the area before Israel dropped bombs on their heads (quotes from Alan Dershowitz).  Here Dershowitz is mimicking the line by the Israeli state itself; the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed ”the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) makes strenuous efforts to give advance notice to the civilian population” of impending Israeli attacks “so that they have an opportunity to leave the area.”

Dershowitz calls these “unprecedented efforts to avoid civilian casualties,” with Israeli-friendly Richard Kemp arguing that “during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”  Prof. Asa Kasher, author of the IDF Code of Conduct, argues that the Israel Defense Forces are “the most moral army in the world” (The Most Moral Army in the World™) because “[w]ho tries harder than we do to warn the neighbors [to leave a conflict zone]?”  Kasher then engages in typical Israeli self-congratulatory praise.  Israel’s America’s pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC shielded Israel from all criticism by noting that “Israel dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets and made 250,000 phone calls to targeted areas to warn citizens they were in danger.”

But only if Israel dropped not “hundreds of thousands” of leaflets but two hundred million leaflets!  If only 500,000 phone calls were made instead of “250,000!”  Then only a crass Anti-Semite could take umbrage at the IDF’s sojourn in Gaza that killed scores of civilians.  After all, doesn’t dropping a certain number of leaflets and making so many phone calls absolve oneself from all responsibility?

What utter nonsense.  Under international law–and using one’s own common sense–it is not permissible to carpet bomb an area with impunity just because warning leaflets were dropped beforehand–no matter if four billion leaflets and ten trillion phone calls are made in advance.  These “advanced warnings” are clearly meant to absolve Israel of all guilt for killing civilians, and have nothing to do with actually saving civilian lives.

What’s more is that the leaflets or phone calls do not give any information as to where the civilians are supposed to flee from or to.  In fact, the leaflets and phone calls can be seen as nothing more than threats designed to instill terror in the civilian population.  They are part of Israel’s psychological operations, not an ethical consideration.  Electronic Intifada reproduced one such leaflet:

To the residents of the northern Gaza Strip:

The terrorist actions originating from your areas are forcing the Israel Defense Forces to respond harshly to those who are subjecting the citizens of the State of Israel to danger.

We call on the Palestinian Authority to shoulder its responsibility to prevent these criminal acts.

We warn you of the danger of remaining in the areas which are being used to launch terrorist actions and we advise you to leave your homes.

We are not responsible for the consequences if you ignore our warning.

Israel Defense Forces

I could not “independently corroborate” this report, but The Guardian documents something very similar, reporting that Gazans would be called by Israelis, saying: “You and your family are requested to leave home because the IDF intends to attack it.”  The article says further that “the pre-recorded message department of the Israeli military has been gearing up again, threatening people apparently selected at random…”  What can this be other than terror by telephone?

The Guardian reported further:

The Israeli air force today dropped leaflets on the Gaza Strip warning residents that it plans to escalate its military offensive, now in its second week.

The army said it had dropped the flyers throughout Gaza and that the notices are meant as a “general warning”.

These “general warnings” do nothing but instill panic and terror in the Palestinian population.  They don’t know when or where the attacks are coming, and where they are supposed to flee to.  Considering that all the infrastructure, including highways and major roads, were destroyed, one wonders where and how the Gazans can flee?  Certainly, they cannot flee Gaza entirely, which is blocked off on all four sides; interestingly, the “fourth side” is not left open.

In addition to aiding Israel’s psychological operations against the Palestinians, these terror leaflets and phone calls absolve Israel of all blame when it then unleashes its fury against civilian populations. They were warned, and therefore they had it coming.  Israel then carpet bombs the area with impunity, its conscious clear from all guilt.  Then, Israelis pat themselves on the back, fascinated by their superior sense of morality and how they continue to have the The Most Moral Army in the World™.

Human Rights Watch had this to say about Israel’s terror leaflets and phone calls [Note: I broke this into paragraphs to make it more readable]:

In public statements, Israeli officials have countered allegations of unlawful civilian deaths by claiming that the IDF had warned Gaza’s civilian population in advance by dropping leaflets, making telephone calls, and breaking into local radio and television broadcasts. International humanitarian law encourages armed forces to provide advance warnings of an attack when circumstances permit, but the warnings must be “effective.”

In Gaza, the IDF’s warnings were too vague, often addressed generally to the “inhabitants of the area.” Leaflets were dropped from high altitudes and scattered over wide areas; many Gaza residents told Human Rights Watch that they disregarded the leaflets because they were so common and widely dispersed.

In addition, the warnings often did not instruct civilians on what steps to take or where to find safety after fleeing their homes. With the beginning of the ground offensive on January 3, the IDF warned residents to “move to city centers,” but then some city centers, such as in Gaza City, Beit Layiha, and Jabalya, came under attack, as two of the incidents documented in this report show.  Ultimately, Gaza residents had no safe place to flee, given the closure of Gaza’s borders, enforced mostly by Israel but also by Egypt in the south.

Finally, even after warnings have been issued, international humanitarian law requires attacking forces to take all feasible precautions to avoid loss of civilian life and property. Just because an attacking force has issued an effective warning does not mean it can disregard its obligations to civilians; attacking forces may not assume that all persons remaining in an area after a warning has been issued are legitimate targets for attack.

Clearly, Jewish law (as understood by Religious Zionists) and Israeli conduct seems to think otherwise: if you warn them, you can kill them.  And then, even as you wipe your blade clean of the blood just spilt, you can revel at your own greatness, your high level of morality.

How different are these leaflets and phone calls from the warnings issued by Zionist forces during the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948?  Israeli historian Benny Morris writes on p.191 of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem:

Throughout, the Haganah made effective use of Arabic language broadcasts and loudspeaker vans.  Haganah Radio announced that ‘the day of judgment had arrived’ and called on the inhabitants to ‘kick out the foreign criminals’ and to ‘move away from every house and street, from every neighbourhood, occupied by the foreign ciminals’.  The Haganah broadcasts called on the populace to ‘evacuate the women, the children and the old immediately, and send them to a safe heaven’.  The vans announced that the Haganah had gained control of all the approaches to the city…

Morris calls these “psychological warfare broadcasts” designed to “stun” and cause “demoralization” of the enemy population.  The tactic worked, with terror-stricken Palestinians fleeing from their homes and villages en masse.

There is thus a continuity in Israel’s terror tactics, hardly something for pro-Israeli apologists to boast about.  The thing that makes Israelis somewhat unique is that they don’t stick to justifying their tactics, but go so far as to make outlandish claims such as being The Most Moral Army in the World™.  This is a sort of jingle that Israel’s propagandists hope will stick in our heads if they just keep repeating it often enough.  A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth.

*  *  *  *  *

Zionists seem to think that they can bomb a city with impunity once they’ve warned its inhabitants beforehand.  Certainly, this is the dominant theme in Religious Zionist circles.  In an entitled Purity of Arms, the Jerusalem Post documents the views of the “the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis” who think that “the IDF bears no moral responsibility” for civilian deaths in Gaza:

Most of the rabbis cited Maimonides (1135-1204), one of the most important halachic authorities in Jewish history, as proof that collateral damage, including civilian deaths, is permitted. Maimonides pointed out the obligation of a Jewish army to leave an enemy force an open route to retreat, even in an obligatory war like the one waged in the North. “Whoever wishes to escape must be allowed to escape… whoever wishes to make peace can make peace… whoever wishes to fight… is attacked until conquest is achieved,” writes Maimonides in his Laws of Kings.  Maimonides’ ruling fits the IDF’s policy of forewarning civilian populations of air attacks, thus giving them the chance to escape. However, once noncombatants have been warned, the IDF bears no moral responsibility for their lives if they are unintentionally killed along with terrorists, arms and ammunition stockpiles, according to Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitz, head of the Birkat Moshe Hesder Yeshiva and an expert on Maimonides. This is true, says Rabinovitz, even when the civilians are held against their will by Hizbullah, as was the case in many incidents, especially in predominantly Christian Lebanese neighborhoods. “It is Hizbullah’s fault if these people are killed, not ours,” says Rabinovitz, echoing the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis.

Previously, we saw how such views were espoused in War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, written by the leading Orthodox Jewish minds around the world.  Here, we see that this views are “echo[ed] by the vast majority of Religious Zionist rabbis” in Israel.

* * * * *

As I stated previously:

To be fair, Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas.  Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith.  Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

Prof. Alan Dershwoitz justifies ethnic cleansing in his book Chutzpah.  Norman Finkelstein writes on p.47 of Beyond Chutzpah:

Dershowitz explicitly lends support to….collective punishment such as the “automatic destruction” of a Palestinian village after each terrorist attack (“home destruction is entirely moral…among the most moral and calibrated responses”); torture such as a “needle being shoved under the fingernails” (“I want maximal pain…the most excruciating, intense, immediate pain”); and ethnic cleansing (“Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary…[I]t is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal”).

Did Finkelstein take the statement out of context, as Dershowitz later claimed?  In fact, when we look at the entire passage, it is more damning against Dershowitz.  The self-professed “civil libertarian and human rights activist” Alan Dershowitz writes on p.215 of Chutzpah:

Political solutions often require the movement of people, and such movement is not always voluntary.  Making Arab families move–intact–from one Arab village or town to another may constitute a human rights violation.  But in the whole spectrum of human rights issues–especially taking into account the events in Europe during the 1940s–it is a fifth-rate issue analogous in many respects to some massive urban renewal or other projects that require large-scale movement of people.

As can be seen, Finkelstein faithfully reproduced Dershowitz’s words.  Dershowitz responded by whining:

Another made-up quotation by Finkelstein is his claim that in my book Chutzpah I analogized “ethnic cleansings” to “urban renewal.”  I say nothing of the kind in Chutzpah.  I never even mention “ethnic cleansing.”

Dershowitz’s only response amounts to: But, I didn’t use the word ”ethnic cleansing!”  It would be like someone endorsing Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers, only to protest when someone else “accused” him of supporting the Holocaust.  But I never used the word ”Holocaust.”

Is the esteemed Harvard law professor ignorant of the meaning of the word “ethnic cleansing?”  The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a body established by the United Nations, states: “ethnic cleansing alone—that is, the forcible expulsion of the members of a protected group…”

Therefore, when Alan Dershowitz says that it wouldn’t be a big deal to “make Arab families move–intact–from one village or town to another” (which he clarifies would “not always [be] voluntary”), this is the justification of ethnic cleansing.  Dershowitz focusing on the words “ethnic cleansing” instead of the concept shows how hollow his response against Finkelstein is.

That Dershowitz is referring to nothing short of ethnic cleansing can be ascertained without a shadow of doubt from his next few paragraphs, in which he not only references other acts of ethnic cleansing, but tries to justify them (in order that he can then justify the ethnic cleansing ”forced transfer” of Palestinians); writes Dershowitz on p.216:

For example, following the end of World War II, approximately fifteen million ethnic Germans were forcibly expelled from their homes in Poland, Czechoslavakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and other Central and Eastern European areas where their families had lived for centuries.  Two million died during this forced expulsion. Czechoslovakia alone expelled nearly three million Sudeten Germans, turning them into displaced persons. The United States, Great Britain, and the international  community in general approved these expulsions, as necessary to secure a more lasting peace. The presence of “disloyal minorities,” or so-called fifth columns, had helped to destabilize Europe on the eve of World War II.  It would be a source of increased stability if “population transfers” could produce a new Europe where Germans lived only in the two Germanies and other nations had populations that reflected their own ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.  President Franklin Roosevelt’s assistant Harry Hopkins memorialized his boss’s view that although transfer of ethnic Germans “is a hard procedure,” it is the only way to maintain peace.”

The words in bold are the quintessential reasoning behind ethnic cleansing: using “population transfers” to purify the land of ethnic minorities would increase Europe’s stability and get rid of “fifth columns.”  Dershowitz goes on, justifying the “forced transfer” of “fifteen million ethnic Germans” (one wonders how the pro-Israel community would react if a German justified the ethnic cleansing of “fifteen million ethnic Jews”–do you think that such a person would still be the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University?).  Writes Dershowitz:

The ethnic German populations of these European countries had included individual traitors, saboteurs, and fifth columnists.  But they had also included significant numbers of simple farmers, factory workers, and apolitical people who just happened to speak German and live in German enclaves. But since ”their people” had started the war and then lost, it was deemed appropriate for entire ethnic German communities to bear the burden of relocation in order to reduce the likelihood of future wars. On the scale of human rights violations, forced transfer of minority ethnic populations in order to enhance the stability of the region did not weigh heavily in the postwar era.

After justifying the forced expulsion of fifteen million ethnic Germans because “their people” had started the war, Dershowitz writes:

Similarly, many Arab residents of the new Jewish nation of Israel were encouraged to emigrate to Islamic countries by a combination of factors, including fear, a desire to live under Islamic rule, and political considerations.*

The exchange of populations in the Middle East served some of the same goals as the far more extensive, lethal, and systematic one that was taking place in Europe. It would remove potential fifth columns, stabilize the region, and enhance the prospects for peace.

* In assessing the morality of these transfers, it must be recalled that many Palestinian leaders supported Hitler during World War II. They also actively and successfully opposed opening the doors of Palestine to Jewish immigration during the Holocaust.  They were not–as is sometimes claimed–entirely innocent bystanders to the Holocaust. They bear some moral responsibility.

There are too many lies above to refute, but for now, let us lay to rest the issue of whether or not Alan Dershowitz is justifying the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.  But I didn’t use the word ”ethnic cleansing!”  

*  *  *  *  *

The support for ethnic cleansing runs very high among Zionist Jews, especially among Religious Zionists but also voiced by “liberal, secular” elements of the Zionist community (such as Alan Dershowitz).  Indeed, according to a survey conducted by Haifa University’s Center for the Study of National Security a majority of Israeli Jews support a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, with a quarter saying they would consider voting for the Kahanist party Kach, known for its vocal support of ethnic cleansing as a resolution to the conflict.

As we have seen, Jewish law and war ethics permit shedding the blood of civilians who directly and indirectly “support and encourage” the war effort (even if just by “mere words”), as well as those civilians–women, children, and babies included–who passively support hostilities.  ”Passive” support refers to the mere act of living in the same city as a terrorist or militant.  ”Even babes in their mothers’ arms are to be killed” (these are the words of Rabbi Michael J. Broyde who was quoting, and agreeing with, Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel on p.24 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition).  This is the Zionist Jewish justification for collective punishment.

Collective punishment is taken to its logical conclusion, with the endorsement of ethnic cleansing.  Besieged civilians who “refuse” to leave the city (such as the stubborn “babes in their mothers’ arms”) are licit to kill.  It seems then that, under Jewish law, the only type of civilian that is protected from harm or death–and this too is something debatable–is the one who flees his homeland.  Everyone else can be slaughtered.  In other words, Halakha offers the enemy civilian population two options: flee or die.  The choice is between ethnic cleansing and massacre.  Pick your poison.

Note: The next part of this series will be published shortly.

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #3: Promoting Ethnic Cleansing (I)

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher, pages I, II, III, and IV

We have seen previously (see pages IIIIII, and IV) how Halakha permits collective punishment.  It is perhaps no surprise then that ethnic cleansing, the logical conclusion of collective punishment, is also facilitated.

When a Jewish army is about to attack a Gentile city, it must issue an ultimatum offering the besieged population three options: (1) flee, (2) subservience and tribute, or (3) war and death.  To this effect, Rabbi Michael J. Broyde cites the great Maimonides on p.20 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition in a section entitled “The Civilian, the Siege, and the Standard of Conduct:”

Mamoinides states:

Joshua, before he entered the land of Israel, sent three letters to its inhabitants. The first one said that those that wish to flee [the oncoming army] should flee.  The second one said that those that wish to make peace should make peace.  The third letter said that those that want to fight a war should prepare to fight a war should prepare to fight a war.

As for the second option of “peace,” this is clarified on p.212:

Before undertaking the siege of a hostile city, offers of peace must be undertaken.  The terms are subservience and tribute.

Here, we come to understand an interesting Jewish war ethic: the prohibition to surround a city on all four sides.  Writes Broyde on pp.20-21:

Maimonides codifies a number of specific rules of military ethics, all based on Talmudic sources:

When one surrounds a city to lay siege to it, it is prohibited to surround it from four sides; only three sides are permissible.  One must leave a place for inhabitants to flee for all those who wish to abscond to save their life.

