Sunday, May 31, 2020

Being a Torah-Licensed Scoundrel

In Volume 53, Issue 1 of European Judaism, Jeremy Schonfield published Kaddish for Gaza
Some Liturgical Ground ClearingSchonfield views the recital by young Jews of the Mourners’ Kaddish for Palestinians shot while trying to break through the border as being a misunderstanding about the different ways Kaddish is used in Traditional and Progressive contexts. Mourners’ Kaddish is, of course, for deceased relatives and he questions whether the reciting was appropriate as none of the Gaza victims were Jewish and whose intentions were uncertain.

But he has an alternative recital: an act of text study could have been used to highlight moral ambiguity, followed by Kaddish de-Rabbanan, the traditional coda to a study session. This would have avoided offence to Muslims and to Jews, and have ensured that the act of reciting Kaddish refers in this case not to the dead but to the moral problems raised by their killing. The article relates to a 2018 event and 

questions the appropriateness of reciting Mourners’ Kaddish for the Gaza victims, none of whom were Jewish and whose intentions were uncertain. Instead, an act of text study could have been used to highlight moral ambiguity, followed by Kaddish de-Rabbanan, the traditional coda to a study session. This would have avoided offence to Muslims and to Jews, and have ensured that the act of reciting Kaddish refers in this case not to the dead but to the moral problems raised by their killing.

Schonfield is a professor at Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and Lecturer in Liturgy at Leo Baeck College, London and scion to an orthodox rabbinical family. He, then, would know what is is to be a scoundrel with a Torah license (or with the permission of).

He factually describes the action of the Gazan Arabs as a “march over the border to Israel”.
In other words, an invasion, akin to an act of war. And he undoubtedly is aware that those protests were distected by Hamas, with Hamas cordinators in the field, with weapons such as IEDs, other explosives, firebombs, rocks and then incendiary kites and balloons later employed. This was not in the least a non-violent demonstration.  The participants were urged to rip out the hearts of the Israelis they encounter once over the border.  The peacefulness, so-called, was admitted to be a deception. Even though this was the third time this act of Kaddish recital for dead terrorists was enacted, and even if we can find some way to excuse the young Jews, to ignore the character and purpose of the march protests two years later is truly astounding.

Moreover, even when he acknowledges that Hamas admits

that fifty of the sixty-two dead had been members of their organisation...[and] Islamic Jihad claimed three others. 

he adds

These numbers are not necessarily accurate, since the need to emphasise that Hamas is in control of Gaza would encourage the percentage to be increased,

Noting that in any case, there seemed to have been 10 innocent civilians, or rather, non-combatants, he sarcastically adds

unless one thinks that living in Gaza and therefore perhaps voting for Hamas is a capital crime

While it may not necessarily be a capital crime, it could (should?) be a crime to support a terrorist organization that almost exclusively targets Jewish civilians. That there has been no true popular revolt or any serious street protests against the Hamas rule in Gaza since 2006, surely the population at large is not wholly innocent even if only ethically.

Putting words into someone elses mouth is another trick. Schonfield writes

why shoot to kill, the media asked

But not all the victims, that day, or on other Fridays, were shot to death on purpose. A fair percentage, the majority I would think, were victims of stray bullets or got in the way or richochets. If there was a purpose involved, it was to prevent damage to the fence that would allow murderous hordes to stream through to nearby kibbutzim or to neutralize those using lethal weapons themselves.

He is sloppy when writing

invaded Gaza in 2014 to destroy tunnels that could have been located from inside Israel

But the tunnels were only discovered to exist after those hostilities began and the Hamas terrorists emerged. And as further evidence of his military expertise, he suggests in the future:

wider belts of barbed wire

which means that Israel has to withdraw further into its own terriotry as to extend the fence area into Gaza he would, I presume, term extending the occupation. 

He mentions

the Israeli army’s morality

yet applying immorality to Hamas is mssing. 

Further on, he refers a Midrash in connection to God supposedly prohibiting the angels to rejoice over the drowning Egyptians recorded in Sanhedrin 39B:

R. Samuel b. Nahman said in R. Jonathan's name: What is meant by, And one approached not the other all night? In that hour the ministering angels wished to utter the song [of praise] before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He rebuked them, saying: My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning in the sea; would ye utter song before me!

I cannot but assume that he ignored an alternate well-known reading, that God intended that only He as their creator could rejoice but ot them.  They had no right as they were not involved in any form of responsibility for the Egyptians but, he, Hod, surely could because he was meting out true justice. The right to sing exists but belongs only to the proper authority.

At that section he brings three examples of Biblical models dealing with the punishment of sinners - Avraham and Sodom, the drowning Egyptians and the Purim story with the killing of the Persians in large numbers. Why not mention the Seven Nations (Mishneh Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Melachim Umilchamot 5:4)?  Why not mention the very reasonable two-stage approach in the next chapter at 6:1? Has not Israel over and over attempted to negotiate with Hamas?

At the bottom of page 134, I would suggest he mixes up the din rodef with a matter of a burglar writing

Killing a burglar may thus be murder under certain circumstances in Jewish, as it is in British, law

But Rashi at the source, Exodus 22:1  indicates that a thief sneaking in to a house may be killed: The Torah teaches, ‘If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first’.”:

This is not murder for he (the intruder) is as if dead already. From this the Torah teaches us that if one comes to kill you, you should rise prior to kill him. And in this case (our verse) he (the intruder) has come with intent to kill you,

Even if Schonfield disagrees, he need deal with this general rule. Indeed, can a civil law be applied to a war situation, as is at the Gaza border? 

He also adds that minimum force must be used but that is if only possible, which in this case, it is not. There are crowds, en masse, trying to get at the fence, to damage it, or undercover of the civilians launch all sorts of weapons and attempt to get across. The soldiers plead through loudspeakers, drop leaflets, contact Hamas leadership and, by the way, the weekly protests have been going on for a long time. Anybody approaching is surely aware of the danger. But no, Schonfield is captive of his on ideology, writing, in clear dissonance of the truth, that

There is also doubt about the murderous intent of women and children who may have been told by their leaders that the way ahead was clear and that the soldiers would not harm them.

Of course, soldiers should do all possible to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. But this attack on IDF morality, employing misreadings of Biblical and Rabbinical texts is niot helpful in the least, especially as it was published to justify even a Kadissh D’Rabbanan for these terrorists.

If he had included one call to Hamas to cease this action, I could have found at least one point in his favor.


Anonymous said...

The funniest bit about "angels were chastised for singing about the vengeance meted out to the Egyptians" is that Jews recite a literal song taken verbatim from the Torah EVERY DAY about exactly that rescue and the subsequent drowning of their enemies! And if you didn't get the point, the original text notes that Miriam and the women sang as well.

Maybe angels can't sing when our enemies are wiped out, but evidently we can....

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