Broyde clarifies:

I would add, however, that I do not understand Maimonides’ words literally.  It is not surrounding the city on all four sides that is prohibited–rather, it is the preventing of the outflow of civilians or soldiers who are seeking to flee.  Of course, Jewish law would allow one to stop the inflow of supplies to a besieged city through this fourth side.

Sounds pretty ethical, right?  But here’s the rub: because Halakha commands the Jewish military to always allow civilians to flee the city, those civilians who fail to do so automatically forfeit their civilian status and are classified as combatants.  Writes R. Broyde on p.22:

This approach [allowing civilians to flee] solves another difficult problem according to Jewish law: the role of the “innocent” civilian in combat.  Since the Jewish tradition accepts that civilians (and soldiers who are surrendering) are always entitled to flee from the scene of the battle, it would logically follow that all who remain voluntarily are classified as combatants, since the opportunity to leave is continuously present.  Particularly in combination with Joshua’s practice of sending letters of warning in advance of combat, this legal approach limits greatly the role of the doctrine of “innocent civilian” in the Jewish tradition.  Essentially, the Jewish tradition feels that innocent civilians should do their very best to remove themselves from the battlefield, and those who remain are not so innocent.  If one voluntarily stays in a city that is under siege, one assumes the mantle of combatant. [90]

In footnote 90, Broyde says that “I would apply this rule in modern day combat situations to all civilians who remain voluntarily in the locale of the war in a way which facilitates combat.”  Translation: these Arab civilians who don’t flee for their lives when Israel invades them are “not so innocent” and “assume[] the mantle of combatant.”

This disturbing Jewish war ethic finds itself in the introduction of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, on p.xvii-xviii:

Of course, Jewish law sometimes demands overtures prior to declaring war to afford all who wish the opportunity to depart (known in Halakhah as the duty to surround on only three sides).  Those who remain, however–including sympathetic civilians–are no longer innocents, and their death, when militarily necessary, is according to Broyde unfortunate but halakhically proper.

The phrase “including sympathetic civilians” implies quite clearly that also included in this are those other than sympathetic civilians–anyone who “voluntarily” stays behind.  One wonders: do Israeli rockets stop before they detonate on Palestinian heads, and ask them: “Are you voluntarily staying behind or not?”  In reality, there is no way to know how who stays behind voluntarily or not–they are all licit to slaughter.  Of course, any civilian deaths are of course “unfortunate,” something that Palestinians take great solace in knowing.

Israel routinely launches massive operations against Palestinians, often warning the civilians beforehand with leaflets and telephone calls.  By so warning, the Israelis absolve themselves of all culpability: the civilians who refuse to flee their homes are no longer innocent in Israeli eyes and become licit to kill.  Scores of Palestinians subsequently die and then the Israelis pat themselves on the back for being so moral: look at how moral and ethical we are that we actually warn civilians ahead of time that we are going to bomb them.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Broyde and other Jewish religious authorities indulge themselves in self-congratulatory awe about how immensely moral and ethical Halakha is in this regard: Jewish law has such a great emphasis on protecting civilians that we have an obligation to leave a fourth side open for them; we are so great and ethical.  Yet,  Nahmanides elaborates on this obligation in a way that clearly explains the moral rationale behind “leaving a fourth side open,” saying (as quoted on p.21 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition):

God commanded us that when we lay siege to a city that we leave one of the sides without a siege so as to give them a place to flee to.  It is from this commandment that we learn to deal with compassion even with our enemies at a time of war; in addition, by giving our enemies a place to flee to, they will not charge at us with as much force.

Rabbi Shaul Israeli, considered  “one of the most important rabbis of the Religious Zionist school of thought” and author of the influential monograph on civilians in the Jewish war ethic, noted that Maimonides [alternately known as Rambam] came to the same conclusion as Nahmanides did: the obligation to leave a fourth side open is of military benefit to the Jewish army.  Rabbi Gil Student writes:

[Rabbi Shaul Israeli] explains that according to the Rambam this rule is a military tactic, i.e. the best way to create a siege is to leave a side open so the fighters have an escape route and do not need to fight to the end.

This seems to be the real rationale for the rule obligating “a fourth side” open: it facilitates the speedy and efficient removal of a native population, the necessary component of ethnic cleansing.  ”Humanitarian” concern seems to have very little to do with this, since the rule was derived from the Biblical Joshua, who slaughtered the inhabitants of a city when he conquered it.

It is true that Joshua offered some civilian populations the opportunity to flee before he invaded them (which he did by leaving open one side of the city).  But if this was done out of compassion for them, then why did Joshua kill the civilians within the city once he conquered it?  Therefore, it seems that this rule is a tactical maneuver to facilitate ethnic cleansing.

That this has very little to do with “humanitarian concern” can be gleaned from the fact that the rule to leave a side open is only to be enforced when it is beneficial from a tactical standpoint to do so.  Rabbi Shaul Israeli notes that “Rambam [said] this rule is a military tactic” but that also “this is a humanitarian law.” R. Israeli reconciles these two statements by saying: “Therefore, according to the Rambam this rule only applies when the tactic is [militarily] appropriate,” in which case it is understood to be humanitarian too.  How very convenient.

One sees this convenience in modern day Israel: during the illegal siege of Beirut (in Lebanon) by Israeli forces, a heated discussion took place about its legality from a Halakhic perspective.  The overwhelming opinion was that the action was permitted under Jewish law.  Rabbi Shaul Israeli argued that not only was the rule to leave a side open applicable only when it was tactically useful to do so, but also that the rule simply did not apply to “Obligatory wars,” a special class of war under Jewish law.  (There is widespread consensus that Israel’s wars today are considered Obligatory wars.)

Prof. Arye Edrei writes in Divine Spirit and Physical Power:

The message inherent in Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli’s argument is clear: the law to leave the fourth side open is not applicable today.

By linking the rule to tactical benefit, Jewish law is pliable enough to permit facilitation of “forced transfer of Palestinians” (Israeli euphemism for ethnic cleansing) when convenient–and massacre when desired.

Of note is that, for all their self-congratulatory awe at how immensely moral Jewish law is for demanding leaving a side of the city open for civilians, Religious Zionist rabbis are in the lead calling for more regressive methods against Palestinians.  It is certainly the rare exception that any of them would call the Israeli siege of Palestinians sinful or blameworthy.

Even Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who voiced the opposing view that it is imperative to leave a fourth side open in Obligatory wars, believed that “the Israeli army fulfilled this commandment in the siege of Beirut.”  Similarly, the vast majority of Israeli religious leaders gave their blessing to the Gaza blockade.

*  *  *  *  *

From its birth to the present day, Israel has used this warped mentality to facilitate ethnic cleansing and the slaughter of civilians.  During the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948-1949, Zionist forces efficiently emptied over four-hundred Palestinian villages and cities.  Israeli historian Ilan Pappe writes on p.101 of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine that Jewish forces “tried to force a swift departure” of the indigenous Palestinian population “by issuing an ultimatum to the people to leave their homes.”  On p.133, Prof. Pappe writes:

The [Jewish] brigade usually closed in on villages from three flanks, tactically creating an ‘open gate’ on the fourth flank through which they could drive the people out.

This rule (of “leaving the fourth side open”) and its important corollary (whoever refuses to leave “assumes the mantle of combatant”) continue to be exploited by Israel today.  Palestinians who refuse to flee are accused of willingly converting themselves into “human shields.”

Such views are articulated by leading Israeli intellectuals, such as Prof. Asa Kasher (author of the much touted Code of Conduct of the Israel Defense Forces).  Nadene Goldfoot summarizes Prof. Asa Kasher’s views: “If people don’t leave the combat zone they become a human shield for the terrorists and thus becomes part of the war.”  Kasher’s quote can be found in the Jewish Post, in which he accuses a civilian who “doesn’t want to leave” of “turn[ing] into the human shield of the terrorist.”

What could possibly be more morbid than placing the blame on the victim?  But this is exactly what Israel’s apologists do.  To add another layer to the absurdity, they then revel at their own magnificence, at how morally superior they are–how they have The Most Moral Army in the World™.

Is it really any surprise that the Jewish tradition promotes ethnic cleansing, considering that this is an overwhelmingly prevalent theme throughout the Bible?   (See parts 123456-i6-ii6-iii6-iv789-i, and 9-ii of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.)  But always remember: Islam is uniquely violent.

Note: The next page of “Promoting Ethnic Cleansing” will be published shortly.

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

We have just seen how the mainstream, Orthodox Jewish rabbinical leadership in Israel justifies collective punishment.  However, as I noted previously, it is important to remember that

Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas.  Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith.  Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

In a 2002 article in the Jerusalem Post, Prof. Alan Dershowitz argued that the Israeli government should not only destroy Palestinian homes but entire villages, arguing that Israel should

announce the first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings.

The response will be automatic. The order will have been given in advance of the terrorist attacks and there will be no discretion. The point is to make the automatic destruction of the village the fault of the Palestinian terrorists who had advance warnings of the specific consequences of their action. The soldiers would simply be acting as the means for carrying out a previously announced policy of retaliation against a designated target.

Further acts of terrorism would trigger further destruction of specifically named locations. The “waiting list” targets would be made public and circulated throughout the Palestinian-controlled areas. If this automatic policy of destroying targets announced in advance is carried out with the full support of the entire government, including those who are committed to a resumption of the peace process, a clear message will be sent to the Palestinian people: Every time terrorists blow themselves up and kill civilians, they are also blowing up one of their own villages.

In other words, whenever a Palestinian suicide bomber kills a few Israeli civilians, Israel will respond by decimating an entire village.  This is not too different from Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s call to incur Palestinian civilian deaths–”whatever it takes to make them stop.”

Norman Finkelstein writes on pp.175-176 of Beyond Chutzpah:

Indeed, [Alan Dershowitz] advocates not only individual house demolitions, but also “the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations” after each Palestinian attack.  ”The response will be automatic.”  Such massive destruction, he concludes, will further “the noble causes” of reducing terrorism and promoting peace…It is hard to make out any difference between the policy Dershowitz advocates and the Nazi destruction of Lidice, for which he expresses abhorrence–except that Jews, not Germans, would be implementing it.

Lidice was a village destroyed by Nazi forces in retaliation for the murder of a Nazi official.  One finds it difficult not to see the similarity between the policy of retaliating against Palestinians by destroying their villages and what happened to Lidice.  Indeed, this comparison was first invoked by the Israelis themselves.  Finkelstein writes:

The association of destroying villages with Lidice occasionally crops up in the history of Zionism. In his study of the first Arab-Israeli war, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (2004), Benny Morris reports: “As Jewish losses mounted [in December 1947], the policy-makers’ and, in some localities, local Haganah commanders’ hearts grew steadily harder… Binyamin Mintz, the leader of the orthodox Po’alei Agudat Yisrael Party, said with respect to a certain village in the Negev: ‘If the possibility arises of evicting all its inhabitants and destroying it, this must be done.’ (But Sapir, the mayor of Petah Tikva and a major orange-grove owner, argued against destroying whole villages, ‘even small [ones]… This recalls Lidice – [and] here is food for thought.’)” (pp. 73-4)

One thing pro-Israeli apologists cannot tolerate whatsoever is Nazi comparisons (only they are allowed to compare this and that Arab/Muslim leader to Adolf Hitler).  Therefore, it was no surprise that Alan Dershowitz defended himself from these “outrageous” charges, saying: “In Finkelstein’s world, ‘destroying empty houses’ in order to deter terrorism is the equivalent of genocide.”

Of course, Norman Finkelstein never equated this to “genocide.”  Alan Dershowitz’s policy would constitute a war crime, a massacre, and an act of ethnic cleansing (running an entire village out of their homes is ethnic cleansing)–but not genocide.  That Dersowitz supports ethnic cleansing but not genocide is hardly reassuring.  It is the difference of being a supporter of rape but not murder.  Furthermore, Alan Dershowitz’s defense is misleading.  His initial statement clearly stated that “there will be no distinction.”  The obvious and apparent reading of Dershowitz’s words in the Jerusalem Post article clearly indicates that civilians will be killed if they do not vacate their homes–and that these deaths will be blamed on Palestinian terrorists.

One can gauge Alan Dershowitz’s level of morality by noting that he defends himself from accusations of supporting Israeli massacres by clarifying his position as only supporting the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages.  Pick your poison, Prof. Dershowitz; either way, you are a promoter of war crimes.  Both options constitute collective punishment.

*  *  *  *  *

That the “liberal, secular” Dershowitz and the Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Eliyahu endorse collective punishment is hardly surprising when we consider that a majority of Israeli Jews support using methods of collective punishment against Palestinians.  On p.345 of Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein cites a 2003 study (by the Israel pollster Asher Arian) that found 88% of Israelis supporting house demolitions (in the words of Alan Dershowitz on p.xxxv of The Case for Israel ”home destruction is entirely moral”).  It seems that an even greater percentage of Israelis support carpet bombing of civilian populations, evidenced by the overwhelming support for the Gaza Massacre; in this regard, the Jerusalem Post notes one such poll which

found that 92% of Israeli Jews justify the air force’s attacks in Gaza despite the suffering of the civilian population in the Strip and the damage they cause to infrastructure

Support for using nuclear strikes is also high, with an astronomical 72% of Israelis endorsing such tactics; meanwhile, Israel had the “lowest public support for destroying nuclear arms” out of the countries polled.  Compare this to those warlike, militant Iranians: a majority of Iranians (58%) opposed acquiring nuclear weaponry, citing nuclear warfare as “un-Islamic,” with “nearly three out of four (72%) say[ing] they support the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons as stated in the NPT.”

*  *  *  *  *

With such warlike attitudes dominating in Israeli religious and political discourse, it is hardly surprising to find the Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the most widely circulated paper in Israel, running an op-ed from its then editor-in-chief calling “to erase villages,” imploring God: “may their innocents die instead of ours.” Included in this death plea were “[Hizbullah’s] helpers, their collaborators, the ones who turn a blind eye, and all those in contact with Hizbullah.”  They are all guilty.

Such views, widely expressed in Israeli society, are perfectly aligned with the rabbinical tradition.  In The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel, Prof. Ya’akov Blidstein quotes the influential fifteenth-century Talmudic scholar, the Maharal of Prague, who argued:

Even though there are many who did not do [anything], this makes no difference.  As they belong to the same nation which did them harm, [it is] allowed to wage war against them.

The Maharal noted that “thus it is in all wars.”  Blidstein then quotes Rabbi Shaul Israeli who says:

The halakhah allows war with Gentiles, and then this prohibition against causing harm to life is necessary nullified.  Nor have we found in war that there is any obligation to be careful and to discriminate between blood and blood [combatants vs. civilians].

Yet, discriminating “between blood and blood” is the essence of morality in war.  Yoram Dinstein, a world-renowned expert on international law and the laws of war, opines: “The preservation of this sharp dichotomy is the main bulwark against methods of barbarism in modern warfare” (as quoted on p.xvi of Beyond Chutzpah).  Collective punishment is not just morally bankrupt–it is pure barbarism.

Could it then be argued that Sharia jihad Quran Halakha, as understood by Modern Orthodoxy, is barbaric?  Or that it is incompatible with the just war theory?  The Yesha Rabbinical Council of Israel (which oversees the Jewish communities in “Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip”) certainly thinks so, issuing the following statement:

According to Jewish law, during a time of battle and war, there is no such term as ‘innocents’ of the enemy.

All of the discussions on Christian morality are weakening the spirit of the army and the nation and are costing us in the blood of our soldiers and civilians.

But always remember: it is Islam that is so uniquely violent.

Note:  The next part of this series will be published within 24-72 hours.

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (II)

Far from teaching an ethos of forgiveness, Jewish law–as understood by Orthodox Judaism in Israel–encourages revenge and retaliation.  In this vein did Chief Rabbi of Safed in Israel, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, call for “state-sanctioned revenge” against Arabs.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported:

The chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, is calling on the government to carry out “state-sanctioned revenge” against Arabs in order to, in his words, restore Israel’s deterrence.

Rabbi Eliyahu bellowed:

It’s time to call the child by its name: Revenge, revenge, revenge. We mustn’t forget. We have to take horrible revenge for the terrorist attack at Mercaz Harav yeshiva.

He said this was necessary because the Arabs “understand very well the language of revenge.”  It is, of course, a widely held (racist) belief in Israel that Arabs understand only one language: violence.

Once again, the urge of pro-Israeli apologists in the United States is to claim that Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu is some fringe, radical element.  And once again, this would be misleading.  Not only does Eliyahu hold the position of Chief Rabbi in Safed, a city in the Northern District of Israel, but he is widely recognized as one of the leaders of Religious Zionism.  Israel National News, part of Arutz Sheva (an Israeli media network aligned with Religious Zionism), refers to Eliyahu as one of the “top rabbis in the religious-Zionist camp.”  Ynetnews, the English website of Israel’s most-read newspaper, calls him “a prominent religious Zionism leader.”  Haaretz refers to R. Eliyahu as one of a group of “prominent rabbis.”  And TorahMusings.com finds him prominent enough to reference for religious guidance.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu argued for a policy of ”hanging the children of the terrorist who carried out the attack in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva from a tree.”  (How much different is this than official Israeli policy of destroying the homes of (alleged) terrorists, with their children in it?)

R. Eliyahu went further and called for carpet bombing against civilian populations, saying:

And if they do not stop after 1,000 [deaths] then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s father, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, voiced similar views, arguing in a letter that “all civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty.”  He further argued that “there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza…” R. Mordechai Eliyahu opined:

According to Jewish war ethics, an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals.  In Gaza, the entire populace is responsible because they do nothing to stop the firing of Kassam rockets.

The late Mordechai Eliyahu (1929-2010) was the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel.  He was the religious head of the entire Sephardic Jewish population in the country.  Would our opponents claim that he too was a marginal fringe, radical character?

This highly-esteemed Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel had this to say about “revenge:”

Even when we seek revenge, it is important to make one thing clear – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs. The Talmud states that if gentiles rob Israel of silver they will pay it back in gold, and all that is taken will be paid back in folds, but in cases like these there is nothing to pay back, since as I said – the life of one yeshiva boy is worth more than the lives of 1,000 Arabs.

An article in the Jerusalem Post summarizes these abhorrent views [formatting note: I have broken up the article into paragraphs to make it more readable and less of an eyesore]:

Eliyahu advocates carpet bombing Gaza
Says there is no moral prohibition against killing civilians to save Jews.

All civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty for Kassam attacks on Sderot, former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu has written in a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Eliyahu ruled that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings.

The letter, published in Olam Katan [Small World], a weekly pamphlet to be distributed in synagogues nationwide this Friday, cited the biblical story of the Shechem massacre (Genesis 34) and Maimonides’ commentary (Laws of Kings 9, 14) on the story as proof texts for his legal decision.

According to Jewish war ethics, wrote Eliyahu, an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals.  In Gaza, the entire populace is responsible because they do nothing to stop the firing of Kassam rockets.

The former chief rabbi also said it was forbidden to risk the lives of Jews in Sderot or the lives of IDF soldiers for fear of injuring or killing Palestinian noncombatants living in Gaza. Eliyahu could not be reached for an interview.

However, Eliyahu’s son, Shmuel Eliyahu, who is chief rabbi of Safed, said his father opposed a ground troop incursion into Gaza that would endanger IDF soldiers. Rather, he advocated carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life.

“If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand,” said Shmuel Eliyahu. “And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.”

In the letter, Eliyahu quoted from Psalms. “I will pursue my enemies and apprehend them and I will not desist until I have eradicated them.” Eliyahu wrote that “This is a message to all leaders of the Jewish people not to be compassionate with those who shoot [rockets] at civilians in their houses.”

As we have seen, these views are held by mainstream Modern Orthodox Judaism, enshrined in War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, that notable work produced by the leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries from all over the world.  Controversy surrounded Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s statements only because of the way he expressed them: too directly and too bluntly; more importantly, he was unfortunate enough to catch media attention in a time Israel was on the receiving end of international criticism.

R. Eliyahu clarified his position, saying:

I’m not talking about individual people in particular [to take revenge], I’m talking about the state.

This clarification makes it clear that Eliyahu’s stance lines up properly with Jewish orthodoxy.  Prof. Gerald J. Blidstein writes in The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel:

The killing of civilians is acceptable, provided it is initiated by sovereign authority [the Israeli government], not by individuals taking the law (quite literally) into their own hands.

Mainstream Orthodoxy does not differ with the “Jewish Underground” in principle over the killing of Arab civilians.  Instead, the difference is only in that the latter permits the individual to carry out these acts, whereas the former restricts that “right” to the government.

Certainly, revenge in war is something accepted by Religious Zionism.  Rabbi Moshe Zemer writes in Evolving Halakhah:

Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli’s summary leaves no room for doubt: It follows that there is a place for reprisal actions and revenge against the enemies of Israel and that such action falls into the category of an Obligatory War.

Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, like Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, justifies collective punishment by invoking Biblical narratives.  In one particular story, seven innocents are killed in retaliation for an injustice. Writes Broyde on pp.5-6 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition:

The Talmud makes no mention of the fact that the underlying act [of retaliation]–the murder of seven absolutely innocent people as an act of retaliation–violates the Jewish rules of murder.  The reason that is so is clear.  This retaliatory conduct in wartime does not violate any such prohibition.

Broyde concludes that “retaliation when done to teach a lesson is not a general violation of Jewish law.”  Rabbi Norman Lamm adds helpfully (on p.235):

In contemporary society, vengeance is considered morally objectionable.  Recently, however, scientists have discovered revenge can be quite “normal” and often plays a positive role in human relations.

This “positive role” includes the merciless slaughter of innocent civilians.

Next: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (II)

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2011 by loonwatch

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

In The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel, Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein cites Rabbi Yoezer Ariel’s opinion that the Israeli government–but not the Israeli citizen–is permitted to target and kill civilians in order to incur a collective punishment on the enemy population.  Blidstein notes that this is accepted as the “moderate” opinion–and the mainstream one–in Religious Zionism.  It is moderate in relation to the more extreme view taken by the Jewish Underground, which permits individual Israeli citizens to take the law into their own hands.

Blidstein writes that Rabbi Yoezer Ariel’s view allowed

for the deliberate killing of citizens in times of war.  However, the term “at times of war” is itself critical.  According to Rabbi Ariel, war may only be conducted by “a king or by the public, whose authority is like that of a king,” a condition already hinted at in the words of Rabbi H. D. Halevi.  There is no state of war without such an authorized decision [from the king or its equivalent]; hence, “an individual may not declare war [on his own].”  Rabbi Ariel interprets Maimonides’s references to the event [of Dina] in a similar way.

Blidstein concludes:

On the whole, then, the thrust of [Rabbi Yoezer] Ariel’s article is pragmatic, not principled.  The killing of civilians is acceptable, provided it is initiated by sovereign authority, not by individuals taking the law (quite literally) in their own hands.

What is more disturbing is that the great Maimonides does not restrict this permission to the government; writes Blidstein:

Rabbi [Yoezer] Ariel admits that this approach is not shared by all the medieval authorities.  It does not reflect, for example, the Maimonidean attitude toward the subject; Maimonides allows–and even encourages–the individual to act. However, Ariel argues, the vast majority of the rishonim did not concur with this view, recognizing as legitimate such action only on the part of the state, and not the individual.  This is true even if study of the sources which he cites indicates a more complex study.

So, we have an accepted, minority view–held by Maimonides no less–that individuals (such as Israeli settlers) are permitted to kill civilians as a form of collective punishment.  Meanwhile, the so-called “moderate,” mainstream opinion is that this right rests with the Israeli state alone.  (Note, however, that Blidstein is hesitant to agree with Ariel’s claim that “the vast majority of the rishonim [the “classical” halakhic authorities] did not concur with this view,” arguing that the reality is much more “complex.”  What one can glean from this is that there were other rabbinical authorities of the past who permitted individual Jews to kill non-Jews, who can be quoted by the Jewish Underground types.)

It should also be pointed out in The Orthodox Forum’s annual book War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Rabbi Michael J. Broyde rejects Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s view that collective punishment (even against babies) is prohibited.  Indeed, Prof. Ya’akov Blidstein notes that Goren’s view was not taken seriously by other Religious Zionist rabbis because it “is not based upon Talmudic sources,” which “naturally weakens its halakhic impact and authority.”

Rabbi Shlomo Goren was the first Chief Rabbi of the IDF.  Although he had some very extreme views (such as calling it a “tragedy” that Jews did not “blow up” the Dome of the Rock Mosque and Al-Aqsa Mosque–a view held by the Jewish Underground), with regard to “collective punishment” he held the non-Talmudic view.

Yet, by Operation Cast Lead (the Gaza War) in 2009, the IDF rabbinate had shifted to the right.  The new Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Avichai Rontzki, issued statements in line with the majority view among Religious Zionists, commanding soldiers that “no mercy should be shown” to the enemy (the Gazan population).  An “IDF rabbinate publication” quoted the works of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner saying “When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers.”  To make it very clear that “the enemy” referred to here was the civilian population, the IDF publication likened the Palestinians to the Bible’s Philistines, who were exterminated to clear the land for the Jews.

When an Israeli human rights group cried foul at this IDF publication, the Israeli government scrambled to do damage control.  Naturally, their “investigation” claimed that the publication was distributed only in a few isolates places and had not been properly vetted.  Western news outlets reassured us that Rabbi Shlomo Aviner was just an “ultra-nationalist,” a fringe, radical element in Israel.

Yet, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is not some fringe, radical element in Israel.  Instead, he is a well-respected rabbi of Modern Orthodox Judaism in Israel.  As the Jerusalem Post notes, R. Aviner “is considered one of the spiritual leaders of the Religious Zionist movement.”  The Jewish Daily Forward calls him “one of the leading Religious Zionist rabbis.”  Ynetnews, the English website of Israel’s most-read newspaper, calls him ”one of Religious Zionism’s leading rabbis.”  Haaretz calls him “a leading Yesha rabbi” and “one of religious Zionism’s most influential rabbis.”  Israel National News, part of Arutz Sheva (an Israeli media network aligned with Religious Zionism), calls Aviner “a well-respected rabbinical authority within much of the religious-Zionist sector.”

TorahMusings.com, an extremely popular blog supervised by Orthodox rabbis, says:

To place R. [Shlomo] Aviner into contemporary society, he is on the left wing of right wing Religious Zionists.

Left wing?  One can only imagine what the right wing is.  In other words, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is perfectly in the mainstream of Religious Zionism–nay, he is one of its “spiritual leaders.”

R. Aviner is well-respected in Orthodox circles.  He has written articles that appear on many mainstream Jewish and mainstream Orthodox Jewish websites, including The Jerusalem PostOrthodox Union website (ou.com), Israel Nation News, and TorahMusings.

Aside from this, of course, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner is the rosh yeshiva (dean) of the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva, a Religious Zionist Talmudic academy in Jerusalem that fundraisers in the United States.  It is the same institution where Rabbi Abraham Kook, the “main ideologue of modern religious Zionism,” sent his son to study.  Shlomo Aviner is also the Chief Rabbi of Beit El.  He can hardly be considered a fringe character.

Indeed, R. Shlomo Aviner moves in the same circles as the Modern Orthodox rabbis of The Orthodox Forum and the authors of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.  On TorahMusing’s website, we find that Rabbi Shlomo Aviner shared the same podium in New York state with none other than Rabbi Michael J. Broyde and Rabbi Norman Lamm.

Yet, when this controversy broke about the IDF’s chief rabbi using a publication with quotes from Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Israel’s defenders in the West tried to portray R. Aviner as some “ultra-nationalist” fringe lunatic.  Yet, this is clearly misleading.  One should hardly be surprised, considering that I have found virtually the exact same views in the book written by The Orthodox Forum, which is the combined work of Orthodox Jewish experts from around the world.  The only difference, of course, is that (1) R. Aviner’s wording is more direct and frank, whereas The Orthodox Forum says the same thing but in a more “sophisticated,” intellectual way; (2) Aviner was unfortunate enough to catch the media’s attention during the Gaza controversy.  It is the latter reason that forced Israeli apologists to throw him under the bus and take one for the team.

*  *  *  *  *

What then does Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the “left-wing” of the Religious Zionist right, argue?  He argues that “Purity of Arms” applies only to Jewish civilians.  He says on his very own website (emphasis added):

We are all for “Purity of Arms” and for saving citizen lives. But which civilians? Our civilians

Aviner concludes by saying: “They are guilty, we are not.”  He also extends “purity of arms” to Jewish soldiers (but not to Palestinian civilians).  In a question and answer section, Rabbi Aviner argues that “purity of arms” refers to protecting the lives of Jewish soldiers, not to Palestinians.  He warns: “Don’t tarnish the purity of arms with the blood of our own soldiers.”

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner writes:

 The Mechilta (halachic midrash) says “The best of the non-Jews should be killed.”

He clarifies that “this statement refers to a time of war,” at which time “even a ‘pleasant’-seeming non-Jew is killed.”  He justifies carpet bombing civilian populations, saying “it is permissible according to the Halachah based on the law of ‘rodef.’”  The entire civilian population, including children and babies, acquires the title of “rodefim” and is thus licit to kill.

Where have we heard all this before?  In fact, it is the exact same argument heard in “the contemporary halakhic discussion in Israel.”  Is it not misleading then to categorize Rabbi Shlomo Aviner’s views on this subject to be the rantings of some fringe “ultra-nationalist” extremist?  R. Aviner did not make this view out of thin air; rather, he points out that ”this is also the ruling of Ha-Rav Shaul Yisraeli in the book ‘Amud Ha-Yemini’ at the end of chap. 16.”  He is here citing the tract written by Rabbi Shaul Israeli, who justified the Qibya Massacre in 1953, in which two-thirds of the victims were women and children.   R. Israeli’s influential tract has been used to justify killing civilians from the early years following Israel’s birth all the way to the Gaza Massacre in 2008-2009.

Next: #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2: Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2011 by loonwatch

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Previous: #1 Civilians Are Really Combatants

As I documented in the previous article, the first way in which Jewish law justifies the targeting and killing of civilians is by classifying civilians as combatants if they indirectly take part in the war effort–even if by “mere words.”

But what about civilians who neither directly or indirectly participate in the war effort?  Surely they will be protected, right?

Not so.

Jewish law permits targeting civilians who “passively” support the war effort.  A “hostile civilian population” is guilty of “passive” support if they fail to root out the combatants/terrorists living in their midst.  If the city’s population does not do this, then they are all liable to be killed–including women, children, and babies.

In War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, the highly esteemed rabbi and professor Michael J. Broyde finds support for collective punishment in the Bible: on page 6, he cites the story of the Rape of Dina.  Dina is raped by a man named Shekhem, and the entire city of Shekhem is put to the sword for this crime.  (The rapist, Shekhem, has the same name as the city he lives in.)  Broyde quotes Maimonides as saying that “the inhabitants of Shekhem [the city] were liable to be killed since Shekhem [the person] stole [Dina], and the inhabitants saw and knew this and did nothing.”

Rabbi Broyde reflects on this story by saying:

Consequently, if one is in a situation where innocent people are being killed by terrorist acts that cannot be stopped by catching the perpetators themselves, and those terrorists are supported by a civilian population that passively protects them and does not condemn them, collective punishment might well be permitted by Jewish law.

Broyde permits the “collective punishment of vast segments of society for the active misconduct of the few.”  In other words, civilian populations are “liable to be killed” if terrorists commit “active misconduct” and they [“the inhabitants”] “saw and knew this but did nothing.”  If the civilian population does “not condemn them [the terrorists],” then they [the civilians] can be killed.

Rabbi Broyde invokes the views of two of the most authoritative rabbinical authorities in Jewish history, Maimonides and Nahmanides.  Broyde notes: “Both share the basic approach of permitting collective punishment.”  He writes on p.6: “Maimonides rules that…all members of society may be punished,” and on p.7 that Nahmanides would “permit regulations that include collective punishment.”

This view, justifying collective punishment, is promoted within the first few pages of the book War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.  Prof. David Shatz writes on p.xiv of the Introduction that “Jewish sources present a view of jus in bello [conduct of war] that is more permissive than many secular accounts,” and that Jewish law permits

imposing collective punishment on vast segments of an enemy society in response to the misconduct of a few, as could happen when terrorist perpetrators escape capture.

He goes on to say that “the Jewish polity may licitly embark on hostilities in a way that might involve causing civilian deaths.”  This allowance is beyond just collateral damage–which, under Jewish law, is a given–and encompasses civilian populations that are targeted as punishment for “passively” supporting terrorism.  This “passive” support is also to be understood differently than “indirectly” supporting terrorism (“material support”).  Passive support refers to mere inaction: if the PLO and the rest of the Palestinians cannot stop terrorists from firing rockets, then they are all guilty and can be killed via collective punishment–including women, children, and babies.

*  *  *  *  *

This view is supported by Torah MiTzion, the national and international Religious Zionist movement that promotes Torah study with service in the Israel Defense Forces, providing a “generation of Religious Zionism, balancing between safra v’sayfa (book and sword).”  In an article entitled Jewish Law in Our Times, the legal adviser of the group asks rhetorically “Can Collective Punishment Against Fighters and Citizens Be Justified?”, a question which he answers in the affirmative, saying:

Whenever a battle is waged by one nation against another, there is no need to differentiate between one person and another, even if many members of that nation do not actually take part in the actual fighting.

The author goes on to say that “if we are faced with a situation defined as war, there is no obligation to differentiate between fighter and citizen.”  The principle of discrimination simply does not apply in times of war.  This is especially true “because the State of Israel has been in a perpetual state of (halachically defined) war ever since its inception.”  He then quotes the esteemed Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin) who said that a person is only punished for spilling blood

at a time when it is otherwise appropriate to act with brotherhood [peacetime]. But this is not the case during war, when it is a time to hate. Then it is a time to kill and there is no punishment whatsoever for so doing, because this is the way of the world.

*  *  *  *  *

As I discussed earlier, Rabbi Shaul Israeli’s “thoughtful article” is hearkened as “the starting point” for discussion of “war-related topics” in the Jewish religion; in it, R. Israeli uses a complex religio-legal argument to justify collective punishment.  He invokes the Jewish law of din rodef–the law of the pursuer–which basically says that if a person is chasing you trying to kill you, you can kill him first.  It stands to reason, therefore, that a bystander could also kill the rodef (pursuer) as well, in order to save your life.  In fact, it may even be considered obligatory to do so.  This religious law is used to justify killing civilians by transforming entire civilian populations into rodefim [pursuers].

In The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel, Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein notes the trend in halakhic circles to use “the definition of a hostile population as a rodef [pursuer], direct or indirect.”  Blidstein notes:

There is also a tendency in contemporary halakhah to categorize as rodef a population that is “supportive and encouraging” of hostile, murderous actions.

Once dutifully transformed into rodef, the entire civilian population becomes licit, or even mandatory, to kill.  This justification was given for the Qibya Massacre, in which 69 Palestinians were slaughtered (of which two-thirds were women and children).  Writes Blidstein:

In his essay, Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli argues that a group of civilians, such as the residents of Qibia, who were notorious for their support and encouragement of terrorist acts, are likewise to be treated as rodefim [pursuers].

He goes on to say:

Rabbi Yisraeli concludes from this that even those citizens who support and encourage acts of terror, for example, are considered rodefim, and one may deal with them in kind.  In so ruling, however, he has offered many people a very far-reaching justification for aggressive treatment of civilian populations…[He] is speaking of people who provide the murderer with support and encouragement, but do not take an active, directly conspiratorial part in the act itself.

He is also speaking of those who give “passive support” to terrorism, i.e. doing nothing other than happening to live in the same city as the terrorists.  Unless you actively hand over the terrorists or their names to the Israeli authorities, it is assumed that you are guilty–you are a rodef–as well.

*  *  *  *  *

Instead of protecting civilians from the killers, Jewish law seeks to protect the killers of civilians (by shielding them from prosecution). Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein entitles one sub-section of his article as “Protection of the Aggressor,” in which he discusses this disturbing issue.  Once the civilian population has been deemed rodefem, Jewish soldiers may kill them and are to be protected from all prosecution for doing so.  This is because the rodef–in this case the civilian population–is legally considered a “dead man” and their “blood is like water.”  Therefore, lethal force may be used, even when less than that may have sufficed. Writes Blidstein:

One who deliberately kills the rodef is in any event exempt from punishment by the court because the “pursuer” is defined as gavra katila–an individual who is already considered as if dead in a legal sense…

Rabbi [Shaul] Yisraeli follows a similar line in his article on the Qibia incident, but arrives at a more far-reaching conclusion, equating the license granted the bystander with that of the person threatened.  Not only is the bystander who kills the pursuer (when he could have used less lethal means) exempt from punishment; he is allowed to behave in such a manner ab initio [from the beginning]. “…When he [the rodef] has been warned and continues to pursue…there is no rule at all requiring one to take care to use non-lethal means, for then [spilling] his blood is permitted, and one may kill him by virtue of the rule, that his blood is like water.”

In times of war, Halakha accepts collective punishment as acceptable, even when applied to the “innocent child.”  Writes Prof. Blidstein:

Behavior in war, according to Rabbi [Ya’akov] Ariel, is based upon the collective identity of the members of the participating nations.  In this organic view, even the innocent child is an organ of the greater body of the nation.  Thus, one waging war against this body is allowed to harm the child as well, just as the fighting body may itself demand of all its organs that they devote themselves to the war effort.  This argument dismisses the question of the personal innocence of the one injured–on one side or the other–as irrelevant.

Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel reasoned:

Just as in a personal struggle…it is your right to protect yourself by striking the soft belly [of the aggressor]…so in war against the collective, you may strike those organs of the [enemy] nation that seem [appropriate] to you, in order to prevent a strike on the part of other organs.

The civilians of the enemy nation (including children and babies) become licit to kill, just as “the Biblical Simeon and Levi killed all of the inhabitants of Shechem (Gen. 34), including those who had nothing to do with the rape of Dinah.”

On p.24 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Rabbi Broyde writes of Rabbi Ariel:

War is the collective battle of societies, R. Ariel posits, and thus there are no innocent civilians, even babes in their mothers’ arms are to be killed, as harsh as that sounds. [96]

In footnote 96, Broyde gives his view, agreeing with the statement but limiting the right of killing “innocent civilians, even babes in their mothers’ arms” to the [Israeli] government.  Here is footnote 96, found on page 40:

96.  R. Yaakov Ariel, “Haganah Atzmit (ha-intifida ba-halakhah),” Tehumin 10:62-75 (1991).  He basis his view on the famous comments of the Maharal on the biblical incident of Shekhem, which defend the killing of the innocent civilians in that conflict along such a rationale.  R. Shlomo Goren, “Combat Morality and the Halakhah,” Crossroads 1:211-231 (1987) comes to the opposite conclusion.  See also the article of R. Yoezer Ariel (brother of Yaakov Ariel), who also reaches a different conclusion; R. Yoezer Ariel, “Ha’onashat Nokhrim,” Tehumin 5:350-363 (1979).  In this writer’s view, R. Yoezer Ariel’s paper correctly distinguishes between individual and national goals in this matter.

As can be garnered from Broyde’s own words, R. Yoezer Ariel agrees with his brother R. Ya’akov Ariel in principle, permitting targeting and killing innocent civilians (including children and even babies).  He does, however, limit this right to the government (the Israeli state), not to individuals (such as Israeli settlers).  This is the most popular view among Religious Zionists: the Israeli state is allowed to impose collective punishment, targeting and killing “hostile civilian populations.”

Should we call these views representative of The Halakha (Jewish law), just as Zionist Islamophobes insist on categorizing one particular interpretation of Islamic law as The Sharia?  Should we smear all of Judaism because of such views, just as Zionist Islamophobes would smear all of Islam for the views of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Muslims?

Note: Page II of “Collective Punishment is Kosher” will be published within 24-72 hours…

Rabbi Steve Gross: Jews and Muslims Have a Tremendous Amount in Common

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2011 by loonwatch

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Here’s a nice video from Rabbi Steve Gross, which he provided for the My Fellow American project:

Jews and Muslims often talk about the “good things” they have in common (which is easy to speak about), but rarely is it discussed that the Jewish and Islamic traditions also share many of the same challenges (which may be a bit uncomfortable to admit).  This is probably more important to remember.  Sometimes it is easy to think that it is only The Other that needs to work on this or that, whereas one’s own religion is not immune from such problems.  My article series, Does Judaism Justify Killing Civilians?, will hopefully serve as a reminder of this very important fact.

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #1: Civilians Are Really Combatants

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2011 by loonwatch

(image by Carlos Latuff)

Please make sure to read my disclaimer: Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem.

Read the Introduction: Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

The first way in which Jewish law justifies targeting and killing civilians lies at the very heart of the issue.  The starting point of the just war theory (and international law) in regards to jus in bello (just conduct during war) revolves around the definition of combatant and civilian.  Jewish law (Halakha), as understood by mainstream Modern Orthodox Judaism in Israel, utilizes very different definitions for these two words.

International law, as enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, narrowly defines combatants as those who take direct part in hostilities of an armed conflict.  The T.M.C. Asser instituut in The Hague notes:

Article 3 [of the Fourth Geneva Convention] indicates that during non-international armed conflicts the persons who enjoy protection against the various forms of violence and infringement mentioned are ‘[p]ersons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause…’

Similarly, the following groups are protected under international law:

…medical officers, corpsmen, chaplains, contractors, civilian war correspondents and armed forces personnel who are unable to engage in combat because of wounds, sickness, shipwreck or capture (ie. POWs)…

In essence, “direct participation in hostilities” refers to using a weapon.  This is the fundamental underpinning of international law with regard to distinction and protection of civilians.

Jewish law, on the other hand, deems anyone who indirectly ”participates” in the hostilities to be a combatant and therefore fair game.  Those who ”materially contribute to the war effort” can be licitly targeted and killed.  On p.xvii of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Prof. David Shatz writes:

[Rabbi Michael] Broyde also raises the issue of who is a combatant.  In his view, Halakha maintains that anyone who materially contributes to the war effort is a combatant and thus a fair target.

Based on this “definition,” the modern-day state of Israel takes a very expansive view of “combatant,” legitimizing the targeting and killing of Palestinian civilians.  We clearly see an example of the great latitude taken in this regard by modern-day Jewish religious authorities in the case of the Qibya Massacre.  Rabbi Shaul Israeli, considered  “one of the most important rabbis of the Religious Zionist school of thought,” penned one of the most influential monographs on this subject, entitled “The Qibia Incident in Light of Halakhah.”  In it, he legitimized indiscriminate violence against civilians.  This tract, as we shall see, has defined the Religious Zionist view towards the issue of distinction.

The esteemed rabbi and professor Michael J. Broyde writes on p.22 [note: all citations are from War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, unless otherwise indicated]:

Indeed, the earliest modern discussion of this topic was presented by R. Shaul Israeli in 1954 in response to the killing of civilians by Israel Defense Forces Unit 101 at Kibia (Qibya) in 1953.  R. Israeli argues that civilians who conspire to assist in the undertaking of military operations can be killed through the pursuer rationale, as they are materially aiding the murderers.

He continues:

Indeed, R. Israeli goes even further, and seems to adopt the view that those who simply extend support to terror–by encouraging acts of violence with mere words–can be labeled combatants as well.  This is not, R. Israeli posits, any form of collective punishment, as only people who are guilty (whether of murder or conspiracy to commit murder) are actually being punished.

The reference to “the killing of civilians by Israel Defense Forces Unit 101 at Kibia (Qibya) in 1953″ refers to the Qibya Massacre, in which sixty-nine Arabs were slaughtered–of which two-thirds were women and children.  Prof. Avi Shlaim, a prominent Israeli historian at Oxford University, writes on p.91 of The Iron Wall:

[Acting defence minister Pinhas] Lavon’s order was executed by Unit 101, a small commando unit created in August to carry out special tasks. Unit 101 was commanded by an aggressive and ambitious young major named Ariel (“Arik”) Sharon.  Sharon’s order was to penetrate Qibya, blow up houses, and inflict heavy casualties on its inhabitants.  The full and macabre story of what happened at Qibya was revealed only during the morning after the attack.  The village had been reduced to a pile of rubble: forty-five houses had been blown up, and sixty-nine civilians, two-thirds of them women and children, had been killed.  Sharon and his men claimed that they believed that all the inhabitants had run away and that they had no idea that anyone was hiding inside the houses.  The UN observer who inspected the scene reached a different conclusion: ”One story was repeated time after time: the bullet splintered door, the body sprawled across the threshold, indicating that the inhabitants had been forced by heavy fire to stay inside until their homes were blown up over them.”

There are too many issues to comment on here.  There is the obvious inhumanity and depravity of the IDF–the Most Moral Army in the World™–firing upon civilians to keep them in their houses and then blowing up those houses on top of them.  Prof. Martin E. Marty writes on p.286 of Fundamentalisms Observed that, in the context of war, Halakha would indeed permit tactics “such as blowing up homes of parents of Arabs who harm Jews.”

What is truly amazing, however, is that this scenario–the Israelis blowing up and bulldozing Palestinian homes–is a pattern repeated throughout Israel’s short history.  All this was done to terrorize the Palestinian population, in order to get more Palestinians to flee their homes to make way for Israeli settlers.  This perfectly fits the quintessential definition of terrorism, yet all we ever hear about is Hamas this or Hamas that.

Then, there is the fact that the war criminal responsible for carrying out this massacre, Ariel Sharon, would later be elected Israel’s prime minister.  Such is the moral state of the modern day state of Israel–war criminals and terrorists are voted into power.  One continually hears about how evil the Palestinians are for voting in Hamas to power, while hearing almost nothing about how Israelis have routinely voted terrorists and war criminals into office.

Another interesting thing to comment on is that discussions of Ariel Sharon and Israel’s war crimes focus on events such as the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, in which Israel only played a support role.  It is my opinion that the focus on the Sabra and Shatila Massacre is a mechanism that deflects attention away from those massacres that were directly carried out by Israeli soldiers.  There are countless such instances, so why the emphasis on Sabra and Shatila?

In any case, it was following the Qibya Massacre that Rabbi Shaul Israeli published a monograph entitled “The Qibia Incident in Light of Halakhah,” which articulated the halakhist view towards the targeting and killing of “hostile civilian populations.”  It was reprinted with some expansions under the title “Military Actions for the Protection of the State” in chapter 16 of Amud ha’Yamini.  This work has had lasting influence in modern halakhic discussions in Israel, and came to form the majority view of the Religious Zionist movement, which is the dominant form of Orthodox Judaism in Israel.  On p.32 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition, Rabbi Michael Broyde refers to Rabbi Shaul Israeli’s article as a “thoughtful article” that is “the starting point” for such discussions. Commenting on a vast collection of Jewish articles on “war-related issues,” Broyde notes that “the overwhelming number of [them] agree with the starting point of R. Israeli.”

But perhaps we ought to look at a dissenting opinion to see what is contained in Rabbi Shaul’s tract.  Prof. Ya’acov Blidstein published an article entitled The Treatment of Hostile Civilian Populations: The Contemporary Halakhic Discussion in Israel in which he criticizes R. Israeli’s view, saying:

[Rabbi Shaul] Yisraeli develops a systematic and extensive discussion concerning the issue of the attitude to be taken toward a hostile civilian population that supports and encourages violent, murderous acts.

He notes that Rabbi Israeli legalized the killing of entire civilian populations “for their support and encouragement of terrorist acts,” instead of just those actually involved in terrorist acts. ”People who provide the murderer with support and encouragement, but do not take an active, directly conspiratorial part in the act itself” are licit to kill.  Therefore, “‘supportive and encouraging’ civilian population[s]” become “combatants” and can be killed en masse.

Prof. Blidstein notes that “the exact meaning of the terms ‘encourage’ and/or ‘support’” are left wide open.  That the state of Israel takes the widest possible meaning is apparent by the incident in which the view itself was first articulated by R. Israeli: in the Qibya Massacre, “two-thirds of them [were] women and children.”  How children and babies can be guilty of “encouragement and support” of terrorism and be licitly killed by the Israeli military is as much a mystery to me as the Canaanite or Amalekite children and babies being killed in the Bible for the “crime of idolatry.”

Blidstein concludes:

It seems to me that the general direction revealed here is quite clear.  Most of the authors surveyed read the halakhic sources in a manner that allows for extremely forceful action toward various Arab populations, whether these populations encourage and support hostile activity, or only have Arab ethnic identity.

He notes ruefully:

We have also encountered authors who attempted to limit this tendency, but these seem to be less than fully effective in their treatment, and are, within the school surveyed, in a minority.

Prof. Blidstein says his “general thesis” is

that there is a tendency in this school [Religious Zionism] to legitimate more aggressive activity against the civilian population, and to read rather narrowly those restrictions intended to limit and circumscribe such activity.

The fast and loose way in which Israel strips non-combatants of their protected civilian status is very disturbing.  Here, we have the justification of a brutal massacre of 69 civilians of which two-thirds were women and children–an act of state terrorism in its purest form–based on the claim that these were “civilians who conspire[d] to assist the undertaking of military operations”–those who supposedly “simply extend[ed] support to terror–by encourag[ing] acts of violence with mere words.”  In reality, however, there is no way to reasonably determine even this much, and it is simply assumed that the civilians “encouraged and supported” terrorism.

The truth is that the state of Israel routinely strips civilians of their protected status by claiming that they “materially contribute[d] to the war effort.”  This is a very easy charge to levy, requiring very little proof and certainly the issue of proof becomes moot when the civilians have already been killed.  It is especially convenient considering that most indigenous populations indirectly support resistance movements against the occupiers, and the Palestinians can hardly be expected to be different in this regard.

By this all-encompassing definition of combatant, the American women factory workers during World War II who produced parts for planes and tanks would be classified as “combatants” and become licit to kill.  By this definition, American journalists who wrote in support of the war against Nazi Germany would become “combatants” and become fair game.  The millions of American citizens who bought war bonds would similarly become “combatants.”  When we apply this standard to ourselves, it seems truly unthinkable, immoral, and evil.  But when we apply it to Palestinians, it becomes something acceptable.

*  *  *  *  *

To be fair, Israeli apologists from “liberal, secular” Judaism voice similar ideas.  Case in point: Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s greatest defenders from the “liberal, secular” spectrum of the Jewish faith.  Dershowitz is credited as being “Israel’s single most visible defender” and “the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

One would hope that as a law professor and self-professed liberal Alan Dershowitz would adhere to international law by respecting the idea of distinction and protection of civilians.  Unfortunately, one would be quickly disabused of such a notion by reading Dershowitz’s writings.  He argues that the word civilian is “increasingly meaningless.”  Dr. Norman Finkelstein documents Dershowitz’s morally repugnant ideas on p.xvi of Beyond Chutzpah:

The main target of Dershowitz’s “reassessment of the laws of war” has been the fundamental distinction in the laws of armed conflict between civilians and combatants.  “The preservation of this sharp dichotomy,” Yoram Dinstein has written [a world-renowned expert on international law and the laws of war], “is the main bulwark against methods of barbarism in modern warfare.”  However, ridiculing what he deems the “increasingly meaningless word ‘civilian’” and asserting that, in the case of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, “‘civilianality’ is often a matter of degree, rather than a bright line,” Dershowitz proposes to replace the civilian-combatant dichotomy with a “continuum of civilianality”:

Near the most civilian end of this continuum are the pure innocents–babies, hostages and others completely uninvolved; at the more combatant end are civilians who willingly harbor terrorists, provide material resources and serve as human shields; in the middle are those who support the terrorists politically, or spiritually.  [189]

[189] He goes so far as to suggest that combatants might deserve more solicitude than civilians in time of war, depending on “the precise nature of the civilian’s ‘civilianality.’” (Preemption, p.247)

Prof. Alan Dershowitz is but one voice in a pro-Israeli movement trying to “revise” international law in order to strip civilians of their protected status (more on this later).  By “revising” the definition of “civilian” to include those who provide “indirect” assistance to the war effort–or who “materially support” the war (even if by “mere words”)–these pro-Israeli defenders are taking a sledgehammer to international law.

One can imagine the absolute outrage if the shoe was on the other foot–if pro-Palestinian groups were justifying the targeting of Israeli civilians for their “material support” of the war effort and military occupation.  If, in the words of these Orthodox Jewish authors, “mere words” in support of the combatants stripped civilians of their protected status–or if, in the words of the “liberal, secular” Jewish law professor Alan Dershowitz, “politically[] or spiritually” supporting the war effort reduced one’s “civilianality”–then the majority of the Israeli population would no longer be considered purely civilian; in that case, wouldn’t Hamas or Hezbollah be legitimated in targeting and killing them?

But as Dr. Finkelstein notes on p.xvii, Dershowitz “imagines that this revision won’t apply to Israel because ‘the line between Israeli soldiers and civilians is relatively clear.’”  Finkelstein asks:

But is this true?  Israel has a civilian army, which means a mere call-up slip or phone call separates each adult Israeli male from a combatant.

As Finkelstein quips presciently on p.xviii, “it remains to consider Dershowitz’s own location on the continuum of civilianality.”  Wouldn’t being “Israel’s single most visible defender” constitute providing “material support” to Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinians?  Using the elusive and expansive word “material support” one is able to strip most civilians of their protected status.

During the Gaza War, in which Israel massacred scores of civilians, the Israelis used this “extended definition” of “combatant.”  Amos Guiora, who served as a military lawyer in Israel for 19 years, wrote:

Israel declared war on an organisation [Hamas], and by extension on all those involved in that organization – active and passive alike.

Prof. Alan Dershowitz is certainly correct about one thing: Israel’s apologists, from the Orthodox Jewish to secular sectors, have successfully rendered the word civilian “increasingly meaningless.”  By extending combatant status to civilians who “indirectly” contribute to the war effort, the Israeli state is able to justify killing civilians whenever it wants: wherever Israeli rockets land, there is a Palestinian terrorist.  Ergo, Israel never targets anyone but terrorists.

The principle of distinction and protection of civilians is the basis for war ethics under international law: could it be said then that Jewish law is fundamentally at odds with the just war theory?  Wouldn’t this be the conclusion our anti-Muslim Zionist opponents would arrive at if this were about Islam?

Next: The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians; #2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, Is The Problem

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2011 by loonwatch

This is my disclaimer to the series entitled Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Pro-Israeli pundits often argue that they have a problem with “Islamism,” which they define as the politicization of the religion of Islam.  Prof. Jeffrey Herf of the University of Maryland clarifies, for example, that he doesn’t have a problem with Islam but with “Islamism,” a religio-political ideology enjoining Muslims to reestablish the pan-Islamic Caliphate.

If pro-Israeli propagandists insist that “political Islam”–which they call Islamism–is the problem, then in a similar vein am I arguing that Religious Zionismnot Judaism, is the problem.  It is the mixing of the political ideology Zionism with Judaism that I criticize.  I believe criticizing Judaism en toto would be Anti-Semitic.  Judaism, without the infusion of Zionism into it, is–in my opinion–a wonderful religion.  I believe it would be absolutely detestable to take my criticisms of Religious Zionism and use them to justify vilifying Judaism as a whole.

*  *  *  *  *

The dangers of falling into Anti-Semitism are very real.  Historically, Anti-Semitism has been a major problem, and it continues to be in some parts of the world today.  One of the primary ways in which Anti-Semites unfairly targeted Jews was to vilify Halakha, digging up intolerant views in the rabbinical tradition to smear Judaism with.

But herein lies an irony: many Zionist Jews are now joining Anti-Muslim Christians in vilifying the Islamic tradition in a very similar way.  Once Halakha was the target of bigots; today, it is Sharia.  Rabbi Eliyahu Stern has written an excellent article about this topic, entitled Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America.

I will be applying the same standards our opponents apply to the Islamic tradition to the Jewish one, to show that Judaism is equally vulnerable to such criticisms.  It is hoped that this exercise will encourage people of Judeo-Christian background to be more hesitant in vilifying and targeting Islam.  This is purely an exercise in thought, a what if scenario (what if we applied the same standards to your religion as you do onto others?) designed to be the antidote to religious and cultural arrogance.

By clarifying that this constitutes an “exercise in thought” one should know that I am not saying Judaism is XYZ because of ABC, but rather simply that if you insist on arguing that Islam is XYZ due to ABC then–based on your own logic–Judaism and Christianity are also XYZ because they too have ABC.  This is a what if? and an if-then argument.

*  *  *  *  *

This is not to say, however, that religion has nothing to do with the matter.  I am extremely critical of Religious Zionism, which has a very real and deleterious impact in world affairs.  Religious Zionists are now among the most influential voices in Israel’s hawkish right-wing, using religion to justify even more regressive policies towards the Palestinians.  Dr. Claudia Baumgart notes in Democracy, Diversity, and Conflict: Religious Zionism and Israeli Foreign Policy that Religious Zionism “started to play a major role” in Israeli foreign policy by the late 1960′s.  Today, its impact is absolutely pernicious.

Religious Zionism went even further than secular Zionism, declaring the settlement of Palestinian land–all of Palestine–a mitzvah, a religious obligation under Jewish law.  While it may be possible to convince secular Zionists of the need for a two-state solution, this is not possible with Religious Zionists who believe it is forbidden in their religion–nay, it is a blasphemy of the highest order and greatest magnitude–to cede even one inch of Eretz Israel to the Palestinians.  This is why Religious Zionism is a major impediment to peace in the region.

Much like how Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam is a problem (“Islamists” as some incorrectly say), so too is Religious Zionism a major problem.  I agree with Dr. Baumgart’s assessment that “religion is not an independent cause of conflict in and between states.  But it can be an important intervening variable…”  In other words, Religious Zionism did not independently and all by itself create the problem of Israeli oppression of Palestinians, but it certainly is one important causative factor among a myriad of others.

This is of course not much different than my view of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam.  Some critics may assume that I do not think Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam are part of the problem–that only American and Israeli foreign policy are to blame.  This is incorrect: I believe that terrorism is the result of a myriad of factors, and although American and Israeli neo-colonialism certainly tops the list, Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam plays an important role as well.

Criticism of Religious Zionism should not tarnish Judaism as a whole no more than criticism of Radical and Ultra-Conservative Islam should tarnish Islam as a whole.  One should stay clear of the bigotry that would compel oneself to smear an entire faith for the actions of a particular strand of a religion.

*  *  *  *  *

My need to criticize Religious Zionism is also founded on the link between Zionism and Islamophobia. Pro-Israeli apologists are often anti-Muslim; conversely, anti-Muslim bigots are almost invariably pro-Israeli. In fact, Islamophobes fanatically support the state of Israel, which they see as the embodiment of the Crusader state in the heartland of the infidel Muslim world.  Meanwhile, Israelis see the Islamophobes as useful to their cause against their Muslim foes.  Often, however, there is no distinction between the two: Zionist Islamophobes form a large chunk of the anti-Muslim camp.  Pamela Geller, an extremist Zionist Islamophobe, is a case in point.  In light of this, it is important to hold Religious Zionism to the same standard that these Zionists/Islamophobes so mirthfully apply to Islam.

*  *  *  *  *

One may quite reasonably criticize my choice of title, “The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians:” after all, it does not make it clear that I am herein criticizing the Halakha of Religious Zionists, not of all Jews.  This is acceptable criticism, which I agree with in principle.

However, remember that this article series is a “thought exercise:” the entire purpose is to show how Judaism and Christianity could not possibly live up to the high standards anti-Muslim Jews and Christians insist on applying to Islam.  Our Islamophobic opponents certainly do not differentiate between different interpretations of Sharia.  They take Radical and/or Ultra-Conservative interpretations of Islamic law as The Sharia.  Likewise, I will take the Orthodox Jewish interpretation of Halakha–as understood by “mainstream” Modern Orthodoxy–to be The Halakha.  Then, we will see how much anti-Muslim Jews and Christians like it.  How will Pamela Geller respond to holding her religious faith up to the same standards she insists upon for Islam?

*  *  *  *  *

Having said all of this, the primary reason I chose to speak about Halakha is that it is our opponents themselves who invoked the comparison between the supposedly peaceful Judeo-Christian tradition on the one hand and the supposedly warlike Islamic tradition on the other.  This argument–that the modern-day Judeo-Christian interpretations are overwhelmingly peaceful, whereas those of Islam are warlike–is raised by both the King and Queen of Islamophobia, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller.

Robert Spencer’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) invokes this comparison multiple times.  For example, he says on p.31:

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

Meanwhile, the Queen of Islamophobia published a letter by David Yerushalmi which said:

[T]he historical comparison between the response to sharia in this country and Europe’s objection to Jewish law centuries earlier is a result of poor scholarship and faulty logic.  Jewish law, certainly since the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth almost two thousand years ago, has had nothing to do with political power or the desire to effect dominion over another people. 

To the contrary, the opposition to sharia is the fact that throughout the Muslim world, sharia is the call to an exclusive Islamic political power with hegemonic designs (see the two most prominent surveys cited here: http://mappingsharia.com/?page_id=425).  The war doctrine of jihad is part and parcel of sharia.  It is alive and well as such throughout the Muslim world.

Therefore, I am left no choice but to compare Islamic understandings of religious law to their Jewish counterparts.  This comparison was foisted upon me by my opponents.  There is no way to disabuse the King and Queen of Islamophobia (and their loyal subjects) of their claims except to respond in the way I am.

Naturally, “bystanders” will be caught in the crossfire.  Good-hearted, fellow Jews may be offended by such an article series that takes such a critical look at Jewish law.  This is why I explained my absolute reluctance to go down this path in my opening disclaimer.  But, the constant barrage of Islamophobic polemics, encouraged by Israeli activists, convinces me that this is something unavoidable.  Thus it is so, that with a grudging heart, I proceed forth.

*  *  *  *  *

Update I:

It is true that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism within Israel is just as disquieting as Modern Orthodox Judaism (as I will show in a follow-up article). This is due to their unthinking acceptance of Zionist ideology.  On the other hand, those Ultra-Orthodox Jews who forcefully reject Zionism, such as the Neturei Karta, do not justify Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians.  Perhaps then it would be more appropriate to say that Zionism, not just Religious Zionism, is the problem.  Once again, however, it should be stressed that it is the mixing of a racist political ideology with religion that is to be condemned, not the religion itself.

Update II:

A reader who posts under the user name “Just Stopping By” gave some valid criticism in the comments section, arguing that it would be too broad a generalization to categorize all Religious Zionism as one way–that dissenting opinions do exist.  Admittedly, this article series does deal in some generalizations, but these are acceptable, I think, in the context of this being a “thought exercise.”  One could, for example, hardly expect Islamophobes to recognize that even in Ultra-Conservative Islam there exists nuance.

Having said that, it is fair criticism–especially in an article intended to be a disclaimer and explanation of my viewpoints–that I should recognize the existence of a spectrum of views in Religious Zionism, instead of viewing it as one rigid monolith.  This I readily admit, even though I of course disagree with Religious Zionism as a whole, just as I do Ultra-Conservative Islam.

Update III:

Two additional points need to be addressed here: the first is my choice to use Carlos Latuff’s artwork.  I was unfamiliar with him until I started searching for images to use in my article series, and realized that I’ve used one of his images in the past (without properly accrediting him).  My use of some of his cartoons should not be seen as an endorsement of his political views, which are not very clear to me.  One can only speculate what a cartoonist’s political views are based on his comics.  The images I chose are very applicable to the article series, and that is why I used them.  Nothing more, nothing less.  To give credit where credit is due, I do think Carlos Latuff is a very gifted artist and political cartoonist.

I have seen accusations against him by pro-Israeli apologists that he is an Anti-Semite.  These do not seem to be anything other than the typical Israeli tactic of accusing Israel’s critics of Anti-Semitism in order to vilify and silence them.  One critic claimed that Latuff uses images of “hook-nosed Jews.”  However, this seems baseless to me: notice the perfectly normal nose of the Israeli soldier below.  One could hardly expect a critic of Israel’s war crimes to portray IDF soldiers as anything but evil.  This hardly amounts to Anti-Semitism.  Would these pro-Israeli apologists desire political cartoonists to draw Israeli soldiers with roses coming out of their butts?

The second accusation I have seen against him is that his cartoons use the Star of David.  However, he explained to the Guardian:

Part of the supposed ‘evidence’ for my antisemitism is the fact that I’ve used the Star of David, which is a symbol of Judaism . . . But check all my artworks – you’ll find that the Star of David is never drawn alone. It’s always part of the Israeli flag. Yes, it’s a religious motif, but in Israel it has been applied to a state symbol; and it’s the institutions of the state – the politicians and the army – that I’m targeting. Including the flag of Israel in a cartoon is no more an attack on Judaism than including the flag of Turkey would be an attack on Islam.

The tactic of smearing critics of Israel with the “Anti-Semitic” slur is perfectly pictured by Latuff himself:

I do think some of Latuff’s comics may be over the top and are beyond my comfort level, such as this depiction of an Israeli soldier, which is not Anti-Semitic but just too hyperbolic for me.  One can understand that an artist might want to push the boundaries and invoke strong reactions from his work.  In any case, do I have to agree with every single one of a political cartoonist’s comics before I can reproduce any of them?

The other issue is my reliance on Dr. Norman Finkelstein’s work.  He is one of the world’s leading experts of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it thus seems obvious why I would draw on his writings.  Despite my deep respect for his scholarship and his person, I must however issue a clear disclaimer distancing myself from his equivocation in response to a question about Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians.  I categorically reject all attacks targeting civilians, no matter who does them.  After all, my entire article series is designed to point out the hypocrisy of anti-Muslim Jews and Christians who condemn Muslims for what they themselves endorse (i.e. the targeting and killing of civilians).  If I would condone such terror attacks, this would be another layer of hypocrisy.

Along these lines, I might as well also state my views on Hamas and Hezbollah, since pro-Israeli apologists and Islamophobes use this as a sort of litmus test to silence opposition (DO YOU CONDEMN HAMAS?  DO YOU?).  Let it be known then that I condemn and reject Hamas and Hezbollah.  Although I recognize the right of the Palestinian people to defend their land and resist occupation (to deny them this right while accepting the right of the occupying power to “defend itself” is the height of colonialist mentality), under no circumstances–none whatsoever–is one allowed to target and kill civilians.  Even if Hamas and Hezbollah were to categorically renounce such tactics (and back up their words with actions), I would still not support these groups, which–like the Israeli and Jewish groups I will discuss–hold extremist religious views.

This does not mean that I do not “understand” why some occupied Palestinians would resort to such tactics.  (One cannot say the same for Israelis, who are the occupiers.)  “Understand” here is to be understood in the sense that one “understands” why a criminal was led to a life of crime due to an abused childhood.  This “understanding” does not equate to condoning, accepting, or justifying.

The desire to support Hamas and Hezbollah is born out of emotionalism, not principled ethics.  Many Muslims feel the need to side with “the Muslim side,” just as many Jews feel compelled to support “the Jewish state.”  I do not support groups or states, but rather ethics and principles.  Groups and states will always let you down; ethics and principles won’t.

Does Jewish Law Justify Killing Civilians?

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2011 by loonwatch

Islamophobes like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller claim that Islam is more violent than other religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity.  To prove this, they argue that the Islamic holy book, the Islamic prophet, and the Islamic God are all uniquely violent–certainly more so than their Judeo-Christian counterparts.

We proved these claims completely bunk by showing the Bible to be far more violent than the Quran, the Biblical prophets to be far more violent than the Prophet Muhammad, and Yahweh of the Bible to be far more violent than Allah of the Quran.  (See parts 123456-i, 6-ii, 6-iii, 6-iv78, 9-i, and 9-ii of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series.)

Instead of defending their initial claim (which they simply cannot), the Islamophobes quickly shift gears and rely on a fallback argument: they argue that “the Bible doesn’t actively exhort its believers to commit acts of violence, unlike the Quran.”  I refuted this argument in part 6 (see 6-i6-ii6-iii6-iv) in an article entitled The Bible’s Prescriptive, Open-Ended, and Universal Commandments to Wage Holy War and Enslave Infidels.

Once that argument goes to the wayside the Islamophobes then jump to their next fall back argument: “most Jews and Christians don’t take the Bible literally like Muslims do the Quran!”  I refuted this argument in part 7, showing that they do in fact understand the Bible very, very literally.

In a very predictable pattern, once this argument fails, the Islamophobes rely on yet another fall back argument, the famous cop-out “But That’s Just the Old Testament!”.  I’ve refuted this argument in part 8.

Once this fall back argument is refuted, Islamophobes once again do not defend it.  Instead, they move on to the next fall back argument:  they argue that “Jews and Christians simply don’t interpret their holy book in a violent manner, unlike Muslims.”  Writes Robert Spencer on p.31 of his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

When modern-day Jews and Christians read their Bibles, they simply don’t interpret the passages cited as exhorting them to violent action against unbelievers. This is due to the influence of centuries of interpretive traditions that have moved away from literalism regarding these passages. But in Islam, there is no comparable interpretive tradition. The jihad passages in the Qur’an are anything but a dead letter.

This is Spencer’s preemptive parry to any counterattack whenever anyone (like myself) responds to his cherry-picking of Quranic verses by reciprocating and finding similar (and even worse) passages in the Bible. We are told that modern-day Jews and Christians simply don’t take those passages seriously any more, that they are merely symbolic or that they are dead letters.

Spencer et al. will then take a break from copying-and-pasting Quranic passages, and instead focus on “classical opinions” in the Islamic tradition, which they claim continue to be to this day the “orthodox, mainstream opinions according to the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence [madhaib].” By contrast, argues Spencer, classical and modern-day orthodox, mainstream interpretations of Judaism and Christianity have moved away from literal understandings of the Bible and opted for non-violent, peaceful understandings.

However, I will prove that this is not the case at all. The violent verses in the Bible helped formulate the “classical opinions” of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and continue to be held by “mainstream, orthodox” groups today.  In this article, we will examine the Jewish rabbinical tradition (both the “classical” and modern day situation); in a later article, we will grapple with the Christian side of things.

Rabbi Eliyahu Stern published an article in the New York Times entitled “Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America.”  Stern’s balanced article noted that the anti-Muslim demonization of Islam (and Islamic law) “is disturbingly reminiscent” of “19th-century Europe” Anti-Semitism.  Pamela Geller, an extremist Zionist Islamophobe, published an irate letter from David Yerushalmi (who she describes as the “leading legal mind on sharia in America and my lawfare attorney”), who huffed (emphasis added):

[T]he historical comparison between the response to sharia in this country and Europe’s objection to Jewish law centuries earlier is a result of poor scholarship and faulty logic.  Jewish law, certainly since the destruction of the Jewish Commonwealth almost two thousand years ago, has had nothing to do with political power or the desire to effect dominion over another people. 

To the contrary, the opposition to sharia is the fact that throughout the Muslim world, sharia is the call to an exclusive Islamic political power with hegemonic designs (see the two most prominent surveys cited here: http://mappingsharia.com/?page_id=425).  The war doctrine of jihad is part and parcel of sharia.  It is alive and well as such throughout the Muslim world.

This is the same argument raised by Robert Spencer: Jewish law is peaceful and certainly does not call to violence or war like Islamic law does.

I will absolutely nuke this argument into oblivion.  (In the words of one of our readers: “Danios doesn’t make the mistake of bringing a knife to a gun fight–he brings a nuclear bomb.”)

*  *  *  *  *

One of the fundamental differences between the Islamic canon (Quran and hadiths) and the Bible is with regard to discrimination: the Islamic texts explicitly, categorically, and emphatically command soldiers to fight combatants on the battlefield only, and totally forbid targeting and killing innocent civilians (women, children, the elderly, the decrepit, etc.). On the other hand, the Bible is replete with verses in which God Himself commands the believers to target and kill innocent civilians. In fact, the God of the Bible becomes very upset with those of his followers who fail to complete acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

It is perhaps no big surprise then that one of the main ways in which the “classical” and so-called “orthodox, mainstream views” of the Islamic tradition differ from those in the Jewish tradition is with regard to discrimination: the Islamic tradition forbids its followers from targeting and killing civilians, whereas the Jewish counterpart permits it.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, convenor of the Orthodox Forum

Every year leading Orthodox Jewish luminaries from around the world–including “rashei yeshivah [deans of Talmudical academies], rabbis, educators and academicians from America and Israel”–flock to The Orthodox Forum to discuss “a single topic affecting the Jewish world.”  In 2004, the topic of choice was “War and Peace,” which was chosen due to “the United States’ involvement in Iraq” and “Israel’s ongoing war with terrorism” (quotes from p.xiii of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition).

After these influential experts discussed the issues surrounding “war and peace,” they published their discussion in the fourteenth volume of “the Orthodox Forum Series” in a book entitled War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition.  As such, this book does not merely reflect the views of one or two Jewish authors.  Instead, it “brings together the thinking of a wide range of distinguished American and Israeli academicians and religious leaders from various disciplines, to shed light on the historical, philosophical, theological, legal and moral issues raised by military conflict and the search for peaceful resolution” (p.xi) with the goal of appreciating “the relevance of Jewish sources in approaching contemporary challenges” (p.xii).

[Note: Throughout this article series, readers should assume all emphasis is mine, unless otherwise indicated.  Also note that Rabbi is abbreviated to R., as is the accepted convention.]

Reading this very authoritative book, written by the brightest minds of Orthodox Judaism, I came to appreciate at least five major ways in which Halakha (Jewish law) permits shedding the blood of innocents–at least five major exceptions to the law of discrimination.

The reader should keep in mind that these five different exceptions have nothing to do with “collateral damage,” the incidental or unintended killing of civilians, which is generally accepted by international law (with some important caveats).  Instead, these five exceptions have to do with targeting and killing civilians.

I purposefully say “at least five different exceptions,” since there are most certainly more, which I shall discuss in future articles.  However, those other exceptions are debatable or held as minority opinions, such as the concept of targeted assassinations (debatable, I guess) and the idea that Palestinians should be exterminated because they are the modern-day Amalekites (a valid but minority “halakhic opinion”).  Instead, I will focus on views held by the majority of mainstream Orthodox Jewish rabbinical leadership.

*  *  *  *  *

In the United States, Judaism is split into three main sects: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox.  In Israel, however, Reform and Conservative Judaism do not exist in large numbers.  Instead, the battle lines are drawn between secular and Orthodox Jews.  According to The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 20% of Israeli Jews are secular, 25% are Orthodox (17% are Religious Zionists [Modern Orthodox Judaism] and 8% are Ultra-Orthodox [Haredi]), with the largest group of Israeli Jews (55%) falling under the rubric of “traditional.”

The views of “traditional Jews” towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem to fall in between the two major ideological groups: secular and Orthodox Jews.  For example, whereas “only” 36% of secular Israelis support “price tag” terrorism against Palestinians and a whopping majority of Orthodox Jews support such tactics (70% of Religious Zionists and 71% of Ultra-Orthodox Jews), just over half of traditional Jews (55%) condone terrorism against the Palestinians.

Orthodox Judaism is split between Modern Orthodox Judaism and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism).  In Israel, Modern Orthodox Judaism is dominated by Religious Zionism (alternatively called “national-religious”).  This sect is widely considered to be the “mainstream” of Orthodox Judaism in Israel.  It is this sect, therefore, that I will focus on in my article series.

One should not, however, be led to believe that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism is much better in this regard.  Although Agudat Yisrael (the original major political party that represented Ultra-Orthodox Jews) initially opposed the Zionist enterprise, this changed after the creation of the state of Israel.  These Ultra-Orthodox Jews saw the Israeli state as a means for “state enforcement of religious laws” and wanted “increased state financial support for their schools and for religious institutions” (quotes taken from the Zionism & Israel Center‘s official website).

Today, “though still non-Zionist, [these Ultra-Orthodox Jews] tend to favor perpetuation of the occupation and vote with the right against peace moves or negotiations.”  Their right-wing attitudes towards Palestinians are reflected in the earlier statistic I cited, which showed that an overwhelming majority (71%) of Ultra-Orthodox Jews support price tag terrorism against Palestinians, which is almost exactly the same percentage of Religious Zionists (70%) who do.  Ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel has been heavily influenced by Zionism and Religious Zionism, especially in their hostile views towards the indigenous Palestinians.

However, because many Israelis feel that Ultra-Orthodox Jews are “extreme,” I will focus my discussion here on the more “mainstream” sect, Modern Orthodox Judaism.  (In a follow-up article, I will outline the Ultra-Orthodox view on such subjects in order to prove that there is an emerging “bipartisan” consensus on these issues within Orthodox Judaism in Israel.) For now, however, I will largely stick to the generally accepted views within Religious Zionism.

Therefore, in my article The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians–the title that will be used for the remaining article series–I will not focus on Yizhak Shapira’s book the King’s Torah.  Despite the fact that Modern Orthodox Judaism’s rabbis seemed to accept Shapira’s views “governing the killing of a non-Jew’ outlined in the book [as] a legitimate stance” and a valid “halachic opinion,” I will bypass all such discussion by focusing on majority views held by Religious Zionism and Modern Orthodox Judaism, not the more extreme Kahanist sect of Religious Zionism.

In so doing, I will show that these majority views are hardly less worrisome than Rabbi Shapira’s opinions expressed in the King’s Torah.  I will show that one need not look to settler rabbis, Kahanists, or Ultra-Orthodox Jews to find extremely warlike views.  The mainstream Modern Orthodox rabbinical leadership will suffice.  Worse yet, Israeli Jews–deeply religious Jews–are leading the fight against the concept of distinction, the fundamental aspect of the just war theory.  They are applying pressure to change international law and to abrogate the regulations of the Geneva Conventions, which they believe are “archaic” and inapplicable today.  Could it be said, using the emotive language of our opponents, that Judaism is waging war against the principle of distinction?

The purpose of this is to prove that if there are problems within the house of Islam (which there certainly are), let it be known that the house of Judaism is no different in this regard.  It would behoove us to remind ourselves of this before we point the accusatory finger at The Other.  Extremist Zionist Islamophobes like Pamela Geller–and their Christian comrades-in-arms like Robert Spencer–should take note.

Disclaimer:  Before we get into it, please read my disclaimer, Why Religious Zionism, Not Judaism, is the Problem. (This is in addition to my earlier disclaimer, which you should also read):

Update:  

The Top Five Ways Jewish Law Justifies Killing Civilians;#1 Civilians Are Really Combatants

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (I)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (II)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (III)

#2 Collective Punishment is Kosher (IV)

Don’t Fear Islamic Law in America

Posted in Anti-Loons, Feature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2011 by loonwatch

By ELIYAHU STERN

MORE than a dozen American states are considering outlawing aspects of Shariah law. Some of these efforts would curtail Muslims from settling disputes over dietary laws and marriage through religious arbitration, while others would go even further in stigmatizing Islamic life: a bill recently passed by the Tennessee General Assembly equates Shariah with a set of rules that promote “the destruction of the national existence of the United States.”

Supporters of these bills contend that such measures are needed to protect the country against homegrown terrorism and safeguard its Judeo-Christian values. The Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has said that “Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.”

This is exactly wrong. The crusade against Shariah undermines American democracy, ignores our country’s successful history of religious tolerance and assimilation, and creates a dangerous divide between America and its fastest-growing religious minority.

The suggestion that Shariah threatens American security is disturbingly reminiscent of the accusation, in 19th-century Europe, that Jewish religious law was seditious. In 1807, Napoleon convened an assembly of rabbinic authorities to address the question of whether Jewish law prevented Jews from being loyal citizens of the republic. (They said that it did not.)

Fear that Jewish law bred disloyalty was not limited to political elites; leading European philosophers also entertained the idea. Kant argued that the particularistic nature of “Jewish legislation” made Jews “hostile to all other peoples.” And Hegel contended that Jewish dietary rules and other Mosaic laws barred Jews from identifying with their fellow Prussians and called into question their ability to be civil servants.

The German philosopher Bruno Bauer offered Jews a bargain: renounce Jewish law and be granted full legal rights. He insisted that, otherwise, laws prohibiting work on the Sabbath made it impossible for Jews to be true citizens. (Bauer conveniently ignored the fact that many fully observant Jews violated the Sabbath to fight in the Prussian wars against Napoleon.)

During that era, Christianity was seen as either a universally valid basis of the state or a faith that harmoniously coexisted with the secular law of the land. Conversely, Judaism was seen as a competing legal system — making Jews at best an unassimilable minority, at worst a fifth column. It was not until the late 19th century that all Jews were granted full citizenship in Western Europe (and even then it was short lived).

Most Americans today would be appalled if Muslims suffered from legally sanctioned discrimination as Jews once did in Europe. Still, there are signs that many Americans view Muslims in this country as disloyal. A recent Gallup poll found that only 56 percent of Protestants think that Muslims are loyal Americans.

This suspicion and mistrust is no doubt fueled by the notion that American Muslims are akin to certain extreme Muslim groups in the Middle East and in Europe. But American Muslims are a different story. They are natural candidates for assimilation. They are demographically the youngest religious group in America, and most of their parents don’t even come from the Middle East (the majority have roots in Southeast Asia). A recent Pew Research Center poll found that Muslim Americans exhibit the highest level of integration among major American religious groups, expressing greater degrees of tolerance toward people of other faiths than do Protestants, Catholics or Jews.

Given time, American Muslims, like all other religious minorities before them, will adjust their legal and theological traditions, if necessary, to accord with American values.

America’s exceptionalism has always been its ability to transform itself — economically, culturally and religiously. In the 20th century, we thrived by promoting a Judeo-Christian ethic, respecting differences and accentuating commonalities among Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Today, we need an Abrahamic ethic that welcomes Islam into the religious tapestry of American life.

Anti-Shariah legislation fosters a hostile environment that will stymie the growth of America’s tolerant strand of Islam. The continuation of America’s pluralistic religious tradition depends on the ability to distinguish between punishing groups that support terror and blaming terrorist activities on a faith that represents roughly a quarter of the world’s population.

Eliyahu Stern, an assistant professor of religious studies and history at Yale, is the author of the forthcoming “The Genius: Elijah of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism.”

(source: The New York Times)

Robert Spencer Rapes the Truth, Part 1: Does Sharia Reject the Testimony of a Rape Victim?

Posted in Feature, Loon Sites with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2009 by loonwatch
Robert SpencerRobert Spencer, the author of the Islamophobook The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)

This is a rebuttal of chapter five of Robert Spencer’s book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), which is entitled “Islam oppresses women.” On pp.74-76, Spencer claims that the Sharia rejects a rape victim’s testimony.

Robert Spencer’s Claims

Says Spencer in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades):

Rape: Four witnesses needed

Most threatening of all to women may be the Muslim understanding of rape as it plays out in conjunction with Islamic restrictions on the validity of a woman’s testimony. In court, a woman’s testimony is worth half as much as that of a man. (Quran 2:282)

Islamic legal theorists have restricted the validity of a woman’s testimony even further by limiting it to, in the words of one Muslim legal manual, “cases involving property, or transactions dealing with property, such as sales.”  Otherwise only men can testify. And in cases of sexual misbehavior, four male witnesses are required…

Consequently, it is almost impossible to prove rape in lands that follow the dictates of the Sharia.  Men can commit rape with impunity: As long as they deny the charge and there are no witnesses, they will get off scot-free, because the victim’s testimony is inadmissible.  Even worse, if a woman accuses a man of rape, she may end up incriminating herself.  If the required male witnesses can’t be found, the victim’s charge of rape becomes an admission of adultery. [1]

Spencer also says the exact same thing on his website:

Consequently, it is even today virtually impossible to prove rape in lands that follow the dictates of the Sharia. Even worse, if a woman accuses a man of rape, she may end up incriminating herself. If the required male witnesses can’t be found, the victim’s charge of rape becomes an admission of adultery.

Let us analyze Spencer’s claims one point at a time:

Women as Witnesses under Sharia

Robert Spencer writes:

In court, a woman’s testimony is worth half as much as that of a man. (Quran 2:282)

Islamic legal theorists have restricted the validity of a woman’s testimony even further by limiting it to, in the words of one Muslim legal manual, “cases involving property, or transactions dealing with property, such as sales.”  Otherwise only men can testify.

There are two claims made here: (1) a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s;  (2) a woman’s testimony is accepted only in financial transactions (even then only by half), and rejected altogether in other cases, including rape.

Of course the reality is that Spencer has spoken a half-truth, which is what he normally does.  Spencer’s modus operandi is simple: he presents the absolutely most conservative view as if it is not only the most authoritative one but also the only one.  He then compares this ultraconservative Islamic opinion with the most liberal Judeo-Christian view, and then says aha!

The issue revolves around the following Quranic verse:

O you who believe! When you deal with each other in contracting a debt for a fixed time, then write it down; and let a scribe write it down between you with fairness…and call from among your men two witnesses; but if there are not two men, then one man and two women from among those whom you choose to be witnesses, so that if one of the two errs, the second of the two may remind the other. (Quran, 2:282)

Some Islamic jurists opined that the Quranic verse only permitted a woman’s testimony in cases related to financial transactions.  Therefore, they reasoned, it ought to be excluded in all other cases.  This opinion was prominent in the writings of medieval jurists, and is clung onto by some ultraconservative Muslims.

However, Spencer neglected to inform his readers of less stringent views that abound today.  Contemporary Muslims argue that the Quranic verse 2:282 has nothing to do with the courts or legal system in general:

…There is no verse anywhere in the Qur’an, which directs a court of law to consider a woman’s witness to be half reliable as that of a man. As for the verse 282 of Al-Baqarah, which is presented to substantiate the viewpoint in question, it has quite a different meaning and implication than what is construed from it…

Actually this verse addresses the common man. It does not relate to the law and thus gives no directive regarding judicial matters. In other words, it does not call upon the state, the legislative council or the legal authorities. This verse just invokes the common man’s attention for taking precautionary measures in case of a particular situation of conflict…

The verse states that when two or more individuals enter into an agreement for a loan for a fixed period of time, they should write it down thereby avoiding any misunderstanding or dispute. As a further safeguard to avoid such misunderstanding, they should make two men witnesses to the agreement. In case they are not able to find two men, then they may take two women instead of a man…Obviously, if this were a directive pertaining to judicial matters, it would have addressed the state or legal authorities. [2]

In other words, these Muslims argue that the Quranic verse cannot be generalized to all court cases; instead, it simply pertains to financial matters, and contracts of debt in specific.  It is argued that the women of pre-Islamic Arabia were generally unaware of the intricacies of the business world.  Tahir Haddad, an Islamic thinker of the early twentieth century, writes:

The fact that woman lagged behind man in all aspects of life [in the pre-Islamic times] made her less proficient in intellectual and mathematical tasks, especially since at that time she did not get her share of education and culture to prepare her for that…[which was taken into] account when it was decided that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man…[in] issue[s]…such as debts. [3]

The lack of business acumen that women of that particular time generally possessed was the reason that a woman’s singular testimony about a contract of debt might be rejected by the common man, resulting in conflicts.  The intent of the Quranic verse was after all to prevent infighting between Muslims, as was often the case between creditors and debtors.  Therefore, argue these contemporary Muslims, witnesses had to be produced who would be accepted by the common man as being authoritative.

Some contemporary Muslims even argue that such a restriction (i.e. the requirement of two women as witnesses instead of one) would not be applicable if the cause for the restriction (i.e. the lack of business acumen on the part of the woman) was not present.  The Islamic cleric Muzammil Siddiqi[4] issued the following fatwa (religious edict):

Question:

Does Islam regard the testimony of women as half of a man’s just in cases of transactions or in every case? Who are the scholars that maintain the first view? What is the evidence of those scholars saying that her testimony is not accepted in cases of murder and adultery?

Answer:

The word shahadah [testimony] in its various forms has occurred in the Qur’an about 156 times. There is only one case (Al-Baqarah 2:282) where there is a reference to gender. Apart from this one reference, there is no other place where the issue of gender is brought in the context of testimony. According to the Qur’an, it does not make any difference whether the person testifying is a male or female; the only objective is to ascertain accuracy and to establish justice and fairness. In one place in the Qur’an, there is an explicit reference that equates the testimonies of the male and female (See Surat An-Nur 24:6-9).

Only in the context of business transactions and loan contracts, it is mentioned that if two men are not available for testimony, then one man and two women are to be provided for that particular purpose (See Surat Al-Baqarah 2:282). The reason is not because of gender; it is given in the Qur’anic verse: If one errs, the other may remind her. Some scholars have suggested that this was due to the fact that most women in the past and even now were not involved in the intricate business dealings. So the Qur’an accepted their testimony, but to insure justice indicated that there should be two.

It is also important to note that the Shari`ah emphasizes that we follow the law exactly in the matters of worship; in economic dealings, however, the issue of justice is the main factor. If a judge sees that there is a woman who is very qualified and has good understanding of business transactions, the judge may consider her testimony equal to the testimony of a man. This will not be against the teachings of the Qur’an. [5]

Jamal Badawi, [6] another Islamic cleric (who Spencer himself quotes as an authority from time to time), comments:

The context of this passage (verse, or ayah) [verse 2:282] relates to testimony on financial transactions, which are often complex and laden with business jargon. The passage does not make blanket generalization [against the testimony of women]…In numerous societies, past and present, women generally may not be heavily involved with and experienced in business transactions. As such, they may not be completely cognizant of what is involved…

It must be added that unlike pure acts of worship, which must be observed exactly as taught by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, testimony is a means to an end, ascertaining justice as a major objective of Islamic law. Therefore, it is the duty of a fair judge to be guided by this objective when assessing the worth and credibility of a given testimony, regardless of the gender of the witness. A witness of a female graduate of a business school is certainly far more worthy than the witness of an illiterate person with no business education or experience. [7]

Robert Spencer claims that the Sharia itself excludes a woman’s testimony in cases of rape; yet, this is not the interpretation of Sharia that many Muslims follow:

The simple point is that this verse peculiarly relates to bearing witness on documentary evidence i.e. sale deeds, leasing agreements, loan agreements, guarantee cards and trust deeds etc. In the above related cases, one is free to choose the witnesses. But, in cases of accidents, theft, murder, robbery, rape, and hijacking etc the witnesses are not a matter of choice. Whosoever is present at the scene should and can be taken as a witness. Thus we cannot say that the witness of a woman in cases other than documentary evidence, as explained above, will be affected by this verse. [8]

Jalal Abualrub [9], a “Wahhabi” [10] cleric, writes:

The Quran states that we need two women [as] witnesses in cases of financial transactions in place of one man.  There is no proof whatsoever that this is also the case in any other dispute, including criminal cases such as rape.  In fact, a woman’s testimony is accepted in the most important aspect of Islam: the religion itself.  Did anyone ask Aishah to bring another witness or a man to support her narrations of the Prophet’s practices and sayings? [11]

What Spencer will do is simple: he will cite various Islamic clerics, mostly classical medieval ones, as a proof that the Sharia itself says such-and-such.  Yet, the reality is that even though most Muslims believe that the Sharia is divinely one, they also acknowledge that there are multipleinterpretations of it.  If some Islamic scholars argued that a woman’s testimony ought to be excluded, others argued that it should be considered equal to that of a man’s.  Spencer attempts to portray the ultraconservative interpretation of the Sharia as the only one–and to him it is the only authoritative one, with all other understandings deemed as either “taqiyya based” or simply unorthodox and therefore unrepresentative (as if Spencer is the pope of Islam!).

Yet, contemporary Muslims point out that the opinions of Islamic jurists (including the classical ones) are just that: opinions.  Unlike papal decrees in Catholicism, the rulings of Islamic clerics are neither infallible or binding. Imam Abu Hanifa, the eminent jurist who founded the Hanafi school of thought, decreed:

What comes from the Messenger of God, we accept with our mind and heart, by my father and mother, we cannot oppose it. What comes from the Companions, we choose from. As for what comes from other sources, well, they are human beings as we are. [12]

So while the Muslims find the Quran and authentic hadiths/sunna to be infallible and binding, they do not view the interpretations of them to be such.  Along this line, Jalal Abualrub wrote:

We should avoid thinking of the opinions of the scholars as infallible.  What is infallible is the Quran and Sunnah alone.  Scholars of all schools have their own opinions and fatawa that may either be correct or wrong.  For instance, a Maliki scholar can claim whatever opinion his madhhab says, but we are not bound by and certainly the religion is not bound by it.

So when Allah states in Surat al-Baqarah that in regards to financial transactions the testimony of two women can be used with the testimony of one man, no one has the right to make this specific ruling apply in other cases.  Let me remind you again: the female Companions [of the Prophet] have narrated and testified on countless occasions about aspects of creed, fiqh and other Islamic topics.  Have you heard any of the [male] Companions ever say that their testimony cannot be accepted unless they bring another woman and man to agree?  I mentioned this because money issues and criminal issues are certainly far less important than religious issues that establish a ruling for all times.

It must be remembered that the scholars  are not infallible, and their efforts are only explanatory–they are not the final authority.  We respect the scholars, but we agree that they are human and make mistakes. [13]

Abualrub brings up the point that the testimony of women was accepted on aspects of religion and creed, which are more important than crime and punishment.  This is one proof that contemporary Muslims use, namely that the female Companions bore witness to the actions of the Prophet Muhammad; there is no rule in Islam that the testimony of a woman in this regard be considered half of a man’s.

Another proof that contemporary Muslims use–to prove that a woman’s testimony is equal to that of a man’s–is the Quranic passage 24:6-9 (just two verses down from the verses that Spencer has quoted).  In these verses, the husband may testify against the wife that she has committed adultery, but if the wife gives her own testimony declaring this to be a lie, then the wife’s testimony trumps that of her husband’s.  Muzammil Siddiqi writes:

In one place in the Qur’an, there is an explicit reference that equates the testimonies of the male and female (See Surat An-Nur 24:6-9). [14]

Jamal Badawi comments:

Most Qur’anic references to testimony (witness) do not make any reference to gender. Some references fully equate the testimony of males and females…

[Verse 2:282] cannot be used as an argument that there is a general rule in the Qur’an that the worth of a female’s witness is only half the male’s. This presumed “rule” is voided by the above reference (24:6-9), which explicitly equates the testimony of both genders on the issue at hand. [15]

Contemporary Muslims point out that many classical scholars permitted female judges; how could it be then that a woman would be permitted to serve as a judge but not as a witness, the former of which is in charge of the latter?  The judge uses his wisdom to give judgment, whereas a witness simply retells what he/she witnessed.  Therefore, if a woman is allowed to be a judge, she ought to be permitted to be a witness as well.  Tahir Haddad wryly comments:

The assertion [that women ought to be barred from serving as witnesses]…is even stranger in view of the fact that according to the jurisprudence of the four orthodox Islamic law schools a woman is allowed to act as a judge to rule on differences between people in a role similar to that of a man.  Abu-Hanifa al-Nu’man [Imam Abu Hanifa] who was a contemporary of some of the Prophet’s Companions, confirmed that it is acceptable in Islam [for her to be a judge]…So, do we deduce from this that Islam…[bars her as] a witness…and at the same time elevates her by conferring her the responsibilities of a judge? [16]

Jalal Abualrub notes that the words of some of the fallible scholars contradicts the infallible authentic hadiths; Abualrub quotes the following narration in the Islamic texts:

When a woman went out in the time of the Prophet for prayer, a man attacked her and raped her. She shouted and he went off, and when a man came by, she said: “That man did such and such to me.” And when a company of the emigrants came by, she said: “That man did such and such to me.” They went and seized the man whom they thought had had intercourse with her and brought him to her.

She said: “Yes, this is he.” Then they brought him to the Apostle of God.  When [the Prophet] was about to pass sentence, the man who had [actually] assaulted her stood up and said: “Apostle of God, I am the man who did it to her.”

[The Prophet] said to her: “Go away, for God has forgiven you.” But he told the [innocent] man some good words, and to the [guilty] man who had had raped her, he said: “Stone him to death.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38, #4366)

Abualrub points out that contrary to Robert Spencer’s claim that a woman’s testimony is not accepted in cases of rape, the Prophet Muhammad convicted a man based solely on one woman’s testimony.  Abualrub comments:

As for the woman mentioned in the narration, it is clear that no one asked her for four witnesses nor did anyone suspect her character, and her testimony alone was used as proof, and the innocent man who was wrongly accused was set free, while she was not punished even though she identified the wrong man, so how can the critics of Islam today claim that the Shari’ah itself says a woman is to be lashed for failing to bring forth four witnesses, when this woman in the narration not only did not do that but also identified the wrong man!? [17]

Abualrub mentions a number of salient points here, which we shall discuss in greater detail in the next part of this article.  But for now, the bolded part is most relevant to our discussion, as it shows that contemporary Muslims have a very strong proof that in their religion a woman’s testimony is to be accepted in cases of rape, contrary to what Robert Spencer–the self-proclaimed pope of Islam–insists.

Women as Witnesses under the Judeo-Christian Laws

What we have thus far concluded is that yes it is true that some Muslims (such as those living in the medieval times and some ultraconservatives today) believe that a woman’s testimony is rejected in most legal proceedings.  On the other hand, many contemporary Muslims feel otherwise, a fact that Robert Spencer conveniently ignores.

But Spencer’s half-truth does not end there.  He also purposefully neglects to mention that a woman’s testimony is rejected in traditional Halakha (Jewish law) and Biblical law (of the Christians). The Jewish Virtual Library declares that there has been a longstanding “rabbinic rule that a woman is ineligible to testify as a witness.” [18] Rabbi Aaron Mackler writes:

The vast majority of Orthodox rabbis, and some Conservative rabbis, do not accept the legitimacy of women serving as witnesses. [19]

The Talmud forbade Jewish courts from accepting women as witnesses:

The Talmudic interpretation of the law held that women or slaves were not admitted as witnesses; nor could one such testify on the basis of testimony heard form an eye-witness. [20]

It is for this reason that the testimony of a woman is not accepted in the Orthodox rabbinical courts up until this day.  However, like the Muslims, there is a difference of opinion amongst Jewry; Reform Jews and some Conservative rabbis accept women as witnesses.

We see then that the situation of the Muslims and the Jews with regard to this issue is very similar if not identical; why is it then that Robert Spencer arrives at dramatically different conclusions about Islam/Muslims/Quran/Sharia than he does about Judaism/Jews/Talmud/Halakha?  Why does Spencer entitle the chapter of his book as “Islam oppresses women,” but not say “Judaism oppresses women?”  If one criticizes the Quran for one thing, should not such a person criticize the Talmud for the exact same thing?  It seems there is one standard for Islam and another for Judaism and Christianity.  This is indeed the modus operandi for the Islamophobic movement in general; I have already in a previous article detailed Daniel Pipes’ fantastic double standards towards Sharia and Halakha.

The traditional Biblical law also excluded women from serving as witnesses. The Bible says:

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses…The two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. (Deuteronomy 19:15-17)

Notice that Robert Spencer argues that the four witnesses in the Quranic verse 24:4 ought to be males, since the word “witnesses” appears in the masculine.  Yet, this was the exact same logic that Christian scholars used: the Bible uses the word “men” when it refers to witnesses.  John Gill, a well-renowned Biblical scholar of the eighteenth century, commented on this verse that it

teaches that there is no witness by women; and so it is elsewhere said, an oath of witness is made by men, and not by women; on which it is observed that a woman is not fit to bear witness, as it is written “then both the men,” [meaning] men and not women. [21]

Medieval Islamic and Christian scholars opined that witnesses ought to be male, based on the fact that both holy books (the Quran and Bible respectively) used masculine words for “witnesses.”  Yet, for some reason Robert Spencer argues that the Quran specifically requires male witnesses, whereas the Bible does not!  Again, this exposes Spencer’s  bias.

The Testimony of Women in Cases of Adultery

Robert Spencer, likes to contrast the Quran with the Bible; his book is full of such side-by-side comparisons.  Let us play his game then.  Both the Quran and the Bible deal with the case of a husband accusing his wife of adultery.  The Quran declares that if a wife denies the charges, then she is exonerated by the law–her testimony is accepted over that of her husband’s, and any worldly punishment is waived.  The Quran declares:

As for those who accuse their wives but have no witnesses except themselves: let the testimony of one of them be four testimonies, swearing by God that he is of those who speaks the truth; And the fifth oath should be invoking the curse of God on himself if he is of those who lie. But it shall avert the punishment from her if she bears witness/testifies before God four times that the thing he says is indeed false, and if she takes an oath a fifth time that the wrath of God be upon her if he speaks the truth. (Quran, 24:6-9)

This is the Islamic law of Al-Li’an. The Bible, on the other hand, has the Law of Jealousy: if a husband suspects his wife of adultery, then he is to bring her to the priest.  The priest will then dump dust and ink into a container of water, and force her to drink the dirtied water.  If she gets sick from it (or dies), it proves the allegation that she was adulterous; if she does not fall sick, then she is exonerated.  Furthermore, the woman is to drink this water in a state of public humiliation: her head is to be uncovered (a sign of shame back then) and she is forced to stand at the east gate of the temple in sight of the people, so that she might serve as a reminder against lewdness.  (All this even before she drinks the contaminated water.)

The Bible declares:

The Test for an Unfaithful Wife

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him by sleeping with another man, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act, and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure–then he is to take his wife to the priest…

The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water.…Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has slept with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have defiled yourself by sleeping with a man other than your husband”–here the priest is to put the woman under this curse of the oath–”may the LORD cause your people to curse and denounce you when he causes your thigh to waste away and your abdomen to swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells and your thigh wastes away. ” Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall have the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water will enter her and cause bitter suffering…He is to have the woman drink the water.  If she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, then when she is made to drink the water that brings a curse, it will go into her and cause bitter suffering; her abdomen will swell and her thigh waste away, and she will become accursed among her people.

If, however, the woman has not defiled herself and is free from impurity, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children. This, then, is the law of jealousywhen a woman goes astray and defiles herself while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the LORD and is to apply this entire law to her [i.e. death by stoning]. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’” (Numbers 5:11-31)

Matthew Henry, the eminent seventeenth and eighteenth century commentator on the Bible, explained these verses:

We have here the law concerning the solemn trial of a wife whose husband was jealous of her.

I. What was the case supposed:

1. That a man had some reason to suspect his wife to have committed adultery,

2. It is supposed to be a sin which great care is taken by the sinners to conceal, which there is no witness of…

3. The spirit of jealousy is supposed to come upon the husband…then he may compel her to drink the bitter water.  But the law here does not tie him to that particular method of proving the just cause of his suspicion; it might be otherwise proved. In case it could be proved that she had committed adultery, she was to be put to death (Lev. 20:10); but, if it was uncertain, then this law took place. Hence, (1.) Let all wives be admonished not to give any the least occasion for the suspicion of their chastity; it is not enough that they abstain from the evil of uncleanness, but they must abstain from all appearance of it, from every thing that looks like it, or leads to it, or may give the least umbrage to jealousy; for how great a matter may a little fire kindle! (2.) Let all husbands be admonished not to entertain any causeless or unjust suspicions of their wives…

II. The process of the trial must be thus:

(1.) Her husband must bring her to the priest, with the witnesses that could prove the ground of his suspicion, and desire that she might be put upon her trial. The Jews say that the priest was first to endeavour to persuade her to confess the truth…If she confessed, saying, “I am defiled,” she was not put to death, but was divorced and lost her dowry; if she said, “I am pure,” then they proceeded.

(3.) The priest was to prepare the water of jealousy…it must be [in] an earthen vessel, because the coarser and plainer every thing was the more agreeable it was to the occasion. Dust must be put into the water, to signify the reproach she lay under, and the shame she ought to take to herself, putting her mouth in the dust; but dust from the floor of the tabernacle

(4.) The woman was to be set before the Lord, at the east gate of the temple-court (say the Jews), and her head was to be uncovered, in token of her sorrowful condition; and there she stood for a spectacle to the world, that other women might learn not to do after her lewdness, Eze. 23:48

(5.) The priest was to adjure her to tell the truth, and to denounce the curse of God against her if she were guilty, and to declare what would be the effect of her drinking the water of jealousy, v. 19-22. He must assure her that, if she were innocent, the water would do her no harm, v. 19. None need fear the curse of the law if they have not broken the commands of the law. But, if she were guilty, this water would be poison to her, it would make her belly to swell and her thigh to rot, and she should be a curse or abomination among her people, v. 21, 22…

(6.) The priest was to write this curse in a scrip or scroll of parchment, verbatim-word for word, as he had expressed it, and then to wipe or scrape out what he had written into the water (v. 23), to signify that it was that curse which impregnated the water, and gave it its strength to effect what was intended. It signified that, if she were innocent, the curse should be blotted out and never appear against her, as it is written, Isa. 43:25, I am he that blotteth out thy transgression, and Ps. 51:9, Blot out my iniquities; but that, if she were guilty, the curse, as it was written, being infused into the water, would enter into her bowels with the water, even like oil into her bones (Ps. 109:18)…

(7.) The woman must then drink the water (v. 24); it is called the bitter water…

(9.) …If the suspected woman was really guilty, the water she drank would be poison to her (v. 27), her belly would swell and her thigh rot by a vile disease for vile deserts, and she would mourn at the last when her flesh and body were consumed, Prov. 5:11. Bishop Patrick says, from some of the Jewish writers, that the effect of these waters appeared immediately, she grew pale, and her eyes ready to start out of her head… [22]

The husband could not only accuse the woman of adultery during the marriage, but of fornicationbefore the wedding.  His testimony was accepted without question unless her father could provide physical proof saying otherwise; the wife’s testimony on the other hand was not considered at all.  The Bible says:

If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the girl’s father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate. The girl’s father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.

If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)

Imagine if this was in the Quran: Spencer would have a field day!  He would wax and wane about how the only way the wife in this case could avert stoning to death would be by her parents somehow producing a blood stained cloth–blood from a broken hymen…evidence which seems mighty hard to come by.  And even if she is found innocent by this physical evidence, in that case the husband pays the wife’s father, not her.  Furthermore, the wife stays married to such a husband “as long as he lives.”  But if no proof can be found, which seems the most probable outcome, then she was to be publicly stoned to death by the men of the town.  Again: imagine Spencer’s rantings and ravings if this all were in the Quran!

To be clear: I am not trying here to demonize Christianity.  Obviously the Christians of today do not enforce the Law of Jealousy or demand virgins to show proof of their virginity.  Yet, what is apparent here is the double standard with which Spencer approaches the religious texts. Many Islamophobes pride themselves as being the protectors of the Judeo-Christian tradition, yet squirm when we apply the same standards to Judaism or Christianity.

Conclusion

Robert Spencer relies on half-truths: he only mentions the most conservative opinion amongst Muslims, as if it is somehow the only one.  In reality, contemporary Muslims believe that women can testify in trials, including cases of rape.  They interpret the Quranic verse 2:282 to be limited in scope.

Furthermore, Spencer conveniently neglects to mention that Orthodox rabbinical courts to this day refuse to accept women as witnesses, based on Talmudic teachings.  (And such understandings abounded in Christianity as well.)  Spencer ought to be as critical of the Halakha as the Sharia, but his double standard in this regard is reminiscent of Daniel Pipes’ double standards, as I documented  in a previous article.  This biased methodology underlies the Islamophobic mentality in general.

In part 2 of “Robert Spencer Rapes the Truth,” we’ll discuss the rest of Spencer’s spurious claims on the same topic, focusing specifically on his allegation that a rape victim is lashed if she fails to produce four witnesses.

Footnotes

refer back to article 1. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), 74-76. ISBN 0-89526-013-1

refer back to article 2. http://www.renaissance.com.pk/Julrefl12y4.html#1.

refer back to article 3. al-Tahir al-Haddad, Muslim Women in Law and Society: Annotated Translation of al-Tahir al-Haddad, 38. ISBN 0415418879, 9780415418874

refer back to article 4. Muzammil H. Siddiqi is the President of the Fiqh Council of North America

refer back to article 5. http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?cid=1203515453417&pagename=IslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar%2FFatwaE%2FFatwaEAskTheScholar

refer back to article 6. Jamal Badawi is a member of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Fiqh Council.

refer back to article 7. http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?pagename=IslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar%2FFatwaE%2FFatwaEAskTheScholar&cid=1119503544348

refer back to article 8. http://www.renaissance.com.pk/Julrefl12y4.html#1.

refer back to article 9. Jalal Abualrub is a prolific Islamic author and translator

refer back to article 10. The proper term is “Salafi”. “Wahhabi” is considered offensive; it has been used here only because readers may be unfamiliar with “Salafi”.

refer back to article 11. Jalal Abualrub, http://islamlife.com/religion2/

refer back to article 12. as quoted in Tariq Ramadan’s Radical Reform, 53.

refer back to article 13. Jalal Abualrub, http://islamlife.com/religion2/

refer back to article 14. http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?cid=1203515453417&pagename=IslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar%2FFatwaE%2FFatwaEAskTheScholar

refer back to article 15. http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?cid=1119503544348&pagename=IslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar%2FFatwaE%2FFatwaEAskTheScholar

refer back to article 16. al-Tahir al-Haddad, Muslim Women in Law and Society: Annotated Translation of al-Tahir al-Haddad, 38.

refer back to article 17. Jalal Abualrub, http://islamlife.com/religion2/

refer back to article 18. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/agunot1.html

refer back to article 19. http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/teshuvot/docs/20052010/mackler_women_witnesses.pdf

refer back to article 20. Jacob Nuesner, Understanding Rabbinic Judaism, 67. ISBN 0870682385, 9780870682384

refer back to article 21. John Gill’s Exposition to the Bible, Commentary on Deuteronomy 19:17, http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/deuteronomy-19-17.html

refer back to article 22. Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary, http://biblebrowser.com/numbers/5-29.htm

 

Daniel Pipes Brings Weak Sauce: Sharia, Halakha, and Double Standards; Part 2

Posted in Feature, Loon Blogs, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2009 by loonwatch

Daniel Pipes Brings Weak Sauce to the Discussion About Shariah Courts in the West

Daniel Pipes's favorite ingredient: weak sauce
Daniel Pipes’s favorite ingredient: weak sauce

In Part 1 of this article, we discussed Daniel Pipes’s claim that Jews don’t want to force their religious views on others, unlike Muslims who supposedly do.  In Part 2, we’ll question Daniel Pipes’ claim that Islam is inherently misogynistic.

David Green, a right-winger belonging to Civitas, declared on BBC Radio that Islamic law is totally unlike Jewish law in that it oppresses women.  Daniel Pipes uses similar reasoning, arguing that Sharia should be banned because it is–unlike Jewish Halakha–“inescapably misogynistic”:

…Ignorant, isolated [Muslim] females would submit to the inescapably misogynistic Sharia, a law code that [1] permits parents to marry off pre-pubescent girls, [2] men to marry multiple women, [3] husbands alone to divorce, [4] fathers automatically to win custody of children over certain ages, and [5] sons to inherit more than daughters.

Let’s take these one at a time, shall we?  We’ll play both defense and offense:

[1] Marriage of pre-pubescent girls

Defense:  Technically, the Sharia allows Muslim parents to contract a marriage contract on behalf of their pre-pubescent daughters, but the marriage remains suspended (mawquf) until the girl reaches maturity, whereupon she is given the right of khiyar al-bulugh, i.e. the right to annul the marriage. (For a detailed discussion of this topic, please read this here starting from page 68.)

Offense: Daniel Pipes has argued that Islamic law is unacceptable since it supposedly allows marriage of pre-pubescent girls, yet on the other hand he wholeheartedly thinks that Halakha should be allowed in the West.  Yet, Jewish law itself allows marriage of pre-pubertal girls!  According to Rabbi Naftali Silberberg of AskMoses.com, the Halakha allows Jewish girls to marry at the age of three:

What is the minimum age of marriage according to Jewish law?
by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

…In ancient (and not so ancient) times however, marriage was often-times celebrated at a rather young age. Although we do not follow this dictum, technically speaking, a girl may be betrothed the moment she is born, and married at the age of three. [Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 37:1.]

The editor of the site clarifies: “There is the technical rule, and then there is the proper, practical, and wise thing to do. The Talmud, too, agrees that technically according to Torah law a girl can be married at a very young age, but the rabbis imposed a prohibition on such an unwise practice.”  In other words, the law itself allows it, but the rabbis generally discourage or even disallow it due to practical considerations. Continue reading

Daniel Pipes Brings Weak Sauce: Sharia, Halakha, and Double Standards; Part 1

Posted in Feature, Loon Blogs, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2009 by loonwatch

Daniel Pipes Brings Some Weak Sauce

Daniel Pipes's favorite ingredient: weak sauce
Daniel Pipes’s favorite ingredient: weak sauce

In 2003, Islamophobes issued a code red, claiming that the Canadian government would soon “enforce Sharia” in Ontario.  Immediately, some people began assuming that somehow democratic law was about to be overthrown and a draconian Taliban-style corporal system enacted.  Islamophobes played up these fears, and applied pressure on the government of Ontario to outlaw Sharia.

The issue of course is that most people do not exactly understand what Sharia is, and conflate it with the term Hadud (Islamic corporal punishments).  What the Ontario government was planning on doing was to allow Muslim arbitration courts, which would have absolutely nothing to do with Hadud.  (For the record, moderate Muslims do not believe in the Taliban understanding of Hadud, contrary to what the Islamophobes insist.  They have their own moderate and reformist understanding of Hadud consistent with the contemporary age.  But, alas, this is not the topic of our discussion today, as Ontario never planned on enacting the Hadud anyways!)

Let us be clear then: Ontario was never going to allow any understanding of Hadud–“enlightened” or otherwise; rather, when people said that Sharia was going to be allowed in Ontario, the meaning of this was simply that Muslims could–if they so choose–settle their family, religious, and other civil disputes according to their religious beliefs.  (And this only if both parties agreed to do so!)  But the Islamophobes used the buzz word “Sharia”–which people mistakenly conflate with Hadud (a misconception popularized unfortunately by the Taliban)–to create controversy and fear. Continue reading